Do you remember the “Would you rather” game? It was a good back-of-the-bus activity on field trips. Or slumber party fun for a group of pre-teens. Players have to choose between two less than desirable alternatives - to choose the least bad from the most bad. Like, would you rather step barefoot in dog-doo or have a bird poop on your head? You’d like to choose neither, but that’s not an option.
That’s how this “what to do with school in the fall” decision feels.
The option we all really want - for the pandemic to go away so students and teachers can return to the classroom, like before - isn’t available. That’s a hard no. And all of the remaining alternatives are bad in one way or another. Put kids and teachers (and bus drivers and lunch ladies and custodians, etc.) at risk by sending them? Or keep them home, knowing that such social and academic disruption is bad for most kids and truly terrible for some? To say nothing about what it does to families and employment options.
I don’t know about you, but my social media feed is filling up with memes and strongly worded advice/suggestions/demands from a whole raft of individuals, each of whom is convinced they know the right answer. None are particularly data-driven and most reflect the poster’s personal interests and/or fears quite narrowly.
In my mind, they just add more alarm and outrage to a conversation that is already saturated with both.
Pastor Todd Buegler of Trinity Lutheran in Owatonna, Minnesota posted this week calling for a Christian response to mask wearing. He reminds us that the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States says that our government is established to “provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Buegler says, “The framers of the constitution were interested in establishing defense, for the sake of defending the other. They wanted to ensure not an individual’s welfare, but general welfare … the welfare of all.”
And they wanted to establish liberty that survived us and stretched to generations to come.
To this Jesus-loving pastor, that sounds a lot like “love your neighbor as yourself,” which Buegler goes on to point out. I find it reassuring that this ethic is so deeply embedded in the foundation of our nation, even if it’s one we struggle mightily to live up to.
It’s that whole “providing for the common welfare” that makes this decision about reopening schools so seemingly impossible. Family circumstances vary tremendously – how do you balance the welfare of the single-parent family with poor internet access with the experienced teacher who has an immunocompromised spouse at home?
How about the hungry kid in the abusive home? Or the parental employer who makes no allowances for parents to be home teachers as well? What about counties that have little or no COVID-19 activity? Or counties that have poor health care facilities? And what about the fact that no one knows for sure what this maniacal virus will do next? It’s crazy-making, isn’t it? Aren’t you glad you aren’t the one having to come up with decisions and guidelines?
So, let’s start by being grateful for that. Because you know, the minute the decision is announced, there will be hundreds, thousands of voices screaming “foul!” Social media platforms will be aflame with criticism, much of it snide, sarcastic, insulting and poorly-informed - no matter what is decided. The policies suggested will be hashed and rehashed by people whose vision doesn’t extend much past their own circumstances and needs. Truly, we don’t pay people enough to take this kind of abuse!
Let’s give thanks for those hard-working civil servants, scientists and policy-shapers that are tasked with “the general welfare.”
It seems impossibly complex. And let’s be grateful that, at this point in the pandemic, the Minnesota state government has proven itself to be collaborative, data-driven, thoughtful, smart and courageous.
And then, we can take a dose of humility and admit, that while we may have fiercely-held opinions on the subject, none of us, as individuals, have the resources, data and expertise that the decision-makers have. They will be listening to epidemiologists, teachers' union, parents, administrators, finance people and business owners/employers and hopefully people from every section of the social/economic spectrum.
Their job is to try to do what is least bad for the most people, taking into account the hundreds of factors that must be considered. And then, perhaps most daunting, they must bear the responsibility for the consequences.
So pray for them, please. Ask God to form their thoughts and guide their discerning. Pray for them to listen wisely and well, to practice compassion and to carry their responsibility with grace and humility.
Then, when the decision comes out, let’s commit ourselves, as citizens, to listen first - without second-guessing the whole deliberative process. Listen carefully, and respectfully to what the experts say, seeking understanding. Take a deep breath and again, give thanks for their hard work. And then, if you are a parent, you can carefully reason out if this solution will work for your family. And if not, start thinking about what you will do instead.
People of faith, remember that “love God and love your neighbor as yourself” are the greatest commandments of all. Remember, too, that God is always present and always at work for the well-being of God’s good creation.
You are loved. This too shall pass. All will be well … eventually.
Susan Weaver is a retired ELCA pastor, a spiritual director, a former parent educator and teacher. She is grandma to two beloved little girls and loves to read, learn and think out loud with others. She blogs occasionally at pastorgrandma.com
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