In all strands of society life has come to a screeching halt. What economists feared, suddenly came true in a way they could not have imagined. Experts had been warning for some time that the market was overheating. They also said that, in contrast to the financial crisis in 2008, there was no leverage left to fight a new crisis, by lowering interest rates which are already at 0% or even negative or going more into debt as many nations are already indebted to breaking point.
The trigger for this crisis was not plummeting stock markets or other financial causes rather it was a little virus with massive effects.
While we in Europe are still struggling with quarantine, national states of emergency and a new way of life, it is still important that we raise a preliminary question: Could this Covid-19 crisis be a wake-up call for our western world as it brutally shows us the fragility of our structures and systems?
I wonder who coined the phrase “social distancing”. Is this really what we want or need? I think perhaps New Zealand’s concept is more accurate, they call it “physical distancing” and that is what it really should be. The social distancing expression exposes something which is becoming more and more the norm in many societies. In reality we have been practicing “social distancing” for some time now in the West. As we have become more individualistic; selfish; more private; more “choice based”; as we have created our own “social media selves” which hide our true nature and character, our flaws and failures, we have moved farther and farther away from true community into a self-isolated world of “me”. We have been socially distancing ourselves for years from the “other” and the “less”, from the unattractive, the poor, the elderly and the ill. We have been in constant adoration of the beautiful, the strong, the successful and the healthy – socially distancing the have-nots.
Is the Church different? Have we chosen a different way? A better way? Have we been infected with a virus? If so, which one? Which one is truly more dangerous? The early church was known for reaching out to the weak and vulnerable. It was found among the sick and the poor and it rescued babies left by the wayside. Today’s church is still involved in many of these areas. Many of these good practices are now incorporated into our social systems. Some have been taken astray by profit making businesses or Governments cannot or refuse to provide it. And because of this there is still need for the Church to reach out.
So, these days, with an active virus attacking not only Europe, but the world, we do need wise physical distancing but social closeness. Social closeness is what keeps people alive and well. Social closeness is how we share Jesus’ love to an anxious and frightened world. Instead of thinking what will be undone by this virus, let’s think creatively about what can be achieved in this crisis. We also need to be thinking now what all this means for us as a church once the crisis is over. Let’s put change and good practice into motion even now.
(Desire) An Affluent Way of living
The Western World has set a standard for living which is desired or at least not questioned by most of its people and by many of the Non-Western World. We pay a price for this in many areas of life. The average household is spending more than its earned income. Many are in debt. Of course, this was promoted by the economy as we are told time and again that only a growing economy is a healthy economy. So we need to be great consumers of goods. But this is clearly unhealthy for us as people, God’s creation and certainly for our countries to carry such overwhelming debt. This creed has been destroying us for a long time.
Not too long ago it was wise and virtuous to have some reserves for a crisis. Now the crisis is here, and many people do not have any reserves. Instead they are laden with debts and no income to pay them let alone carry them through this crisis.
And nations are already printing money, going more into debt to rescue the present system. What did not work in 2008 should now be made to work with even more money, by going more into debt. Isn’t there a saying “do not throw good money after bad money”? And who will be paying for the debt in the coming decades? Do we really want to leave such a burden to the next generation?
Could the present crisis be a wake-up call to go back to a more decent, a simpler lifestyle? Could it be that less would bring more quality back into our lives? What is the role of the church in exposing the myth of “more” and challenge present systems and beliefs? What is the Church doing to model that?
The present Crisis as an Opportunity to do things differently
Did you note the difference on satellite pictures concerning pollution in China before the Covid-19 outbreak and after it? Environmentalists rejoiced over the difference! It is a stark picture and poses a question: Do we really want to go back to this pollution or is there another way? And I am not only thinking of China. There are all kinds of pollutions in our nations which we need to address.
As a personal example: I have a job which relies on high connectivity. Often, I travel because face to face meetings are valuable and helpful in building relationships. Connecting in other ways (using technology) helps build on these relationships. But the present crisis is a good reminder of the alternatives to constant travel and I should ask myself more often if it is really necessary to fly or can I connect as well virtually?
There are enough resources in the world for all the people living in it. It is possible for each and every one to live a decent, simple life. Could this Covid-19 crisis be an opportunity to re-evaluate how we are living and chose to make changes that not only benefit “me” but also “us” and all of those around us and beyond.
Perhaps the greatest area that has been affected is our awareness of the “other”. Now that we no longer have full access to one another we feel it more deeply. Our separation hasn’t been easy. Seeing people’s pain, their fear, their anxiety and grief and not being able to hold them or touch them in any way has been incredibly difficult. But instead of giving into grief and despair, we have found new ways of reaching out. Stepping out onto balconies and singing to one another; volunteering at homeless shelters; shopping for neighbours; phonecalls to those who have no computer or internet. We have had to re-learn to connect with one another. Suddenly age, colour, and status makes no difference. We are all human being in need of love, compassion and care. I hope we never forget this!
I am aware that we will never be able to bring heaven to earth. But I do not want to be found among those who falsely use the word of Jesus “the poor will always be among you” to justify a lifestyle at the expense of others.
There is hope in this crisis but to bring it, spread it and make it felt needs yet another crisis; a crisis which shakes me and you up from our complacency. A God-sent crisis of heart that leads to obedience. Will we allow God to do this?
May he give us willing hearts, minds and hands!
General Secretary EEA
PS The main articles of this Newsletter are on peace. A peace which gets challenged and threatened through this crisis. That’s why we left the main content (untouched) and only have the editorial and a few bits relating to the Covid-19 crisis.