What data do we study now in this COVID-19 world?
This blog looks at data and how to make sense of that data. Each week we try and make a valiant effort to put some sense to the numbers, data points, and studies that help to define our world and see all that through the lens of faith.
I have struggled to come up with a clear topic for this week’s post because all the data that I have been looking at for the past six weeks of socially distanced isolation are the numbers of dead and dying neighbors here and across the world.
This is my go-to chart out of the University of Washington because it is easy to compare the various New England states where I have the most family members. It’s also national so you can easily plug in your own state to see where things stand.
As I type these words, my home state of Massachusetts is set become one of the nation’s newest hot-spots for virus spread and its death rate is climbing. We are in what is known as “the surge,” hopefully, unless this is not Mount Everest were climbing and more like a mountain range filled with peaks.
I have been reading a lot of things like this story from NPR about what the ultimate death toll might be.
Including this paragraph:
In the documents, the “best guess” for how things will play out without further mitigation says that coronavirus cases and deaths would double about every five and a half days; on average, one coronavirus-infected person would spread the virus to another 2.5 people; and that 0.5% of infected people who show symptoms would die.
But, NPR reports this is too rosy and optimistic.
The death tolls are staggering. Experts suggest maybe 600,000, maybe 1.3 million, or at, best, 94,000. That’s an astounding amount of death. The ripple effect of that level of despair will leave no person in this nation, perhaps the world, untouched by the trauma of sudden and terrible loss.
In light of this, two themes come to my mind and they are both hard to do.
- We need to find some meaning about this time. I would suggest, from a faith perspective, we consider this to be a time of fasting. The church has always marked times of feasting and fasting. It is now time to reconnect and reacquaint ourselves with this fasting idea.
- We need to find hope. The experts tell us that we are in this mess because of a failure of imagination. To move forward, we must collectively and individually find some ways to bring some new feats of imagination into being.
That is our pastoral and congregational task; seek shared meaning and find reasons for hope.
Here’s what’s helping me at this time.
I’ve found a lot of solace in the prophetic imagination of the prophets, particularly those of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Look how they speak to power. Feel how they understood that societies can, and do, actually crumble before the will of God. Pray into that space.
Second, if you can, read some of the wisdom of the Desert Fathers. I have an old copy that I found on my bookshelf that is making great bedtime reading. Each little saying is really a narrative teaching story that speaks to different struggles in monastic life or solitary or socially distanced life.
So, let those be some of your data points going forward — places you find meaning and areas of hope — because, together, we will need them going forward and you may be called upon to share them. Each of us is like a tiny lantern in the wilderness that sees but a small slice of this great calamity. Let us trust that we will find both of these things on our journey together.
UPDATE: After letting this sit for a couple days, I realized that there is a glib answer to my question about what data to study and that’s the traditional “babies, bucks, and buildings” or, in today’s analytics, “likes, shares, and subscribers.” The longer this goes on the harder these core metrics will be to quantify and the harder for some churches to come back or even reopen. How do you measure a congregation dispersed across the internet? What does it mean to be a pastor that lacks a church revenue stream?
My point: we are, as a society and a church, at a great pivot point, where we might want to consider alternative ways of showing God’s activity in the world beyond what we’ve always done.
Rev. Jeremiah Rood is a freelance writer, minister, and stay-at-home dad. He has served congregations in Massachusetts, where he still lives with his wife and daughter. For more book thoughts read his reviews at Foreword Review. For more information please visit him at www.revjeremiahrood.com