Communities of Faith and Covid-19

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Event Name: Communities of Faith and Covid-19
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 10/27/2021
Transcript Version: 1

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finding time so I read a book that was

written in the 14th century by a

Palestinian scholar called the virtues

of plagues and epidemics and it was all

about the blessings that come with these

grave tribulations and one of our great

scholars said it's important in every

tribulation to see three blessings it

could be worse it's in your worldly

matters and not your other worldly

matters and it's this in this life and

not in the next life and that's reason

to be grateful hmm well I have to agree

with much of that has been said I think

maybe one thing that I can add from the

Jewish tradition but

hardly unique to it is seeing this time

of trouble as a call to repentance which

is a extremely important Jewish value at

all times

Maimonides borrow a contemporary phrase

said that we should never let a crisis

go to waste in agreeing of course that

we don't know why or even though we

don't know why or especially because we

don't know why we have to take every

crisis as a call it's repentance a

crisis in olden times supposed to be met

with the blowing of the shofar of

trumpets which is also something we do

during the High Holidays a season of

repentance I remember when I did a gap

year of intensive religious study

between high school and college and my

rabbi teacher was also the school medic

and one of the things that he was a

stern man I guess one of the things he

was famous for was if you went in with a

medical problem his first response was

repent and then after that you know he

might go into the medical issue itself

there was a cartoon in The New Yorker

just a few weeks ago actually I mean it

was it was a cartoon of Mike Pence

standing in front of a podium with the

seal when everything like that it's Mike

Pence speaking to the audience saying

and the best protection in this time is

washing your hands and repentance you

know we live in a country now where you

know for half the country that's a punch

line but the other half of the country

it's an absolute truth and I saw I think

that one thing that Judaism would

certainly counsel and this time is even

though we don't know why why this is

occurring even though we have less of an

emphasis than Christianity does on

redemptive suffering that's certainly

the suffering that we experience or that

we see others experience it's supposed

to be a call for for us to repent to

mend our own ways and that's both in our

relationship to God and relationship to

our fellow human beings Danielle I think

that is such a powerful and important

point I would never be as bold as

Lincoln in identifying any human

catastrophe whether it's the Civil War

even the Holocaust earthquakes tsunamis

viral pandemics I would never say

this or that particular one is a

punishment but one needn't say that to

recognize the great truth that you just

propounded from the Jewish tradition

they should always be reminders of the

importance of repentance we do fall

short even the best of us human beings

even the best cultures even the best

nations even the most virtuous are not

perfect we fall short of God's standards

in the Christian tradition we refer to

that as original sin but all traditions

have this notion of human imperfection

of falling short and where we fall short

we need and Lincoln again pointed out

that that's not just something for

individuals though it's very important

for individuals to repent it's even true

for nations so during the Civil War he

asked the people to observe a day of

humiliation I believe it was April 30th

1863 that he asked people to to respect

a day of prayer and fasting and

humiliation humbling ourselves

humiliation in the sense of humbling

ourselves and asking God's forgiveness

he had in mind of course particularly

the sin of slavery but anytime like life

is lost I think it seems to be one thing

we should be thinking about and

repenting for is our own carelessness

with human life to what extent have we

as a culture or as individuals failed in

respect of honoring the profound

inherent and equal dignity of each human

life of each human being of each member

of the human family it's never out of

season to be raising that question and

repenting for wherever we have fallen

short and we do all fall short so I

think you've really brought to us from

the Jewish tradition of powerful point

yeah I think I would add to and it goes

back to Hebrew Scripture Libra ham

having the audacity to question God that

there is a space and there is a

tradition in the legacies of Jerusalem

um Judaism and Christianity and Islam of

being angry at God questioning God I


why in the world could this kind of

suffering become so massive and we look

at just a history of a species you see

not just plays but you've seen the

various you know massive attacks and

massacres and catastrophes and Holocaust

and slavery and we'd go on and on and on

and so I think there's nothing wrong

with acknowledge especially myself as

just Christian buddy a Christian who

comes out of the left wing of the

Reformation so it's both a Protestant

but a particular kind of Protestant of

course bayless Bastard like myself so

I'm just collecting my Baptist identity

for a second year I where do my God my

God why hast thou forsaken me that even

Jesus Jesus itself the fresh avocation

of God it's willing to raise that kind

of question but raising that question in

such a way that it feel linked to a

righteous indignation it's not just a

raw rage there's a spiritual content to

the anger and the questioning so it's

Socratic in some sense because it's it

is raising the most unsettling question

but it is prophetic because at the

center of it is this deep sensitivity

hyper sensitivity to the suffering and

what are we going to do about it

and as brother Ravi says uh you know

what was in place so that we question

God we question ourselves our own greed

our own indifference our own callousness

we question our society how come we were

not more prepared to deal with this kind

of massive suffering as it relates to

our healthcare system and so forth as a

relates to the distributions of power

and resources and wealth in the society

all of these are ways in which is both

humility and tenacity it is an

acknowledgment of a call for repentance

but also a call for very intense witness

do all that we can to minimize the

suffering in place yeah you know the

great the great scripture scholar the

great New Testament scholar NT Wright

Tom Wright had a piece up either

yesterday or today I saw it this morning

in which he began by pointing out that

we just can't know and therefore we

should never claim that the sand so

plague or war catastrophe as a divine

chastisement or divine punishment but he

said what this catastrophe this pandemic

like other great causes of suffering

should provoke in us is the tradition

and now he's going back to what

Christians call the Old Testament to the

Hebrew Scripture the tradition of

lamentation lamentation it's not wrong

to lament to cry out to God as Jesus

does from the cross from the cross in

that passage that Cornell was quoting

Jesus on Jesus himself was quoting the

opening to one of the Psalms Danielle

you will recognize that Loa Loa lama

sabachthani my God my God why have you

forsaken me but of course what jesus'

