On pandemic church attendance

Back in the days of the anti-fracking battle in New York State, I wrote tons of comments to articles in the press. I still occasionally write a comment on a topic of interest. The following is a comment I submitted to an op-ed by Wilton Cardinal Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, DC, in The Washington Post, entitled “Praying apart isn’t the same as praying together. That’s why we sued D.C.” Because the article is behind a paywall, I will synopsize. Cardinal Gregory had sued the city of Washington, DC “to protect the free exercise of religion in the nation’s capital.” There had been a limit of fifty people in religious services, (which was subsequently eased by Mayor Muriel Bowser on December 16th). He pointed out that more than fifty people were allowed in stores and other venues.

My comment:
I am Catholic and someone who spent years in liturgical service as a musician and a liturgy planner. I was consistently attending mass on weekends and holy days, but I have not attended in person mass since mid-March, choosing instead to participate via televised or online services for safety’s sake.

I don’t think that restrictions on number of people in church attendance is at all an attempt to limit free exercise of religion. Being in church for a service is not like being in a store. In stores, people are mostly  silent, not near the same people for any length of time, and spending shorter amounts of time in an enclosed space. In churches, people are in one spot for an extended period, usually about an hour. They are speaking and singing; singing in particular is known to spread droplets much further than six feet. Masks do help prevent virus spread, but they do not do so 100%, so singing presents an additional risk.

Church attendance is more closely analogous to going to an indoor movie or concert. In my state, neither of those activities are allowed at all. Places of worship are allowed with restrictions on numbers in attendance. I think that rather than being overly restrictive, governments have been trying to help faith communities gather in person rather than being totally virtual in worship, while trying to keep risk relatively low.

The virus does not care whether people are in a store or a church or a home or a restaurant. It’s up to all of us to protect ourselves to the extent possible. When government officials are following science in their rules, we should accept that and not think that they are infringing on our rights rather than protecting public health.

another day

So, as I write this, it is December 25th which we celebrate as Christmas, but 2020 is very different.

I haven’t been able to post much this month, in large part because we have been dealing with some health difficulties with my father, known here as Paco. He spent five days in the hospital and, earlier this week, was admitted to the skilled nursing and rehabilitation unit in the senior community where he lives.

Because of COVID restrictions, no visitors are allowed but we have been in touch by phone. Before he went to rehab, we did have a family early-Christmas celebration, but we sent a couple of small gifts to his room so he would have something to open today.

We hope to videochat with daughter E and family in London UK this afternoon, which will be evening there. They have already posted photos of granddaughters ABC and JG in their holiday attire. Last night, we were able to watch the Christmas Eve mass from their church. While it is sad that we were not able to see them at all in 2020, technology does help.

Spouse B, daughter T, and I are spending the day at home with scaled-back gift exchange and lots of our family favorite foods, fresh-baked date nut and cranberry breads for breakfast and lasagna from Nana’s recipe with homemade braided herb bread for dinner and apple-blackberry and an outrageously good brown-sugar and maple pecan pie for dessert. B enjoys cooking and baking special meals, so he is taking the lead with all this while I act assitant. It’s nice to have familiar things in such a topsy-turvy year.

Unfortunately, the huge snowstorm we had last week that dropped forty inches (one meter) of snow on us has set us up for flood warnings today. We got about three inches (8 cm) of rain yesterday and overnight, which, coupled with at least another couple of inches from snowmelt, has led to flooding. The Susquehanna is expected to crest tonight at major flood stage level in our town. While our home should be okay, we are concerned for our neighbors who live closer to the river.

I know for many Christians around the world, this Christmas is very different than the usual celebrations, but the underlying message of peace and good will to all is still there to bring comfort to us in these troubled times. I share wishes for peace and good will, for good health and love with all of you; whatever your personal faith or philosophy might be, these gifts are universal.

today

This wasn’t the plan.

I expected right now I would be in a plane somewhere over the Atlantic after a month in the UK visiting daughter E and her family, meeting granddaughter JG, walking granddaughter ABC home from nursery school, celebrating US Thanksgiving in London on what is there just the fourth Thursday of November.

