We Could Have Opened Schools in the Fall

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had not treated the virus like a hoax and downplayed the seriousness of the threat in February.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump been more concerned in February and early March about the virus than he was about its impact on the stock market, if he had prioritized public health over the health of Wall Street.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had created a robust testing and contact tracing program like South Korea and we were able to contain the virus in the early weeks of its spread.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had imposed a national lockdown in early March with no arbitrary reopening date.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had not tweeted that we should liberate states weeks before lockdowns should have ended.

We could have opened schools in the fall if governors had not followed Trump’s call to reopen states weeks too early in noncompliance with CDC guidelines.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had not chosen to make not wearing masks a symbol of political loyalty to him instead of taking the lead by modeling mask wearing as a way to slow community spread.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had created a national mask mandate so that when the time was right the economy could open more safely.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had listened to the public health experts instead of trying to discredit them to distract from his incompetent and criminally negligent response to a global pandemic.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had not done all of these things or if Trump had not been president to do all of these things, but Trump is the president and he did all these things, so we cannot open schools in the fall because to do so in the midst of a massive surge in cases, hospitalizations, and now increased deaths would be both immoral and murderous.

The only morally responsible thing to do is to reverse course on all of the mistakes Trump has made for the sake of his own political and economic gain and work as hard as we can to be able to open schools in the spring if the public health experts say there is evidence that it is safe to do so. I wish we could open schools in the fall, but we can’t because Donald J. Trump is President of the United States of America.

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In the Fox Hole with Fauci

In light of recent attempts by the Trump Administration to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci and make him a scapegoat to distract us from Trump’s abject failure to contain COVID-19, I think it is important for us to take stock of the character of these two men in a very straightforward manner. Here is the difference between Fauci and Trump in a nutshell:

When Fauci said early on in the pandemic that face masks were not effective (one of the things the Trump Administration is using to discredit Fauci), he was communicating a working hypothesis based on his understanding of the evidence at the time that wearing face masks would not keep you from contracting the virus. When the evidence became clear that wearing masks slows the spread of COVID-19 by protecting others from coming into contact with droplets potentially carrying the virus from our breathing, coughing, speaking, etc., Fauci changed his mind about the efficacy of masks based on his understanding of the new evidence and communicated his new position with transparency. This is what scientists do.

Trump on other hand does not base his views about masks based on scientific evidence. He bases them on vanity, political expediency, and whatever he thinks will mobilize his base. Trump doesn’t promote masks because he is afraid that by doing so he would be admitting that we really do have a big problem with a massive resurgence of the virus, and this goes against his narrative that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and that we are on the road to a great recovery.

Fauci – makes his statements based on his best understanding of the evidence and is transparent with the people about what he thinks is most helpful for their health and safety.

Trump – changes his message about the virus constantly with very little transparency and no regard (even an antipathy) for scientific evidence. What he tells us about the virus is what he thinks will get him re-elected even if it harms our health and threatens or even takes our lives.

In a battle against a deadly disease, there is no doubt that we need people like Fauci leading the fight, and people like Trump simply need to shut up until we vote him into the dustbin of history reserved for other demagogues who put their political and economic power over the well-being and the very lives of the people.

In the fox hole of the fight against COVID-19 or in the fight for truth in general for that matter, we need people like Fauci, and we should reject unequivocally Trump’s disingenuous and self-serving attacks on a true patriot.

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Tulsa Can’t Breathe

Holding the largest indoor gathering in the whole world since the beginning of the worst global pandemic in a century, in a city that is experiencing its highest rates of community spread of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, in a state that is experiencing its highest rates of community spread of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, in a region of the country that is experiencing its highest rates of community spread of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, in a country that has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other country in the world is really orders of magnitude worse than shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. It is in effect one of the most Jim Jones like actions the world has seen since Jim Jones himself forced his followers en masse to drink cyanide Kool-Aid in his last desperate act of expressing his power over them. Trump’s insatiable ego is fed by the willingness of his devoted followers to drink in the COVID-19 air of Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center.

To satisfy his sociopathic narcissism, Trump is bringing tens of thousands of people into the most high risk setting imaginable for contracting and spreading a deadly virus that has already killed 120,000 of our siblings in the United States and over 450,000 persons around the world. While we know from experience that this deadly virus has an inordinately negative and deadly impact on black, Latinx, and indigenous persons; this gathering is being held in a city in which a race massacre 99 years ago killed more black people en masse than at any other time in the United States in what was the largest act of domestic terrorism in the history of our country; it is being held in a state with a large and vulnerable indigenous community whose ancestors were removed from their homes and their land and forced to come to Oklahoma, with many of them dying of disease, hunger, and hardship on the journey, by a president whose portrait our current president hangs proudly in the Oval Office; it is being held in a region of the country in which there is a large and vulnerable Latinx community, many of whom have restricted access to quality healthcare; and it is being held at a time in which tensions related to the injustice of systemic racism are higher than they have been for over 50 years.

