Hyper-unraveling: Won’t you be my neighbor?

by | Mar 22, 2020

I am sure that I am not the only one that is turning to scripture for comfort during this time of pandemic responses. This morning, my search took me immediately to Psalm 77, which begins with, “My voice goes up to God, and I will cry out.” This is our “go-to” for many of us. We trust that God is with us and involved in our suffering. The more serious the trouble, the more intense our cries.

As I reflect on our current worship series, Woven, and recall that much of the subject matter was chosen weeks before the threat of a pandemic, I marvel at God’s provisions. I began reflecting in earnest on this topic of unraveling a few weeks ago. My belief is that God knew the timing before I was born. How remarkable. What force on earth could ever stand against our God? Certainly not a pandemic.

I won’t minimize our national fear. The threat that this virus brings to life itself is real. The panic is understandable. The sickness and death that we witness each day are even more real. When people panic, which happens for a long list of reasons, finding and implementing solutions that work for the good of all people is difficult. God already knew the answers long before the threat took root. Listening to God’s voice is our best source of wisdom.

Unraveling is real. It shows in Facebook posts and tweets. It also shows on empty shelves. Panic demands to be fed. Panic is both the source of unraveling and the most assessable placebo to stop the unraveling. But it doesn’t. Panic simply moves our focus towards our own survival, which speeds up the process of unraveling.

Many have followed the story of Matt Colvin. His life unraveled quickly, and the threads are still all over the floor. Matt makes a good living, keeping tabs on trends, buying up the next hot product, and reselling his stockpile for a profit. This business model worked for him for several years. Until he chose hand sanitizer as his next business venture, before the panic set in.1

I remember my disgust at reading the initial story about Matt’s business. I remember how he justified his efforts using logical, economic points. He wasn’t a bad person. In fact, we should thank him for helping “to fix inefficiencies in the marketplace.” He simply moved products from places where people aren’t desperately trying to purchase them to locations where panic already set-in. “I honestly feel like it’s a public service,” he added.

Matt Colvin is one of the thousands of businesspeople who moved quickly to cash in on the panic. Chris Anderson and his friend, drove around Ohio buying up stocks of masks. Approximately 10,000 of them. Buying packages of ten masks using discount coupons for around $15 and reselling them for $40 to $50 each. One person’s panic is another person’s windfall.

Meanwhile, Kevin, Connie, Karl, and others spent a lot of our time looking around for hand sanitizer and commercial cleaning sanitizer. We needed these supplies to protect our staff, volunteers, and the public. We knew that we needed to implement emergency cleaning as we continue to offer services for our neighborhood. Neither of the individuals cited above bought up supplies around here. So, where did the stock on our shelves go? The answer is they were scooped up by panicked members of our own community. Our shelves were wiped out by our neighbors.

I think that unraveling is a good word for all of this. People are unraveling. Systems are unraveling. Shreds of self-dignity, neighborly love, and just being a good neighbor, all over the ground.

There is this story in the Gospel of Luke about a time when Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people, and someone apparently thought it would be cute to try and stump the teacher. Perhaps, like Matt Colvin, he may have thought he was offering a community service.

The questioning began innocent enough, and his question is a good one. The man asked Jesus what he needed to do, apparently to please God, so that he would live forever. Some of us call this “going to heaven.” Sometimes I read his question as, “Just how good do I have to be?”

Jesus answers his question with another question. “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?” I love this response. I believe that hidden within this question is a mountain of significance. Matt Colvin reads his go-to source of rules one way, and some of us interpret these same ideas differently. We often differ in how we understand the same words.

Jesus affirms the man’s answer. Jesus agreed with his explanation that loving God and neighbor are the critical requirements. This answer likewise contains a mountain of significance. But the conversation didn’t end there. “Who is my neighbor?” the man asked in response.

“Who is my neighbor?”
Luke 10:29

The initial article in the New York Times exposed one of the explanations behind a sudden shortage of hand sanitizer and face masks. This article was followed up the next day with a different response from Matt Colvin. The reaction to his initial claim of offering public service was overwhelmingly condemned.2

As I read the articles, it was clear that the spirit of the condemnation was towards the idea of profiting from a panic bought on by fear related to a health crisis. This seems to ignore the question of whether there is a similar condemnation for clearing out shelves to take care of myself or my family, at the cost of other families going without. Is it the profit that crosses the line? Is it the number of bottles or the number of masks that crosses the line? Could it be a focus on ourselves while disregarding others is the line between right and wrong?

During this crisis, there is often a lot of unraveling taking place. Businesses are shutting down, forcing layoffs, a shortage of supplies for first responders, the fear of catching the virus, and in the quiet moments, wondering and worrying. When panic takes a break allowing our attention to shift to the sort of question that Jesus was asked. What happens if I do get sick? How do I live forever?

These are the questions that allow the threads that keep us so tightly wound to unravel. When we turn our attention away from the source of our panic. When we look towards the source of our salvation. Our denial, our grudges, our lost opportunities, our failures start to fall away. And the floor is covered with the shredded remains of what we thought was our identity.

This Sunday, we go live again. We encourage everyone to heed the warnings of healthcare professionals and be vigilant with social distancing. Instead, tune-in this Sunday at 10:30 am on our Facebook Page (Asbury Church). I encourage you to sing along. And to share in the conversation online.

Our theme for the next two weeks is unraveling. What does this mean to you? In what ways do you feel as though your life is unraveling? What does it mean to you that God promises all of us can have life everlasting? What does it mean to love God and neighbor for you? Who is your neighbor?

What does it mean to love God and neighbor for you? Who is your neighbor?

A reminder that we publish a weekly newsletter called the Circuit Rider. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to info@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.

I invite you to join us for Sunday worship through Facebook live at 10:30 am. As more options become available, we will keep you informed. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.

Pastor Tommy

Recommended books and citations
1 Jack Nicas, “He has 17,700 Bottles of Hand Sanitizer and Nowhere to Sell Them” © New York Times, March 14, 2020.
2 Jack Nicas, “The Man with 17,700 Bottles of Hand Sanitizer Just Donated Them” © New York Times, March 15, 2020.

A Community in Love with God, Each Other, and our Neighbors.