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March 19, 2020

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A food pantry manager in Connecticut is seeing shortages since the coronavirus outbreak began. (Photo: Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media)

In an opinion piece in Politico, founding editor John Harris writes: “The dynamics of the coronavirus moment likely will resemble the dynamics of other great public policy issues shadowing the next generation. In particular, the global pandemic and the harsh choices it imposes offer - in highly concentrated fashion in coming months - much the same choices that responses to global climate change will impose in coming decades.”

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared:

“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.” - Ezra 1:1-4

I rarely look to Ezra as my go-to for scriptural passages, but today is an exception. I hope that many readers are aware of the egregious misuse by Trump supporters of Ezra/Nehemiah and the story of King Cyrus ordering the rebuilding of Jerusalem. While I usually delight in dismantling bad theology, their misappropriation of it is so over-the-top that it surely speaks for itself. But in case you are not in the know, here are some links to articles which expose this misuse in detail: Vox, The New York Times.

Reading John Harris’ piece in Politico this morning, I was struck by his choice to think deep into the future - when we will have returned from our current virus-induced exile - and to consider how this moment in our history is shaping the younger generation now. Harris writes, “Trumpism as an idea is about promoting and protecting American sovereignty and singularity. In some contexts, even Trump foes might agree it’s an attractive concept: Well might we wish to seal our borders from the virus. But the only way this would be effective would be if the United States had years ago opted to adjourn from the modern interconnected global economy.”

In other words: the idea of individualism as the root truth of our existence is patently false. We are not each able to “make it on our own.” What happens to one of us happens to all of us. This pandemic will continue to pound that message home to us as the coming weeks and months unfold. It will take a massive collective effort to combat. And when we return from our exile, one resurrection outcome may well be that it signals the end of more than half a century of a movement by ardent “individualists” to actively dismantle and deny any sense of community (and government) responsibility for the welfare of all people.

The loving heart of the passage from Ezra today is not the part about Cyrus declaring permission to rebuild. It is not the part about top-down management. The loving heart is “let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, beside freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”

This passage tells us of people coming together - of offerings given in love and solidarity to rebuild the beloved community. Because the reality is - it is only through community that we are able to exist and to thrive.

As the climate crisis continues, as the earth herself cries out for us to stop the nonsense and pay attention to her, we must increasingly lean into an understanding of global responsibility for the entire community. We cannot take our own safely for granted; in the coming years, we will need each other more and more. It’s time to share expertise, to share resources, to cooperate - to realize more fully that what happens to one of us happens to all of us.

We are all in this together.

Layoffs are already happening, and people are looking at futures where they will be able neither to make rent nor buy food. Please donate as generously as you can to local, national, and international charities that assist those who are hungry and those who need housing. Check up on neighbors (with appropriate measures for social distancing) who may be in need of specific assistance. We are all in this together.


Hope is a crushed stalk

Between clenched fingers

Hope is a bird’s wing

Broken by a stone.

Hope is a word in a tuneless ditty —

A word whispered with the wind,

A dream of forty acts and a mule,

A cabin of one’s own and a moment to rest,

A name and place for one’s children

And children’s children at last…

Hope is a song in a weary throat.

Give me a song of hope

And a world where I can sing it.

Give me a song of faith

And a people to believe in it.

Give me a song of kindliness

And a country where I can live it.

Give me a song of hope and love

And a brown girl’s heart to hear it.

Rev. Pauli Murray, 1970

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