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Sunday, March 29, 2020

#COVID-19UGANDA day 8; on Fear and Charms and Ultimate questions

You know the "pan" is in pandemic when you find a diagram of the coronavirus on the wall of a home in Bundibugyo. I was intrigued by the personification of those eyes; the medical detail of the protein spikes; the smear of mud on mud to make it adhere.
The first sign made me assume that someone was doing a little teaching. The second and then the third made me curious.

Adherent to the front of the house, some kind of tag, warning, or an attempt to ward off the evil? I asked a lady I recognized who was greeting us, and she ran around the corner of her house and ripped the paper down, muttering something about the children, then turned to us and affirmed "Ruhanga enka."  Only God. 

We are all in this same boat. In Iran, we read today, a viral meme about whiskey-and-lemon as a cure for the common cold plus the confusing insistence on high-potency alcohol hand gel, in a country where alcoholic drinks are forbidden, has led to hundreds of people sickened and even dying from the ingestion of toxic industrial methanol.  The CDC had to warn Americans against purchasing an additive meant for fish in aquaria that contained chloroquine in the ingredient list, after reports emerged of toxic ingestions to ward off corona. We all want a way to feel safer. For many of us that's information. Reading the literature, checking the stats, examining who died and who did not, clinging to the reasons to assume ourselves into that 85% camp with an almost-assured recovery. For others the fear stokes latent anti-other feelings. Some African communities are threatening to harm anyone from other places, and we don't exactly blend in well. Some American states don't want anyone with out-of-state tags passing through. Yes we should respect the basics of hygiene and socially responsible (read, LIMITED), movement. Yes, we should embrace this season of the hibernation, the limit, the small. It is however heartbreaking to see the way that crisis reveals not only hidden generosity and goodness, but also darker realities.

But here on the edges, I can see the appeal of the evil-repelling charm, the bet-hedging poster. No one in this district is going to be on a ventilator, so if Africa follows trends of the North we could be looking at death we are helpless to prevent. Face to face with such realities, our neighbours aren't stockpiling toilet paper or calling 911. They are going down to the spiritual questions which matter. There is a new harm afoot, and how can we survive it. These are the questions that have faced humanity for millennia, though we do our best to numb them. Is God good? Does God care? And can that truth, if held, encompass the reality of COVID-19, or AIDS, or malaria, or war, or poverty, or corruption, or, or, or.. . . .?

Uganda's cases now number 30; all our neighbouring countries have slowly accumulating counts as well, except for a couple that are either very isolated or very reluctant to test or most likely, both, with zero. The five suspect cases from our hospital on Friday were all tested negative by Saturday night. So we still find ourselves in the peculiar position of brace. Of watching our families in the USA and UK become more and more hemmed in, surrounded. Of some of our kids working long hours in the hospital or garden; of other family members spending their days to protect the vulnerable by keeping our older or immune-challenged people set apart. While we wait for our environment to become like theirs, only without 90% of the response capacity.

In similar times, people of faith looked to the hills and asked, where does help arise?  And I think my neighbour already gave us the answer. Ruhanga enka. The maker of all things who never sleeps. Let's wash hands, and use every spark of wisdom to research better care, every spark of compassion and energy to save lives. Let's use all that God has given us to fight against not just this virus, but also fear and hate. But for now at least we have to do that while living in the tension that we can't control the story, but we know the one who is writing it can bring good yet. 

And while you're at it, remember the Psalms (like 121 above). This song echoes 126 (and Rev 21). I also keep going back to 46 and 23 and 27. And 42 with echoes of Jonah. Or Psalm 91. Post your favourite Psalms and songs for this time.


mercygraceword said...

I am so thankful you take the time to write these... it fuels prayer.

Anonymous said...

A friend had this in her blog this week.

by Sarah Bourns

We've all been exposed.
Not necessarily to the virus
(maybe...who even knows ).
We've all been exposed BY the virus.
Corona is exposing us.
Exposing our weak sides.
Exposing our dark sides.
Exposing what normally lays far beneath the surface of our souls,
hidden by the invisible masks we wear.
Now exposed by the paper masks we can't hide far enough behind.
Corona is exposing our addiction to comfort.
Our obsession with control.
Our compulsion to hoard.
Our protection of self.
Corona is peeling back our layers.
Tearing down our walls.
Revealing our illusions.
Leveling our best-laid plans.
Corona is exposing the gods we worship:
Our health
Our hurry
Our sense of security.
Our favorite lies
Our secret lusts
Our misplaced trust.
Corona is calling everything into question:
What is the church without a building?
What is my worth without an income?
How do we plan without certainty?
How do we love despite risk?
Corona is exposing me.
My mindless numbing
My endless scrolling
My careless words
My fragile nerves.
We've all been exposed.
Our junk laid bare.
Our fears made known.
The band-aid torn.
The masquerade done.
So what now? What's left?
Clean hands
Clear eyes
Tender hearts.
What Corona reveals, God can heal.

Come Lord Jesus.
Have mercy on us.