I thought I would get to attend mass for the first time since March as we celebrated JG’s baptism, wearing the white dress that I, E, and ABC wore before her, as well her Aunt T and great-aunts.

Of course, there would have been two weeks in quarantine before any of the visiting, but still…

It was a blessing in disguise that the news of the UK lockdown leaked early, before we flew out, so that there was time to cancel. It took most of the month, but I finally got all the charges refunded.

I had planned to get a lot of writing done while we were in quarantine and to do a long-delayed, self-guided retreat, neither of which happened this month as the usual things that needed doing were before us here and the inevitable bumps in the road appeared that needed attention. I was also impossible to ignore/escape the maelstrom of news on the election and its aftermath and of the horrifying, continuing escalation of the coronavirus pandemic.

Enter the first Sunday of Advent, with its message of watching in hope.

I’m struggling with that.

By nature, I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I try to be more of a realist. I know that with over 13 million confirmed cases so far and a seven-day average of new confirmed cases of about 160,000, compounded by Thanksgiving travel, the United States is going to have further acceleration in COVID cases in December and most likely into January, as well. There are also going to be spikes in hospitalizations and deaths flowing from that. Although there will likely be some vaccine administration starting in December, there won’t be enough to make much of a dent in transmission. The exception is that, if health care workers are vaccinated first as expected, we may be able to keep our hospitals staffed well enough to meet the surge in cases this winter.

I do have hope that the incoming Biden administration will have staff and appointees who are capable of improving the lives of people here and beginning to repair our international relationships. However, I am disheartened by the efforts of the current administration to undermine the chances that Biden’s team can implement changes quickly and easily. There are a number of last-minute rule changes, treaty withdrawals, troop withdrawals, and other measures that will make the transition even more difficult than anticipated in this time of public health emergency, economic downturn, civil rights protests, and general distrust in government.

Sigh.

So, one foot in front of the other. Doing the best I can manage under the circumstances.

Stay tuned.

Thanksgiving 2020

The fourth Thursday of November is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It’s traditional to gather with family and friends for a big dinner, usually turkey with lots of side dishes.

This Thanksgiving will be quieter for many of us because of the pandemic. Cases are rising across the country and in many states are already so numerous that hospitals are running out of space for patients. Frighteningly, millions of people are not heeding the advice of public health experts and are travelling long distances and/or gathering in groups larger than ten or with people outside their household, thus increasing the danger of even higher case counts in December.

Our plan for the day is for spouse B, daughter T, and I to go to Paco’s apartment in his senior community where we will have a Zoom session with my sisters and daughter E. In that way, Paco will get to see his great-granddaughters ABC and JG who will be celebrating American Thanksgiving on an ordinary (lockdown) Thursday in London, UK. B,T, and I were supposed to be in London with them near the end of a month-long visit until the lockdown there cancelled our trip. Once I have Paco set up with the Zoom session on this laptop, I’ll go to another room with another device so he can take his mask off.

After our video chat, Thanksgiving dinner will be delivered to the apartment and we will eat with Paco on one side of the room and B, T, and me on the other as we will need to take our masks off to eat. We will leave expeditiously after dinner so as to limit our contact time.

It won’t be the usual Thanksgiving, but it will be special in its own way.

The point of the holiday is to give thanks but the gratitude this year is tinged with sorrow and regret. I am very grateful that our family is weathering this very disrupted year. B is able to work from home and we are able to stay safe at home for the most part. We certainly miss being able to visit Paco every day and are sad to not be able to travel to the UK to visit for all of 2020, but it would be so horrifying and dangerous to have inadvertently exposed someone to COVID that the separation is necessary.

I am grateful for Governor Cuomo and all the medical personnel and other essential workers who have worked so hard to keep as many of us safe and well as possible. At the same time, I mourn the millions of people in the US and around the world who have been impacted by the coronavirus, either by illness or death of themselves or a loved one or loss of work, shelter, food security, medical care, etc. I am also dreading the coming weeks, which are projected to see a steep rise in cases on top of already soaring rates in the US. There have already been over 12.8 million confirmed cases and 261,000 deaths and the thought of millions more is overwhelming.

