There was so much going on this week that it is hard to focus. The Olympics dominate most news reports, and many of us have our eyes fixed on competition taking place amongst the world’s top athletes on the other side of the globe. On top of that, the most highly viewed sports showdown in the United States took place Sunday, and the Bengals from Ohio were be on the turf in California for the Super Bowl where they seemed to dominate so much of the game but didn’t take home the win.
Monday was Valentine’s Day, which has its roots in the commitment of a dedicated Roman priest to protect marriage, and who later suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Claudius II in the third century. In America and many countries around the world, it has become an opportunity to exchange gifts and express love in the name of Saint Valentine. Restaurant owners held on to the hope that between the sports viewing and couples dating perhaps a record sales weekend could offset some of the pandemic losses. And for us some who avoid the weekend and holiday rush, the celebration continues.
For most of us it seems that the coronavirus is running its course, and we hope that it will continue to wane. Sunday morning just after midnight, in a COVID ICU in Cary, North Carolina, a couple who were married for over 50 years, hospitalized since before Christmas, died within four minutes of each other while holding hands. Last week I checked-in with one of my fitness friends at the YMCA, a nurse at Riverside serving on the COVID frontline (who asked if people would pray for her brother with stage IV cancer), to find out how she was holding up. Again, she remarked about the senseless deaths from unvaccinated people.
For days on the US/Canada border, truckers protested the vaccine requirement for border passing. The “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations paralyzed the capital of Ontario, slowed traffic at the border, and caused manufacturers on both sides to slow down production. In conversations with our daughter in Queensland, Australia, where the vaccination rate is near 95%, Sarah expressed how hard it is for her to understand the reluctance by Americans to receive the vaccine. One thing for sure is that perhaps especially in this country where individualism has been valued since our genesis, we remain polarized and tensions are high.
A week ago my husband and I had the privilege of hosting a lunch at our farm with four young refugee women from Afghanistan. Our friends, Patras and Naomi, although from Pakistan, had served for years as missionary church planters in Afghanistan and their own experience of persecution and finding asylum in this country compels them to reach out and welcome these new arrivals. Their ability to speak the Persian language is critical. Two of the four girls, between the ages of 22 and 26, speak a bit of English, and their sad stories and sweet smiles won our hearts. We learned that not only did they live in a war-torn country where women are often treated terribly, they are Hazaras, the most vulnerable ethnic group in the country. These people have suffered for decades and even amongst the thousands of Afghani refugees that have arrived in this country they are regarded as the least, and persecuted by both Shiites and Sunnis.
My heart is troubled and mind challenged by the tensions and the disrespect and the uncivil way in which humanity interacts. The scripture that speaks to me this week is from a portion of a letter written by Paul to the young church in Colossae, most likely during the years of his house arrest in Rome (Colossians 3:1-17). In the NIV Study Bible the heading for this text is “What Christians Should Do: Rules for Holy Living.”
If only we could put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (V12). In times like this, how do we set our hearts and minds on things above? What does it mean for our lives to be “hidden with Christ?” Paul writes to the struggling Christians you have taken off your old self with its practices and put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (v 10).” One NIV footnote states, “The more we regard the world around us as God does, the more we will live in harmony with him …. Every Christian is in a continuing education program. The more we know of Christ and his work, the more we are being changed to be like him.” I pray that together, we can continue to be transformed and become as God’s chosen people.
Rev. Ginny Teitt is pastor of Concord Presbyterian Church in Delaware.