Coming from a large family that gathered together regularly enough to tell stories, it was amazing how the Great Depression and World War II filled conversations.
They could remember going without birthday cakes for years because sugar was too expensive or rationed. Gas and oil and tires were rationed and they saved every drop of grease from their frying pans because the fat was donated to the war effort to make gun powder. A product of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I was amazed at how matter-of-factly they talked about what they endured.
In the 1,386 days of American involvement in World War II, 407,000 Americans lost their lives, an average of 294 a day. But fascism was threatening freedom and democracy on every continent, and by the time the decade around World War II ended, claiming 100 million lives, it would have taken an incredible unity of peoples and countries everywhere to stop fascism’s evil. America came together, the world worked together, an enemy was defeated.
We have been counting COVID-19 deaths in the United States since March 2. More than 160,000 Americans have died of COVID in that time, or roughly 1,026 a day. This does not include the missed deaths and the unnecessary deaths from normal things that could have been treated except that the local medical community was overwhelmed or the clinics were forced to neglect normal health issues because their business model got butchered by the pandemic.
Our generation’s response to what is effectively our World War II moment? Culture wars, calling people of other political persuasions “stupid” and unpatriotic, religious nuts disregarding sound science, people claiming patriotic rights simply because they don’t want to do something, government agencies suing other government agencies. By the way, a friend who said that he cannot wear a mask while grocery shopping because he feels as if it is choking him, wears a mask for eight hours at a time by himself in the woods as he tries to arrow a deer.
Almost all of those relatives and neighbors whose stories I listened to are dead and buried, and it is a good thing, too, because they would probably put all of us over their knees to light up our backsides. And we’d deserve it.
During World War II churches covered their stained glass windows with blackout cloths because the government ordered it, but did they claim infringement on their rights? No. They knew they were doing their part to keep their community safe. They didn’t light up their steeples because they were ordered not to. They quietly obeyed.
We are being asked to wear masks, stay farther than six feet apart and not sing, and religious people are crying about liberal government overreach. Are we being told we cannot worship? Are we being told what Bible we can read or what message we can preach? No.
We are being asked to slow the disease down by behavior that correlates with our best understanding about what best helps us fight this public health menace. That is all. Freedoms and rights are not being attacked. Life, at worst, is being inconvenienced, for the sake of public health. Something that Christians should have no problem with.
A gathering of over 2,000 young people was held on Butte des Mortes Lake in Winnebago County on the first day of Gov. Evers’ mask order. Hardly anyone was masked and no one was distanced and there was whooping and hollering and singing and drinking and back-slapping. It looked like fun, frankly.
Buttes des Mortes means hill of death, and I hope that is not a prophecy for some of the attendees, or for the attendees’ grandparents and vulnerable neighbors and co-workers. But I have to believe that in the choir loft of the Saints Triumphant there was a little head scratching as they said, “We went without chocolate cake for four years and they can’t take a year off from a beer bash?” Our back sides should be beaten red, but instead we are telling each other to kiss them.
We are failing our World War II moment.