I know you are all tired of hearing about, talking about, and reading about the COVID-19 pandemic– I am too. I am tired of talking about it, but I am not sure I am done talking about it, because this is not something that is going away,. Talking about it won’t make it disappear, but maybe it will make some of the fear disappear. I have gone from anxious, to calm, to confused, to peaceful, to everywhere in between and back. I (mostly) understand the science, the statistics, the social impact, the economic impact, the emotional impact, and anything else. Two of my strengths are my thirst for knowledge and my ability to see the connection between all things. I’ve done more digging into this pandemic than a lot of people simply because I’m curious; I want to know how it behaves, how it spreads, where the research is going, what we’ve done wrong, and what we can do right (it’s times like this my science and math background come in handy. I’m not easily fooled by the fake science or misleading statistics). I also see how it is impacting everything and how it is impacted by everything. I see why social distancing is important, I see how the environment is affected, I see how the Church is affected, and I see how society at large is affected. I understand the economic impacts and the financial strain it can cause as well as the stress in transition to working from home, or learning online, or navigating the basic necessities. It affects all of us differently and I don’t think any of us will truly realize the impact it had until long after it’s no longer a threat. So, in light of this, I want to share a few things. First, I want to share some of my honest COVID-19 confessions, then how we can respond and how we can support each other. Finally, I want to know how you all are being affected by this uncertain time.
To be perfectly honest, I’d say this is affecting me more than I had imagined it would when this whole thing started. In fact, quite honestly, I’m a little afraid. When I heard COVID-19 had hit Seattle, I had a moment of panic, followed by a moment of relief that it was not near any of the places I frequent, followed by a reminder that it is taking people’s lives, then a rational thought process, then a desire to spring into action. As I watched it spread over the course of that week, and as I watched my school and others around us begin to cancel in-person classes, I moved back to fear, then to a desire to not let fear stop me, then peace, and then back to anxiety. I heard the classic Christian response of faith over fear and found that to be neither helpful nor satisfying. I heard Christians try to rationalize it by saying it’s a God-ordained disease designed to force us to turn back to God. I saw it called an apocalyptic sign of the end times. I read conspiracy theories, political rants, Facebook posts, and lighthearted memes. I’ve been frustrated with people trying to connect it to the gospel message by saying things like “there’s no cure for corona-virus, but there is a cure for sin,” or saying it’s God’s way of destroying our idols by taking away sports and entertainment, and even that we may not need a vaccine because we should just stop doubting and pray. I’ve had Twitter wars with people (what else is new. Also, y’all should follow me on Twitter. It’s golden. It’s the most accurate representation of what goes on in my mind everyday.) and I semi-live tweeted an actual conversation I heard about COVID-19 and the end of the world. All these things were swirling around in my head and I didn’t know what to think or say or do. I don’t ever want to downplay the severity, but I don’t want to panic; I don’t want to take away people’s coping mechanisms, but I am also hesitant to blame God, make it out to be a sign of the end of the world, or use it as a shallow analogy to make people want to turn to God. I don’t want to worry people more, or piss off people who are already worried, but I also don’t want there to be ignorant information about the virus, God’s role in it, or our role in it floating around, because false information can so often lead to dangerous practices. I don’t want this pandemic to be attached to the name of the God of love that I worship, but I also don’t want to make it seem like prayer, faith, and the gospel don’t matter. So, the first week (and since) was an emotional roller coaster.
I wrestled with the idea of flying back to Rochester in anticipation of shut-downs that may prevent me from leaving Seattle, and out of a desire to at least wait it out with my family. But I decided against it because I did not want to expose anyone (coming from Seattle and would be airports), I did not want to get stuck in Rochester longer than anticipated, and I still have some responsibilities here that require my physical presence. Nor did I want to tackle the time zone change with the synchronous structure of our online classes. Staying put in Seattle was the right choice, but for some reason, I am feeling more home sick now than when I first got here. Seattle was just beginning to feel comfortable– to feel like home– and now that I’m “stuck” at home, I began feeling less and less at home.
I attempted to finish the last week of classes and finish my finals strong. I succeeded, but it was not easy. I was frazzled and forgot to hand in a simple assignment that dropped my grade from an A to a B+ (there must have been some other wiggling done, because my math gave me an A-, and the assignment was only worth 5 points, but clearly I am not salty.) I had less motivation than my normal zero motivation, and I was stressed, anxious, and destabilized. My ADHD was in hyper drive, I could not focus during Zoom class sessions and couldn’t focus on finals. My routine was shattered, and I don’t do well with broken routines. It takes my brain a while to transition into a new routine. I was mad because I didn’t sign up to do seminary online knowing it’s not the ideal learning environment for me, and I was sad because this was not how my first year of seminary was supposed to end. I was concerned because I have been struggling with community since my arrival and I worried that having months until I see most of those people again in person would undo any progress I may have made to build community. I was disappointed because my spring break plans went from exploring to Seattle to exploring my Netflix queue. I was disheartened because I had been asked to preach, and this is not how I hoped my first “real” preaching experience would be. I was worried for the health of myself and those I love. I saw people talking about using this time to learn a skill, or work on writing a book, or read more, or devote more time to their hobbies. I felt like a failure because all I wanted to do, all I had the motivation to do, was sit around and binge watch Netflix shows that reminded me of my childhood. Honestly, that’s what I did for much of those weeks, and into my spring break– and that’s okay.
