We live in scary times, but amid that fear and discomfort, there are also opportunities for societal change that have not existed for many years. The COVID-19 pandemic has led us to rethink how we gather and how we can care for one another, and recent social unrest has proven how unresolved some of our questions really are. What does a compassionate future look like?
On April 23, 2020, Sinai and Synapses Fellowship alumnus Gregory Simpson hosted a discussion about this with César ‘CJ’ Baldelomar and several other scholars. CJ wrote an article on this same topic prior to the talk. Both Gregory and CJ are co-founders and educational consultants with Learning for Life Solutions, an organization that seeks to share their extensive ethical and theological training to address disparities in education of black and brown student populations. They are also particularly focused on STEM education where diversity issues are a priority. This online discussion brought in scholars, students, clergy, academics, business and academic professionals, to share their unique perspectives on the impact of the coronavirus on our society today, and what kind of ethical society we wish to create moving forward.Read Transcript
Gregory Simpson: I’d just like to begin by saying a short prayer.
You know, these are really tricky times for all of us, for everybody in this – well, I would almost say everybody in the world, actually. But right now it’s particularly difficult for us in these various community spaces that we exist and live in. So I thought I’d just open it by sharing a short prayer.
This prayer comes from a pastoral care handbook that we use, but the prayer really centers on issues during times of conflict and crisis and disaster. So I just invite you to take a posture of comfort and reverence as we kind of enter into what we’re about to achieve and go through.
Let us pray.
“God, our refuge and strength, you have bound us together in a common life. In all our conflicts, help us to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, to listen for your voice amid competing claims, to work together with mutual forbearance and respect, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”
So as I kind of – as we’re going through this, one other thing – as you may or may not know, I’m Pastor as well as a Co-Founder of Learning for Life solutions. But as a pastor in this capacity, I have found, and many of my colleagues have found, it being very difficult to navigate this pandemic, because it brings up a lot of emotion. Many issues come to the fore as we start thinking about the different ways that we’re existing in life, in our own personal lives. So when CJ shared this paper, it was perfect, it was a good way to help us, or help me, to see what faith can look like, and how ethics plays into that, the decisions that we make every now and then, and how we enter into those things. So I’m just so grateful that all of you could join, and look forward to having more conversations. CJ?
CJ Baldelomar: So thank you, Gregory, for the prayer, for introducing this, and welcome to everyone once again, you know, it’s very nice to see familiar faces, and those whom I don’t know, very nice to meet you, and hopefully we’ll have a good discussion. Please, let’s have fun with this, and in the spirit of fellowship, let’s please be respectful of divergent opinions and ideas. This is not meant to be a forum to combat each other, right, it’s not meant to divulge into a political debate, either. It’s a conversation, it’s a dialogue, about how these unprecedented times have impacted our lives and those of our communities. So with that being said, I’m gonna hand it back over to Gregory.
Gregory Simpson: Okay. So to get started, one of the things that I thought would be helpful is for us to kind of dive into the mind of our colleague CJ to find out what kind of thoughts – what led him to write this particular paper or reflection?
In one sense it’s obvious, because of what we’re dealing with, but in another sense, it’s not, because you really don’t know. Many people have thoughts and feelings but not everybody has put pen to paper to kind of unfold. So I just thought it would be a good idea to figure out, or to hear from CJ, a little bit more about what kind of prompted this particular reflection, and then we’ll go from there. CJ?
CJ Baldelomar: Thank you, Gregory, for that. What prompted the paper really was – so I’m taking this class with Professor [Lisa Solwe] Cahill. And it’s about apocalyptic times, right – it’s called “Ethics in Apocalyptic Times.” And I remember when I saw the course, I was like “Wow, this caught my attention,” and so decided to take the course. And throughout the course we’ve been doing, of course, readings on several topics related to apocalypse, right, to the end of times, to the possibility of the end of times.
And something that came up was hope. Hope kept coming up as a theme. And I remember one of the first things we read was a chapter by Miguel De La Torre in a book called “Hope.” And the chapter is – I’m not going to repeat the title, of course, because the chapter that starts with our favorite curse word, right, “F***”… “F*** it,” that’s the title of the chapter. And the more I keep thinking about that chapter, where he says there basically is no hope, and we should just embrace hopelessness and let go of the concept of hope, the more I’ve actually begun to listen to the other side of the debate. And I’m kind of not willing to let go yet of hope, necessarily, or concepts of truth, even though, of course, that’s ambiguous – I’m not willing to go that far yet. I think there is something to be said about truth, or truths, and hope. So what led me to write the paper was just really a reflection on how uncertain these times are, right, and how vulnerable human existence is, how fragile human existence is.
These feelings that we’re all feeling, right, about being excluded, about being isolated, quarantined, made me think about the billions of people around the world who already feel this way, and who have felt this way. People who have felt how fragile human existence is, right, because for them, life hangs on a balance. It’s a day-to-day existence marked by sharp uncertainties. And so I think right now, right, the privileged, we the privileged, are entering kind of that space of uncertainty that is already inhabited by so many people around the world, for lack of material goods, lack of communal warmth.