I am grateful that the Biden /Harris administration is starting to take shape with the announcement of well-qualified people to key posts. At the same time, I’m sad to see so many not accepting the facts of the situation and not being willing to join in the efforts to come together to fight the pandemic, revive our communities, and unite as one nation.

I’m grateful for the ideals of our country but sad that we are so far from embodying them.

I feel similarly about the Catholic church. I’m grateful for the moral grounding, social doctrine, integral ecology principles, and primacy of love that it has taught me, but sorrowful and penitent about the many abuses of power done in its name, including war, torture, colonialism, racism, sexism, clericalism, sexual abuse and cover-up, and oppression of other religions and peoples over centuries.

So, yes, a very different Thanksgiving. With widespread vaccine use possible by November 2021, maybe next year will be more “normal.”

Or, maybe, there will be no going back to what used to be considered normal.

I pray that we can finally build institutions that live up to their high ideals for the good of all creation.

JC’s Confessions #16

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

I should be watching the Senate Judiciary committee’s hearings on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court right now.

I can’t bring myself to do it.

There are a lot of reasons.

First, it renews my sorrow at the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Second, it is difficult to cope with the nomination going forward under the current circumstances. There is the proximity to the election with voters already casting their ballots and the hypocrisy of the Republicans in moving forward with the confirmation process when they would not allow a hearing for President Obama’s nominee in 2016 many months before the election. There is also the fact that the Senate is not in session due to several senators being COVID positive; if it isn’t safe to be in session, in-person hearings should not be held, either.

Third, I’m leery of how the subject of religion will be handled. Like me, Judge Barrett is Roman Catholic, as are five current members of the Supreme Court with a sixth having been raised Catholic. In a country that is predominantly Protestant, it seems odd to have so many Catholics on the Court. I realize that justices make determinations on the basis of the law, but there are times that some of the arguments made in cases cross into religious belief and the Catholic hierarchy sometimes makes arguments that are factually incorrect. For example, some recent cases have upheld employers’ refusal to offer birth control in the medical insurance of women employees on the grounds that birth control is abortifacient, which, while taught by the Catholic bishops, is not medically true. Likewise, you see arguments that same-sex marriage is an assault on religious freedom even though it is a civil law; while some religions choose to offer ceremonies for same-sex couples, no religion is compelled to do so.

Fourth, I remain suspicious of the originalist/textualist bent that Judge Barrett exhibits. That judicial philosophy fails to account for how the meaning of words changes over time. In my view, one of the strengths of our Constitution and laws is that it can be interpreted in the light of new circumstances. Let’s face facts: many of the men who wrote the Constitution were slaveholders who never envisaged that one day Blacks, women, and people who don’t own property would be voters. Many modern issues could not have been imagined by people in the 18th century.

However, some issues that were clearly spelled out in the legal writings of the 18th century are ignored by originalists when it suits them. For example, the second amendment very clearly places the right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia” but originalists often ignore that part of the text and original intent. It’s also very clear that the Founders understood that corporations are not people; a future Supreme Court may someday strike down the Citizens United ruling on that basis.

I don’t know what will happen with this nomination or with the Court in the coming years, but, right now, I can’t bear to watch.

One-Liner Wednesday: individualism

 Radical individualism is a virus that is extremely difficult to eliminate, for it is clever. It makes us believe that everything consists in giving free rein to our own ambitions, as if by pursuing ever greater ambitions and creating safety nets we would somehow be serving the common good.

Pope Francis, from the just released encyclical Fratelli Tutti, paragraph 105

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SoCS: 60

Very soon, I will turn 60.

I’ll be saying good-bye to an old decade and beginning a new one.

I guess the bigger question is “is sixty old?”

