“Is This how it all ends?”
That was the title of an article about the Florida beach Spring Break revelers as the world hunkered down in fear and concern as COVID-19 silently, menacingly approached.
Meanwhile, not too far from there, several pastors called on their parishioners to gather as usual—or in even larger groups than usual–and not retreat from the coronavirus.
Some young people bought Corona Beer to cheer on the spirit, if not the results of the lethal virus.
A few of my friends call the virus a CIA/alien/One World Government conspiracy to “cull” humanity for either a global political or environmental agenda.
People are flocking to parks, beaches, or even to outlying areas like vacation cabins or campgrounds. Whatever their intent, they are flooding the streets, buying up groceries and other necessities that that the locals need, and if even one of them is a carrier of the virus, the health—and health care system—of outlying areas is severely compromised.
A more ideal way to spread any infection would be difficult to imagine.
In my neighborhood grocery store customers have been rude and disruptive, and, according to more than one checkout clerk, some customers are coming in the store armed with guns publicly displayed. Others say that the media has created this storm, and we should not do anything about it. We should go on with our lives and all of our usual activities.
I can almost hear these responses in previous eras of persecution, catastrophe, and plague. Such foolishness in the focal point of the scourge, the center of the storm, is a defiant human cry against destiny, disease, and death.
As foolish and vain as it is, there is something almost audacious and universal about it. In what other context would conspiracy theorists, drunken revelers, and the ardently religious join forces and form a front, however preposterously, joining together to take a stand against a common unseen enemy?
“Eat, drink and be Merry,” and maybe sing some praise songs, or blame the Lizard People, it all seems to be the same. Live for today for there is no tomorrow, is the rallying cry of the religious as well as the party crowd. Somehow in their extreme differences, they have come together.
“All is vanity.” Not some, not most. All.
These religious folks and party goers live by a common theme: we have no agency, what will come, will come. Fatalism with a religious flavor or not has become the one “faith” we all, young or old, pagan or faithful, can share, proclaim, and live by. “Evangelists” of this new faith can be found everywhere, in all professions, neighborhoods, and denominations.
But this “faith,” cynical to the core, is not Good News; it is not a clarion call to live or celebrate, because we don’t have the luxury of celebrating our ignorance. In fact, we are called to something far greater. Retreating into cynicism and paralysis, even with a religious frosting, is not an option.
We are called to take care of each other, to take death seriously but not too seriously, to celebrate, and to share the truly good news. And that good news is this: we live in the hands, not of an angry God, but a God who lifts up, heals, and calls us to live in the ever-growing, ever-rejuvenating, ever-generous fullness of the image of our Creator.
“Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is the motto of the cynic, not of the person of faith.
“Rejoice, encourage and share, for today we have the opportunity,” is the calling card and defining theme of the person of faith. Yes, “all is vanity,” in that everything we thought was so important will drift away and what matters most is who we are in the crossfire of seemingly overwhelming challenges.
One person in my neighborhood made a donation to a local restaurant to pay for the next customer’s meals until the money ran out. Others have been putting canned food in the local little libraries. Social distancing has perhaps reminded us most of all that we share far more than we ever knew. And those small (and sometimes not so small) gestures that make community also make us human and closer to the fullness of the image of God.
As always, when we are challenged, we have the choice to become larger or smaller, more open or more closed, and, in this case, literally more living or more dying.
Either way, we are constantly becoming.
It just might be how it all ends – or, after a thousand false starts, how it begins.