listeners his jewish listeners in any

event those who heard him who knew the

psalm would have known was the rest of

the psalm so it begins my god my god why

have you forsaken me llama

lolol lama sabachthani but then it goes

on and gradually builds hopefulness and

it the psalm concludes with an

affirmation that God is in charge and

that God can be trusted and that

ultimately God will bring about my

Redemption so when Jesus's hearers

Jewish hearers heard those words heard

that Psalm they knew that it was the

opening cry of despair that ends in the

affirmation of hope and I think that is

something that is a model for us yes

lemonade cry out into our despair but

never forget at the end of the day God

is in charge we need to place our trust

in him that's a really good point

because that was it not I don't disagree

of course we found with brother Wes that

I have this idea of Abraham challenging

God is something very deep in the Jewish

tradition and calling out but whether it

says something more theological the more

sociological reporting from on the

ground in the Jewish community certainly

there has been much less of the anger at

God and the righteous indignation and

much more of the message this needs to

be a reminder of trusting in God I think

one of the most one of my favorite

things that I read from a rabbi during

this crisis is a rabbi well of course

it's a longer message but to distill it

down to one line he said we shouldn't

think of this crisis as placing us in

radical uncertainty and I know of course

we all feel that and we have a lot of

anxiety over that but it's actually

unveiling the uncertainty that's always

a part of our life being the radical

uncertainty of every day and the radical

dependence we have on every day and so

while there's certainly a place to

wonder at the suffering and question the

suffering but what we're seeing now on

the ground in the Jewish community at

least the ones that I'm a part of is

really a message of as this crisis as an

impetus to redouble our trust in God and

to recognize that the the deep anxiety

uncertainty uncertainty we feel now is

actually something we should carry with

us all the time so that were constantly

reminded of how deeply we depends on God

for it for every moment for every breath

for every beat of our heart and so I

think from from the Islamic tradition

it's probably closer to the book of Joe

which is a good book to read for people

these days because Joe was a good and

righteous man and yet God tested him

because the the challenge was that he

was only good and righteous because he

had all these blessings so if the

blessings are taken away then let's see

how he behaved and and Joe and this is

one of the the purposes that my

tradition gives for tribulation is that

it's for you to see who you are and to

reveal yourself during those times

one of the most important things I think

that Rabi talked about was that was

humility that this should be a time and

this one of the purposes of suffering is

that it engenders and it activates these

virtues within us and one of them is

virtue of vulnerability and how we

respond to that by being humbled and and

recognizing that Helen Keller said that

the world is indeed filled with

suffering but we can never forget that

it's also filled with the overcoming of

suffering and so that's one of the

things that we're seeing that they said

there's an unprecedented coalition of

doctors all over the world working

together which is amazing and and I

think one of the things about these

situations is that you really see the

best and sometimes the worst of humanity

but you know people talk about the

social isolation but there's actually a

lot of connectedness that's happening

now people are calling people they

haven't called in a long time and

checking on how people are who have

elderly neighbors I've been called

several times because now I'm elderly I

guess but people called me I'm asking

you know you're one of our elders do you

need any help do you need I think that's

one of the the benefits of times like

these and so that's a good point we were

physically required to be more distant

from each other but that also provides

an opportunity for us to be spiritually

closer to each other and at a time of

such harsh polarization when citizens

are not treating each other as fellow

citizens but as enemies because of their

political disagreements maybe it's not a

bad thing God always brings good out of

evil maybe a good that will come out of

this is a little more spiritual

closeness even across the lines of

political or ideological division people

will recognize each other's humanity

feel that bond of kinship that comes

from being fellow members of this of

this species fellow human beings those

of us and our traditions of course

