Thank you for tuning in everyone. I’d like to do three things while we are together. I’d like to:
– talk a little bit about where we are today.
– introduce you to someone I admire.
– and invite you to choose how you want to be remembered for how you responded to this present time.
1. I am acutely aware that as I write this homily (and now record it for you) that we are in our Seventh Sunday of not gathering physically together in our church on Russell Road.
In preparation for this homily I was reminded that just three weeks ago on Easter Sunday afternoon – missing all of you – I found myself feeling a little discombobulated so I Googled the word: Pandemic. Asking Google specifically:
How many pandemics have we ever had?
Maybe you’ve also searched for information about how many times have we been through such times as this? I thought maybe I would find the answer would be that we’ve had four or five pandemics or plagues. To my surprise, using several different links, I discovered that there have been roughly twenty pandemics since we started recording time. Some I knew of, and as I read some of them to you you’ll be surprised how many you recognize too:
The Athens Plague of 430 B.C.
The Great Plague of London in 1665.
The Russian plague of 1770.
The Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.
The Flu Pandemic of 1890.
The Polio Epidemic of 1916.
The Spanish Flu of 1918.
The Asian Flu of 1957.
The Swine Flu of 2009.
The Ebola Epidemic of 2014.
The Zika Virus of 2015.
History proved that plagues and epidemics have wreaked havoc throughout the course of human history. As horrifying as that exercise was, it also provided me with a perspective that:
– one, we have been here before; and
– two, other people have survived other such calamities.
And made me ask questions such as:
What can the past teach us?
What has this pandemic come to teach us?
What will we look like during this time?
What will we look like after this time?
Will the future look different?
Or will the future look very similar to today or the past?
AND: How will I be remembered for how I responded to this time?
All good questions. Maybe you have good questions of your own?
I am also acutely aware that in times past when we’ve found ourselves in need of help, we have huddled together, come together to share whatever resources we could share. This time is different. In order to survive, we have been asked to stay distant from one another. How counter cultural is that? How counter-intuitive for us.
In cave-people times if a saber-tooth tiger entered the village, the people did not run away, they gathered together to beat the threat so as many people as possible could live. Our weapon this time is sheltering away from others, social distancing, wearing protective masks, wearing latex gloves, washing our hands over and over and over and over again and … working and learning from home.
As of today, more than two and a half million people worldwide have contracted the novel coronavirus and as of Saturday, nearly 200,000 people have died – again, worldwide. As of the writing (and recording) of this homily I know of not one single parishioner who has contracted the virus. Not one single parishioner. So, something is working.
As weird as it feels we have to stay home, at least a little while longer. How long? We don’t know yet. But, like you, I trust our medical professionals and church leaders in the diocese to let us know when it is safe to gather again in our pews. Until then we use the wonderful resources of technology to bring us together virtually. In many ways the church was made for such a time as this. Nothing can stop the sharing of the Good News.
I’m also aware that as a whole world community – this one world community – is in a collective lock-down that for some people is not a difficult time at all. Some folks are thriving. Some people have told me that they actually live pretty much like this all the time so to them this is not such a big deal.
But for lots and lots of other people, this is not a business as usual kind of time. Distancing to them feels more like isolation. Some of our parishioners are on the front lines of this pandemic, helping to heal those who are sick and helping those of us who are not sick to stay healthy. Thank you to the frontline workers. Some of our parishioners are small business owners and they are suffering. Some people are literally all alone and find themselves excruciatingly lonely. Others are not alone and wish they were alone! 🙂 (I hope that made you chuckle!)
Mostly, I’m told, the world is in a collective state of shock from all of this. People in our own country are shocked that 26.4 million Americans are now unemployed. The most since the Great Depression of 1929. No wonder people are in shock.
2. At times like this I ask myself how others in times past handled crisis in their own lives? A few weeks ago I shared in my Easter homily about Viktor Frankl, who, during the holocaust, after losing everything and everyone in his life while in the concentration camp named Auchwitz, Viktor chose to not only survive, but chose to thrive and then chose to teach others around him to survive and thrive as well. That was Viktor’s story. That is how we remember him.
This week my mind went to Loung Ung, a Cambodian-born American human-rights activist and lecturer. She is the national spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World. Perhaps you already know of Loung’s great work; but for those of you who do not, Loung was born in Cambodia, the sixth of seven children and the third of four girls. At ten years of age, she escaped from Cambodia as a survivor of what later became known as “the Killing Fields” during Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. After emigrating to the United States and adjusting to her new country, she wrote several books related to her life experiences between 1975 and 2003. Her first book is titled: “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.”
