I shall dwell in the house … my whole life longPsalm 23:6, partial
When I posted a reflection on the 23rd Psalm for the 4th Sunday of Lent, I could not picture what life would be like as we approached the 4th Sunday of Easter. Here we are, still, at home for what may feel like our whole lives long. Depending on where we live, we may be considering when and how to bring congregations together in person once again. At my house, we have noted the number of advertisements featuring evocative music in a minor key, used to illustrate how we are all in this together, though most fail to note the racial and economic inequities at play.
At the same time, demonstrations against stay at home orders have taken place.
“Sacrifice the weak” read one sign demanding businesses be reopened.
That particular sign was seen in Tennessee, but I fear the sentiment underlies much of the thinking of those agitating to reopen. Many in the U.S. have been taught to think of freedom in individual terms. I understand the feeling of economic anxiety and psycho-spiritual restlessness that stay at home orders cause, but as Christians, our frame of reference – ideally, anyway – is not just personal, but collective. Not only did Jesus stress that we will show we are his disciples by our love for one another, but the earliest expression of church set a communal example for us.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
It’s a timely message for this Good Shepherd Sunday, a reminder that what’s good for you or me must not outweigh what is good for people on the margins, whether because of their race, their immigration status, their underlying health conditions, or their economic situation. What drives how we form opinions and make decisions? Whose health and safety will matter to us? “If today’s economic debates about who is worthy and unworthy seem like theological debates, it’s because originally, they were,” writes Daniel José Camacho in an essay for Sojourners that helped me brush up on Malthus: On “Sacrificing the Weak” and these Malthusian Times. “Malthus’s economic framing took on the shape of a religious conviction about who deserves to eat and who deserves to starve.” It’s neither new nor news that some Christians value the economy over the common good, whether justified by “trickle down” theories or, as in Malthus’s thinking, a broad categorization of the poor as undeserving and plagues as God’s and nature’s way of right-sizing the population.
What means do we have to encourage a different kind of conversation about who matters in God’s economy? We have scripture, and we have an interpretive lens, and an opportunity to share a message of God’s love and care expressed in community streamed or Zoomed into people’s homes. We have stories of people in our congregations and our neighborhoods who are making sure others have what they need, whether it’s packets of yeast left on the front porch for frustrated bakers, or handmade masks dropped off by the back door, or church donation drive-ups for food packs to be distributed by the school system. Those are three stories from my house and my town; I know you have more. This is the time for a personal message, a contextual message, a reminder that there are signs of God’s goodness and care in the world, and that we are called to manifest them our whole lives long.
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