My good friend Janet here reminded me yesterday, in a conversation we had, about the mentally ill, right, of people with disabilities, who also inhabit these spaces of uncertainty. And so it’s important, I think, to remember that in it, and that’s something that I did not highlight in the paper, but wanted to, right. So it’s just a matter of the vulnerability of the human existence. And now we’re, I guess, starting to recognize that on a social level. But my fear is that once this is all over, things will just return to a standard operating procedure. And we’re going to forget what vulnerability feels like, right, and then that’s going to lead to, again, a lack of solidarity, and it’s going to lead to this hierarchical thinking that has, you know, up to this point, gotten us into trouble. So the question is “Can we imagine otherwise?” Is there a possibility for our imaginations, now having experienced this shock, right, of the uncertain, to move forward in a different frame of mind, right, in a different way, to seek new responses, new ethical responses, to injustice, to inequality, inequity, etc.
Gregory Simpson: So CJ, just another follow-up question, before we kind of open it up and kind of have you walk us through your reflection: A lot of what is challenging to us now is, particularly from the perspective of spirituality and from formalized religion, is just: How do you handle issues of grief at this time? But also, how do you imagine faith, and the role of faith, as it relates to the system of capitalism, as it relates to the injustices that we’ve seen, as it relates to, you know, some of the challenges that you’ve spoken about in your paper – climate change and things of that nature? So you know, I want to ask that broad question, just so that we can, as you kind of enter into your dialogue about this paper, you can kind of have those things as a center of focus and then just briefly in response, as you kind of go through your paper, just have those ideas and those thoughts mindful, top of mind, OK?
CJ Baldelomar: Well I think religions, and this gets to Michael James’s question, as well, that he submitted to us before – I think religions, at their best, they unite, they provide grounding, while also allowing one to transcend the community and also one’s ego, right, as we move, I guess, toward the divine or whatever concept of the Divine we have, toward the infinite. David Tracy, the famous Catholic theologian, just released a great book, Fragments, that I was excited, finally, to get my hands on . It’s actually two volumes, the other one I have not Read Transcriptyet, but in “Fragments” that’s what he talks about, right – trying to fragment these understandings of religion that are totalistic in order to find the best pieces that fit one’s spirituality, one’s context, in order to move forward, and to transcend oneself in a way.
So I think that’s religions at their best. Religions at their worst, of course, we know what they’re capable of, and there’s no point in rehashing, you know, what bad religion is capable of. But I think how to deal with grief – I think community, again, provides a great outlet for grief. Of course, to grieve oneself is also important, but also, you know, in a community, right, it just brings that level of comfort. And again, when I think, that’s why I think the training of religious ministers, of pastors, of the laypeople, right, I think it’s so important to train them in good theology, right, ethical theology – meaning theology that has not forgotten those usually excluded from theology – is very important. And so you know, you’re an example of that, right. (Gregory laughs) And I think, you know, my colleagues in my program are a wonderful example of that.
It’s interesting to see how one also changes thoughts, right. So when I came into this program, I came in with, you know, nihilism. And I still hold on to that side, you know, I’m still, like Johnny Cash says, “the man in black,” right, “I wear black for a reason”. But I also see hope, and I also see beauty, in the way people are approaching religion, the way people are approaching each other, during this time. The problem is: will they continue, right? That’s the question – will it continue when we’re not in crisis mode? And again, that’s a deeply ethical question, right. Is ethics just about the present, or is it about the future? Is there some way that we can say “No, let’s preempt things,” not always be in emergency response to things?
Gregory Simpson: So are there any questions or comments or thoughts about this, either ethics and the future of ethics, ethical imagination, as it relates to what CJ has written or otherwise? Any thoughts at all?
Sarah Chauncey: Hi, I’m Sarah Chauncey, I’m from North Shore Presbyterian Church, I also work for Rockland BOCES here in Rockland County, New York, and we serve students from different school districts that are, you know, they have very many issues, and some are traumatic issues. They come to us because they can’t manage in a normal classroom setting, and it’s either cognitive, behavioral, social, just many reasons. But one thing we’ve done this year – last year more – we embarked on different experiences, one of them being Undoing Racism. You know, I’ve been into studying equity for a long time. And one thing that you said, CJ, that really touched me was that the idea of feeling vulnerable, will it help us? For me, I say, will it help us to be more empathetic, or feel empathy? And one thing I learned when we did the Undoing Racism, and I started reading about white privilege, is that I couldn’t be empathetic until I really understood what other people were experiencing. I didn’t even really recognize, totally, the idea of white privilege. And as I started reading more and experiencing, you know reading Stamped from the Beginning and a lot of other resources, it was like an “a-ha” moment – that “Gee, everybody doesn’t live this way, everybody doesn’t feel this way. There are a lot of challenges.”
And what I think about with this experience is that, at least in my mind, you know, I experience this as a temporary inconvenience. And I don’t always think about others continually living this every day, you know, that this is how they’re living, because, same as “Undoing Racism,” I didn’t understand it well enough to know, even though I do know people live in horrendous situations. So that’s just my reflection on, you know, what I’ve been learning and how I experience empathy.
CJ Baldelomar: Sarah, thank you for that, you know, this is the difficult thing about writing something sometimes, right. I’ve learned, I guess, since my undergrad days, many years ago, how to write less – I’m not trying to, you know – how can I put this – it’s hard to write something and not have others maybe get offended. So when I write something, you know, it’s of course much more complex than whatever is written. And so your points are really, I think, important. And I also think just when I’m writing, right, how can I how sound like I am speaking truth to power without necessarily trying to alienate, right? Because our country doesn’t need any more of that. You know, we’re already divided enough at this point. And I think if we come from just a point of understanding that, you know, we all have different opinions, different experiences, that have shaped us – again, those fragments of experiences. And then together, we can kind of move forward instead of just saying “This is my experience, that’s the only way I’m doing it, everybody else is out of my box,” right.
