My COVID-19 reading list

~Sharon Wilson

Be like Flockey, the Burke-Seethaler, and get reading! Send in the titles of books that have left a particular mark on you.

Thanks to my daughter’s kind gift of an e-reader several Christmases’ ago, I have been able to weather our current isolation with relative ease, at least as far as reading is concerned. I’m happy to curl up with a good or, only sort of good, book. My tastes run from Scandinavian Noir to biography, global politics to local history. This got me thinking: what is everyone reading in these days of pandemic?

As fate would have it, I was enjoying a delightful journey through the life of Florence Nightingale on the two hundredth anniversary of her birth. Heart and Soul by Gena Gorrell uncovers the complicated life of this woman who has gained almost mythic proportions for most of us. Rather than the serene lady of the lamp that remains the focus of her popular legend Gorrell reveals a determined, often caustic, woman.

Nightingale’s remarkable accomplishments in the creation of the nursing profession and the Red Cross came at great personal cost and more than a few outlandish financial arrangements. In so many ways, her life exposed the contradictions of the traditional roles of women in her time and her burning ambition to change the world. This is an old story that benefits from fresh eyes.

I am a great fan of Karen Armstrong. This British writer and educator has dozens of books to her name: The Case for God, Twelve Steps to a More Compassionate Life, and The Great Transformation to name only a few. One dreary late March day I loaded The Spiral Staircase on my e-reader.

This is Armstrong’s second effort to try and reflect on her life journey, particularly her transition out of the convent, away from God and, ultimately, back to something deeply spiritual but different. Her questions about the institutional church resonated with me on so many levels. Why must we accept what makes no sense in order to be a ‘good’ Christian?

Threaded through this memoir is also the revelation that Armstrong struggled her whole life with undiagnosed epilepsy. Reading why her symptoms were ignored and dismissed offers a frightening treatise on the notion of Christian obedience. This is a deep and thought-provoking book but not a struggle to read. It’s Karen Armstrong at her best.

Finally, if there is any suggestion that I only ready intellectual tomes let me disavow that notion with my third selection: Albatross by Canadian writer Terry Fallis. I had great fun reading this fiction/fantasy book about a high school senior who is blessed with the perfect physiology to play golf, even though he’s never touched a club. It’s a fun romp through his scholarship years at Stanford University, his win at the Masters and most of the other major golf tournaments in the world. There’s a fascinating back story about an obsession with fountain pens which I understand completely.

?Throw in a bit of international intrigue, a long unfolding love story and, in true Canadian fashion, the victory of good over evil and you’ve got yourself a near perfect diversion from social distancing and ceaseless hand washing! While I had to suspend belief as I read about this character’s extraordinary accomplishments at golf, I was left wondering what it would be like if researchers could actually determine the precise physical attributes to succeed effortlessly at any sport. This is a light, fun read and you can feel patriotic devouring this CanLit gem.

So, what are you reading?

The Gifts of the Spirit

Much has been spoken and written about a “new normal” to which we are returning. But on that first Christian Pentecost (for the celebration of a Pentecost existed prior to its adaptation by the Holy Spirit!) we are told that the Spirit of the Holy One arrived in the midst of a fractured and uncertain group of followers of Jesus – and transformed them into history-changing voices…by the power of the gifts of the Spirit. [You can read one of the stories of the gifts given at this link: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13).

In another of Paul’s letters, Galatians 5:19-26, we hear that the gifts of the Spirit which empowered the disciples are just the opposite of the values enshrined in our contemporary culture. Our contemporary news stories and social media postings remind us of how very different these values are from the practices of far too many people around the globe.

Perhaps it is time to stop thinking of a return to a new normal and instead think about how we might, as contemporary Christians, begin to influence the world to live by the gifts of the Spirit rather than the violence and abusive patterns of what has, for far too long, been named “normal!’

Let us become change agents in our day and age, that there might indeed become something NEW to the ways we live and relate to one another.

Grace and peace,

~Bob Wallace

A Song in Your Brain

~Ralph Milton

They call them ear worms. A song that lodges in a corner of your brain somewhere and refuses to be dislodged.

The one I find cycling through my synapses is an Advent carol the choir has sung. “We Are Waiting,” in which the sopranos carry the tune and most of the words but the guys sing, “waiting, waiting, waiting” over and over again.

I know exactly why that worm is wiggling in my brain. Bev and I were talking just now about how this is the first time in our lives when we’ve had nothing to do except wait.
We live in the Dorchester, a seniors’ residence just a few blocks from the church. The average age of the inmates is about 90. Bev and I are in our mid-eighties. It is aging physiognomies such as ours the COVID 19 virus finds most tasty.

We are in semi-lockdown. We can move about the building but almost all activities and recreations are suspended. We can walk circles around the building for exercise. The staff is most helpful. But friends and family can’t come to see us and we can’t go out to see them.

It’s really easy to feel sorry for ourselves, and we certainly do that from time to time. But last night I looked at an historical novel I wrote some years ago called Julian’s Cell about the life of a remarkable woman who lived in the 14th century. When she was a child, bubonic plague killed almost half of the people. Many others starved because the entire economy shut down. No shops selling bread or anything else.

