Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
November 2020 - Volume 20, No. 11
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Getting Over or Getting Through

Waiting for the Messiah

In the Christian liturgical calendar this time of year the standard lessons celebrate both the ending of things (the “final days”) and anticipates the beginning of things (“new beginnings”). It’s an annual cycle primarily attuned to the seasonal progression of the our earth’s relationship to the sun. And whether it’s infinitely large or infinitely small, for good or ill, it’s ours.

And in our own national four-year cycle of chief presidential office-holding, it comes around, perhaps more nuanced this time, to a contest between the democratic ideal of the will of the people, and a monolithic grandiosity that can ‘trump’ anything in its way.

At the time of this writing, we are just a few days from Election Day 2020. More than usual is the apparent number of those who want to vote. And more than usual are those who want to diminish access to voting. Time seems to be of the essence - the sooner the safer. As if time can co-opt chaos.

And the dragon that emerged from the bowels of the earth, and now hovering over every horizon is the COVID. This particular emergent beast has a new trick. (Remember folks, it’s “Trick or Treat” time in this corner of the world.)

A carrier of the disease, need have no symptoms (is asymptomatic) until after he or she has transmitted it to others.
I recall the old stories, where the wicked witch who casts her crippling spell on a prince or princess, turning them into frogs, only later (maybe ‘fourteen days’) to sport the tell-tale wart on her own nose.

The witch’s only claim to virtue is to preemptively protect herself ahead of time. Which means the only way she can save herself is that she must put the safety and well-being of any others ahead of her own. (Pay attention to this - it’s perhaps the secret lesson of the Covid.

There’s an (overly simplistic) parallel here in the Roman Catholic doctrine of ‘original sin’. For the Catholic, we are sinners even before we have the ability to sin. Whereas for the Protestant, we need grace only after we’ve done something wrong. The Catholic accepts the constancy of penance, whereby he/she can hear the healing words from the lips of another. The Protestant can be heard to claim, ‘I can do it myself, thank you very much.’

The Messianic Battle - Who will save us?

Today, there’s a parallel - a battle of who’s going to save us from the Covid, or from the ‘swamp’? It has recently taken on the nature of an Armageddon - the biblical last battle between good and evil that just precedes the final Day of Judgment.

Messiah # 1 - Donald Trump

On the one side there is Donald Trump. “Here he comes to save the day.” Ever since he showed up on our political screens in 2016, he was the avenging hero - the one who single-handedly would clean things up, drain the swamp, be the great deal-maker, the Lone Ranger. His flaws were not red flags, except to the enemy. They were only covert signs of battle frenzy for his ‘base’, and markers of his amoral invincibility to save us all.

His primary flaw is his belief that he cannot lie. Therefore in the end everything he says must itself become a lie.[1]

Messiah # 2 - An awaited Vaccine

The other commonly proclaimed Messiah is “Science” - which is now reduced to the the wait for a ‘vaccine’. The heroic face of this side is that of Dr. Anthony Fauci

The new battleground is this coming Winter. It begins with the Election, especially the time/space between the election and the Inauguration. (We just saw a preview in the frantic packing of the Supreme Court with Justice Amy Coney Barrett.)

Winter is also the time/space where Covid will be even more powerful to populate our living space, which will be more of an indoor prison. We had a foretaste last Winter with the “lockdown.” The battle will continue between what can be ‘open’ and what must be ‘locked’ down. Either one has the ability to great damage, and stand as a ‘victory’ for the wrong reason.

Where does it lead? Toward What Outcome?

I began this essay with an overarching question, perhaps the overarching question; in the end, do we get over Covid, or do we have to go through it. The results can be very different. President Trump keeps telling us just chill, we’ll get over it. World War II we had to get through it.

To eventually get over it means to work to get it out of the way - like developing a grass seed that kills off any offending insects, such as Michigan mosquitos. Or to finally have the Road Commission move a rural road around that swamp, rather than trying to fill it in every few years after it keeps sinking.

To get through it can mean to face it, wrestle with it, take its rules and nature seriously, as well as grieve and care for its victims. It can mean fighting with everything we have to develop a functioning vaccine. Or to teach and encourage each other how to protect ourselves and others in the meantime.

And perhaps ourselves come out with a greater wisdom and maturity, and perhaps a greater sense of our humanity, compassion, and a greater care for each other. These are the things that grow a just and caring society.

And that, my friends, is my best sense of what all this means - a time of great ordeal and perhaps suffering - by which we can emerge with a greater care for each other, and the larger world itself.

We recognize that as humans we don’t like to be told what to do. And sometimes we don’t want or like to do what we need to do. Likewise we sometimes need to suffer in order to learn to care for each other. I don’t really understand, but I see it work, and can trust it.

And so I bid you here also,

Pay Attention

Two Afterthoughts (and a footnote).

1). Returning to my comments (above) about ‘catholics’ and ‘protestants’. They can be quite opposite of each other, yet equal in making ways to develop good people, and to make the world a better place. And in the end of things warrant access to “the Kingdom.”

In Christian theology, there’s a doctrinal secret that sees each person as both fully a sinner and fully a saint. Martin Luther left the Roman Catholic Church to reestablish this center of his faith - not half and half, but fully each. That’s the central theological reality of the faith, of the way God sees us. (It’s also the secret of effective psychotherapy.) And actually (which is what I’m asserting in this essay, it’s the secret of the Covid. As my father taught me, “despise nothing, honor everything.” That’s the secret of life. And with that, Covid may also seen as a blessing. “When will we ever learn - when will we ever learn?”

2). There is actually a third outcome - those like the proverbial ostrich, who would wish to bury their head in the sands of life. One difficulty is that when someone (or life itself) comes along and kicks you in the rear, you’ll have no idea what or who was the offender. And a lot of folks really seem to like it that way. Why? If I were born to judge, I’d probably have some answers. But I wasn’t. I was born to pay attention, and to ponder and share what I see.

There are always more ways to see things than at first glance.

Again, pay attention.


[1] I find ironic that in this 75th anniversary year of Adolph Hitler’s suicide (April 30, 1945), which brought to an end the horrors and ignominies of World War 2, our own president has begun an increasing decompensation. He’ll have taken much of our own population with him. But he also will most likely also end up alone, bunkered with a final few of his minions, and perhaps a singularly beloved Eva Braun.

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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