That’s okay because we are in the middle of a pandemic. It is okay to have feelings, it is okay to be uncertain, scared, and even sad. I thought for a long time about how I should, as an amateur scientist, pastor, and theologian, respond and feel. What I came to realize is that it doesn’t really matter what we feel because there are no correct feelings. It doesn’t matter how we respond— whether we hunker down in our beds for days and binge watch Netflix, or get out of bed and try to teach ourselves guitar, or somewhere in between. We need to each be doing our part to stop the spread by practicing good social distancing (which includes not going over to friend’s houses. If you don’t live with them, or you aren’t in a store or doing some other essential business, you should not be hanging out with them), and following the guidelines set out by our leaders. But beyond that, we will all respond differently because we are all affected differently. I went to my scheduled doctor’s appointment and got my medicine switched (and refilled!), finished my finals, then kept binge watching Netflix for a few days. Then I got up and got stuff done as I tried adjusting to my new normal. I started small– I filed my taxes (which took like two days. Because when you move halfway through the year it’s a whole other adventure), then filled out an application, then filled out my absentee ballot (which I still have to mail, but I’ve got time), then began organizing the assignments that have been posted for next quarter. Soon, I am going to tackle some of my assignments for the FM History and Polity class I’m taking for ordination (in fact, you all already know I sat down at my computer to do that and did this instead). Eventually, I’ll read the book assigned to me for one of my classes this quarter. I’m beginning to adjust to this new reality. I don’t have answers, and some days I’m anxious and some days I’m peaceful. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that it’s okay to live in the present and the uncertainty that comes with that. I’m living in this tension of faith vs. fear, death vs. life, productivity vs. relaxation, hope vs. doubt, and knowledge vs. confusion– and that’s okay.
So, here’s my observation, as an amateur scientist, pastor, and theologian. First, it’s important, as Christians, to see this not as a God ordained test of our faith. I’m leaving an article here that says it better than I ever could and that has helped me since its recent publication. Second, it’s important as people to know the facts. And when the facts are confusing, or seem contradictory, or you just can’t tell what’s real anymore, than it is important to follow the guidelines anyway. Whether you believe they are an overreaction or an under-reaction, it is important to follow them for the sake of your own health, the health of those around you, and the health of those you love. And it’s important for the sake of our doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff, because they can do their jobs better when we all do our part. Finally, it is important to listen. Listen to God, but just as importantly, listen to each other. We can’t help each other if we aren’t listening to each other. We’re all struggling in different ways, and that’s okay. We are all alone, but we are all alone together. So, listen. And reach out when you need help. Be more open and honest about your struggles. Reach out to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while– now’s a perfect time because you don’t really need a reason. My friend and I FaceTimed the other day and mostly did our homework and watched a press conference together, and that was exactly what I needed. Talk to a therapist if you need to. Ask a pastor to sit down for a virtual cup of coffee with you and ask her your questions about faith and fear, or doubt and trust, or just life in general. I’m a huge advocate for people over things and prioritizing my time toward relationships instead of to-do lists (which is sometimes hard to do given that I am in grad school, and just given the world we live in but I try), and now is a perfect time to embody that, so hit me up if you have no one to talk to. Pet your cat, snuggle your dog, play with your kids, and listen to each other.
Which brings me to my final point. How are you all doing, how are you coping? Be open, be honest, and be real with one another. Vulnerability can be scary, but so is struggling alone. Go outside and take a walk (while practicing good social distancing of course), turn off the news for a day, shut off your social media, and reach out. Do whatever you need to do. But know that it is okay to not be okay. For us Christians, we are celebrating the season of Lent right now, and more than ever we are forced to come face to face with our mortality. The statistics of those who have died make me grieve, and it is the time we should reflect on death, yet it seems to be the last thing I want to think about. I’m looking forward to Easter, but know it won’t feel very happy and very much like Easter. I know that I’m struggling now, and I know a lot of others are too, but I also know that, eventually, Easter will come– not just the day we mark Christ’s resurrection, but the day that we can all be together again in person. The day when we can shake hands, give hugs, and be in the presence of each other. Until then, reach out and listen. Just because we can’t be together in person doesn’t mean we can’t have community.