recognize all of us as God's family in

the Jewish and Christian traditions we

have the idea of man being made in the

very image and likeness of God and that

there's no more profound common bond

than that so why can't we at least be

gracious to each other decent toward

each other maybe

this will be an occasion when some of us

will become a bit more generous toward

each other both in terms of what we

normally think of as generosity

philanthropy but also more generous in

understanding each other being willing

to listen to each other not read

somebody out of the out of the human

race because they happen to disagree

with us about politics or or philosophy

or religion or anything else it's a

great point I'd love to hear other

people's thoughts as well isolation is

its own form of suffering and of course

one of the things that has been most

difficult about this crisis is that

we've had to physically distance

ourselves from each other so in addition

to some of Robby's suggestions how can

we pursue spiritual connection in


mystics love nothing more than isolation

we have an entire edition of anchorites

who actually left the world in order to

be more contemplative and and we have

wonderful stories of the Church Fathers

Thomas Merton talks about these church

fathers out in caves in Egypt that fled

the world one of the in our tradition

the Prophet Muhammad said towards the

latter days cling to your homes because

there would be so much found us and one

of the things that I've noted here is

the air has just cleared up wonderfully

and it's it's quite stunning we've had

rain since the quarantine started we

haven't had rain for months and we just

got all this rain and the first day of

the quartet I went out and saw the most

extraordinary double rainbow that I've

ever seen and I just felt expanded by

that experience of just hope so I think

there's a lot of blessings that will

come out of this I have the same

concerns that everybody else does I

think there are people that are

suffering the people that don't have the

the wherewithal to afford a week out of

work let alone two months three months

so I mean that's undeniably a very

serious consideration

just a little brother Robbie mentioned

this notion of lament that I just want

to touch on briefly because I think it

feeds into the kind of concern to sister

sharee is pushing us on because the man

a very different analogy the myth really

provides no consolation or redemption

you know their early essays the book of

Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin

Becker just have a have a graduate

student Sarah Corrigan's write the

magnificent dissertation on lamentations

readings of the book of lamentations and

how that's worked through the harding to

shakespeare's and the others so the

lament going back to hebrew scripture

again in some ways linked the wisdom

literature Ecclesiastes there's his

naked moment in which God seems to be so

thoroughly absent

soap in which it looks as if we have to

lead candidly acknowledge the degree to

which the possibilities of consolation

and redemption are held at arm's length

you remember that wonderful moment and

gesture till he talks about how

Christians actually have a God who

hasn't experienced this atheism for VOC

because God is the king and a rebel at

the same time back against the wall

fighting God calling God in the question

and so forth we think that dimension is

something that has to go hand-in-hand

with what I think brother Robbie and

brother Ham son and brother Daniel were

talking about position read that our

engagement in the service in the love in

the mercy even in the trust is always

over against this profound grimness and

and so that even even st. francis of

assisi a Chester Chesterton says he was

able to be such a good aesthetic because

he loves so intensely so his isolation

will goes hand in hand with this

profound sensitivity to the suffering of

creatures human beings and others and

we're in a situation where I

our isolations not chosen the way it was

was a Francis or the months in some is

forced and we're in a moment of such

spiritual decaying wall deterioration

with the greed and the indifference and

corruption simply running a but

everywhere we look throughout our

institution to our everyday life from

the White House to the the tooth to Town

Hall to the black in the corner so that

the rimless becomes even more intense

and hence the need for more

fortification which is spiritual and

moral you know Cornell I I think this

crisis like all great crises in history

is also going to show us true human

heroism and even absolute absolutely

holiness I read a story today we're

already trained it would say that among

fellow citizens about bouncing back in

wonderful ways and save us screwing

