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March 23, 2020

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Asian Americans have reason to fear more than airborne virus droplets right now.
"Spit On, Yelled At, Attacked: Chinese-Americans Fear for Their Safety" - via The New York Times. "As bigots blame them for the coronavirus and President Trump labels it the 'Chinese virus,' many Chinese-Americans say they are terrified of what could come next."
Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
    do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

Psalm 19:13
It's nothing new for the president to use inflammatory language about people - including Americans - who don't look like him. And it's not entirely surprising that the general discourse is identifying the novel coronavirus with China - although viruses can jump from non-human to human animals anywhere, this particular one did originate there. However, that combination of discourse and careless White House language is creating a stew that's particularly toxic, even at a time when our hands are raw from washing.

I say "careless," but in fact a glance at Twitter over the last couple of months suggests that Trump and other public figures crowd-tested a few nicknames for the virus, labeling it Wuhan, Chinese, and other geographical and/or ethnic names. In his very slight defense, Trump's Twitter today includes a two-Tweet defense of Asian Americans and an affirmation of the truth that the virus is not their fault. It's hard to say whether that message will have a lot of impact on Asian Americans' neighbors, though.

Boy, do I understand the human need to assign blame. We impose pattern and meaning on anything, especially anything negative, maybe even more so when manifestly it's a biological accident and there is no built-in meaning. If it's somebody else's fault, then it isn't our fault, and we get to tidy up our mental pictures and assert the moral high ground. That's one of the reasons I especially appreciated Rev. Eva Suarez's sermon at my church's online Sunday service yesterday, on the Johannine story of the man born blind. (Watch it yourself here.) It's not anyone's fault, that story and that sermon affirm; it's a natural process, if a negative one for us, and God is with us through all of it.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," said Franklin Delano Roosevelt - also the president who interned blameless Japanese Americans. American history, and human history, tell us over and over that fear is itself a dangerous thing. As the Times article adds, “I feel like I’m being invaded by this hatred...It’s everywhere. It’s silent. It’s as deadly as this disease.”
It's good to affirm that The Current Situation is, big-picture, nobody's fault. It seems it's also necessary to declare loudly that it's specifically not the fault of Chinese Americans or Asian Americans. If you're of a group other than those, raise your voice about it if you're out, on social media, or by whatever means you have at hand.

And whoever you are, be aware of your own fear and anxiety. It's OK to feel those feelings anytime, but especially in this time of uncertainty. Our duty as Christians is to carry them to God and not project them onto our neighbors.
God, you told us that there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. Whatever our internal, passing feelings, help us to practice that perfect love toward one another, now and always. Amen.
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