Wednesday, June 3, 2020

3 JUNE 2020, NOTES

Welcome, again, blog reader, as we try to take stock of the swirling world around us in this moment of crisis on crisis. There is much to consider today.

The sweep of COVID-19 continues unabated. According to the statistics in Worldometer, the disease continues to spread and kill people at about the same rate. In the last week, the rate of infection in the world was 13% whereas it had been 14% the week before. The rising rate of deaths in the world was 9% whereas it had been 8% the week before. The numbers for the United States show a slight easing. In the past week, there was a rise of 9% in new cases while the week before was 10%. As for deaths in the U.S., the rate of increase was 7%, a slight decline from the 8% of the week before. At least 108,062 Americans have died of the plague, all within the last four months. The present death rate is app. 1,000 a day. At this rate, there will be over 200,000 Americans dead of COVID-19 by the First of September. After that, we can expect a big surge in new cases and deaths as fall sets in.

The spread of the disease is uneven in America. The southeastern states are now a "hot spot" in the country. In South Carolina, there were 1,999 new cases in the past week for a total of 12,415. This is a 19% increase, up from the 15 % of the previous week. There were 55 deaths of the disease in the last week for a total of 501. This is a 12% rise, the same as the earlier week. Alabama continues its alarming pattern of spread and mortality. In AL, there were 3,121 new cases last week for a staggering total of 18,771. This is a 20% rise, down slightly from the 23% of the previous week. There were 73 deaths in AL in the last week for a total of 653. This is a 13% rise, well up from the 2% of the earlier week. All in all, SC and AL are suffering shocking surges in the spread and mortality of COVID-19 with no relief in sight. Meanwhile, almost every locality now has re-opened its public places. One can only imagine what this, and the current massive demonstrations, will do to spread this highly contagious disease.

The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina resumed in-person worship services three Sundays ago. For the first two Sundays, I could find only two churches of the 50 or so in the diocese that resumed inside services, Old St. Andrew's and St. Luke's of Hilton Head. Both had only sparse congregations. On last Sunday, I counted 6 people in the pews at the 8 a.m. service of OSA and 11 in the pews at the 11 a.m. time. There had been 14 on each of the two previous Sundays. At St. Luke's, I counted about 50 in the congregation last Sunday. There had been about 30 the first Sunday and 37 the second. It seems that people are reluctant to return to one church but are gradually returning to the other. On last Sunday, I found a third church that held public service, St. John's of Johns Island. It was outside and the camera did not show the congregation. So, after three Sundays, the vast majority of the local churches in ADSC remain closed.

The Episcopal diocese of SC is allowing churches to resume public services next Sunday but discouraging inside services. It will be interesting to see how these local churches handle resumption of corporate worship. There are really three choices: continue online only, outside service, inside service. The priorities in EDSC are in that order.

On last Monday, police forcibly removed peaceful demonstrators, exercising their constitutional rights, from the area around St. John's Episcopal Church, at the edge of Lafayette Park, the public space on the north side of the White House. This was to clear the space for a presidential photo op. St. John's, a masterpiece of Benjamin Latrobe, has been "the presidents' church" since it was built in 1816. The president and his closest advisors then walked from the White House to the church. Trump stood outside of the boarded up windows of the parish house, under the Episcopal Church flag. He held up a Bible and stood for photos. He was then joined by some officials for another photo op. All of this was done without prior knowledge of Episcopal Church officials.

The bishop of Washington, Mariann Budde, usually a calm person, was beside herself with "outrage" that the president would use her church, and the Bible, as props for what she described as words and policies "antithetical" to the Christian religion. Likewise, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington was offended that a Catholic shrine would be used as for another photo op, on Tuesday. Numerous bishops and other religious leaders across America have spoken out against Trump's misuse of religion as well as his heavy-handed tactics against peaceful demonstrators. For instance, the bishops of New England issued a strong rebuke. Find it here. I am awaiting a statement from the EDSC and from Episcopal bishops of the south. What they say carries a lot of weight in the midst of our present social crisis. No one knows racism better than we southerners.

Symbols are important in any society. As societies change and evolve so do their public symbols. We southerners are witnessing monumental change, at least in the most visible symbols of our racist past. Nothing exemplifies this better than the fall of the great Confederate obelisk in the middle of downtown Birmingham. 

A few days ago, demonstrations began in downtown Birmingham, as they did in virtually every American big city. The heart of the downtown is built around a large square named Linn Park. The center piece of the park was a 52 foot tall granite obelisk erected in 1905 as a memorial to the Confederacy. The city of Birmingham, about 70% African American, has been trying for years to get rid of the hated reminder of slavery. A few years ago, the AL state legislature and governor made a law forbidding the removal of any public monument more than 40 years old (virtually every one of the ubiquitous Confederate monuments in the south is more than 40 years old). So, the city government of Birmingham built a plywood wall around their towering obelisk. Still, that was not enough for many local residents. On last Saturday and Sunday, crowds proceeded to attack the obelisk in an attempt to destroy it. It did not work. Then, the city government resolved to remove the entire monument, in violation of the state law. They were informed this would be illegal and would carry a fine of $25,000. A GoFundMe fund raised the money. On Monday and Tuesday, crews dismantled and removed the Confederate monument that had presided over the city for more than a century. Find a TV report of this here . Let us southerners hope and pray this "monumental" change will help us put our racist past behind us and get on with building a more just and egalitarian society. It is high time. Perhaps this will be the good that will come of the turmoil boiling all around us.

As an old, lifelong student of history, I sense we Americans are at a crossroads in our nation's life. I see two great competing forces pulling us in opposite directions. The situation has heightened immensely in the last couple of weeks in the backdrop of the enormous social stresses of the pandemic and racism. On the one hand, we have the pull to move to a more democratic society, one that gives equal opportunity to all people regardless of differences. This would be a continuation of the great American democratic revolution of the post-Second World War age. On the other hand, we have the pull to move to a more authoritarian society, one in which the propertied minority would exercise power and retain control by force. This would lead us into a fascist state possible only by military control over the majority. In short, I see us moving to a more democratic society or to a fascist state. In my view, the reelection of President Trump would be a giant step to the latter. Thus, we are at the most consequential moment in American history at least since the end of the Second World War, seventy-five years ago.

All of this is a lot to process. It is a lot to take in. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, or as Bishop Budde said, I cannot believe what my eyes are seeing. Is this really happening? Whatever next? 

We are obviously at an important point in history. There is no doubt about that. What comes out of this will profoundly affect the future of all of us. It is easy to get bewildered, apprehensive, and even frightened about it. As people of faith, we must keep the big picture. There is an order in the universe. Regardless of what is going on around us, we are called to love God and our neighbor, what the presiding bishop calls the way of love. This is our calling, and this will see us through. It has gotten humanity through thick and thin for two thousand years. It will see us through our lifetimes too.

Remember, we are here for the living of this hour. Peace.