By Father Casey
Can you remember back in March, how we thought the pandemic would be for just a few weeks? We’d just “shelter-in-place” for a little while, then things would go back to normal. I will confess, that’s what I thought.
How naïve I was.
Pandemics, by their very nature, aren’t mild inconveniences. They change everything. Here we are, nearly seven months later, and “normalcy” is nowhere on the horizon.
Eventually we learned that we can’t overcome the pandemic by ignoring it or pretending it’s no big deal. We overcome it by altering our lives in response to its reality. It requires making adjustments as individuals and communities to live together safely. But the good news is that, when we live with more care, respect, and consideration for one another, life really can go on.
Sadly, the coronavirus is not the only pandemic ravaging our nation. We are also experiencing a simultaneous pandemic of contempt. It is everywhere these days, infecting our society and making us all sick. And I’m worried that we’re making the same assumption about this pandemic that we did about COVID, thinking it’s only going to be bad for a few weeks – you know, right before the election. Everything will get better after November 3, we try to tell ourselves.
But pandemics don’t work that way. They change everything. And the truth is that this pandemic has been around a lot longer than this election cycle. We have been an infected population for years, with the number of carriers growing at terrifying rates, and very few people recovering. The sick just stay sick, and they’re highly contagious.
Even people who should have been immune from such a virus – Christians – are proving to be no less susceptible to infection. I say that Christians should be immune, because we profess to follow a Lord who was the living antithesis of contempt. Jesus spent much of his time preaching against self-righteousness and pride. He chastised religious leaders for their judgmentalism, and rebuked his own friends for falling into the same trap. He taught that hatred is as disastrous to our souls as murder, and our duty as his disciples is to love our enemies. His whole life was a lesson in the power of humility and compassion, and he so longed for us to be people of forgiveness that he used his very last breath to show us how to do it.
Yes, Christians should be better equipped to resist a pandemic of contempt…but it seems the immune systems of our souls have become weak. We haven’t been dieting on Scripture and prayer. We haven’t been exercising our mercy muscles. We’ve been parked in our echo chambers, snacking on the junk food of cable news and social media, binging on the instant gratification of outrage. And so, like a virus, contempt has spread itself all around our minds and hearts.
It can be deadly.
Today I re-listened to the wonderful talk Pastor George Mason of Wilshire Baptist Church gave here at Transfiguration last Lent. It was part of a series exploring the question, “Who is my neighbor,” and George’s topic was how to love our neighbors who have different politics than us. I strongly encourage you to give it a listen, but one particular part stuck out to me: “What we know is wounded people wound people. Damaged people damage people. We will not love our neighbor well until we are well ourselves.” To this list we might add, “Sick people make sick people.”
There are many legitimate reasons for us to worry about the state of our country, but if all we do is heap contempt into the mix – detesting our leaders, reviling people of a different political party, scorning those who disagree with our positions – then we will do nothing but make things worse. We will be sick people making more sick people, because practicing contempt is not the way to fight against a pandemic of contempt.
Friends, just like with COVID, the only way life will be able to truly go on is if we can learn how to live with more care, respect, and consideration for one another. We are going to need to alter our behavior, to do things differently, because the pandemic of contempt is going to continue to threaten us long after November 3. It’s going to stick around long after we elect whomever to whatever office. It’s going to stick around until we finally figure out how to live together as fellow human beings, equally deserving of dignity and compassion.
And while we may not be able to change anyone else, or stop it from sickening the souls of those all around us, we can start fighting this pandemic in our own lives and homes. And I hope you’ll help me fight against it here at Transfiguration, too. Our church needs to be a hospital for the infected. We need to be a community where contempt is treated and healed, not nurtured and spread. We need to be people who spend more energy proclaiming and living the values of the gospel than attacking those whom we think are wrong.
I know it won’t always be easy. I realize the seriousness of this moment, and I understand the passion connected with convictions of conscience. But it is possible to stand for what is right, and bear witness to the values of the Kingdom of God, without adding more fuel to the fires of contempt burning all around us.
So, wear your mask, watch your words, say your prayers, read your Scriptures, and love your neighbor, and by the grace of God, we can beat both of these pandemics.