During challenging times, I look for inspiration from human guides to help me and others through times of shock, trauma and grief. This time with the novel coronavirus, which came on (seemingly) so quickly, this week I turned to Loung as a person who survived and thrived and who now teaches others to survive and thrive as well.
In a recent interview I heard Loung share a bit about her life. How when she was a little girl she watched as two of her sisters and both of her parents and 20 of her relatives and an estimated two million other Cambodian victims were captured, tortured, and killed by the Khmer Rouge genocide.
While Loung says she was blessed to survive – she saw and witnessed atrocities no one should ever have seen, much less a child. Since coming to the United States, Loung and several of her brothers have been able to build a new life for themselves here; but they never forgot what they learned from having gone through – and having lost everything.
Loung said that even with all of the loss, suffering and hardship, she still believes life is beautiful. And that life is beautiful in one way because we can all still be here together now.
Loung shared that given her background,
given all she was exposed to in her young life,
given all of the heartbreak and horror, she says
it is a miracle she came through it as well as she did,
because there was every chance,
in the worst of it all that she just as easily could have become a killer.
But instead, she chose to become a human rights activist.
Over and over again in her life Loung has chosen to give life, rather than take it. She is a person of love, and life, and generosity … even when all of those past horrible memories of her past were also still alive in her memories as well.
Loung shared that she knows that she did not get here on her own. She said, none of us get here on our own. Loung said that she is here because of the strength and the spirit of those who came before her and the same is true for each one of us as well. She shared whether those people were writers or factory workers or our fathers or mothers, that all of them helped us to get where we are today. Loung shared that when she left Cambodia, and as she looks back on her past, that she knew early on in her new life that she wanted to live a full and whole life. That she wanted to live as a fully human being. That she wanted to honor the ones who gave her life and to work towards living her life today as a gift given back to them for giving her life in the first place.
By being kind to herself, kind to her family, kind to the people around her, she wanted to give back to all of them and to give back to the world that gave her life. To that end Loung has gone back to Cambodia more than 40 times to help rid the country of landmines.
I wanted to share the story of Loung’s life because how she responded to life in the face of adversity inspired me. Loung shared that for her life ultimately comes down to choosing to be:
- decent to herself,
- decent to others around her and
- decent to the world.
Three weeks ago, I shared the story of Viktor’s life.
Today I shared a bit of the story of Loung’s life.
3. How Viktor Frankl chose to respond to life inspired me.
How Loung Ung chose to respond to life inspired me.
As a follower of Jesus, how Jesus chose to respond to His life inspires me the most. How at each turn of Jesus’s life – he chose love, truth, forgiveness, kindness, strength, speaking truth to those who did not want to listen. Every second of Jesus’s life here on earth serves as inspiration for us today.
And truth be told, how some of you live your lives also inspires me. As Loung said, “whether you’re a writer, or a factory worker, or a mother, or a father” all of you inspire me. Especially during this time, you make one sacrificial decision after another so others around you can live well. Thank you for inspiring me. Others around you will remember how you responded to today’s situation. And so, will you – remember.
We share stories such as Viktor’s and Loung’s and Martin Luther King, Jr’s, and, Mahatma Gandhi’s, and share the story of Jesus’s life:
– so that people today will know what to do when things like pandemics come into our lives.
– so that people will know how to respond to things like landmines and holocausts and racism and moral dilemmas confront us.
– so that we will know how to handle the most challenging times in our lives.
– With grace. And honesty. And humor. And faith.
– And the knowledge that other generations have survived their own pandemics and we will survive this time as well.
Like others before us, we have our own life’s story to tell.
How will we choose to live our lives?
How will we be involved in civil rights, and equal rights, and human rights?
How will history reflect how we rose to life’s biggest challenges?
What will history say about our individual and collective response – specifically – to Covid-19?
The final chapter of our lives has not yet been written.
We’re still living our lives.
The chapters are still unfolding.
Will we, like Loung, choose life, and honesty and decency?
Will we, like Jesus choose to love God and to love
whoever is standing right in front of us at any given time?
How will we choose to live our lives?
How will we choose to love?
What will we choose as our path moving forward?
What is the next step we will take?
Stay strong everyone.
We still have much life left to live.
– – Chuck McCoart, April 2020
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog