Truth, solidarity, hope

Walter Brueggemann is one of the most profound and influential teachers of the Bible of our generation. His research and writing have deeply influenced my ministry as he calls pastors to live a deeply Biblical faith. I have had the opportunity to hear him speak on a few occasions and have been deeply moved. More importantly, my entire ministry has been shaped by his prolific writing. In addition to Biblical scholarship, he has published prayers and sermons and continues to publish well into his senior years. Those who are familiar with Brueggemann will notice his influence on today’s journal entry. While I do not apologize for having my thinking shaped by this incredible teacher, I do want to acknowledge his influence.

In the face of a global pandemic with tremendous impact on the lives and economies of so many individuals and countries, and in the face of a call for racial justice in a country with such a long history of oppression and inequality, we are witnessing many different responses. Our public life is in turmoil. Tempers flare. Violence erupts. Fear overwhelms.

Here is what doesn’t work: denial. Here in South Dakota, we are witnessing the failure of denial. When we lagged behind the country in coronavirus infection rates our Governor and other leaders denied that it was a threat. “Go back to business as usual.” “You don’t need to wear a face mask.” “We can continue to host large gatherings.” Now that our state leads the nation and the world in the rate of new infections, denial continues. The governors of both North and South Dakota have both publicly declared that the spike in infections is the result of students going back to school, ignoring the simple fact that students are going back to school in all 50 states. This pandemic is real. The threat is significant. Careless behavior will result in increased infection, suffering and death. Denying that this is a crisis doesn’t change the reality.

It is true of the protests that have erupted into violence in many cities across our nation as well. Denying that injustice persists doesn’t work. Pretending that a person’s race or ethnic background doesn’t influence their opportunity doesn’t bring equality. Yelling and screaming doesn’t bring peace. Thinking that the issue affects only urban African-Americans while Native Americans in our city and state experience increased rates of poverty, unemployment and incarceration compared to whites doesn’t bring justice.

Denial doesn’t work.

Here is what does work: the truth. Social media isn’t in general, a good way to learn the truth, but there is solid information about what viruses are and how they spread. A virus that spreads primarily through airborne droplets entering the nose and mouth can be slowed by wearing face masks. Personal hygiene, especially frequent hand washing and not touching one’s face with one’s hands, can slow the spread of the virus. Physical distance slows the spread as well. Our nation has a wealth of scientific experts and people who understand the spread of infections. Scientists have learned a great deal from the rapid spread of other viruses such as SARS, H1N1, and other viruses. We have learned a great deal from smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, polio, diphtheria and other major outbreaks of disease. Other nations have managed the threat of this pandemic far better than our own. We can learn from others if we pay attention and apply the knowledge and information that is available.

The tragic history of slavery and racial injustice in the United States has much to teach us about how to live with our neighbors in this generation. The truth about the systematic use of law enforcement to protect the privilege and property of some while denying basic necessities to others can illuminate the injustices of our society.

The truth works.

Here is what doesn’t work: disregard. It seems that we have leaders in our government that don’t understand the weight of grief that accompanies the death of 188,000 people in our country. Here in South Dakota the families of 170 people are plunged into deep grief over the loss of their loved ones. Many of those who are grieving have been denied the usual social rituals of funerals and the gathering of family and friends. Such overwhelming grief affects every aspect of life for those who have experienced loss. They are further harmed by leaders who seem to not care about their loss.

Disregard hurts.

Here is what works: solidarity. When we stand with those who are grieving, we participate in healing. Grief that is shared is easier to bear. When we acknowledge that grief is a part of our community and reach out, people are better able to heal. In this time of a rapidly spreading virus, we need to find new ways to express compassion and understanding. Phone calls, video chats, and just “checking in” can be a lifeline to those who are in grief. Over and over in my life I have heard from those who have been touched by grief that it isn’t what I said that made a difference to them, it was my presence.

The families of the victims of racial violence and unrest deserve our compassion and solidarity. More angry rhetoric does not heal, but standing with the victims and their families does.

We need leaders who will go to the victims and acknowledge their pain.

Solidarity heals.

Here is what doesn’t work: despair. Saying that the present is as good as it gets, that things can’t get better invites an epidemic of mental illness. Imagining a future that is a repeat of the injustices of the past or a continuation of the inequalities of the present crushes the spirit. Saying that the deaths are inevitable and we have to accept the losses, speaking of them as if they are not significant makes people wonder if things will ever get better.

Bringing weapons to peaceful protest is giving in to the evil that has given rise to injustice. Crushing those who protest may temporarily hide the problems but it solves nothing.

Here is what works: hope. Imagining a brighter future and then going to work to bring it about. Learning to listen to God and follow the path of service brings renewed hope. We are not condemned to return to the past, nor are we trapped in the present. The future belongs to God who always calls us to hope.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!