The following is a letter from our Creative Director, Philippe Lazaro, on what happens when a global pandemic runs into Easter- a day where we celebrate resurrection.
What a month it’s been. To echo a Tweet by Andy Crouch I read, “Honestly, I hadn’t planned on giving up this much for Lent.” There’s something oddly striking about the way this phase of the pandemic has been framed by the Lenten season.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve experienced quite the complex cocktail of emotions. Four sentiments stand out in particular: concern, admiration, surprise, and hope.
As the outbreak initially spread closer and closer to home, my immediate thoughts went to my loved ones. A few of my close family members fall into high-risk categories. I realized fairly early that I would need to act urgently, not out of a state of fear, but driven by love for people potentially in harm’s way.
The need to distinguish fear from loving concern reminded me so much of the way we’ve dealt with the challenge of climate change for a long time at Plant With Purpose. We believe that there is hope, but that part of having hope includes doing our part to protect the most vulnerable.
As the number of infections rapidly increased, I also started to feel an elevated sense of appreciation and admiration for those who were putting their own safety on the line to protect and serve others. Of course, I first thought of health workers and hospital staff, many of whom have gotten sick while trying to care for the sick. I also thought of the people behind delivery systems, waste management, and grocery stores. While they are often underappreciated by our world, we depend so heavily on them.
One other category that merits a lot of admiration includes farmers. An article in the New York Times this week revealed that “America’s 2.5 million farmworkers are among the groups most at risk of contracting the coronavirus. And if they are at risk, our food supply may be too.” All around the world, farmers are the foundation of our food security. At the same time, agricultural populations are so frequently marginalized and overlooked. My experiences at Plant With Purpose has taught me to value the work done by so many people that we often take for granted, and the pandemic is calling this to my attention yet again.
Even though I’ve now been in quarantine for four weeks, I am still quite surprised that the virus that was on the periphery of my attention a month ago has now disrupted life around me and around the world.
I’m reminded that it can be easy to mistake comfort for invincibility. On the global spectrum, I live in relative comfort. I have access to things like healthcare and food security that many don’t. All it took was one week, however, to exhaust the hospitals and grocery stores around me. We all have our own vulnerabilities.
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, a day that reminds us of how from dust we came, and to dust we shall return. It’s a day on our liturgical calendar that invites us to think about the vulnerability of our lives, and how our lives are short and fragile. As notifications fill my phone screen of New York City, Spain, and Italy reaching new tragic milestones in lives lost to the virus, that reminder feels inescapable.
I have a lot to say about how the story doesn’t end there and about how we’re people of hope. But all the talk about hope and resurrection feels cheapened if we don’t first acknowledge the reality of grief, loss, and death that is part of our human experience. We’re called to mourn with those who mourn, just like Jesus showed us at Lazarus’ tomb. Right now, millions are mourning everything from cancelled plans to the loss of lifelong partners. One of the things I’ve learned from our partners, particularly in Thailand and Haiti, is that in these moments where things feel most devastating is when hope gets to work.
From the looks of things, it looks like this lockdown will continue for a while longer. There are so many familiar parts of life that I’ve been missing. They range from casual things like baseball season and favorite restaurants to sacred rituals like showing up to church 10-15 minutes late like we have each week since my son was born.
I miss spending time with friends in person. The last time feels so long ago. I miss grocery shopping without feeling like I’m in an action movie. I miss coffee shops and dog parks and date nights with my wife.
So, when people say they can't wait for things to get back to normal, I get it. I totally relate. At the same time, I would phrase things quite differently. I don’t know if I want to simply return to the way things were before. The life I considered “normal” wasn’t working for many. That life wasn’t working for people who struggled with health or housing. It wasn’t working for people living on society’s margins. It certainly wasn’t working for the communities suffering from poverty and climate-related issues.
Right now, the world as we’ve known it has been put to rest.
As agriculturalists, our partners understand very well how when something dies and goes into the ground, it can give way to the emergence of new life. I often think God designed the circle of life like this on purpose. Every living thing reflects the story of resurrection. New life emerging after death.
I hope we come out on the other side of this as different people. A changed world.
Next week, we’ll be sharing with you our plan to help our communities be prepared for the impact of Covid-19. It’s a Readiness and Resilience plan, and I’m quite excited to share what it will look like. Much of it is focused on recovery and what the world might look like in the months and years ahead.
For now, let’s focus on the heart behind our efforts. A belief in resurrection.
I hope we never stop making a priority out of considering the safety of our more vulnerable friends and neighbors. It should no longer take a pandemic for us to think about how our actions might impact the elderly, the poor, or the immunocompromised.
I hope we’ve learned to look at the people stocking the shelves at our grocery store, growing our coffee in Tanzania, or keeping the floors of our hospitals sanitary differently. My hope is that we see their dignity, and the true value of the work they do every day to little fanfare.
I hope we rediscover the virtue of cooperation. I hope we can better resist the temptation to take sides in a culture built on a story of us-versus-them. It’s in everyone’s interest to build a safe and healthy world.
I believe we can be better after all this. And as believers, I think we have a special role to play. We get to help shape the world that emerges in the months ahead. Let's make it a more tender, compassionate, loving place.
We’re resurrection people, after all.