As the season of coronavirus continues, we are less “in this together” and more divided as we pick our perspective on the pandemic:

* Electromagnetic waves from 5G networks caused the virus to hit.
* Bill Gates released the COVID-19 in a plot to vaccinate the world’s population.
* The virus escaped from a Chinese lab.
* COVID was created as a biological weapon by anti-American forces.
* The Americans imported COVID into China as a “geopolitical ploy.”
* Genetically-modified crops are to blame. (I might continue to avoid vegetables, just in case.)
* COVID-19 doesn’t actually exist. It is a plot by the globalist elite to take away our freedoms.
* The pandemic is a “deep state” plot to undermine President Trump and the Republicans.
* Big Pharma perpetuated the virus to infuse the pharmaceutical industry with the needs of sick people.
* The Left is inflating the numbers regarding the virus for its political agenda.

Our response to all the possible conspiracies behind COVID-19 is written all over the social media walls. We are back to our old tricks of deciding who is right, who is left, who is in, and who is out. Engaging in debates about the virus on social media may have created another virus: depression, anxiety, and addiction have increased during this pandemic, further depleting and diminishing human interactions instead of linking us in “togetherness.”

We’re All in This Apart

The failure of the current cultural story of the coronavirus to cultivate Christlike love, and instead cultivate conspiracy narratives, has resulted in a lack of empathy and drawn even more dividing lines based on political parties, whether we want to wear a mask, or the choices we make about social distancing.

Sadly, evangelical Christians seem to be disproportionately drawn to conspiracy theories” (Ed Stetzer, “On Christians Spreading Corona Conspiracies,” Christianity Today, April 15, 2020). As a result, according to another author, the church is less relevant than ever as “fewer and fewer Americans identify with any particular denomination. About a third of Millennials have no religious denomination, and some studies indicate that about half of Generation Z has no religious affiliation. 26% of people over 65 identify as white evangelical, but only 7% of people under 30 do” (Brynn Tannehill, “Here’s the Reason Why Fewer Americans are Christian that Evangelicals Don’t Want You to Know.”) During a season when the church might actually be a hospital for all those wounded by this virus, it is fast becoming a polling place for the most popular conspiracy theory.

These statistics matter to me because they are about me and my children. Do I live in a way that makes anyone, much less my children, curious about why I still go to church – even if it’s on Zoom? Is the way I’m living drawing people back toward wholeness—or pushing them (and me) further away? One author summarizes the dismay many of us feel about the fallout from conversations about conspiracies:

Over the past two years, as our American political process unfolded, and as respected and high-profile evangelists and preachers and Christian speakers endorsed candidates and took to social media with ever more bigoted, hateful, alarmist claims—and as millions of pledged Jesus followers gleefully rushed to celebrate and defend and accompany them in their crusades, I’ve come to find myself estranged; pushed to the furthest periphery of ‘God’s people.‘ “(John Pavlovitz, “Maybe I’m Actually Not a Christian After All.”)

You may be able to debate every statistic and quotation I’ve listed, but how do you answer the sixteen-year-old boy who sat in my counseling office and asked, “Why would I have faith or trust love when I can’t find any real evidence of it right now at home, school, or church?”

In our modern culture, many of us have been reprogrammed. We don’t know how to have real conversations representative of our beliefs while being kind and respectful of others. We have been programmed to talk (or post) about what grabs our attention for a few minutes and then move on—often leaving behind a trail of missed connections and hurting people. We don’t know how to shape our interactions in ways that reflect our stories of being loved by God. We don’t invite others to belonging and finding grace in the pandemic. Instead, we invite others to debate or be left behind. (The paragraphs above are excerpts from Belonging: Finding the Way Back to One Another; to be released August 18, 2020.)

Falling Together

I’m not writing this to pick a conspiracy. I am not defending NBC Nightly News or Dr. Anthony Fauci. I wear a mask, and I actually had COVID-19. I also have the privilege of talking to many people every week who are sheltering at home, home-schooling their children, and working in-between helping with Algebra and putting a meatloaf in the oven. I know most are feeling restless, confused, isolated, and wondering when or if this will ever be over. Before we post about the Plandemic or the carelessness of people congregating at the beach, I want to invite you to consider three realities that we are all in together.

We Are All In Trauma

Trauma is any reality that keeps us from being fully present to ourselves because we are on overload – in too much pain, anger, or despair. Whether we describe this season as uncertain, unprecedented, or the “new normal,” we are all experiencing trauma. How can we watch the evening news filled with images of isolation, joblessness, food insecurity, broken families, and death without being a little less present to the questions these realities compel?
* What is God doing?
* What if my elderly parents get sick?
* Will I be able to pay my rent next month?
* Will baseball ever be back? (okay, maybe this isn’t traumatic for everyone)
* What is it like to line up at 3:30 a.m. to get a box of groceries from a food bank?
* Where is the money in government aid coming from and how will we replenish it?
* What if there’s another surge in the Fall?
* Is God good?
* Who can be trusted?