The act of holding this rally in Tulsa at this time is potentially one of the most violent and deadly acts ever perpetrated by a President of the United States on the people of the United States. The suffering and death it will cause will not happen in the arena or in the overflow venues of the rally itself, but it will happen slowly over the next few weeks and months as the most vulnerable among us will be more likely to become ill, suffer, and die alone unable to breathe in ICUs separated from family and other loved ones, their wisdom and experience lost to us forever – all so Trump can have his narcissistic rally fix; and Oklahoma Governor Stitt, Tulsa Mayor Bynum, the Bank of Oklahoma Center, and any other person or group who had the power to stop this death rally will be complicit and will forever go down in history for being so.

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Your Presidency Might Not Be Going Too Well If…

Some signs that your presidency may not be going too well:

– You have to hide in the White House bunker out of fear of angry protestors.

– You have to use rubber bullets, tear gas, blunt force, police in riot gear with shields, and police on horseback to clear a path to be able to walk across the street from the White House.

– While you are speaking out against police brutality against persons of color, you literally use police brutality against persons of color to clear a street so that you can take a picture in front of a church with a bunch of white people.

– You have to build another fence around the original fence that had sufficed to protect the White House for all of your predecessors who lived there since it was rebuilt after the War of 1812.

– Religious leaders denounce you for using their churches and shrines as political props for your political gain and describe your actions as being antithetical to the values of their faith.

– You have given up trying to do anything to stop the most deadly pandemic in 100 years because you are utterly incapable of addressing it effectively beyond promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine, injecting disinfectants, and internal UV light treatments.

– Millions of protestors have decided that injustice is so horrible during your presidency that they are willing to risk being in large groups during the worst global pandemic in a century.

– The nuclear codes you think are at your disposal are not the actual codes out of an abundance of caution (wishful thinking on this one, but hope it is true).

– Your job performance and mental instability have led the majority of the country to know the 25th Amendment of the United States Constitution by heart.

– The words “American carnage” are trending as a description of your presidency.

– The picture of you holding a Bible looks something like a Vampire holding a bag of garlic right before sunrise.

– Your picture holding a Bible causes a photoshopped picture of Hitler holding a Bible to go viral.

– Washington, DC is beginning to look a lot like Tiananmen Square in 1989 rather than the capital of the United States of America.

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The Only Way Forward Is Justice

The following are some factors that are contributing to the uprising we are seeing across the country, beginning with the specific and moving to the more general and systemic:

1. Any non-police officer would have been arrested for probable cause immediately after authorities saw the tape of the murder of George Floyd.

2. Minneapolis police contributed to the escalation of violence by using tear gas and excessive force during the first day of protests that were mainly peaceful.

3. The County Attorney in Minneapolis made a statement in a press conference on Thursday that “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.” This was like throwing gasoline on a fire after the whole world watched George Floyd be murdered right before their eyes.

4. President Trump called the persons protesting George Floyd’s death “THUGS” and repeated and glorified the violent rhetoric of an extremely racist 1960s Miami police chief, tweeting “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” thus pouring more gasoline on the fire of unrest.

5. As a country we had just witnessed the fact that the only reason arrests were made in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery is because the video of his killing was made public – a video that local authorities had in their possession for two months before it became public.

6. The crimes we see against persons of color by police are just the tip of the iceberg. They have been occurring throughout our country’s entire history, and we are only seeing it more clearly now because of cellphones, but it has always been there terrorizing persons of color.

7. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that has made it as clear as ever that there are gross inequities and injustices in our society as persons of color experience illness, death, and other negative consequences of the pandemic at a much higher rate.

8. We have never come to terms with the fact that our country was built on genocide, slavery, centuries of racism, and racist terrorism; with systemic racism permeating almost every aspect of our society to this day.

9. When there is no justice, we cannot expect for there to be peace. For centuries, we have prioritized order over justice to protect the status quo of white privilege and white supremacy. When the voice of the oppressed is ignored and the vulnerable are marginalized, we cannot expect the social fabric to hold together.

