Are You There, Humanity? It’s Me, Marcia.
Are you there, humanity? It’s me, Marcia.*
We’ve tried talking before—the whole lot of us. I am a theologian, after all. What in the world would I be doing if I weren’t trying to talk to all of humanity? I come from a particular context, and context does limit perspective. But, this time, I am actually really hoping you all can hear me out.
The truth is, I’ve been concerned about you, that’s all of us, for a while now. We can be such a self-destructive bunch! It’s breaks my heart, and I know you probably feel it, too. War, violence, hatred, abuse of power, greed, and self-loathing—the list goes on and on. We hurt each other and we hurt ourselves way too much. It’s a story as old as time. And it’s our story.
I’ve said all this before.
What? You don’t remember when I tried bringing this all up!
I’ve written books, preached sermons, posted blogs, and written chapters in anthologies. None of them hit the NY Times Best Seller list or anything. A few things went viral, but they didn’t have a huge reach by coronavirus standards. So I guess I am not surprised you don’t remember how many times I have tried to talk about this with you.
Coronavirus has schooled us all on what “going viral” really means.
And that’s why I am really hoping we can all talk now. This virus is not playing around. This virus is deadly and does not discriminate. This virus is telling us, “I’m coming for you”—that’s all of us, that’s the whole human race.
I may be losing a few of you at this point—some of you who think this virus isn’t that big of a deal, some of you who think this virus isn’t even real. I hope you’ll stick around, just hear me out. You matter to me. You matter to all of us.
Here is goes:
Number One: What I love about you, humanity, is your spirit. So, I want to thank you for the bursts of love, creativity, hilarity, and, well, humanity, that you have shared these last several weeks on the planet earth. You can be so amazing, so gentle, so brave, so healing. And I see you, we see you. You are making a difference. You are helping us all. Thank you. That’s the first thing: thank you, beautiful spirit of humanity, for living like all of us matter, for living like the whole world matters.
Number Two: Sometimes you, humanity, do things that really hurt. And I am begging you to stop. Stop hurting us. Stop hurting all of us. Stop hurting yourself.
So, this will be the hardest thing for you to hear. But, I am praying you will listen.
Especially those of you who have said “to heck with social distancing.” Especially those of you who are going about your business like it’s nobody else’s business. Especially those of you who think, it’s no big deal if you let your kids get together with their friends right now, or if you just meet one friend for coffee. Especially those of you who think this is a good time for a vacation. Especially those of you who are trying to justify that your workplace is “essential” when it really isn’t essential in the way we’re supposed to be thinking of essential.
You can probably see where I am going here.
I really want you to take a minute to think about what really is essential about you.
Humanity, we really have a hard time with noticing and acknowledging our own impact. Especially in the United States of America. We’ve been told that we are individuals. And we’ve been told that we should be free to do whatever we want to do. Freedom and self-determination can be beautiful things, until we forget that we embrace those values as a collective, not as free agents.
Even when we collectively agree that we should not be beholden to the government or a monarchy on matters of conscience or self-determination, we still have an impact on each other. And our greatest failure as a human family is the way we have denied our impact. Our actions impact EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. And that impact needs to be a part of how we make all of our decisions for humanity to be well.
Make no mistake: COVID19 is capitalizing on our failure to accept this truth about ourselves.
The coronavirus is teaching us, in a really gut-wrenching way, that we don’t get it. We don’t get the whole impact thing. And frankly, I am so frustrated that we don’t. Why don’t we! It’s not like there haven’t been devastating examples over and over again through history.
This denial of impact is an especially acute condition of white people of Northern European decent. It’s not because of skin color that white people of Northern European decent are this way; it is because of the cultures that have formed us that we are this way.
Skin color is an accident of birth. Culture is formation that we can actually become conscious of and change.
So, here’s the thing, humanity. We’re in this mess because we have been notoriously bad at solidarity and we are bad at long-range planning and we are bad at seeing ourselves clearly. This virus is our chance to get better at these things.
But it is going to take the parts of humanity who are always looking for ways to justify that we are the exception to the rule to see the error of our way of life.
You (we, any of us) are not the exception to the rule!
We actually never have been. None of us ever have been. And all this time when we may have acted as if we are an exception to the rule, we have been hurting people—lots of people.
The virus is showing us how the whole impact thing works:
- First, you think the common good doesn’t apply to you.
- Second, you do what you want to do without regard to impact.
- Third, your impact still happens to the detriment of others.
- Fourth, you then take steps to explain away your impact so it’s not really about your actions.
- Fifth, you then take further steps to not have to see your impact.
- And sixth, you then befriend your two best friends, Denial and Avoidance.
Humanity, I know you and these friends go way back! And they have helped you get through some hard times, but the truth is these two friends are not good for you!
They are turning you into someone God did not intend you to be. I am just praying you out-grow these two so-called “friends” and see what they are doing to you, to us.