So I thank you for your comments, and that’s always the challenge, it’s just how to move forward in this very polarized, divisive climate where people are not necessarily paying attention to the facts. And that’s why I am very nervous to let go of truths, right, and truth, because then that opens up the door for, you know, whoever screams the loudest. And I’m not ready to let go of certain facts yet.
Gregory Simpson: Yes, Rose Ann?
Rose Ann Vita: Thank you. I’m a minister in Canada, which has a different context, and I’m really appreciative, CJ, that you said the Church has a role in helping. And so what I’ve been doing is using some of the Scripture texts as ways of having people be reflective, the way Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, and during that time of wilderness, he discovered his identity. And you know, I’m getting feedback that people are reprioritizing what is really important. They’re saying “We don’t need what we had, I mean, we’re doing fine with little.” So that’s a breakthrough.
The other text was the destruction of the Second Temple, which happened in the year 70. So at that time, the Temple disappeared, and then the synagogues began to appear. So maybe we need to rethink how we gather.
So this is – we’re looking at it as an opportunity. But I have to say Canada is much more gentle than the States. I’ve been watching the States very closely. Gregory has connected me, and I have family in the States, so I watch, but I’m also on the alternative news channels, and I think the way the coronavirus is affecting people of color in poor communities is a fact, and that fact needs to be made public. And the people who are experiencing – they’re not getting the benefits that Trump says they’re getting. So there’s going to be a new kind of resistance coming up because of the facts of what’s happening. So I’m more hopeful that there will be change.
And the third thing is I’m studying to be a psychotherapist, and one of my colleagues did an amazing presentation on ecological grief. We’re losing 150 species a day, and we can’t handle it, so we block it out. We don’t – we can’t handle it, but it affects everyone. Thank you for this opportunity.
Gregory Simpson: Thanks, Roseanne. Comments, CJ?
CJ Baldelomar: Thank you, Rose Ann, for that. And I think that’s absolutely right. I think paying attention to the facts – what will come from this is, you know, yet to be seen, and that’s the hope, right. Unfortunately, my intuition tells me things are not going to change much. But this is an instance where I really, truly hope I am proved wrong. That, you know, somehow the human spirit changes toward something more “common good,” even though that’s another term that I have trouble using. But I hope it’s headed toward that direction, right, where facts come back and are important in a way.
Gregory Simpson: Zane, you have a question?
Zane Fernandez: Hi everyone, my name is Zane Fernandez, I’m a Boston College Law Student, second year. Thank you for having me, both of you. So similar to what you were saying, CJ, I also fall prey to my nihilism a lot of the time, but I think this time, right now, is showing us that we’re facing a lot of global issues that can’t be tackled by one particular nation – climate change, this virus, things similar to both of these things that will be to come that we can’t even foresee right now. And so because of the nature of these global risks we’re facing, I think it may be difficult right now to imagine an ethical future with our boundaries that we have right now – the nation/state, capitalism/socialism dichotomy, whatever it is. But maybe as we move into this future, we just have these structures that we can’t picture right now that may be more amenable to an ethical, just society. It may be just hard to imagine in this paradigm that we’re working in right now.
CJ Baldelomar: Well, Zane, I think you’re absolutely right. Coming from an international law background, right, “nation state” just seems like a such an antiquated concept still, but that’s what we have, and you know, it’s very difficult to try to overcome these narratives of national pride, for example, and try to see the world as interconnected and not necessarily as competition. And I don’t think that’s just the U.S., right. China sees themselves that way, Russia sees themselves that way. So it’s just competitive across all nation-states. And for us to come together as a global community, I think, still remains something, so it’s a major project or a major obstacle, if that’s even possible.
Janet has her hand raised.
Janet McDaniel: So I’m a professor at Florida International University. I know CJ through – we’re both alumni from Harvard Divinity School, but he’s much younger than I am. I’m also a disability advocate, I sit on the state advocacy board. So we were talking yesterday about – as I mentioned to him, all the groups that he mentioned in his article – people with disabilities belong to all of those groups. But actually I want to follow up on what Zane said and ask a question – I posed it to everybody. Do you think those to whom you refer to in your article, as, you know, those beholden to comfort (and of course, I will acknowledge my white privilege here too) will gain a greater, more global perspective consciousness with this. You know, are we the cliché? Are people going to recognize that maybe we’re in this all together?
CJ Baldelomar: I guess the question is: is it raising consciousness of maybe global suffering, or maybe suffering of –
Janet McDaniel: Well, remember a year ago, before you left, and we had our goodbye happy hour or whatever. I was talking about this assignment I have also my students do, perspective consciousness – kind of your worldview, “Where am I in place and time,” just so that – how can you analyze what another person thinks if you can’t first reflect on what you think, right? Do you think that’s going to change for people, that this experience is going to make people sort of have a different personal reflection of their place in the world and their connectedness to it? And you know, maybe specifically for, as you say, those beholden to comfort, because those are the people that are the easiest to be able to, you know, close the door and forget things, right. Maybe this is an opportunity for a lot of people to take the blinders off, maybe. And so I’m wondering what you think. It seemed to go with the content in your article.