10. We have the worst leader at one of the most difficult and challenging times in our history. He has spent his whole presidency dividing us against one another, enacting racist and xenophobic policies, separating families of color, putting children in cages, turning away refugees, and scapegoating others rather than working to bring us together as a community. We cannot be surprised that these deep divisions and injustices are manifesting themselves in violent ways.

The only way out of our quagmire is to address the systemic injustice and racism that continue to oppress persons of color in our society. It is the only way to a peaceful future with justice – the only way.

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A Pandemic Parable

A woman went down to the grocery store where she had to work as a cashier during the pandemic to support her family. She encountered persons who did not respect the risk that her job posed to her, who stripped her of her dignity, mocked her for wearing a mask, and left her each day in danger of possible death.

Now it just so happened that an evangelical Christian was going down the same checkout lane, and when he saw the woman at the register, he crossed over too close to the woman inside the distance of 6 feet while not wearing a mask and said to her “it’s too bad you have to wear that silly mask so I can’t see your pretty smile.” He paid for his groceries, spraying droplets on the credit card reader as he spoke, and went on his way.

Likewise, an evangelical minister came by that same checkout lane, saw the woman cashier, and crossing inside the distance of 6 feet and also not wearing a mask invited the woman to come to his church next Sunday because unlike so many other churches that continued to have online services, his church decided to reopen a few weeks ago. He paid for his groceries, spraying droplets on the credit card reader as he spoke, and went on his way.

A Muslim woman with a head covering and a mask, who was also shopping in the store, came to where the woman cashier was. But when she saw her and the way the people in front of her had treated the woman, she was moved with compassion. The Muslim woman stayed at least 6 feet away from the cashier, thanked her for her help, and wiped the credit card reader with disinfectant after using it. Then she noticed that the mask the woman cashier was using was rather tattered and did not fit her well, so she placed the groceries in her basket and told the cashier that she had something in her car for her. In the next few minutes, the Muslim woman returned into the store with box of new masks and gave them to the cashier, thanking her again for her help in allowing her to come and purchase food for her family.

What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the woman?

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Pandemic Beatitudes

Blessed are the mask wearers, for they help keep persons of sacred worth from dying alone and scared, separated from family and friends.

Blessed are those who care for the sick and comfort the dying, for they are the presence of Beloved Community.

Blessed are those who mourn the dead rather than minimize their death, for they will retain their humanity.

Blessed are the scientists searching for treatments and vaccines, for they are bearers of hope.

Blessed are the food providers for those who can and cannot pay, for they are sustainers of life.

Blessed are those who keep their distance, for they allow our beloved ones to remain close.

Blessed are those who refuse to profit unjustly from the pandemic, for they bear witness to justice and common decency.

Blessed are employers who keep workers safe, for they value life over profit.

Blessed are leaders who make compassionate decisions based upon knowledge and evidence, for they forge a wise path.

Blessed are the truth tellers, for they provide the best information possible to keep all of us safe.

Blessed are those who do not use the pandemic to divide us, for they work for the common good of all.

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Wearing Masks: The Tale of Two COVID19 Graphics

Propaganda 101 – Here is a little lesson about propaganda that can be seen in what I will call “The Tale of Two COVID19 Graphics.”

Let’s say you are starting out with the goal of wanting to convince people that the CDC and people like Dr. Fauci are lying to us about how bad COVID19 is because you either want to convince people or you want to be convinced yourself that it is okay to lift the COVID19 restrictions and fully open up our economy.

You can’t just say the CDC and Dr. Fauci are lying; you have to provide “evidence” that makes it appear they are lying about one or more things related to COVID19 so you can get people to believe the CDC and Dr. Fauci are lying about other things related to COVID19. Once you convince people to think the CDC and Fauci are lying about a few things, it is relatively easy through propaganda to persuade people to think they are lying about everything and that their guidance for how to respond to COVID19 ought to be ignored.

Graphic #1

Take a look at the first of the two graphics provided as an example of how this works. I noticed this graphic on the social media profile of someone I know who has been incessantly making the argument that we need to open everything back up, quickly develop herd immunity, and take back our lives and our economy. The first graphic shows that COVID19 is smaller than the pores in almost any protective mask we could wear, so the intended take-away of the graphic is that we should conclude that masks could not possibly be effective in slowing the spread of the virus.

The first graphic is basically being used to convey that if the CDC and Fauci are lying to us about the effectiveness of masks, then they might be and probably are lying to us about many other things, so let’s liberate the states and free America from these lying bureaucratic technocrats who want to control us and take away our freedoms and livelihoods. See how it works? If you are only seeing the first picture, and you are already prone to want to believe that the virus is a political hoax or some power grab by the government, this graphic can be very compelling.