around the world but know already and

I'm Sonia well I heard a story today

about an elderly woman not here in the

United States elsewhere who is in need

of a ventilator because of the kovat 19

a virus for breathing but she declined

it in order that it not be withheld from

a younger person so that the younger

person who had not of course yet lived a

full life as the older woman had would

have an opportunity of life now I say

this as a firm supporter of the idea

that there must be no discrimination

including age based or disability-based

discrimination in health care allocation

even though we have shortages so I do

not want the government or the health

care system to discriminate on the basis

of age or on the basis of disability and

I think there's going to be a lot of

temptation to do that to involve

ourselves in that kind of invidious

discrimination I worry about our

cognitively or physically disabled two

brothers and sisters people with Down

syndrome or with addictions or with

bipolar disease

not in being given equal treatment and

fair treatment in the allocation of

resources but laying that issue aside as

important as it is I just want to point

to that one little act of heroism or

self-sacrifice real christ-like

self-sacrifice on the part of somebody

who turned down a ventilator so that

someone else could have it my dear

friend Mariana Orlandi who is an Italian

visiting fellow at the Madison program

here at Princeton told me that already

65 or 70 Catholic priests and Italy have

themselves died of kovat 19 priests who

were ministering to people who were

desperately ill with with the disease

again christ-like self-sacrifice

carrying out their vocation their

service their mission to others and

giving their their own lives and we of

course are deeply saddened by this loss

of life at the same time we cannot but

be inspired by the courage and by the

heroism and by the willingness to deny

and even sacrifice self for the sake of

of others just on your question of

isolation specifically and I think two

points that are worth making one is if I

think we've all been quoting from the

Catholic Church at some point tonight so

I'll add to theirs there's a pretty

recent book by Robert Cardinal Sarathy

a very famous African Cardinal about the

power of silence it's the subtitle

something like against the Cato ship of

noise and of course I mean we need to

reach out to and be compassionate to

people in isolation people who are

suffering from the psychological effects

of quarantine but for those of us who

are healthy and with resources I think

it's worth taking the opportunity for us

to reflect on how silence can be a good


Hasan's can be a blessing a cardinal


in the book you know that we learn in

the Hebrew prophets that our God is not

in the fund or the earthquake right but

in the still small voice and you know we

in an age in which no one can even go to

the gym or take a job without earbuds

but whether we're just afraid if our

thoughts oh we're just afraid to be

alone I think it's I think I think we

can take this opportunity as others were

saying before as a blessing in disguise

that the opportunity to rediscover the

benefits I like actually you subset of

in the mystic tradition of how great

that can be and as a counterpoint to

that though not in contradiction in any

way it's interesting that a requirement

to be silent and a requirement or to be

separate and a requirement to distance

from each other is actually we

establishing human connections of the

great Jewish humanists one of the great

Jewish teachers in this country Leon

Kass who taught at University of Chicago

for many decades I just said to me the

other day that one effect pc's here our

hopes for here has seen it a little bit

is the the rehumanize

our public space and that you know and

depending on where you live in the

country admittedly but you can walk down

the street and no one will make eye

contact no acknowledge each other and

now you can have two people pass by and

the wearing masks and they'll be wearing

gloves and someone will be you know

walking out of their way to keep 6 feet

apart and yet they'll make eye contact

or maybe if there's no masks you'll see

a smile or something like that because

there's something of the sense that

we're all in it together and I think we

can all hope for in a world in which we

all have iPods either or our air buds

either because we're afraid of our own

thoughts or because we don't want to

interact with other people this

situation may be something where the

isolation can actually help us rebuild

human connections thanks Danielle I'd

love to ask you all about trust and that

Trust is vital for leadership in really

any realm whether it's religious

political or organizational and by many

measures many faith communities have