CJ Baldelomar: Absolutely. Thank you for that. I think it’s a rupture of consciousness. I think everybody has been affected to some level, of course the levels are different, and you hear reports, of course, of people vacationing still in million-dollar – which is, you know, that’s their prerogative.
But I think this, again, is an opportunity to reimagine, right, what life can be like. And also just, again, to see how, for example, an economy thought to be so powerful, the most powerful in the world, can easily crash, right, in a month. And how people can lose their jobs, people who are already living paycheck to paycheck, but also people who have gotten accustomed to a certain lifestyle and need to, you know, earn the money to keep that lifestyle, right?
So it’s very difficult, you know, it’s a difficult situation, and I just wonder if the majority are taking it seriously, I guess, is what I’m trying to say, right – as a break. Is this really a break in the way we’re thinking, in the way we are living, right, to the point where it will change our habits, it will change the way we see each other, it will change the way we understand humanity itself, right? So it’s a deeply anthropological question, “Who are we now?” right, it’s kind of an identity crisis, in a way, for the human race. You know, can this continue? Can the world continue as it is, as it has been for the last 150 years since the industrial revolution? Can it continue on a sustainable path?
I used to have a mentor, Joe Holland, who also graduated from the University of Chicago, and he would always talk about the end of modern civilization, you know, and talking about how – 25-30 years ago, he was saying this. Also, a book called The Turning Point, by a physicist, Fritjof Capra, where he also said that we’re past that turning point to help humanity in terms of environmental action, to help the Earth become healthy again. He was saying this back in 1982. So again, the warning signs have been there. The problem is: are we paying attention, or is attention only paid when disaster is on our doorstep?
And I think that’s the major issue, right, is ethical imagination. Those in power – I’m talking about, the ones who are decision-makers, right, heads of state. People who are leading in the business world, even academics – can we all respond? And of course, church leaders, religious leaders, can we all respond to prevent, not just to respond to emergencies, right? And I think – is that human nature, then? Is that a question of human nature? That’s why I say it’s a deeply anthropological question. Who are we as a species? Do we really care, or are we just responding because our own self-interest is harmed in some way?
Gregory Simpson: Let me do things, Carmen has a question she put in the chat box. Carmen, do you want to jump in?
Carmen Del Toro: Okay, so I’m not very articulate in my words, that’s why I chose to chat, as opposed to jumping in here, but I guess I’ll just try to get in. What I stated in the chat was basically, you know, according to the polling, where half of Americans are basically saying that there are five major points, their diet, exercise, personal relationships, mental health, and faith, hasn’t really been affected. In other words, they haven’t really changed their normal regimen. Everything is pretty much going the same except for, of course, you know, little things here and there. And with half of Americans saying this, how are they going to make an effort to make a change or be aware of what’s going on during this crisis, if they don’t even feel that they are impacted? Which – that’s a surprising number to me, personally. I would think that everyone, you know, would be affected on all these levels, because you know, not only with things closing down, but just, you know, seeing what’s going on with other people. But again, it goes to show you that they’re not empathizing with the other people who are not affected – with the other half that are affected during this pandemic.
And again, like Caesar said earlier, the signs have always been there. This is not the first time we’ve had a pandemic, and it probably will not be the last. And I don’t see, you know, a constant change, you know, a continuation of things. I think it’s all temporary, basically. I feel that everyone is – they’ll be affected now, tomorrow they’ll forget, because we do think we’re invincible. As Americans, we do have, you know, regardless of what your nationality or background is, we are privileged compared to other places in the world. And I just feel like, you know, this is going to be just – this is today’s news, and then tomorrow, if, you know, God willingly, this is over, we’re just going to go back to our normal, whatever our normal it is, go back to that and just not really, you know, make the drastic changes that I think are necessary in order for us to continue, not only as a community, but as a species, even.
Gregory Simpson: Good point, good point. Can I maybe – I’ll have Michael, then Anebel, then Lisa? Michael, could you share your questions?
Michael James: I’m a faculty member at Boston College in the School of Education Graduate Program in Higher Education Administration, where I direct a track in that program in faith-based higher education and Catholic higher education. So I was thinking about this conversation, and one of the ideas that I had was: If we’re being asked to reimagine, which I think is the inspiration for your paper, CJ, reimagine a post-pandemic or, you know, current situation, as we move ahead, how can we rely both on our Christian tradition and ethics, but also see this as an opportunity for perhaps a greater, deeper interreligious dialogue? How might we enjoin our brothers and sisters in other faith traditions in a common reimagination? And I didn’t realize that today would be the beginning of Ramadan, but in that spirit, how is it that we think ahead to our practices and our own ways of being in each of our traditions? You know, we have these moments where we fast, you know, where we atone, where we reimagine community differently. And in each of our sort of cycles of these practices, we come in and out of that. And how is it that we might sustain it? Which I think is a great question, how do we sustain in a more, or with greater fidelity, those practices that help us really imagine who we want to be and who we can be, in communion with one another? And in particular, I see this as an opportunity, perhaps, for greater communion in an inter-religious context.
Gregory Simpson: Great, great. And now, CJ and I did talk a little bit about your question. I don’t know if. CJ, you want to chime in here.
CJ Baldelomar: Michael, thank you for that. I think that’s an essential question to think about, and I think it ties to what Carmen was saying before, right, that – is this just a moment of emergency, right, as one of my colleagues in another of Professor Hales’s classes mentions – emergency responses?