But here is the deal; the graphic, while conveying bits of true information in and of itself, is being used to perpetuate a lie that masks are ineffective in curbing the spread of the virus. See the second graphic and notice what purposely is left off the propagandized version.

Graphic #2

Although it may be the case that the virus itself is smaller than the pores of the masks, it is also true that the virus mostly travels on droplets from breathing, talking, coughing, or sneezing that are larger than the pores in the mask; so the masks actually do have a positive effect in keeping fewer droplets conveying the virus from getting into the environment, and the N95 masks actually do have a positive impact, especially when combined with other precautions, on protecting our health workers and others in high risk frontline positions. The CDC and Fauci are telling the truth, and if we understand they are telling us the truth about this, then we become more open to realize that they are telling us the truth about other aspects of this virus and how we should be responding to it.

But the propagandists who want you to believe that our response to the virus has been a “success story” and who want to get “the economy rocking again by July” don’t want you to believe the CDC and Fauci. They want you to believe that masks are basically worthless and that the people telling you otherwise cannot be trusted. That is why they show you half the story with Graphic #1 and don’t show you the more complete story of Graphic #2. They are lying to you. It is understandable that many want to believe this lie, but it does not change the fact that it is a lie – a very dangerous and deadly lie.

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50th Anniversary Earth Day Message

Readings for the day from Genesis 1: 26-31; Leviticus 25:8-13; and I Timothy 6: 7-10. (Common English Bible)

Video of service here.

It is a privilege to be able to bring an Earth Day message to the Mayflower UCC community. This past week, on April 22nd, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day in 1970 occurred during a time when there was hope that we as a society were beginning to make significant progress in moving towards greater environmental responsibility.

On that first Earth Day in 1970, it is estimated that 20 million people in the United States took to the streets to protest what the industrial revolution had done to the environment and to call for a new way of living on our planet which is our only home. That first Earth Day is often seen as the birth of the modern environmental movement.  A few months later in December of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed. The Clean Air Act was passed that same year of 1970, and just two years later in 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed. In 1973 the Endangered Species Act was signed into law. In fact there was so much positive environmental legislation passed and signed into law in the early 1970s that the Nixon Administration might be known today as the Ecological Presidency had there not been a little incident called Watergate.

That first Earth Day, full of so much hope and followed by so many legislative successes could have been and should have been the beginning of an environmental reformation of human society. It could have been and should have been that moment of national and global repentance from our ways of environmental destruction, and it should have led to a transformation of our social, economic, and political systems to foster a new sustainable way of relating to the world.

After the Clean Air Act was passed, our skies became less smoggy; after the Clean Water Act was passed, the days of rivers literally catching on fire were behind us; and after the Endangered Species Act was passed, critical habitat for endangered wildlife was now protected by law. With these successes, the environmental movement was poised to address other critical environmental concerns like deforestation and overconsumption of resources that stressed the carrying capacity of the planet, and in the late 1980s the environmental movement began to mobilize to address the global threat of climate change.

So all of this begs the question – what happened, what went wrong? Why have we lost over 50% of wildlife since that first Earth Day 50 years ago? Why have extinction rates increased to the point where species are becoming extinct at least 100 times faster than they would without human activity? Why are we slashing and burning down rainforests? Why have we weakened our clean air and clean water standards? Why are we rolling back environmental regulations across the board for industrial activity? Why have we ignored climate change for so long that it has become a climate crisis that is now well on the way to climate chaos? Why have so many Christians and Christian churches been so absent from the critical work of ecological responsibility, and why are so many persons who identify as Christians often supportive of policies and persons that are so damaging to the environment? 

One simple answer to these questions of “what went wrong?” relates to something we have been warned about within our Christian tradition – the love of money. Unfortunately, even though some significant progress was made in the years following that first Earth Day fifty years ago, it was also the case that many industrial interests pushed back against the new environmental regulations and sought to diminish the environmental movement and its accomplishments. Unfortunately, there were literally trillions of dollars to be made from industries and activities that are detrimental to the well-being of the natural world, and when there are trillions of dollars to be made, you can rest assured that many persons will organize and do all within their power to get their piece of the multi-trillion dollar pie.