When we can’t answer the questions trauma uncovers, we disconnect . . . . from our own heartache; from the homeless woman asking for a donation in front of the grocery store; from a God who seems much further away than the current six-feet guidelines. The essence of trauma is disconnection.

Disconnection is a deceptive category. Most of us don’t walk around like vacant zombies. We reconnect to something less threatening, like a conspiracy theory. When we are debating, defending, and dismissing we don’t have to feel the core questions. Parker Palmer writes that joining a cause, arguing a conspiracy, or defending our rights come from a desire to dismiss our feelings of loneliness, keep us from courageous introspection, and blind us to seeing loneliness and hopelessness in others so we don’t have to take action. (“Feeling Welcome,” January 2016).

Perhaps the first step toward falling into true togetherness is acknowledging our suffering. I wonder if researching and rallying around conspiracy theories is a way to delay facing our pain-filled questions and a heavy burden of maintaining a false front suggesting we are not really in need. When we are defended by our rightness and consumed with the wrongness of others, we miss the first promise Jesus preached on a mountainside to another group of uncertain people: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule” (Matthew 5:3).

We All Need Compassion

If I listened to your theory regarding the coronavirus and told you I thought you were stupid, blind, and duped by Fox News or NPR, would you trust me? Probably not. This is what we do: we post our opinions, dismiss all others, occasionally throw in a Bible verse, and then hope our friends on social media will be attracted to our faith. Remember the last time you debated conspiracy theories and then everyone wanted to talk about the love of Jesus? Me neither.

What if you knew the man defending the Plandemic video or the woman demanding everyone wear a mask were covering up wounds of insecurity, stories of betrayal, or experiences of soul-shaking loneliness with their dogma? Perhaps instead of posting a quick retort or a longer rant, we might ask a compassionate question – “Why is this important to you?” We could ignore the post altogether and stop by with cookies and a hand-written note of encouragement. We might courageously disclose that this is a lonely season for us and we need mercy, grace, and an occasional prayer.

I love the words of philosopher/poet Wendell Berry: “True social change may stick, not through large heroic acts of defiance but rather through the small acts each person makes because their conscience and integrity would be shattered if they did otherwise.”

The coronavirus will not shatter us, but disconnection, division, and distance will. If we throw out the conspiracy theories and really try to get to know someone, (Do they have money for their mortgage? Are they crying themselves to sleep in loneliness? Are they embarrassed that their parenting is wearing thin?) we might need some compassion ourselves . . . because we don’t know how to love others; we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing; and we really don’t have any answers. When we hang onto our opinions, we pay the cost of trying to always be right and miss another promise from Jesus: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you” (Matthew 5:4).

We’re All in A Divine Conspiracy

There is a conspiracy at play here. Failure, suffering, and loss are tricky invitations to experience our need for others. The self-sufficiency we find in choosing a conspiracy theory to feel some sense of control in an out-of-control world is a mirage. We need each other and we need God. Uncertain and unprecedented experiences do not have to become soap boxes for our self-rightness and self-certainty. All this suffering can be the doorway to real community.

Dallas Willard describes the true conspiracy we are smack-dab in the middle of right now, “The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with Himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”

Don’t think I’m writing this blog for you – you conspiracy conspirators. No, I’m also prone to choose a tangent over an open heart to God and others. But here is the greatest conspiracy ever told: If Jesus will go to the end of the world and hang on a cross in hell to get one self-absorbed woman like me —he will go to anyone, anywhere. You see, we all are really the image-bearers of God—loved before the foundation of the world, brought into a deeper story of beloved belonging and allowed to invite others to that story as well (a far more scandalous story than any other conspiracy).

Are you ready to join the divine conspiracy? Bruce Anderson describes this scary choice: “If I could have one thing, just one thing different, it would be to touch that stone-cold part of my soul and give it light. To walk, wet and shivering, out of the river of fear with a heart that no longer needs to hide.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to stop hiding behind my opinions and dogma, and lean into belonging – to truly being in this together. Author and lawyer (I bet he’s debated a few good conspiracies) Bob Goff tells us how to live The Conspiracy:

I learned that faith isn’t about knowing all of the right stuff or obeying a list of rules. It’s something more, something more costly because it involves being present and making a sacrifice. Perhaps that’s why Jesus is sometimes called Immanuel—“God with us.” I think that’s what God had in mind, for Jesus to be present, to just be with us. It’s also what He has in mind for us when it comes to other people.

The world can make you think that love can be picked up at a garage sale or enveloped in a Hallmark card. But the kind of love that God created and demonstrated is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence. . . . It’s a brand of love that doesn’t just think about good things, or agree with them, or talk about them. . . .[It’s] the simple truth that continues to weave itself into the tapestry of every great story:
Love does.

The divine conspiracy comes with a promise: “You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your heart and mind – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world” (Matthew 5:8).