Here are five things worth paying attention to this week. These are designed to expose you to a perspective you may not normally come across in your daily lives.
1. Psychic numbness affects us all during the stress of this pandemic, and the telling sign that frostbite has reached the soul is the loss of empathy for the suffering of others. The range of responses to pain visible daily is revelatory, and it is frightening. The capacity to experience empathy appears in various levels:
- A. Some are only capable to name empathy (“One should feel empathy for the losses, the infirmities, the suffering of fellow humans”)
- B. Others are able to claim empathy (“Of course I feel your pain; it is unfortunate that you have lost so much.”)
- C. The truly human person can show empathy (“Your grief is my grief; your pain is my pain; I cannot fully know how deeply you are hurting, but I am hurting with you in your pain or loss.”)
- D. True fellow-feeling equips one to embody empathy. (“I have no adequate words, only tears, no comforting lines, only my silent brokenness.”)
The soul of empathy is presence. The action of empathy is availability. Those who fake it use A and B; those who know it use C and D.
2. Exit the American empire. The lead article in the Los Angeles Times on May 8 was, “U.S. exit from world stage is a global crisis,” by David Shribman. A leadership vacuum laid bare by a pandemic may be irreversible, an event unlike any since the decline of the Spanish empire in the early 1700s. The confession that the United States sustained an empire of domination, the consternation over loss of power over others, the confusion of what our role might be in a level world, the lack of contrition on our failure to do what might have been done in this crisis are all issues we mull and ponder and pray about.
3. “History is written by the winners,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr said last week, “so it largely depends on who’s writing the history.” This was not said in the lament of Howard Zinn, Arnold Toynbee, James Loewen or other historians who review the self-exonerating history approved by nations and their leaders, it was said in defense of current partisan reversal of courts. The aphorism, once true, is no longer so. The cries of the oppressed are not totally silenced; the voices of the violated do not go unheard; the power of the web and the “fake news” that cries like Abel’s blood is heard by those who listen.
4. We are not at war with the coronavirus. Military metaphors for the pandemic dehumanize all of us. Care-givers and researchers become “warriors,” and those who die are only collateral damage. Jason Mahn has given us language to speak back to those who see us “at war with a virus” in The Christian Century, May 6. When teaching pastoral therapy, we say, “There is nothing so toxic as a bad metaphor, nothing more healing than a good one.” What is more toxic than war? We are sharing our lists of natural and realistic metaphors. What word pictures are helpful for you?
5. Calm, patience, stillness, solidarity. The fever of life, the rush of the old “normal” has slowed, and the savoring of life, relationships, friends, blessed quiet is a new normal that is also a gift. Time to both grieve and be grateful — grieve the losses that are so painful in all countries around the world, gratitude that we are never alone. (John 14:15-21 is the Lectionary reading for Sunday.) One feels solidarity with a wide world in the present and with the hymn writers of the psalter, the wisdom of the prophets who speak of their confidence in spite of pestilence. Millennia past become yesterday.
David and Leann Augsburger are two semiretired people who co-lead a home-based church (Peace Mennonite Church, Claremont, California) and volunteer to welcome, care and connect people in the San Gabriel valley.