As a child, my grandparents introduced me to the great musician and comedian, Victor Borge.
In one of his shticks, Victor steps up to the grand piano on a stage with great formality and sits with the posture of a professional. He seems to fumble a bit not knowing which hand goes where before switching the order of the music sheets in front of him (getting a good laugh from the audience).
He begins playing this vibrant pattern of descending notes with almost staccato-like punctuation. The tune isn’t familiar to the crowd. Without missing much of a beat, Victor flips the orientation of his music upside down and begins playing once again. This time, you can clearly tell that the piece in front of him is the “William Tell Overture.”
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have flipped and switched the orientation of the scores our hands – and bodies and voices – are used to playing.
Adapting to, even fighting, an invisible enemy feels like being blindfolded and swinging the bat at a pinata just as it bends and weaves in a different direction – swooosh!
And yet, coming into conflict with invisible enemies is not an unfamiliar situation for Christians.
This is not where I introduce some concept of evil in the form of a Devil – rather, it’s when I remind myself and others of the enemies of institutionalized racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism, poverty, colonialism…
Claiming these things as “invisible” enemies diminishes the real experiences of hurt, pain, damage, degradation, and death that is done in the name of those vile institutions. Just as COVID-19 is very real to those who have contracted the illness and those caring for the ill, so too are these injustices realities – and they do require us to behave differently.
“The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation” sings Mark in Jonathan Larson’s highly acclaimed Broadway musical “RENT” – a musical that engages many of these “invisible enemies” at a time that feels like the end of the world: the AIDS crisis and the end of the 20th century.
The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation. The opposite of racism isn’t a welcome statement, it’s radically seeking justice and reparations. The opposite of COVID-19 isn’t health, it’s life and livelihood.
In response to COVID-19 we must social distance. We must shelter in place when directed. We must care for the under- and unemployed, the isolated, the multiply marginalized and all who are vulnerable to the adverse effects of capitalism, especially in these unprecedented times.
“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me.” – Matthew 25:35-37
The voices, leadership, and ministries of the marginalized are to be lifted up in this moment of crisis for we have something to offer in these times.
At ELM, we strive to center the most marginalized in our community and base our work and efforts and responses around those needs.
In study, discernment and collaboration, the ELM Staff and Board of Directors have taken the following actions:
2020 Proclaim Gathering Canceled – The Gathering has been a space for Proclaim members to come together and replenish themselves for the work ahead. The very real fears and concerns raised by the COVID19 pandemic interrupt and even threaten our ability to gather with our usual sense of joy and delight. Without knowing when the need for social distancing and sheltering in place will end, we would like to focus on what we can do now rather than postpone and hope for the best.
Assistance Grants for Proclaim Members in Need – The ELM Board of Directors has decided to redirect the money raised for scholarships to attend the 2020 Gathering to instead be used to support the immediate needs of our Proclaim community through an emergency assistance micro-grant program. Grants are available only to Proclaim members and may be used for personal or professional costs. (Click here if you are interested in donating to this fund).
Making Space to Connect – ELM has long used web conferencing tools to do our national work remotely. During this time of crisis, we will be opening up a specific Zoom line to be made available to Proclaim members for any need. Whether it be connecting with family members who live far away or hosting online worship services, Proclaim members can work with the ELM staff to schedule events on this line without having to purchase a license personally.
It is true that we do not know how long the physical and social isolation and concern over COVID-19 will last; and, while it persists we must be prepared for the overwhelming grief at the loss it will bring. Our marginalized siblings will have wisdom and guidance to offer in these areas as well.
Just as when you look into the wrong end of a telescope things that are far off can seem even further away, a crisis like COVID-19 can make us feel farther from our community, or even our God, than ever before. But, if you turn the telescope around, things that were once far off are brought near.
Let’s turn the telescope around and see the community and the wisdom that surrounds us.
Amanda Gerken-Nelson, (she/her/hers) is social distancing and working from her home in Portland, ME with her wife and their dog. Amanda finds herself turning to the wisdom of prophets like Joel Workin in this time of heightened anxiety and is finding comfort in daily walks, lighting candles in prayer, and demolition projects in her new home (see bio photo).