From my faith tradition I want to begin with the blessing, “God be with you” in this pandemic time, for your wellbeing and the wellbeing of all in this world.
Who and what is essential? We know hospitals and health care, emergency response, food services and transportation of goods and people, government and many of its services, have been determined to be essential. Our appreciation of essential health care providers on the frontlines of the pandemic is rightly symbolized by the display of hearts, signs, flags, messages and the banging of pots and pans every evening to express our gratitude. And so also police, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, military personnel, and other first responders. They are essential. We are grateful for all of them!
And we are learning the essential work of others, elder caregivers and eldercare facilities; of grocery store workers, food producers and others who provide essential goods and services; childcare workers; staff and volunteers in foodbanks, shelters and services for the vulnerable; teachers, IT providers and others supporting online learning for children and students of all ages; counsellors and metal health workers; cleaners and maintenance staff; truck drivers, couriers and mail carriers; public transit drivers and staff; government leaders and civil servants, and more we could name and others we don’t know. We are grateful for all of them!
The list of who and what is essential has expanded as we learn and appreciate the many people and services that we depend on. And how much more for those who are vulnerable and isolated, those differently able, in the queer community, in Indigenous and remote communities, women and children in abusive relationships, those racialized and in minorities, and others who depend on these essential services and support in this time of pandemic, and at other times in our communities.
What is essential? Jesus was asked this question. In one instance, a religious teacher of the law asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response was to ask, “What is written in the law?” They answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus said, “You have given the right answer, do this, and you will live.” Notice the answer and Jesus’ affirmation is about this life and not a life after this one. The lawyer went on to ask Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” And Jesus tells one of the most famous stories in the Christian scriptures: the story of the good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37 NRSV).
Loving our neighbours; in this pandemic time, isn’t this the measure of what is essential and what and who we need to value and support and give thanks for all the time? I can’t help noticing that some of those we name as essential workers are some of the lowest paid people in our society. How do we re-value and invest more in them and their essential work in the future?
There is a new public narrative of what we will learn from this pandemic. In the pause and reset that has been forced upon us collectively, what we will return to and what we will leave behind is the negotiation of what we deem essential. My hope and prayer is that we evaluate what is essential more and more based on what serves the love of all our neighbours and this planet that is our home together. Take care and stay well.
Rev. Lyle McKenzie is Co-Pastor of Lutheran Church of the Cross, UVic Multifaith Co-Chaplain and part time Assistant to the Bishop for Worship in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
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* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, May 2nd 2020