Lately, I’ve been pondering how we connect meaningfully with each other during an isolating pandemic. Yes, we think we see the end in sight, but it’s still a labyrinthine journey. It will be months before many of us get the vaccine, and unfortunately there are too many people, at least in America, who say they don’t want it. This means that we will be wearing masks and avoiding close contact with our neighbors for a long time to get COVID-19 under control. How, then, can we best be good neighbors in the year ahead?
First, in my mind, we can get the vaccine when it’s available to us. This vaccine is new technology. It doesn’t carry any of the COVID-19 virus. Its effectiveness is much higher than the flu vaccine. Refusing to get the vaccine is actually to be incredibly selfish, from my perspective. The pandemic is a community-level problem that needs all of us to work together to solve it.
There are other community-level problems that also need our attention to solve them. The significant political divide in our country is one of them. Joe Biden will become the next president of the US later this week. He and his team have a lot of work to do in overcoming the significant divides that our current president and his power-hungry allies have stoked. We no longer trust our neighbors, and that is a very significant problem. We can do our part by having conversations with those neighbors, even when it’s challenging.
Of course, there are many Americans who have not been able to trust their neighbors for generations. I’m specifically thinking of Native Americans and African Americans who have been disenfranchised, tortured, and killed by their neighbors for hundreds of years. There is no refuting the history. There is also no reason why we shouldn’t work for change today—especially those who, like me, are white-skinned, and therefore have privilege and power in this culture.
Do I seem like a broken record with this theme? Sometimes it feels like that, I will admit. But we cannot make token gestures and then move on—because so many people are unable to move on. They cannot while we do not. It’s that simple. Today our nation officially remembers Martin Luther King, Jr. His impact was revolutionary, especially for dark-skinned Americans, but we cannot look at America today (especially the destruction of the US Capitol on January 6) and believe that his work is done. We have a lot more work to do to finally fulfill his dream.
How are you called to be a good neighbor in 2021? What work are you invited by God to be doing?