We’re old enough to have heard stories about the 1918 flu epidemic, and how that burned through the world. My mother was 18, and remembered it well.

So here we are, sitting up in the Dorchester, feeling as if we’re in some kind of a prison. But we have a telephone. We have a computer. We have a television. We have shelves full of books. We get good meals delivered. The staff will go to the store and buy things for us.

We have each other!

We live in BC, in Canada, where we have a responsive, responsible government with an imperfect but excellent health care system.

And we are part of a church community (you all!) that phones to check if we are OK, that comes to us via Zoom every Sunday, that is full of friends we cherish.

That worm in my head sometimes gets beyond the repeated “waiting” chant and I hear the line, “Emmanuel is coming, to lead us to the light.”

Yes!!

Emmanuel is coming and has come and we are indeed living in the light!

So thanks to all of you.

And thanks to God who sometimes puts irritating worms in our brains.

A Psalm of lament and praise in a time of coronavirus

~The Rev. Kenneth Howcroft

How shall we praise you, Lord, our God?
When we are locked down,
how shall we praise you?
When the doors to your house are barred,
and your people cannot assemble?
When those desperately in need of money and work
cannot even wait in the market-place?
When we have to circle round people in the street,
and to queue for shops maintaining safe distance?
When we can only communicate
by hearing on the phone,
or seeing on the screen;
or digitally messaging,
or even just waving through a window?
When we cannot meet our parents and children,
grandparents and grandchildren,
or other family members and friends?
When we cannot touch them in their flesh and blood,
to know they are really alive?
How shall we praise you?
How, like Thomas, shall we not see yet believe
that your son is raised among us?
How shall we praise you?
How can I praise you, Lord?
Are you plaguing us with this virus
to punish us because we have all done wrong,
or thought wrongly,
or felt wrongly,
or just been wrong?
If so, why do only some die,
and those, apparently, the ones who are the least worst or most caring amongst us?
Or are you trying to teach us a lesson?
If so, why is it so hard to learn?
And how are we to find the answer
when we do not even know the question?
Or are you still the same loving God,
coming to us in our sufferings
and opening up the way to new life in Jesus?
Lord, I will try to praise you.
Through gritted teeth,
I will try to praise you.
I will try to remember that you have created all things,
and this virus is part of your creation.
I will try not to hate it
but seek to mitigate its harm.
I will try to keep myself and others safe.
I will work to pray for them
and seek to help in whatever way I can.
Lord, when I cannot pray or worship
help me be aware of all your people
and your saints and angels
hovering around me,
lifting me up.
When I feel alone,
let me feel you near me,
even if only for a moment that enables me to go on.
Let me hear you say
“Peace be with you”.
Lord, I will praise you.
Let all the peoples praise you.

Response to Coronavirus

by Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, a Modern Orthodox Synagogue in Los Angeles (taken from https://www.bnaidavid.com/coronavirus)

One of the brand new terms that has entered our daily conversation is “social distancing.” It is shorthand, as we know very well, for the practical physical precautions that we all need to and must take in order to protect ourselves and others. I’d humbly suggest though, that we use the term itself sparingly, if at all. Language is a powerful shaper of thinking. And the very last thing we need right now, is a mindset of mutual distancing.

We actually need to be thinking in the exact opposite way. Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise. It is obvious that “distancing”, if misplaced or misunderstood, will take its toll not only upon our community’s strength and resiliency, but upon the very integrity and meaning of our spiritual commitment. …

Let’s stay safe. And let’s draw one another closer in a way that we’ve never done before.

From the scholarship students in El Triunfo

~Submitted by Pat McPhee

COVID cases in El Salvador, as of May 23, were at 1,819 with 33 deaths reported. The country is in a very stringent lock-down for two months now. Citizens are restricted to shopping twice a week for home supplies or medicines. The two days they are allowed out are specified by the last number on their state-issued identification cards that everyone is required to carry and these are checked by police & security personnel. Some of those found to be in violation of the quarantine have been taken to ‘containment centres’. (In one reported case, a single mother who was accompanying her little boy to the “latrino”, across the alley from their house, was picked up and incarcerated.)

The universities continue to offer on-line classes so Fatima and Adonay are attempting to keep up with that by buying data for their cell-phones, then sharing it with their computer/laptop as a Wi-Fi connection – there is no internet out in El Triunfo. However, in some ways, it would be preferable to live out in this small rural community – as Adonay writes,

“It is much better living here than in the city (San Salvador). In the rural communities, it is much more spacious and easier to distance. For example, spending free time reading about spirituality under the shade of a mango tree is very calming as is the atmosphere in my house.”

He does miss the face-to-face interaction with his professors, the group work, access to the library.

“The truth is, in reality, it is very difficult, but it is also an experience that helps us to value our studies.”

Katy studying accounting – her dream is to become a mechanic.

Marcela Pedrina and Katy Alejandra are First United’s two high school students and they, unfortunately, are not able to access any virtual classes due to lack of resources. The students in the rural communities have always been at a disadvantage if they were able to go on to high school (at Grade 10) because they have no familiarity with computers.