In which case, right, then we’ll feel all kumbaya right now, and as soon as life goes back to normal, or called “normal,” then we just return to our individualistic, money-money-money, right, in the search of the almighty dollar, and forget those who are vulnerable and forget those around us. So I think this is the time, right, for rituals to come in, right. As Eliade would say, and Charles Long, these historians from the University of Chicago – and also Pope Francis, in his encyclicals, has highlighted the need to return to communities, to our contexts, right. And this is something that Latinx scholars have been saying for a long time with “lo cotidiano,” which translates into “the quotidian.” Your everyday context, right – that’s where changes matter.
Of course it’s important to think globally, I think, but you know ultimately the changes we make – you know, I’m not a head of state, I don’t think anybody here is, so it’s just our circles of influence, right. Where can we influence, how can we reach people using our our skills, our talents, and how can we cross that divide? I think right now, for us, that’s the major issue, crossing that political divide, right, that has just kept us, over the last 15, 16, 17+ years, divided.
And that’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of patience, and I think this is where religion can come in. I think this is where rituals, community [can come in]. We’re all gathering, if you belong to a particular religious community, for a similar purpose, right. In the Catholic faith, as we know, you’re gathering to remember Jesus, to remember Jesus’s message, but then of course that also changes, right. What is Jesus’ message depends on who you’re talking to, right, and kind of their political persuasions. So it’s very difficult to overcome those unless we let go. And that’s why, you know, I recommend letting go sometimes of these deeply-held paradigms under which we operate, because sometimes, letting them go, you enter into a space of nothingness, and out of that nothingness can emerge something beautiful, right. In theology, it’s what we call negative theology, right.
And that, you know, ultimately none of us know what God is like, or what the divine is like, and so the best we can do is approximate. And how do we do that, by fragmenting, right? Toni Morrison here says: “When we wake up from a dream, we want to remember all of it, although the fragment we are remembering, maybe, very probably, is the most important piece in the dream.”
So I think letting go of this vision of the whole, you know, that we need to know the whole, and the whole truth, and the wholeness – and just look at the fragments, and go from there, right, and see if there’s commonalities that we can talk about.
And I think that also just means letting go of preconceived notions, again, that what we have to say is the only right way. And I think entering inter-religious dialogue or learning from people across all religions entails a letting go of the ego, I think, which is so, so difficult and, you know, just what Buddhist thought is all about.
And I think isolation should be helping with that, right, kind of checking oneself. And Cornell West said it best – and I cite Cornell West a lot – but he said “It takes more courage for someone to go within the recesses of one’s soul and confront who one is, than it does for a soldier to be on the battlefield,” because you’re confronting your own demons. When you confront your own demons, hopefully, you come out a more honest person, a more introspective person.
Gregory Simpson: Let me bring in Anebel, I know you have your hand raised.
Anebel Hernandez: OK. So thank you everyone for this time, and so nice to see everybody on Zoom. Anyway, I think somebody said something about how fragile we are, and I think that, in that aspect, I don’t think we’re really divided on how fragile we are, because I think that to imagine that we’re going through all this, and not comprehend the state of human fragility and frailty that we have, I think, would require, really, something that’s not even fathomable in my mind.
The other thing that has really impacted me, because I’m kind of upset because I’m not safe at home – my life has changed very little, I’m still going to work every single day. So I hear all these messages about people bonding and people having this time and everything, and in fact, I haven’t had any time. I’m actually working more than ever, under more stress than ever, and everybody working from home is driving me crazy on the front lines. So I feel like really, I’m in a very different place, maybe, than a lot of people on this call that are now working from home. And it’s very stressful to be out on what we call the front lines, I never suspected I would be in the front lines of anything.
But anyway, I think I’m really shocked about how people think that we’re going to live forever. And I cannot get over how people have put fear before faith. Everyone is scared. So I live in Miami, and it’s a hotspot, and I actually have grown men, you know, real tough guys, they can’t go to my office, they can’t put down the window, because they’re scared, and they’re scared, and they’re scared, and everybody’s so scared.
And I’m thinking to myself, “Do we not know that we’re only here for a limited amount of time?” Our faith tells us that. This is a fleeting moment for us. We cannot – and the Bible is filled with what? Forgiveness, and with “do not fear, do not be afraid, do not be afraid, do not be afraid.” And we’re all so scared that it’s mind-boggling to me. We’re all mortals. We’re not going to be here forever. I think this is really a time where, all the same, it’s kind of interesting that the front line workers are – yeah, it’s the nurses and the doctors, but what about the hardware store workers, the grocery workers, the people that are in the front lines? I know doctors that are home, and they’re not working, and yet grocery workers are working. And they’re considered low-income, but they still have a job. And then there are some people that I know in higher income brackets that they’re freaking out, they don’t know what they’re going to do.
So I think that this has really brought in how frail we are as human beings, that we are fragile, like we were on September 11th. But also, I don’t understand why people are so afraid. It’s just taken over us and we’ve lost our faith. It’s like we have no faith. And to me, that’s really interesting.
And also, back to what Carmen was saying, and everybody [has been] saying on the call, I can’t imagine that this is not something that’s going to impact all of us tremendously and even young children that are – can’t go to school anymore, and they’re dying to go to school. And I think this has really been an incredible amount of time for us to self-analyze in different ways. But it’s hard when you’re not safe at home, I gotta tell you. And that’s something people have forgotten. There’s a lot of people still going out there, and maybe we don’t want to be out there. And we haven’t had that opportunity. And so anyway, those are my thoughts, and thank you Caesar for bringing this up, and I just think more faith and maybe less fear. Thank you.