Under the banner of freedom, free enterprise, and capitalism and often mixed with Christian language and symbols; there has been a very effective movement to undermine responsible care for the environment over the past fifty years. Billions of dollars have been spent to push back and lobby against the environmental movement, environmental legislation, and environmental regulations to insure that industries could continue to pursue activities that give them their piece of the multi-trillion dollar pie. The result has been continued extinction of wildlife, continued deforestation, continued environmental deregulation, and continued climate change hurling us towards climate chaos. Our situation is simply unsustainable for people and for much of the rest of life on the planet.

And if our ecological crisis were not bad enough, now we face a global pandemic, which makes it difficult to even think about the ecological challenges that we are currently facing. In the middle of a global pandemic, it is more than understandable that we long for things to get back to normal. Normal is not this, and almost anything is better than this; but if all we do is get back to normal, are we really getting where we need to be? Isn’t it the case that normal is both unjust and unsustainable. Normal is what has created the crisis that our human community and ecological community are now facing.  

I don’t want to get back to the normal of environmental racism, medical bankruptcies, and employer based healthcare that can be lost as fast as the spread of a pandemic.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of extreme income inequality, unequal access to healthcare and education that perpetuates generational poverty, and a criminal justice system that enslaves people of color behind walls of systemic injustice.

I don’t want to get back to the normal in which essential workers are paid unlivable wages and forced to work two or three jobs to avoid living on the streets.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of growing white nationalism, family separations, kids in cages, exploitation of migrant workers, and walls of racism.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of unsustainable overconsumption, torture chambers of concentrated animal feed operations, and climate crisis denial hurling us towards climate chaos that threatens so much life on earth.

If normal is all we can get back to as we work through this pandemic, then we simply perpetuate a world in which the most vulnerable among us and the planet itself continue to suffer, and we miss the opportunity to bring regeneration to our human and ecological communities.

The systems and structures that make so many people of color and other persons who don’t have adequate access to economic opportunity and quality healthcare to be much more vulnerable to this virus must be transformed if there is to be anything approaching resurrection from these days of death.

I want us all to get through this pandemic with the least amount of suffering and death, but I don’t want to get back to the normal that perpetuates the open and festering wound of systemic inequality and injustice in our communities. I don’t want to get back to the normal of continuing the sixth great extinction on our planet. I don’t want to get back to the normal of creating an unlivable climate for generations to come. I don’t want to get back to the normal of losing another 50% of wildlife over the next fifty years. I don’t want to get back to the normal of allowing corporations to make trillions of dollars off of the devastation of our planet.

Perhaps now fifty years after the first Earth Day, we can begin to see clearly that wanting to get back to that kind of normal should not be accepted as being normal. As members of the Christian tradition and members of all humanity, perhaps we can all agree that what has been considered normal has not shown the love that we are called to have for our neighbors, nor has it shown the love we are all called to have for God’s very good creation. I pray that we will not simply get back to normal, but that we might find the courage and creativity to bring a new day of Jubilee and justice for both people and the planet as a whole. Amen.

(Dedicated to Mary Elizabeth Moore in honor of the occasion of her retirement as Dean of Boston University School of Theology. She has been a transformative dean, helping BUSTH stay true to its heritage as the School of the Prophets, and she has done so much to bring healing to the world.)

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Getting Back to Normal?

As we face a global pandemic, it is more than understandable that we long for things to get back to normal. Normal is not this, and almost anything is better than this; but if all we do is get back to normal, are we really getting where we need to be?

I don’t want to get back to the normal of environmental racism, medical bankruptcies, and employer based healthcare that can be lost as fast as the spread of a pandemic.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of extreme income inequality, unequal access to healthcare and education that perpetuates generational poverty, and a criminal justice system that enslaves people of color behind walls of systemic injustice.

I don’t want to get back to the normal in which essential workers are paid unlivable wages and forced to work two or three jobs to avoid living on the streets.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of growing white nationalism, family separations, kids in cages, exploitation of migrant workers, and walls of racism.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of unsustainable overconsumption, torture chambers of concentrated animal feed operations, and climate crisis denial hurling us towards climate chaos that threatens so much life on earth.

If normal is all we can get back to as we work through this pandemic, then we simply perpetuate a world in which the most vulnerable among us continue to suffer, and we miss the opportunity to bring regeneration to our human and ecological communities.

The systems and structures that make so many people of color and other persons who don’t have adequate access to economic opportunity and quality healthcare to be much more vulnerable to this virus must be transformed if there is to be anything approaching resurrection from these days of death.

I want us all to get through this pandemic with the least amount of suffering and death, but I don’t want to get back to the normal that perpetuates the open and festering wound of systemic inequality and injustice in our communities. Wanting to get back to that kind of normal should not be accepted as being normal.

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