Now they have to look for different virtual tools to use and they are feeling even more pressure than they did in the face-to-face classes. Their school year is January to November, so hopefully they will be able to salvage some of their courses going forward.

This is a message from Wendy Hernandez and Jose Gomez at FUNDAHMER, the NGO that facilitates our sister community relationship:

“Praying from our homes that our God protects us and makes us better people to continue in this wonderful and amazing world, taking care of it. Also, for keeping our faith strong and grace for helping others. Our best wishes and virtual hugs.”

–Wendy and Jose

A World of Interdependence

~Tom Kemp

Photo by Graham Zel

It was about forty years ago that I read Lewis Thomas’ The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher. The first essay, “The lives of a cell,” fascinated and inspired me. Unknown millennia in the past humans were colonized by microscopic organisms, which entered our cells and established themselves as symbiotic newcomers. They and we have evolved independently over the millennia into symbionts that cannot survive without the other.

Think of it—tiny micro-organisms with their own genetic make-up and evolutionary history dwelling in our cells are the energizing force that allows our bodies to function and remain alive. And not just these mitochondria, but various other lodgers in our cells provide crucial services to the lives of our cells.

This symbiotic interdependence in living beings is not unique to humans; it is basic to life on earth when we consider the chloroplasts that enable photosynthesis in green plants and release life-sustaining oxygen, the rhizobia on the roots of legumes, the aphids in the anthill, the gut protozoa that digest cellulose in termites to sustain both themselves and their host, and the list goes on.

Dr. Thomas’ essay illustrated that we humans are not separate entities but are interdependent organisms in a vast and complex web of life on Earth, concluding that we are embedded in Nature as vulnerable beings, not the masters over it. It is instructive that during the COVID-19 pandemic, as we have had to put life-as-usual on hold, we have gained insight into our interdependence and also the health of Earth has improved as pollution has declined.

The work of many different groups of people has taken on new significance as we realize how crucial their services are to us. There seems to be a greater sense of solidarity within society and an appreciation of the rightness of greater equity among people. As Nature has been structured all along, and as our Aboriginal neighbours have enshrined in their wisdom teachings and ways of being Earth’s caretakers, interdependence and symbiotic relationships, not independence and autonomy, are at the core of life on Earth.

?COVID-19 is a rogue example of non-reciprocity in this interdependent world—it invades us to allow itself to thrive and spread, but does not give a benefit in return, not unlike the way humans have exploited Creation for personal gain without giving proper care and restoration in return.

As we have opportunity to shape the “new normal” after this pandemic, will we embrace the reality and wisdom of interdependence to embark on a more sustainable social order? It will require that we be bold and wise, committed to our invitation to be co-creators with God of a more sustainable world for all, human and non-human, and willingness to forfeit our delusion of being Earth’s masters.

Outreach Update

~Cheryl Perry

With the weather becoming warmer we have moved our operations into the sunshine and fresh air—placing a table across the doors at the back entrance and serving sandwiches and handing out bags of groceries from the vestibule between the doors. This now only requires two volunteers—one to handle sandwiches and another to hand out groceries. (And on Thursdays the grocery volunteer is able to make up the bags for distribution the following Tuesday.)

As we have increased the amount of food we are handing out (providing about 10 non-perishable items in each bag plus toilet paper and other “extras” such as fresh vegetables, bread, or eggs when these have been donated) we are exceeding our monthly budget for purchasing groceries. We have diverted the funds we would normally use to buy grocery gift cards to the purchase of groceries and we have also had many extra donations through Tithely and offering earmarked for outreach/Food Shelf.

One of the toughest challenges of the new way we provide our outreach is that physical distancing forces us to help people without the ability to be close to them. We are used to giving hugs when needed and asking them how their day is going and having a chat with them when they need it.

Yet we recognize that those we serve are very difficult to engage in health care and because of this are the most vulnerable. Many don’t have a regular doctor and many have underlying mental and physical health conditions that make them more vulnerable. The virus has forced us to consider other cautions in our approach to distance our volunteers from the recipients, and each other.

Because we know physical distancing can be difficult and boring, we have been putting out a table of items to help through this time of social isolation. Items include books, jigsaw puzzles, yarn, Sudoku/crossword/word find puzzle books, board games, and books. This is another way you can help—if you have items such as puzzles, decks of cards, or yarn to donate you can drop these off at the church or phone me to arrange a pick up (250-575-1780).

They say that this virus doesn’t discriminate, but it is also true that it doesn’t affect people equally. It affects people who don’t have the resources to not work, or who can’t afford to buy gloves, to order groceries online for pick up, or to take care of themselves in other ways.

I am really aware of this, whenever I come in to the church and use the supplies to sanitize my hands or wipe things down, or when I don my gloves before helping people. It makes me grateful each day for the work I have, for the country I live in, and for the ways that we are able to continue to help those we share our community with.

Thank you all for your continued support of our Outreach program—with your donations, your time, and most especially your prayers!

Coffee Time Jazz music by Mike Chiasson May 17 , 2020