We aren’t going back, we’re going forward

We can’t just go back to fishing

Julie led us to reflect on John 21, an epilogue added to the Gospel of John that brings the whole Gospel together. It is a familiar scene; Christ’s disciples fishing, and failing at that. It’s reminiscent of a time early in Christ’s ministry, one of his first miracles in the Gospel of Luke, where he helps Simon Peter catch some fish, and leads him to drop his nets and follow him to make him a fisher of people. This time, Peter, after the rabbi he’s been following for three years dies, goes back to what he normally does: failing at catching fish. “I am going fishing,” he says.

Jesus meets them in the morning and asks them, rhetorically, if they have caught any fish. He then leads them to catch fish, miraculously once again. This tips John off that indeed it is the Lord. He alerts Peter, who is naked, and he dresses himself, and jumps into the sea (like he does early in John when he famously walks on water), and greets Jesus.

They end up on the shore and Jesus serves them breakfast. Jesus relates to Peter, and reinstates his ashamed disciple back into the mission, who denied him three times, which led to his rabbi’s death. He asks Peter for his love, and says that the best way to express it is to feed his sheep and follow him into death.

Even when Peter tries to go back to how it was, he can’t. He’s changed and he has to forge a new way forward. This time, he’s following Jesus to feed his sheep and into Glory, into death. I draw on this image because as we move into the time after the pandemic, it won’t be like it was before. I don’t want to suggest that that will happen soon (though it may in certain parts of our country), because covid-19 is still ravaging the world. Nevertheless, there is no going back to what it was before. We’ve learned, changed, and grown, and now we are entering into something new.

Who will we be now that we’ve been through a historic pandemic? How do we acclimate to our new circumstances, let alone build something new together? What values of ours will change?

The best way we can get into what is next is to get vaccinated

Vaccine hesitation is real, and people have ideological reasons for not getting it, but the best way to get into our next era, is to make sure that as many people get vaccinated as possible. In many ways vaccinations are what stand between us and the white whale called herd immunity. And with vaccines soon to be approved for 12- to 15-year-olds, we really do have a great opportunity before us. I think Christians can create a pro-vaccine culture that is rooted in loving our neighbors, the second of the Great Commandments, and caring for the least of these, the most vulnerable, who cannot receive a vaccination (or are too young to).

I think it is essential that we speak about vaccines as an opportunity to love one another, and not as a test of piety. Shaming people who are hesitating, especially in public, may harden their hearts. Speak the truth in love. I admit that this may still not convince everyone (possibly I’ve already shamed some of them just by suggesting vaccination is a good idea), but I think it will help people specifically hesitant about this vaccine. Ultimately, we know these vaccines are well-tested and that the CDC is taking an abundance of precaution regarding their safety. In fact, their pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, because of how tiny the cases of blood-clotting were, should give us all more reassurance at how serious our public health officials take vaccine safety. Here’s how the Washington Post Editorial Board put it: “But what they did — pause Johnson & Johnson shots and warn clinicians — was right. The reason is that transparency translates into trust, and public trust is a pillar of battling the pandemic.” It would be great if we could restore some trust in our public institutions. So let’s help one another get over the bump, for the greater good.

Despite the safety, people are still wary, open your arms wide

The vaccinations feel like a miracle to me. They are a get-of-jail card. They are liberating. People who have both shots in their arms are ready to get back into the swing of things. And so there are those of us that are very eager, and understandably so. The risk is minimal and they have had enough time at home.

But even with the growing number of vaccinations and the dropping number of cases, people will still be cautious. In fact, despite the CDC suggesting not needing to wear masks while jogging or biking, I see people still wearing them (and I am among them). To be overly cautious is understandable and common. People are still hesitant to spend time in indoor public settings and still avoid large gatherings even outside. In fact, our outdoor Sunday meetings, even though they are abundantly safe, are still too much for some folks. And in my opinion, that’s OK. It’s all OK. Whatever feelings you have during this time are understandable. It is very hard to move from life where covid-19 was a looming threat on you and your loved ones, to one where it isn’t. We are all figuring it out.

And so while you see a disparity in emotions from excitement to hesitation, let’s hold it all together. Maybe that will teach us to be sympathetic to people with different experiences, cautions, and anxieties in the future. In that sense, I am unsure much has changed, because our feelings have always been different, but this time we are forming them immediately following a common experience. Let’s hold out arms as wide as possible. For me that means extending our outdoor meetings a little longer than some might suggest, for the sake of everyone. That’s just one expression, though. Let’s be gracious and understanding with one another.

After 14 months, people are tired, we need love and encouragement

The anxiety about our new lives together, or the excitement about our new lives together, come with another toll. People are tired. Even with the hope of getting out of covid-19, we are getting out and feeling tired. It’s hard to get the old gang back together. It’s hard to build something new, let alone get back into our old habits.

I think we need to keep spreading the love as far as possible. We need to be intentional about making community because so little of it can and doesn’t happen spontaneously. So checking in on another and being inclusive is essential to rebuilding our common lives and our community again.

But people will have different capacities and abilities. Some of us are still suffering from long covid symptoms. Others are still grieving the deaths of loved ones. Still others are feeling incredibly depleted and out of social practice after 14 months of being in this pandemic. Grace needs to abound. We aren’t going back to what was, we are building something new. So encouragement and love needs to lead us. We have to do our best to hold everyone together in the liminal space we’re in.

We are now more accessible, more health conscious, more inclusive

The pandemic has taught me a lot. Just the other day, I took a walk in a park I’ve been walking in for the last year. And I noticed the blossoms and the trees in a new way. A few years ago, on the campus of Eastern University, during this same time of year, a friend of mind pointed out blossoming trees. I wondered, “who cares about trees?” as I entered the library. But now that’s shifted. I’m looking at the sky, hearing the birds, and seeing the trees a little differently, or better yet, just noticing them. Just like many people have starting cooking more, for example, I’m learning to appreciate new things too.

I’ve taken to enjoying outdoor walks as meetings, instead of my (old) usual coffeeshop or office. I actually think that makes me an attentive listener and keeps my body moving (something else I’ve noticed not doing very much in a pandemic, even outside of the pandemic). I’ve started running too. All of these things are a result of changes that occurred during the pandemic, which shows a change in value and appreciation.

And I think our society has changed, too. Maybe we’ve seen the worst parts of it, as people continued to make selfish and dangerous decisions during the worst of times in the pandemic. But I think we value human life and public health more. I think witnessing the horror of half a million people dying gave us a sense of the frailty of life. We can learn to care for one another even more now.

Furthermore, I think our online-relating has also made us listen to voices that are often crushed under domination in in-person settings. It is incredible to observe some quiet voices emerging in our online quarantine. I think this partly why we’ve seen a racial reckoning. On the Internet, in many ways, our social position is less highlighted, our presence less domineering, so things change, and different voices emerge (and we’re all muted). I hope that changes how we listen and pay attention to one another.

In many ways, we’ve learned new ways to connect and relate. Video meetings seem efficient and effective for many things (and create less carbon emissions!). We’ve made a lot of resources accessible online—which is great for people who are disabled, for example. These advents change us for the better. We won’t be going back to what was, but I think the future is bright. We are emerging as more resilient, more compassionate, and more capable as a result. Our trust in one another can grow, our bond as a common people can strengthen, and our faith may even expand too.

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