Gregory Simpson: CJ, before you answer, let’s just hear from Lisa – let’s just see if we can get as many voices in as possible. Thanks, Anebel.
Lisa Cahill: So I really liked what Anebel was just talking about, because she was going to some of the key themes of what it means to be a Christian. For me, I’m a Catholic, I’m a professor at Boston College as well, like Michael is, and I teach in the theology department, I teach ethics. And so what we’re always looking for is “What does our faith mean for the way we are in the world, and how we treat our brothers and sisters, and how we envision the sort of society we want to live in, and how we look at all the things that we have to overcome, and do we have any hope of doing that, and on what is it based?”
And I like the fact that CJ titled this and framed this around the imagination, because it’s not, I don’t think, that everybody is just going to wake up one day and say “Geez, we’re all connected and we have to care about everybody.” You know, part of the Christian tradition is sin – we’re all sinners, and we shouldn’t be surprised that people just want to ignore this and move on. And that they’ll avoid the whole problem if they can. Of course they will, what else were we expecting? But what can we do in the face of that? And so CJ does a great job deconstructing all of the distorted Christian narratives that there have been, and there have been plenty. But at the end of the day, like, what do we have going forward, CJ, or what do we organize around, or what do we put out there? So what do we want to be in this new imagination? So I would put out things like Jesus’ ministry in the reign of God, and outreach to the poor, including everybody. Also, if you’re going to do the right thing, you have to sacrifice. You might even be persecuted and killed, yourself. You might die, as Anebel suggested here.
Yet God gives us power, we do have the power, we have the Resurrection, we have the Spirit that will help us accomplish things, but it’s not going to be easy. And I just know that a lot of people here are ministers or from communities of faith, and I would just be interested to hear what people are actually doing, or what you see in your own communities, to try to change people’s imagination in a deeper and more lasting way. And I do believe it has to start, and to some extent even be limited to, particular communities. So it’s not going to be a global human change, where the whole human consciousness changes. That would be great, but that would be quite utopian, I think. And yet, I think we can make a difference, or change the way some things are done in our society. You know, we do have an election coming up. How can we motivate action around that, that represents some of these values better? So what are the values, what can we do, don’t get too discouraged or nihilistic because we can’t change and do everything at once, but what are the things that we see going on? I don’t know if, CJ, you have any ideas on that, but I would like to hear from anybody that has ideas to share.
CJ Baldelomar: And I think that’s the million-dollar question, right, is “What can be done?” I always, you know, this is where I think decolonial scholars, right, coming from that background, you know – they fret, right, they’re kind of scared to propose things, because in a way, proposing something could mean a violence that you do not mean to perpetuate. So I’m thinking of, for example, Karl Marx. Let’s say, right, when he was on his deathbed, you know, he said “If these are the Marxists, I’m not a Marxist,” right, because he saw what they did with his teachings, they took it to extremes that he was not envisioning. And so I think that’s the responsibility that anybody who proposes, that ethicists that propose something, or religious leaders who propose something, or heads of state who propose something, or even business leaders who propose something. They have to really think it through. And that’s the problem, that today we don’t have time to do that. You know, it’s like everything has to be done under very tight deadlines and there is no patience for long-term thinking.
And so that’s my worry, that if I propose something, sure, you know I can publish it and meet a deadline, and that will be fine, but then what if it gets contorted and taken to directions that I did not envision that could be used for violence? This is why I’m always very careful with – you know, when I read Aquinas, for example, you know, people have used Aquinas to support all types of divergent viewpoints. So it really comes down to the responsibility of the community that is interpreting it, and I think that’s why imagination is important, because if you open up the imagination, and see that there are multiple interpretations, then you can start kind of molding different ethical imaginations. But if I propose something, you know, first of all, I’m very uncomfortable, because who am I to propose anything in terms of grand ethical solutions? Which is why Lisa, what you’re saying about “What are people doing in their context?,” that’s exactly what I told Gregory that I was interested in hearing today, right. What are people doing in their immediate context, in their day-to-day lives, to effect change? Because I think that’s where it’s at, right, and learning just from everyday rituals, you know, what people do in their lives to cope with this, I think, can have a beautiful effect for all of us.
Gregory Simpson: Let me bring in – I want to hear from clergy on the call, but let me bring in Lindsey and Carly, and then maybe I can circle back to Rose Ann at that point. So, Lindsey?
Lindsey Myers: Hey all, sorry I joined late, but I think it’s interesting during this time, because I think that people’s self-interests could actually be aligned for the common good. So as we see, you know, like middle class folks are, you know, losing their jobs, as well as folks in poverty. And so I think thinking through, like, how can we think through the collective good, that can be helpful, right.
