The isolation that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic provided the opportunity for me to do some studying. Actually, it was more like a time of deep reflection. As a priest, I saw the stoppage of routine activities as an opportunity for deeper spiritual contemplation. I took advantage of the void and provided daily video reflections on the Bible readings of the day and even held twice a week live sessions that discussed things like the services of Holy Week, the Book of Ecclesiastes and the hymns of Vespers, Orthros, and Liturgy. It was my hope that these would provide opportunities for people to grow deeper in their faith.
I think it was reasonably successful, too, on a local level.
I don’t know when things will get back to the way they were in January of this year, but things have gone “green”, so routines are picking back up. And with those routines, COVID-related illnesses are picking up, too. People are being less careful than they should be. There is no vaccine, there is no reliable test. There is a lot of speculation and there is a lot of flat-out disinformation which further obscures what should be done from what is being done. As a result, people are getting sick, and some are dying. Needlessly. The pressure should stay on people, businesses and government agencies to stay the course of caution: mask wearing, social distancing and limited excursions. For three months this was done reasonably well. It needs to continue now.
RACISM AND BLM
What happened to George Floyd should never happen to any human. He was murdered by an officer of a police force whose motto was “To Protect with Courage, To Serve with Compassion”. The officer was obviously lacking in both. His murder unleashed a wave of fury that touched the whole continent and reverberated globally. Through it all came a clear message that racism in its many forms needed to be brought to light, exposed, addressed, and eliminated. Throughout the history of America, racism has infected just about every aspect of life. Over four hundred years now of abuse, slavery, humiliation, rape, denial of rights, denial of due process, denial of government loans, lack of access to health care, lack of access to certain parts of certain cities where better jobs were, disproportionate jail sentences, disproportionate arrests, disproportionate executions. Statues were erected, not at the end of a civil war or at the time of a person’s death, but in times of white on black violence and social disruption: statues venerating “heroes” of the old, confederate regime whose foundation wasn’t states’ rights – unless those rights included the right to own slaves. For sure, America has some repenting to do. It has four-hundred years of systemic racism and injustice to rectify. Four hundred years of abuse will take a long time to fix.
If you have kept with me this far, thanks. You’re actually disproving my point, which is:
America has an attention span problem.
You can see it in the current response to the COVID-19 pandemic because many Americans think that they’ve paid their dues. Three precious months were thrown away in quarantine because of this virus, and for many that is three months too long. It’s now time for concerts, and beach trips, and crowded restaurants and mask-mocking. Forget the science-denying administration: people just think it is time to get back to normal. This virus has had enough of our collective attention and its time is over. It’s ship has sailed. Time to move on.
You can also see it in the testy response that continuing coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement is getting. People are so “over it”. Enough time has been given to the demonstrations and the pulling down of statues. Man, that stuff is such a drag. It’s time to move on to something else, anything else, because the continued talk of police violence and the demands for justice are just so last week. Time to move on.
Except, in both cases, it absolutely is not time to move on. No, instead it is time to seriously question this infantile attention span that the collective American social conscience has and to start being grown ups when it comes to the matters that are harmful to whole populations of American culture.
I don’t know where it came from, but I suspect it was from watching movies and television. In movies and TV dramas, all problems are tidily solved in the span of a couple of hours, tops. And those problems are solved once and for all. The hero basically wins – and however he (usually it is he, after all) wins is good – the ends justify the means, and usually some gun solved the problem; the villain is dispatched, probably permanently; and all is right with the world. It is fiction, but it is ingrained into the American psyche, and its influence impacts the reasoning of popular American culture in terms of how it deals with adversity.
So when something like COVID-19 comes along, it messes with tempo of American thought. Leaving aside the flaws and frailties that the pandemic exposed in the American economic system, and the abhorrent reality that our work defines our self-worth, it also revealed that Americans as a culture really have a problem with just sitting still. Many would rather be exposed to the virus and potentially die than be secluded and bored. And three months of it? Enough! Our attention has been captivated long enough. Except it hasn’t. The virus does not give a damn about our attention spans. It’s goal is to thrive, and we are its accommodating hosts. It sees this whole enterprise as a matter of life and death. It is a pity that we do not.
An aside: it is incumbent for Christians to have a predisposition to care for the weak and the frail. Look at history – the Christians cared for the people that the rest of the population did not. If you are a Christian, live in to your legacy and wear that mask, keep your distance, and be patient for God’s sake.
And as far as the concerns of racism in all of its grotesque forms: tired of hearing about it? Too bad. There are many stories that need to be heard, there are many injustices and inequalities that must be rectified. There are voices – including my own – that must diminish while other voices – diverse voices – need to be heard and understood.
Many good people might say that they are not prejudiced, that they should not have to be brought in to this discussion because they are basically good people and try to live and let live. That may be true, but it also overlooks the point that even though a person may not be a racist, they can still benefit from systems that are biased in their direction, systems that are tilted in their favor, and a government whose foundational documents were written in a time when slavery was the law of the land. Slaves were first brought to this country in 1619. That’s a long time ago, and little has been done to level the field so that Blacks have the same chance to thrive across the country as whites do. Just think, for a moment, how insane it is that a Civil Rights Act is necessary. It should be obvious that all should be treated fairly and indiscriminately. Yet, here we are. It is, in the end, a matter of justice for all. And in order to apply justice, voices need to be heard, and people don’t just need to hear but do. It takes work. It takes attention.
Another aside: Christians have at their core the following teachings: that to gain your life you must lose it; blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy; in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free. You cannot be a Christian and be racist. You cannot serve two masters. All of these things require attention. And vigilance.
Both COVID-19 and BLM have, according to the underdeveloped sense of attention our culture promotes, run their course. Clearly they haven’t: neither concern allows for that prevailing point of view to set the terms. The virus just flat out ignores our lack of attention and does what it needs to in order to survive, to the peril of those who choose to pretend that the threat does not exist. The concerns of racism and Black Lives Matter? 401 years of racism, bias, slavery, segregation and the like show how ridiculous a short attention span really is. America needs to focus and deepen its spiritual awareness. Suffering will come from many directions should we fail to do so. Wear a mask. And seek out and apply justice and mercy in all situations. Pay attention.