lost credibility and Trust in recent

years for a whole variety of reasons I

wanted to ask you what you saw as the

opportunities for the restoration of

trust through our response as members of

a community of faith to this pandemic

well the you know in the Quran it says

that the human being was created in a

state of anxiety and we see that with

the child when it first comes in the

world it was in the nice womb everything

was wonderful nice temperature the food

was coming in and suddenly it's in this

terrifying place but then the breast

comes and the child's at peace and one

of the things that that I used to do

with my children I have five boys but I

used to throw them up in the air and and

they would love it until it got to the

point where gravity came in and they and

they and they well it was always acting

on but the point when they right before

they came down they would suddenly be in

this complete panic then when they saw

they were coming back to me they they

they kind of suddenly became happy and

cheerful again and and times like these

are those moments of panic where you

have to remind yourself that we're in

good hands and and that is trust in God

and I think for people of faith this is

really our practice and I know Robby and

and and dr. Cornell I'm sure the rabbi

people that practice their faith every

day that's the exercise for times like

these just like an athlete exercises for

the competition these are the times when

when our faith is tested and and that's

why the preparation is so important and

so for people who who don't have a

practice I think these can become very

very difficult times but trusting God

it's every day we our prophet said if

you wake up in the morning don't expect

to see the evening and if you go to

sleep at night don't expect to see the

morning because we're all in a state of

uncertainty and and and the point the

readiness is Hamlet said is all the

point is is to be vigilant and be be

aware that life is temporal and it's

very fragile and we have to really

appreciate it while we have it be

grateful for it and honor it and honor

it in others I mean my own tradition

always talked about by your fruits you

shall know them

and fruits of love have to do with joy

it has to do with kindness and sweetness

it has to do with service to the weak

and vulnerable and so one of the reasons

why so many have lost trust in

leadership political leadership economic

leadership in this case we'll talk about

religious leadership is because when

they look at the fruit they see too much

obsession with worldly success too much

obsession with status can with up

session with money to what accommodation

to do unjust status close and so the

hunger for love the hunger for justice

remained unfulfilled

so we people end up pressing with

spiritual malnutrition and in a moment

in which we can now at our best prove

ourselves by our fault

and say look there are in fact Jews

Muslims Catholics Protestants we can say

the same thing about Buddhists and

Confucian followers and Hindus at their

best and so forth who are concerned

about something other than the dominant

ways of the world and whether we need

this challenge of course is still an

open question but it becomes an occasion

for us to actually show these genuine

fruits of our trusting God our love of

justice are concerned about mercy our

willingness to acknowledge when we're

wrong and most importantly the way in

which we can fuse forms of solidarity

rooted in a love that it's bigger than

each and every one of you know cornellà

and I professor West and I teach

together and it's a great blessing

certainly in my life our teaching

together has been such a wonder if my

life - my life - but but you know

teaching at Harvard and at Princeton we

have an opportunity to teach

extraordinary students that are so

gifted so brilliant so accomplished and

they're great kids they really are good

kids but I would say in Cornell you can

tell me whether the strikes you

correct based on your experience

certainly my experience is perhaps the

most important thing we do is to teach

them to question what they are placing

the emphasis on the in their lives on at

the moment they've got bright futures

ahead of them the world is their oyster

so very often they are focused on what

David Brooks calls the CV values the

curriculum vitae values academic success

good grades a career prospect perhaps

going on to Goldman Sachs or Morgan

Stanley getting going on to Harvard Law

School and to cravats Wayne and more the

status the prestige that comes with that

of course the money the compensation

that that comes with that now as brother

less than I say to students those things

are not bad we're not asking you to

throw them away

in fact Harvard and Princeton in places