But I think that, like you were saying, I think, Anebel, is that in that comes a fear of individualism, that individualistic fear of like “I gotta root myself in my own, and screw everybody else.” So I guess how, as people of faith, do we open ourselves to solidarity, and what does that look like? Because I think, you know, the American Dream narrative is one that kind of lives within our own Christian narrative – I’m a Catholic. So how do we kind of form narratives of solidarity in the Church? I think that might be a way that can be helpful. I don’t know, I think for me, like thinking through individualistic practices in this time, and obviously, like, checking on people that I haven’t heard from, and that kind of thing. But also like, for instance, I’m in Chicago, so folks are dying in Cook County Jail of COVID right now, and there’s been a big push to de-incarcerate, and that hasn’t happened, and they haven’t really done anything. And so like, thinking through these decolonialized narratives of “Oh yeah, let’s de-incarcerate, this is a way that we can save people.” But obviously, government isn’t aligned with that, so how do we really think through the most marginalized folks in this time? I also was on a calling campaign for homelessness, and trying to get people into their own homes, or into homes that are vacant right now, and that didn’t really go through either. And so, while it is a beautiful time to organize, it’s also, like, what does that look like in a time of crisis, when a lot of government leaders are just surviving? And so how do Church communities step up when people don’t even know how to have mass on Zoom? And so I think there’s a lot of questions here, and a lot of uncertainty, but I think rooting ourselves in the gospel of love, and “Are we befriending oppressed folks, and are we hoarding our $1200, are thinking who in our community might need this? Do I need this right now? Am I getting paid?” And that kind of thing.
Thank you so much. Carly?
Carly-Anne Gannon: Thank you. And thanks to CJ and yourself for organizing this as well, I really appreciate it. And I’m studying with CJ, I’m also a PhD student in theology and education, originally from Ireland. And yeah, so just thinking about some of the comments today, and I think I just keep coming back to a simpler context for myself. I’m probably similar to CJ in that coming back to your community, coming back to your local context, I just think of my family right now. I’m in Long Island with my family. And my parents are older, so I have to be very mindful of that. So we’re staying in quite a bit, and my sister and I are going to do the shopping. So just very simply, what can I do, or what am I doing? I’m praying a lot, I’m praying a lot more than I usually do. And that’s very simple, but at the same time, that’s changing me. And you know CJ, you speak about vulnerability, there’s vulnerability in prayer, right, there is vulnerability in just stopping and trusting, and, you know adopting a childlike stance in that regard. And it’s something that I’m writing about a little bit in relation to education and children. And just thinking about resilience, thinking about prayer in relation to lessons of resilience. And from an education perspective, if we’re helping younger people to understand that prayer and practices of resilience can be learned, and can create a stance in a person where, when a crisis does occur, there is a peace and there is a space so that you may be able to internalize, you know, without panicking, and then move forward in some way, and listen to, you know, your context, and listen to God’s prompting as to how you can act in the community.
So I think they’re very simple things, but they can make a big difference in relation to – when you’re in the store and there’s two rolls of toilet paper, do you take both or do you take one and leave the other? So it’s like, simple things. Because I think nihilism comes from when we’re trying to approach it all. We really can’t. And you know, it’s definitely worth imagining, it’s most definitely worth asking, those questions, but then if the smaller practices are being taken care of, some of the wider things will happen. And you know, our leaders, if our leaders are doing those smaller things, they’re more in tune to that. Now, I wouldn’t be aligned with Cuomo in all things political, but at the same time I appreciate that at least he’s trying, there’s some inroads in which he’s trying to come back to those integral questions – how is he behaving in his family? How has he been operating at home? How has he been treating his children? Things like that. And so that’s what I come back to. Simpler questions for resilience.
Gregory Simpson: Thank you. So CJ, comments, reflections before I bring in the clergy on the call?
CJ Baldelomar: No, I think, thank you everyone for your reflections. It’s important, I think, obviously, to discuss faith, right, and prayer. However, I always bring in the devil’s advocate, right. And it’s a question I got from a couple people privately. Might too much reliance on faith also short-circuit the imagination, right? Might too much reliance on religion, on faith, kind of close off the imagination from reality, let’s say, or the possibility of there being nothing after all this, let’s say. So that’s just a question I throw out there, I’m not going to necessarily opine on that right now, but it’s just a question, you know: Can there be too much faith – I guess is the question – for the imagination?
Carly-Anne Gannon: Just a quick response to that, CJ. I think there is absolutely a risk, if we just, you know – if we’re powerless and all we do is pray. But you know, real prayer generally brings you to action. It may not be immediate action, but that’s the point of prayer, that you do move to action. And furthermore, reality is not put off in prayer. If anything, reality is brought into closer examination, closer affirmation, and closer realization in prayer. If you’re really grappling, as you say West calls us to, that inner searching has a lot to do with prayer. And that will bring us into greater reality. And I think that is the key, actually – the more you can deal with your own personal reality, the easier you’ll be able to deal with other people’s realities, the more you’ll be able to deal with your own wounds, your own insecurities, the more you’ll be able to deal with other realities outside of your own. And the more connected you are to those realities.
Gregory Simpson: So we have just a few more minutes to kind of share. Sarah brought up a really interesting point in the chat, you want to unpack that a little bit, Sarah, as we kind of wind down? I mean, these are really good points in relation to school and kids and school systems.
Sarah Chauncey: Yeah, I think what somebody was saying, like, too much reliance on religion – my fear is that, you know, a lot of times now when people say “Oh, I’ll give my hope and prayers,” that’s turning people off, because people are using that inappropriately there. And that just struck me, that people are turned off by that, because sometimes it has nothing to do with ethical action. And you know, what we’re seeing now, you know, the reality for us in education, when we close the schools, I think people are recognizing all of the services that schools provide beyond learning. We feed children, we give them a haven when they’re living in circumstances that you would not want your child living in. We find that when kids go home, even for a brief vacation holiday, when they come back to our schools, they are totally out of control. Now they’ve been out for several weeks. And we know that they’re in bad shape. We know there are families who are now moving into homeless shelters, people are being abused at home, they’re running away from their situations, and they’re living now in environments so they can just survive. And these are the kids we’re working with. And this whole situation, for our kids, is truly, you know – they need the food we deliver, we deliver food to them every week, every day. It’s not just about learning. For them, it’s survival.