Nobody likes you when you are around them. They make you seem so arrogant, so callous, so self-absorbed. I can’t imagine you really feel good about yourself when you are with them either.
They don’t really care about you! In fact, they don’t care about you. They can be all fun and games for a while, but then when the truth hits, they will be nowhere to be found. And you’ll be left with the impact of your actions and no one to soften the blow, no one to tell you lies anymore.
If this part of our talk is making you mad or you feel like you are still the exception to the rule, please listen to at least one scientist who tries to lay it out for us in no uncertain terms. Read his message to us, humanity, here. If you are choosing not to listen to scientists these days, would you be willing to take a minute and be honest with yourself about how well that is working for you and your community?
Cliff notes version of epidemiologist Jonathan Smith’s message: If we are looking for ways to deny our impact, to “cheat” about social distancing and staying home, then we are not just part of the problem, we ARE the problem, at this point.
Which brings me back to the way you actually are essential: your impact. What I am asking is that you stop and think about impact with every choice you make. With each choice we make, we need to ask ourselves:
- Knowing that I have the capability right now to cause the spread of a deadly virus, how can I minimize my impact?
- Knowing that one careless choice can literally kill people, how can I be more thoughtful about the decision I am making right now?
So, that’s the second thing: Our actions impact EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. And that impact needs to be a part of how we make our daily decisions for humanity to be well. We are not good at this in general, humanity. So, for this kind of thoughtfulness to be our norm it is going to take some discomfort and some stretching for all of us.
Number Three: Let’s stay in touch about all of this, about everything we’ve talked about.
Because even with all of what I said in number two, I miss you like crazy!
I miss the hustle and bustle of crowded streets. I miss the energy of a stadium full of people exploding with joy. I miss a packed sanctuary passing the peace and having trouble quieting down. I miss hugs and praying in hospital rooms with families joining hands around someone they love. I miss track practice. I miss talking to a stranger who sits next to me on the bus. In short, humanity, I miss living out our days in proximity to each other.
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t miss you enough to risk everyone’s life to avoid the grief of what it is that I miss.I will sit with this grief because these losses are what we need to bear for each other. This grief is a function of our love for each other. You can’t outrun the grief by denying that the losses are real. You can’t outrun the grief by avoiding the truth that we have to be apart right now.
So, when I say, let’s keep in touch, I mean let’s support each other from a distance in every way we can right now—social distancing, staying at home, being thoughtful about every decision we make that involves encountering other people, telling ourselves the truth about the impact of everything we do.
If you have the power to help workers stay home, exercise that power for the common good. If you have to go out, practice distancing and hygiene and don’t be afraid of the tension that it might create for you to invite your human siblings around you to do the same. It’s because you love them, not because they annoy the hell out of you, that you are inviting them to consider humanity in their decisions, too. It’s because it’s true now and it always has been true–impact matters!
Another truth is that I love you. That’s why I wanted to talk. And I pray every day for you, for all of us, to be well. If we can get better at all of us being well because of this virus, then we will have really done something good, humanity!
I won’t give up on believing in you, in us, in all of us, together.
Thanks for listening.
*Thank you, Judy Blume
8 thoughts on “Are You There, Humanity? It’s Me, Marcia.”
In case you missed it, here’s a link to last night’s 60 Minutes segment on Brene Brown. She has launched a podcast dealing with the same issues you’re speaking about. I’m a fan of hers, and you.
Thank you for the link, Dave. I appreciate it. And thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I pray you and your family are holding up in these difficult days. It is good to hear from you!
Grateful for theologians like you!
Thank you, Tami. And I am thankful for theologians and pastors and activists and human beings like you!
Thank you for these words of truth, compassion and good counsel!
Thank you Marcia – I’m reading your words in the chaplain’s office – desiring deeply to visit those who are awake with anxiety and worry during these late hours…and finding such truth in your words as i visit by phone, from the doorway, in writing and by simply letting the floor staff know that i am present in the building with them. I look forward to the day I can sit at table with you once again, humanity. Peace my friend. Bill Jewell.
Thank you, Bill, for reading and responding. Being a pastor right now is challenging–so much of our role is being physically present with people. And now we can’t do that like we have. I have been grieving that loss. I am finding myself leaning into prayer so much more–trusting that somehow, in God’s mystery, prayer is a way for me to be present. Prayers for you as you hold people in the Light! And prayers for you as you navigate all of this on every level of who you are.
Beautifully stated! All so true. We will learn from this horrible virus and hopefully move on as better people. Our neighborhood has been so quiet with everyone inside that the Ponders and Hendersons decided to email all and stand on our back decks and ring a bell. Was a big success, everyone engaging at quite some distance. Jim then brought out his trumpet and played patriotic songs ending with taps. A big spark of humanity for one neighborhood.