Service at a Distance

abbreviated service offered by the Rev. Paul Oakley
March 15, 2020

This service is offered by YouTube video playlist because the Fellowship Hall is closed to reduce coronavirus transmission and vectoring.


This past Thursday, before we had made the decision that we couldn’t delay cancelling in-person services today and next week, I went around noontime to Kroger. I have never seen the store so crowded and busy before. Not even on the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter. There was no toilet paper left, no hand sanitizer, and I got the very last three-pack of Clorox disinfecting wipes. There was still meat and produce, but I’ve heard that, when some people went to the store, you couldn’t even get a banana.


I never experienced this kind of emergency hoarding behavior until I was in my thirties. When Walter and I lived in New Jersey, heavy rains caused flooding of a sort I had never seen in the Midwest. And when thunderstorms were forecast, you could count on all the milk, bread, and eggs in the store to practically fly off the shelves. I never understood it. It wasn’t like we were expecting the apocalypse. I thought my neighbors were strange about weather.


But it seems there is something hardwired in the human mind that causes many of us to have an extreme reaction when we believe we are facing even a short-term disruption of our supply chain. We evolved in conditions unmoderated by scientific agricultural techniques and technologies, unmoderated by shipping and storage technologies. We grew up as a species experiencing the extremes of fast and famine.


And so, sometimes, we react as if the apocalypse is on the way, regardless of the actual severity of the difficulty we are about to face. And most of us are never specialists in the fields related to the day’s impending disaster, so we depend on organizations whose business model requires consumers who pay more for sensationalism than for truth. So we doubt and are at risk of doubting too long when real challenges come.


But Unitarian Universalism calls on us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warns us against idolatries of the mind and spirit. It’s a matter of faith to recognize reason and allow ourselves to follow the guidance of science when it comes to dealing with significant health issues and the wellbeing and even survival of humanity and our planet.


We know better than going to our car mechanic or our politician when we are facing the life and death decisions that we make in close consultation with our doctor. We are interested in getting a second opinion about whether to start a new therapy or get a risky surgery, but we are not going to ask our hair stylist’s opinion. Specialties exist to give us our best choices in a narrow area.


So when science educators and consultants used a simple diagram of two curves, one being narrow in time but higher in the number of cases at any given time, the other being longer on the time scale but lower in the number of cases needing treatment at a given time, many people recognized the wisdom in the teaching tool. And the immediacy of the need for preventive techniques to slow the advance of the virus became stark when a dotted line was added to show the capacity of our healthcare system. The tall curve meant a lot more people would die because the system would be flooded, like my New Jersey neighborhood after a thunderstorm.


And then there is the word “vector” that explains why healthy people’s exposure to the virus serves to spread it to more immunocompromised, already weakened people. How can you take care of your friend on chemotherapy or your frail 95-year-old grandmother or you neighbor with chronic bronchitis? One of the best ways is by not exposing yourself so that you don’t have anything to pass to them. Don’t be a vector because you think you are strong enough to be safe!


In addition, everything that can negatively impact human life hits poor people and minorities who have not fully defeated oppression harder than people with greater life security.


And so we decided to close the doors of our Fellowship for a couple of weeks and then reevaluate because we have faith in the value of life. We trust that it is valuable to save lives by engaging enough preventive measures that the curve of infection stays within the capacity of our healthcare systems to handle it. We are committed to the value that it is the responsibility of the whole society to save the lives of the people who have least access to healthcare and other resources.


We closed our Fellowship doors because it is a greater spiritual value to care for the physical well-being of people least able to obtain suitable care than to have the doors open to provide programming that provides one tool for spiritual growth and well-being for some of us.


I won’t pretend that it is not a frightening time. And the economic aspect of this crisis make many doubt their ability to care for their families. But we have each other and are in this challenge together. We can worry without being consumed by it, without despairing, because we know we are not in this alone. We can call each other to check in, discover needs and challenges, figure out how to safely help those in need. We can figure it out, reduce risk, take care of each other, and come out on the other side together without our starting point being knowing all the answers. Let us love one another, for love is of God.


Amen and Blessed Be.