Well, if not old, I think it’s at least getting there…

I’m not a big “numbers” person. We all get older one day at a time, so I don’t usually fret about my age, which is always one day older than the day before. I admit that I had established sixty as the date by which I hoped to have a book of poetry published, but that isn’t happening. A friend told me she thought I should give myself an additional year on my goal because I have been a chapbook contest finalist, so I guess I’ll go with that. I also have several poet-friends who didn’t publish a book until 60+ so I am in happy and comforting company if I do manage to publish my chapbook or something else in my 60s. Right now, my chapbook is still out in five places and I have three more prospects lined up for submission, so working on it…

Birthdays and anniversaries, especially milestone ones, do remind me to consider how blest I am to have gotten here. I think about my friend Angie who died when she was 54. We used to dream about our respective, then unborn, not-even-dreamt-of-by-our-children grandchildren meeting up at the lake for summer vacations. She does now have grandchildren, whom she never got to hold.

This will probably sound morbid, but, even in my twenties, I made big decisions in my life using the lens of “if I knew I were going to die soon/young, what would I want to have done?” In my case, this has often meant setting aside a personal ambition or accomplishment in favor of taking care of people and doing volunteer work. I’m privileged to have had a choice to make.

It has meant that there have been opportunities that I passed up and that were not able to be retrieved at a later time, especially when it came to my role as a church musician and liturgist. Much too long and complicated a story to stream of conscious-ness.

My hope is that, when I am old, if that grace is to be mine, I will be able to look back with equanimity and not regret.

If I can, that will be a grace, too.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “new and/or old.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/10/02/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-3-2020/

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One-Liner Wednesday: love and justice

Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument. 
—Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)
*****
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Votes for Women!

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, recognizing women’s right to vote. It reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

It had taken many decades to pass the amendment. Generations of women who had worked toward it died before they were able to legally cast a ballot. Many black women continued to be denied voting rights until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Shamefully, part of the Congressional enforcement of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 and some states have enacted discriminatory practices. The House of Representatives has passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to address these issues, but Sen. Mitch McConnell has not brought it up to a vote in the Senate. A brief overview of the bill can be found here.

Because of the centennial, there have been a number of documentaries and news features about women’s suffrage in the United States, as well as articles and editorials. We have seen striking visual reminders of the struggle, such as the women in Congress wearing white for the State of the Union address, because white was the color that many suffragists wore during their marches and demonstrations. [A side note on wearing white: When I was a member of the Smith College Glee Club, we wore white when we performed. I don’t know if this tradition sprang from the suffrage movement or not. After I graduated in 1982, the Glee Club moved to wearing all black, but I admit that I still miss the striking sight of a group of young women blazing onto the stage wearing white.]

Because of the pandemic and the current civil and voting rights struggles, the commemorations of the ratification of the 19th amendment will be somewhat muted. I’m remembering, though, the 75th anniversary, which was a special event for me.

I live in upstate New York, a couple of hours drive from Seneca Falls, home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Twenty-five years ago, I was a member of a mostly female, mostly Catholic group called Sarah’s Circle. We met for prayer and discussion on a regular basis and occasionally took part in public events. We decided to take part in the parade and other events in Seneca Falls. We marched wearing matching shirts with our logo, designed by one of our members, on the front:

The back read “Can We Talk” because, at that time, an instruction had come down from the Vatican forbidding even the discussion of women’s ordination.

This did not deter the members of Sarah’s Circle from still speaking up about women’s ordination, but we were trying to appeal to members of the hierarchy to speak with us about it. A number of the our members who felt called to ordination wore Roman collars with their shirts. At the time, I did not feel that call personally so I did not add the collar. As we marched, we sang women’s suffrage verses that one of our members had written to familiar hymn tunes.

It was an inspiring day, filled with joy, hope, and thanksgiving. We had no idea that, twenty-five years later, there would still be such a struggle for fair voting and for equal rights and opportunity. May this centennial commemoration energize us to continue to speak out and vote for those who will uphold the voting and civil rights and the dignity of every person. May we also defend vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris from sexist and racist attacks.

We’ve come a long way in one hundred years, but not nearly as far as we should have.

One-Liner Wednesday: Peace

Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart. 

Francis of Assisi

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