The New Caste System

I met friends on my walking team on June 6th and arrived first. Val arrived next, saw me standing outside in the cool and rain and waved me over.

“Hey Brian,” she said, “Come sit in my car and we can talk while we wait!”

I started toward her car and then she stepped out further as I neared, asking, “Wait. Are you vaccinated?”

“Nope.”

“Oh. Well. Let’s just stand outside then.” Which we did. After some conversation, I asked, “Tell me, what is the logic to saying we cannot sit inside your car.”

“Well, I’m not concerned for myself. But, if you carry the virus, but don’t know it, and sneezed and got any spittle on me, and then I went and hugged someone else and got it on them, well, they could get the virus.”

I understand this is a widely believed mythology about this disease, especially the idea of those who may be an “asymptomatic carrier.” However, is that phrase just another way of saying “human,” for we are all carriers of something, aren’t we? But it still seems amazing confidence in a droplet!

What we do know is if a virus particle did land somehow from me, who might be a carrier, on Val’s coat, it wouldn’t live long. It would land on a porous material (a coat/jacket) and be exposed to the elements. It is unlikely to survive the rain and wind. Besides the fact if someone sneezed on me, I’d be wiping it off!

From the Cleveland Clinic article from August 2020, a disease specialist, Dr. Frank Esper was interviewed, he said “The virus typically doesn’t like to live on surfaces that have a lot of holes or microscopic little grooves, nooks or crannies.” It would stay alive less than a day. But, whether that small droplet could be infectious is unknown. Someone would need to hug Val and breathe in that little, dying droplet. The possibility is so farfetched, in my mind.

So, I responded simply, “I don’t believe that.”

Val firmly believed this, she told me, and feared she might possibly give covid-19 to someone. This disease has killed 1.8% of the people of those who were covid positive. That stat is according to CDC data. So, even if someone did catch it through that means, chances are, they’d come through. But fear is fear and tends to take over. The actual death rate is lower than the statistic, for so many deaths attributed to covid are non-covid related.

She then, told me a story about a dinner party the previous night when someone had been strident with his viewpoints about covid and at the table sat a couple grieving the loss of a mother-in-law to the disease. Death is death and loss hurts. The couple came unglued, Val said, and the whole dinner turned south with the conflict.

“You have to respect me!” she loudly demanded. Almost as if because I didn’t agree meant I disrespected her?

In moments like this I want all my mediation training and years of pastoral work to come to the surface, so that I could think of a question and ask it in an open, calm manner. I didn’t go off, but simply said, “You know I do.”

Others arrived and we went walking.

But the conversation left me winded. There was this new rift in relationship built around vaccination, which added to the rift around our view of the pandemic. It was as if I was of another caste, perhaps best compared to the untouchables in India.

At work, our lead admin was not wearing a mask at his desk the other day and I was shocked, for he had always had one on by governmental mandate. To my query about his maskless face, he said, “I’m two weeks after my second dose, so, I don’t need to wear one.”

“So, I too don’t need to then?” I said, although unvaccinated. And he responded, “Probably until someone comes in, it would be okay.”

It was like another gut punch. The belief remains I’m a carrier of something. Hopefully I am, but may “the something” be Someone, namely, Jesus.

A friend’s missionary newsletter arrived from Taiwan with the story of the recent shutdown. It meant so many losses as it has for people around the world. She stomped around the apartment frustrated. Then, news outlets reported the main outbreak had spread through intimate contact in the hostess bars of Wanhua, a notorious red-light district in Taipei. She wrote:

“I felt shocked to know that it was the very place where I spent 4 days prayer walking with a group of friends just over a week earlier.

Prayer walking the red-light district alleys was heart breaking as I witnessed how much sex work was entrenched in our society. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Helen, how did you live in denial of this problem in Taiwan?’ 

But God’s mercy comforted me as I drove by a Dr. Cheng’s clinic that does 9-10 abortions a day and saw that it was closed along with many other businesses in our neighborhood.

My heart heard “… do NOT fear.  I’m cleaning up the streets of Taiwan.  I’m doing a new thing.  Trust me.  Press into my heart.  Stay connected with Me.  I’ll show you what I’m doing.  Partner with me.  Aren’t the small inconveniences of Level 3 isolation worth some spiritual clean-up?”  

What a line: “I am cleaning up the streets of Taiwan!” I read that and could only say, “Thank you, Jesus!”

It reminded me of the story I have been pondering this week. It is from Genesis 50 when Joseph’s brothers create one more ruse to buy his favor and save themselves from his expected judgment. Joseph responds to them saying, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good to accomplish what is now the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

God used the evil done by Joseph’s brothers — who sold him into slavery. God used the evil done by Potipher’s wife, who falsely accused Joseph of rape. God used the forgetfulness of the Chief Cupbearer, who caused Joseph to safely remain in prison until Pharaoh’s dream. God used all this to save a family which became a nation.

So, even if there is evil behind all the current actions,

even if there is more to this whole world pandemic than meets the eye,

even if we are heading into a kind of persecution, with a new caste system,

even then, the same God who used the evil done by Joseph’s brothers can and will still use this for good, even, the saving of many lives.

May God do so.

And may I, even when relegated to some subcaste, be available to be a gentle witness, a calm presence, a willingness instrument in the hand of this God.

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