Since the pandemic hit us, I can really only watch dystopic science fiction. I started with Man in the High Castle (a show based on the premise that Nazis won World War II), then moved on to Humans (a show about androids gaining consciousness), and now I am watching The Expanse– a show about a universe where humans have colonized the Solar System. All shows grapple with evil in various ways. And that is what I need right now—stories that actively grapple with evil.
One of the things that critics have noted about The Expanse is how it doesn’t shy away from the brutal impact of high velocity travel on human bodies. Movies and shows like Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey sidestepped the fundamental problems of space travel with imaginary physics or super advanced technology. But in The Expanse, everyone traveling through space has to deal with the overwhelming physical pressures that modern astronauts and fighter pilots experience in extreme situations like launch and landing.
As journalist Rafi Letzer writes: “In one scene, the captain warns his crew to expect “30 Gs” during an evasive maneuver. One G is the force of the Earth pressing on your body at sea level. If you’ve ridden a roller coaster, you may have experienced a few times that. Fighter pilots and astronauts withstand even greater forces, in the vicinity of 8 or 9 Gs.
But G-force doesn’t act the same on your whole body. Solid tissues tend to stay in one place, but blood flows in whichever direction physics dictates. This can starve your brain and eyeballs of necessary oxygen. Pressure in the 15-G range can kill in under a minute.”
Why am I talking about evasive space manuevers? Because I realize that it feels to me like we are in the middle of a societa l“high-g evasive manuever.” What some of us have been taught is that such maneuvers would look like they do in Star Trek—smooth and comfortable. But in fact, it is much more like The Expanse: in order to survive the megaforces of moving through the solar system at high speed, one needs to strap themself into crash chairs and put in mouthguards. One needs to prepare oneself for the robotic metal pincers to pierce your necks, supporting your spine and pump a sickly, gelatinous goop into your bloodstream to protect your internal organs.
I am strapped in. My body has had to endure so much less brutality than many other bodies, particularly Black and Brown bodies. I will do all I can to support these high-g manuevers we find ourselves in the middle of, so that more people get to experience compassion, tenderness, and justice in this world.
Just thinking about my experience of this virus these last three months and how it’s everywhere out there, and maybe it will let me pass by unharmed, or maybe it will f me up a little or a lot, or maybe it will f me up a little but cause lasting damage to my heart or lungs, or maybe it will kill me. And I have no idea which it will be and so I have to be constantly on guard and it’s exhausting and terrifying. And no matter what the virus visits on my body it has already terrorized me, stolen my economic stability, and impacted my mental health and that of my children.
Wait, did I say virus, toward me, for three months?
I meant whiteness, toward black folk, for three hundred years…
-Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, in response to the death of George Floyd
Navigating this pandemic is a version of what a lot of Black and Brown people feel navigating daily “normal” life amidst White people. This is the thought I have had while taking in the news about the murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Tony McDade in Tallahassee. Or the white woman calling the police on a Black man when he asked her to leash her dog. Rev. Housh Gordon’s words perfectly articulate my own thoughts. There is an old saying that goes something like “when white folks catch a cold, black folks get pneumonia.” I have heard it used mostly in reference to economic troubles…but in midst of a global pandemic, it actually might be much more literal.
I am writing this shortly after it was announced that the officer that kneeled on George Floyd’s neck has been charged with murder, that ashes are still smoldering from buildings that burned last night in South Minneapolis. And I recall these words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:
…it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro [sic] poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
I believe that Unitarian-Universalism unequivocally calls on us to do whatever we can to fight oppression in our midst and in ourselves. What can we do in this moment? One of the most concrete actions I have seen suggested is to commit themselves to NOT calling the police or at least to be super mindful of the consequences it may unleash. In fact, the Unitarian Universalist Association has a guide called “Alternatives to Calling the Police.”
While we are all doing our best to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, let us not forget the pandemic of white supremacy that has been plaguing us for over 500 years.
