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Charity amidst the chaos—When coronavirus comes to your neighborhood

Rev. Bryan D. Jackson

March 4, 2020

The first fatality from COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the United States occurred at my neighborhood hospital.

Obviously, this strikes at the heart of the familiar. I grieve for this person, as well as all the others who have died due to this virus. Furthermore, I am an immunocompromised individual, so my anxiety naturally increased when I learned of this person’s death. The Governor of Washington has declared a state of emergency, our community has almost 30 first responders in quarantine, and hand sanitizer, toilet paper, face masks, and dry goods are disappearing from stores. I don’t sense panic yet from my neighbors, but their general level of concern is understandably rising.

This type of thing brings unpleasant biblical images to the forefront. “Then the Lord struck Pharaoh and his household with severe plagues…” (Genesis 12:17 CEB) is one verse that comes to mind. Yet we are not Pharaoh, and this isn’t a plague. It is, however, a sad and unfortunate situation, one that requires charity. Instead of fighting over the last roll of paper towels or loaf of bread, we are probably better served checking in with our neighbors, doing what we can not to spread the virus to others—living out an ethic of care, as my systematic theology professor would have described it.

Charity amidst the chaos.

Instead of fighting over the last roll of paper towels or loaf of bread, we are probably better served checking in with our neighbors, doing what we can not to spread the virus to others—living out an ethic of care.

The novel coronavirus is going to rock many a boat in the coming months. Presently, it’s too early to determine just how virulent this contagion is. General guidelines for its prevention are essentially the same as those of influenza or the common cold, yet, the fear of the unknown comes through plainly in this growing health crisis. Some of this might be as much about courage as charity. Jesus said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27 ESV).

And maybe it takes courage to be charitable during a public health crisis. Our fight-or-flight response kicks in, which can make any of us, at any time, behave in unpredictable ways.

Unscrupulous acts also make an appearance, descending like storm clouds on a cold winter day. While searching Amazon for hand sanitizer, I noticed that almost all vendors were sold out, and the ones who were not had raised their prices as much as three or four times what they normally would charge. The question “What would Jesus do during a coronavirus outbreak?” needs to be asked and attempts at an answer need to be made. Something tells me that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords isn’t likely to stand around absent some sort of prayerful action and his expectations of us are likely to be on the high side, especially regarding subjects such as price-gouging.

When COVID-19 comes to your neighborhood, you will likely have some second thoughts about what you did or didn’t do this morning; perhaps what you wished you would have said to your significant other before they walked out the door. Fear not; it’s normal. In fact, I would argue that it’s necessary. Someone or something is prodding you to ask the right questions. After all, posing the right questions is preferable to having all the answers. What questions should we be asking during this epidemic that very well might become a pandemic? How might those questions ultimately translate to courageous action?

Be of good cheer; be of great courage. Your leadership, if only by the example of reaching out to your friend down the street to see how they are feeling, is apt to inspire someone else. The late Wilma Mankiller, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, viewed it this way: “Cherokee traditional identity is tied to both an individual and a collective determination to follow a good path, be responsible and loving, and help one another—or as some Cherokee traditionalists say, ‘Not let go of one another.’”[i]

Charity, gloriously springing from the chaos. May it be yours and mine to give away, while we cling to one another.

The Rev. Bryan D. Jackson is an American Baptist minister and a member of the Mount Hood Cherokees, a satellite community of the Cherokee Nation. He is lives in Kirkland, Washington and is the author of Chattahoochee Rain: A Cherokee novella.

For updates on the Coronavirus, see: Centers for Disease Control and PreventionWorld Health Organization, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

[i] Wilma Mankiller, Every Day is a Good Day: Reflections of Contemporary Indigenous Women. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2004.

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