To the Editor:
I have read the July 2 Spiritual Thoughts column by Dorene Meyer several times and very carefully. The only spiritual content I could find was the statement that we are to obey God rather than "man" (sic). Her main point seems to be that we cannot trust the government, which has a nefarious agenda of hidden control. Those of us familiar with the constantly renamed department of Indian Affairs can agree with this but erosion of government by means of innuendo and misrepresentation of public health data does no one any good. All governments and other institutions which we allow to have authority over us need to be monitored, guided by clear thinking people and organizations, and held accountable for their actions or lack of action. All of us have a community responsibility to do what we can to shape these institutions and government by making known what we need for the well-being of everyone. As I see it, Indigenous communities are much better at doing this than the non-Indigenous community I live in now in southern Ontario. We all have to do better.
There have been times in history when governing authorities would quote the apostle Paul when he wrote to the church in Rome and said that every person should be subject to the governing authorities, for those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Those have been miserable times in human history because they ran without accountability. But there are times when the situation is such that we need to give more authority to governments than we would usually do.
We have not capitulated to unreasonable government authority when we drive on the designated side of the road, stop at stop signs and lights, wear seat belts, drive sober. These things have limited our freedom but for the safety and well being of everyone. When we don’t follow these rules people die. We have these rules because people have died.
Public health is another area where we sometimes need governments to step in and provide a framework that will help all of us to exercise our community responsibility to love our neighbour as ourselves. People who did not do this, thinking only of visiting their aged relatives at nursing homes with no concern for other people and no recognition that medical advice is based on science, caused many needless deaths. The deaths of 28 residents of a nursing home, and one spouse, not far from where I live, were caused by COVID-19 brought into the facility by staff who worked at multiple homes and one person who visited without quarantine after travelling outside Canada. Nursing home management did not take transmission into account with the schedules of their staff. The fact that no one at Norway House has died of COVID-19 is wonderful and something to be thankful for as are the actions of band councils to protect their people. But it does not mean that the disease is not deadly.
Being asymptomatic means a person is not obviously sick but does carry the virus and can infect every person they meet. Look up the history of Typhoid Annie for a perfect example of how that happens. Medical science is scrambling as fast as it can to learn what is necessary so this pandemic can be stopped. The information most of us receive about the results is confusing because the results are shared as soon as possible and before there is a complete picture. It is often shared by knowledgable people but then passed on to us by reporters who need to summarize complex information in 10-second sound bites that inevitably distort the information. Governments need information in another format in order to respond to the needs of the population for financial support and thank goodness this has been possible.
Our obsession with numbers does not help this. Numbers are necessary but the same thing can be said in many ways and there has been no co-ordinated way of doing this. Medical researchers need the numbers one way, local hospitals need them another, media and governments likewise. And, generally speaking, most of us don’t understand the differences between number of tests completed, number of infections, the rate at which infections grow, exponential growth of contacts, and projections. Projections are used to plan for the part of the pandemic process we need to respond to and all the variables within a population. One of the clearest examples of how numbers are misunderstood is the statement of a prominent politician who says that they only have high numbers because they do a lot of testing and if they didn’t test so much they would have lower numbers. Rather like not being pregnant if you don’t have a pregnancy test. What they have are hidden infected people who will go on to infect more people.
I am one of those people who is vulnerable to becoming infected by this virus. I am very thankful for those who mindfully obey "wash your hands," "stay inside," "use sanitizer," "wear a mask." Every time I have to go out in public I am angry at the mindless people who don’t do these things and who get too close. I wear a mask. For all they know I could make them sick. I can’t, yet, but they don’t know that. I do know that they could mindlessly kill me by not obeying rules of public health.
As for the great commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves is concerned, even though I can’t visit my 85-year-old friend, I do phone her. I couldn’t visit another friend whose husband has just died of cancer but I phone her, and I send cards, and make donations to organizations that help others. We can share worship materials in ways other than being in the same space. We can send each other music. Just because our traditional way of doing Christian work is limited now doesn’t mean it is ended. But it surely would end if we all got together and shared the virus under the pretence of sharing the love of God – the God whose purpose for us is life, not death. We are all called to be good stewards of what God provides. So be a good steward of your body, your health, your life, and the bodies, health and lives of those around you. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Stay inside. Be socially responsible and support those who are trying to stop this virus.
Rev. Leslie-Elizabeth King