Gregory Simpson: Thank you.
You know, a question was posed – so quickly, I’d say we have another 8-9 minutes to go, but a question was posed about pastoral or ministerial functions at this time. How do clergy respond to those crises? So I wanted to kind of expose or at least ask among the clergy us to kind of share a little bit. The only clergy I do know is Rose Ann, so I’d love to hear your comments on – your response from – you’ve written a lot on the chat, so maybe just share a little bit for those who were not seeing that.
Rose Ann Vita: And again, it’s not strictly clergy. I am really appreciating – the bottom line of Canadian culture is that we have universal health care, and that we all pay more in our taxes to make sure that everyone is taken care of. And I see that reflected in my congregants. The fear level is way down. They’re not afraid, they’re being creative, they’re making masks, they’re making protective gear.
If I get my own food delivered, I have an option to buy virtual bags of food so those who don’t have it, as part of that. They’re using hotels for those who don’t have a place to stay. And so in order, I think, for this pandemic to have an effect is a change of attitude that makes people realize it’s a network. And I really feel we’re not going back to normal. When you go back, people are going to be missing from work, stores that you used to go to are going to be closed, not only in your neighborhood, throughout the world. So we’re going to have to work with the new normal. And I think that’s going to hopefully, if we have the right attitude and adjust to it, could be a very beneficial change.
Joe Baldelomar: I just would like to to add that from my perspective, I keep hearing all the different thoughts and everything like that but, you know, I see it from a cosmic type of universal – in a way, I feel like nature is getting back at us, and teaching us a lesson that, you know, in a way, we are the virus. It’s just my perspective.
CJ Baldelomar: I think to follow up on that, if I may, so again, I’ve gotten a couple questions in a private chat, right. And then here, you know, this person says, and I agree, “If global warming and deforestation is not causing change, I just don’t see how this pandemic will.” Right, I feel like it’s an unrealistic expectation to think this will make a change in people’s outlook. I wish it did, but I just think that everyone is already making plans for when this is over. From what I’ve seen, this has actually caused more political problems, and also prejudice against people, for example, from China. And so you know, it’s a question, again, of human nature, and to me, unfortunately following the more Augustinian interpretation of human nature, I just see it as – it’s very depraved, and I just don’t see us collectively coming out of this in a changed way, right, at least not now. And given, again – we have the ecological refugees, for example, right, the suffering of people at the border, you know, the suffering of – it’s just suffering all around us, and it’s kind of ignored, or talked about or discussed over dinner maybe sometimes, but that’s about it, right. It’s kind of like, as long as that suffering doesn’t come to your doorstep, then you’re okay, right. You can kind of separate that, and conceptualize different spheres of life, I guess, different spheres of being, right. As long as people are over there, and I could maybe donate money to them, then it’s good, right. That’s why I don’t think even government redistribution is a solution. I think it has to go more – it has to go a little bit deeper than that. It has to be more fundamental, I think. So are we the virus?
Gregory Simpson: Well, thank you so much. As I kind of think about all of what we’ve discussed, I mean, it’s really good to have these kinds of conversations, especially from the perspective of, you know, “What can religious communities do at this time?” Reimagining what church is, or what worship is, is going to be the new normal. We’re already moving services and things online, in communities that have not been accustomed to doing that – communities that are aging, communities that are unfamiliar with the use of technology. So we’re already seeing a shift, and we can’t go backwards. That, I think is what this is showing us, that there is an opportunity for real change and real reimagining. But it’s going to take us to do it. And I think that’s where we sit right now.
CJ, any parting words before we head off?
CJ Baldelomar: Just a sense of gratitude, you know. I really want to thank everyone on the call, thank you for your time, I know that, you know, time is the most valuable thing you can give anyone, and so just thank you for that, and you know, we hope to maybe have conversations in the future about this or other topics, so if you, or anybody in the call has any ideas, you know I already received a few e-mails from people who could not make it, saying that they have ideas for other topics, you know, please send that to us and we’ll try to organize something like this again. But I am very thankful for your time, and, you know, hopeful everyone remains safe, healthy, and much love to everyone.
Gregory Simpson: Let’s just close quickly in prayer. We opened in prayer, let’s close in prayer.
“Oh Creator of all, we thank you for this time of sharing and of fellowship. We know that it is – these are challenging times for us as humans, but we also have trust and have faith in the creative energy that exists in the universe through You. We ask, or I ask, that as we leave from this place, but certainly not from your presence, that you continue to walk with us and protect our families, keep us safe, keep us healthy, and keep us focused on what is to come. The change that is here now is what is going to be our reality in the future, ethically and otherwise. And for that, we give you thanks, and to be praised, and look forward to all that you have in store for us. In your holy name we pray, amen.”
Thank you all for being here, I’ll send out a follow up email just to kind of thank you and possibly share some of the information, some of the questions that people posed. But thank you, again, for joining, and we look forward to having more conversations in the future. Thanks, and have a great night.