I encourage you to read these words of UU Minister Rev. Ashley Horan, who lives in the same neighborhood as where George Floyd was killed: https://www.facebook.com/ashley.a.p.horan/posts/10111959455232641
And if you are one of the many UU’s who is White, you can watch this UU lead virtual gathering that happened yesterday evening “In the Name of Love: white folks – deepen anti-racist commitment”
The next two Sundays, Dee, Brian, and Rev. Erin Matteson (read more about Rev. Erin here) are going to be leading worship. And what will I be doing? Well, catching my breath. Or trying to. For these next two weeks, my goal is to take more time and space for, well, breathing. (How blessed I am to have a safe home to shelter in and presumably safe air to breath). I have felt the adrenaline draining out of me the past few weeks and now there is the non-adrenalined pandemic world to cope with–and the persistent uncertainty. Now that I have a grasp on doing worship via Zoom, and we got the Payroll Protection loan, and all the other pandemic related tasks that came along, I am forced (or am forcing myself) to just be present with these new and unfolding realities. It’s as if all the sermons I have preached these past two months are unpacking themselves inside me.
I have been able to attend a few sessions of the Festival of Homiletics, which like so much of our lives now, has been on-line. I joined a few other UU ministers in watching particular sessions and we wrote each other messages as we watched–it felt good to be ‘in the pews.’ Rev. Anna Carter Florence preached a really moving sermon on the book of Ezekiel and the story of God bringing Ezekiel to the Valley of Dry Bones and telling him to ‘prophesize’ or preach to the bones. And Ezekiel does. And as he does, God reassembles the bones into bodies and breathes life into them.
Ezekiel is one of those books that’s particularly strange. It tells of Prophet Ezekiel’s visions and is considered to be highly allegorical. Scholars believe that Ezekiel’s teachings take place after the Israelites have been exiled from their homeland and are feeling disoriented being so far away from their homes and their temple. How do they practice their traditions if they can’t be at their temple?
This feels just about right at this moment– preaching into a computer screen probably doesn’t feel nearly as odd as preaching to a valley of dry bones. Fortunately, you are all alive and enfleshed, at least for now. And while most Unitarian Universalists do not consider the church building “their temple,” many of us feel deep affection for our buildings and grounds. Rev. Carter Florence reminded us preachers that so much is out of our control– our job is not to be God, but to be Ezekiel– befuddled, confused, and perplexed but continuing on doing the next right thing. I think that is true for all of us. Our job right now is to embrace the weirdness of this time, be clear about what is in our power and what is beyond it, and stay committed to our Unitarian Universalist values in the face of all that challenges them.
This Sunday May 24th: Stepping back 6 feet (at least) … A Case for Physical Distancing How are you doing with physical distancing? How are you experiencing others when out and about? Putting this into practice may help us avoid more than a virus. Come explore more about what this new social practice invites. Worship Leaders: Dee H, Rev. Erin Matteson, and Jorge Torrez.
Perhaps you have seen one of the many articles going around discussing video-conferencing fatigue– like this one: (click here).
“Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting.”
Another word I could use is haunting. Whether it’s worship, a meeting, or a dance class via video-conference, getting to engage with people ONLY via screen has begun to remind me more of your absence than your presence. Your face on my screen just reminds me of your presence that is getting further and further away. Don’t get me wrong– I’m terribly grateful for all the tech that allows us to stay connected while being physically distanced. And there is no escaping the fact how much I miss you– how much I miss gathering–how much I miss lightly placing my palm on your upper-back as you walk into the sanctuary. I even miss the awkward moments when I try to discern whether you want some kind of touch or whether you prefer physical space as you enter the sanctuary (hint: I always try to follow your lead!)
Perhaps this is why I found myself angry during one of my video-conference dance classes. Like a tantrum my 2.5 year is throwing, I just want to stop my feet and say “I DON’T LIKE THIS-NO NO NO NO!”
At our worship team meeting this week, we discussed this balancing act, a dance if you will, we all have to do right now– expressing gratitude for the many blessings in our lives (including all the tech) and at the same time extending compassion to ourselves and others when feelings like anger and sadness come up. We don’t want to repress the grief nor do we want to get overwhelmed by it. It’s a balancing act, a delicate dance.
I hope you will do some of this dance with me online this Sunday, at 10:30am. Join us for worship on Zoom: https://zoom.us/j/976539809. The meeting ID is 976-539-809. To get the password you will need to join, please send a private message to our public facebook page (click here) and you will get a very quick reply with the password! (sadly, because of ‘zoombombings’, we are needing to take some precautions but are services are open to all with non-hacking intentions!)
And you can watch the disscussion I mention between author and activist Arundhati Roy and Professor Imani Perry here https://www.haymarketbooks.org/blogs/130-arundhati-roy-the-pandemic-is-a-portal