Our neighbor George recently participated in a church prayer group. When the gathering was over he felt both hopeful and dejected.
He said, we prayed powerful prayers for those who got sick and died from the virus along with prayers for those on the front line of medical help. We left feeling that sooner or later we would find a vaccine that would bring the virus to where it could be controlled. He felt hopeful!
We also prayed powerful prayers for Minneapolis, the family of George Floyd, the police, the demonstrators, the rioters, our nation and even our President. We left wondering if there could ever be a vaccine strong enough to cure racism and bring our nation together again. We weren’t sure! He left feeling not hopeless but close!
George said that one of the prayer warriors said “don’t worry — God can do anything!”
To which another person said, “I believe that but the problem is that God left it in our hands.”
His dejection was related to something he had recently read. A question was asked of those of color, “What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word Minneapolis?” The response was “a black man who had a name was murdered by white police.” The second thing was “sadly some of our protest demonstrations turned violent.” The same question was asked of those who are white and the first thing they thought of when they heard the word Minneapolis was “out of control rioting that destroyed valuable property.” The second thing was “a black man died.”
“We’re not on the same page,” said a friend of George, “we’re seeing the same thing but we’re not feeling the same way.”
The coronavirus has raised related issues. Early reports which now have been substantiated medically are that the virus affects people of different races in radically different ways. People of color are getting sick and dying at a much higher rate in proportion to their population. A number of reasons have been given for this but one of the major ones is the lack of good medical care and good health insurance.
People often say, “As Americans we have the best health system in the world!” The problem is that it just isn’t true. If you have money or wealth you can have good health insurance. If you are poor and have minimum health insurance or no insurance at all you are at high risk and would be better cared for in one of a number of other countries. My mind has changed over the years in regard to this issue. Good health insurance is not a privilege but a right. Every American has a “right” to good health. Some will have better insurance than others but all must have good coverage.
Could the virus turn into a moral issue? Protest assemblies or marches have been in the news lately especially as they relate to “First Amendment rights.” Our Constitution guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, peaceful assembly, and the right to petition. The “Reopen Maryland” rallies are designed as one person wrote in Carroll County to promote a “full and immediate reopening of Maryland.” Health Departments are concerned that opening too soon might spike the infection so more people might get sick and some might even die. One governor even implied that it might have to be a tradeoff. We may have to accept the fact that a few more people might die in order to reopen the economy which is critical for jobs and keeping businesses alive.
What would it take to heal America? More and more Americans of all persuasions have recognized that our nation is sick and needs healing. A number of suggestions have been offered by both sides of the aisle and by people of different races, religions, backgrounds and economic situations.
1. We need national leadership that honestly recognizes the deep division/divide that exists in our country. We can’t sugar coat it any longer.
2. We need to recognize and admit we have a problem and it has existed for a long time and will continue to get worse unless we do something about it. As someone wrote “we need to do more than simply keep the peace with armed forces; we need to learn how to live with ourselves and others armed with the force of peace.” Striving for peace does not mean we sweep all the issues that divide us under the table.
3. Peace does not mean uniformity. Diversity can be healthy if we treat teach each other with respect. Maybe it even means we treat each other as an essential child of God.
4. We need to recognize that none of us has all the answers but together we can move ahead assuming (and that is a big assumption) we want to move ahead.
5. “America first” means that starting the process of healing is more important than being elected or reelected. It is putting the healing of the nation first.
6. Healing means that someone who has a different opinion than I have is not my enemy to be taken down. It might even mean that the different opinion might be better than my own.
7. It means that while all might be suffering some are suffering far more than others and their suffering can lead to death or even tragically the death of those around them.
8. Healing begins when we begin to talk less and listen more. This sounds good but many believe in the cultural division of our time it is not possible.
9. Healing means that while the Creator has given us the day by day responsibility to find answers the Creator is still with us, all of us, working to find healing.
Let the dialogue continue. We only ask that you think on these things.
The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis “Lou” Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.