like that rather depend on your going

out and being very successful and making

a lot of money and giving a percentage

of it back to prints that are Harvard

and yet those we need to remind our

students we do remind our students I

think the most important thing we do

really is remind them those CV values

are secondary they matter but they don't

ultimately matter the things that matter

more our faith family virtue solidarity

with others compassion what David Brooks

calls the I believe I remember calling

him correctly tombstone virtues uh and

it's not too early even as a 19 year old

or 23 year old it's not too early to be

thinking as you proceed through life and

making your judgments about what you're

gonna do in life and where you're gonna

place the emphasis in life it's not too

early even at those tender ages to be

thinking what against the horizon of my

death which will come sooner rather than

later life on Earth is short

but in light of that horizon should I

consider important and I think if we get

people focused on that on the tombstone

virtues ultimately what matters then

they will see that it's not so much

money it's not so much power it's not so

much influence or prestige status it is

faith it is family

it is solidarity with those or others it

is friendship

it is compassion it is reaching out to

those who are in need it's serving those

are what really matter before we turn to

audience questions I want to ask each of

you about love one of the callings of

the believer is to embody and to reflect

the love of God for his creation for our

neighbors what opportunities do you see

from your own faith perspective and

embodying that loved to our neighbors at

this time well we could certainly see in

my community just an unbelievable

outpouring of what we call cresset or

loving kindness we're supposed to

supposed to mimic the loving kindness

that God displays to us an outpouring of

love to our fellow neighbors there's a

there's a website I think it's I'm not

advertising on it but I think it's

Corona I said that went up right away

which allowed people in a lot of New

York metro area communities you go there

and they they click on a link that puts

them in a whatsapp group but it's

pairing people who have needs that

people can meet the needs and the the

speed with which the community has

snapped into action with Passover coming

which adds a whole other level of need

on top of ordinarily it's just

remarkable but I do also want to mention

that in the context of what chef Youssef

said a few moments ago about the way our

kind of our everyday religious lives I

don't get the way you said it just right

but our everyday religious lives are

training for moments like these I think

one of the things we've seen which is

obvious and obvious in any crisis is

that you don't build community in the

crisis that you need that religious

communities and all your communities

need to think about the importance

nations local communities a building

community all along I mean it is true

that people are called

- they're better angels in times of

crisis people step outside of themselves

and do extraordinary things but to

really meet the day-to-day needs of

everyone to make sure people are our

housed and fed and clothed and taken

care of just in all the ways all the

ways you don't even think of until the

crisis hits it's really important that

there be very strong communities in

place myself as a as an Orthodox Jew

we're blessed to have something

Catholics had a long time ago before

parishes went suburban but we all

because we can't drive on the Sabbath we

all have to live within walking distance

on the synagogue which means I'm that I

and my fellow congregants all live

within walking distance of each other

now don't do a lot of good now and we

can't you know can't go over to each

other's houses like this but it does

mean that so many people are close at

hand you know to check on neighbors and

to help check on neighbors remotely and

to help them you know dropping packages

at the door or whatever it is and just

you know that's that's the kind of thing

that is a blessing because of our

Sabbath but more broadly the very very

close knit community that we live in

also means that in times of crisis thank

God people are are already so well

connected and really have a spirit of

giving on that that's extremely

beneficial you know building on what the

daniel said doing moving toward

spiritual giant like Rabbi Abraham

Joshua Heschel that the charity and the

philanthropy that we are seeing is a

marvelous thing but it's not the same as

the relation of HESA to the justice that

amos talks about and it seems to me part

of the genius of scripture and this is

from which we Christians and Muslims

flow is this notion of acknowledging how