You’re More Resilient Than You Think • Rabbi Denise Eger & Rev. Dr. Neil G. Thomas

COVID isn't over. How has it affected our faith? Two pioneering clergy share their anguish and their hope.

If we held a moment of silence for every American who died of COVID it would take nearly two years at a rate of 24 hours a day to cover every name.

More than 6.6 million people worldwide and counting have died of COVID — including more than a million Americans.

These are all people who loved and were loved.

This is an extraordinary and grim statistic, as on May 11, the CDC declared that the Federal COVID -19 Public Health Emergency has ended.

(And yet, I have friends and colleagues who are getting COVID, so this isn’t over — not by a long shot).

That brings another crucial insight about COVID and its affect on America.

My colleague at Religion News, Mark Silk, writes:

In a just-released survey, Public Religion Research Institute reports that between 2020 and 2022 the proportion of nones – people claim that they have no religion — jumped 3%, from 23.3% to 26.8%. That’s the largest two-year increase registered by PRRI since it began measuring in 2006…

When it comes to the gold standard of religious commitment — in-person worship attendance — COVID-19 was most definitely the causal factor. Whether voluntarily or under orders from their governments or simply because their churches had closed, a large number of Americans stopped attending after the pandemic hit — and many have not returned

That statistic about those moments of silence is just one piece of insight that my colleagues, Rabbi Denise Eger and Rev. Dr. Neil G. Thomas bring to the table in their newly published book, “Seven Principles for Living Bravely: Ageless Wisdom and Comforting Faith for Weathering Life’s Most Difficult Times.” Listen to the podcast.

My colleagues know a lot about living bravely.

  • Rabbi Denise Eger was one of the first openly gay rabbis to be ordained by the Reform movement. She was the first gay rabbi to become president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. She is the founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in Los Angeles; a courageous fighter for LGBTQ rights and social justice causes – and a great lover of Israel, serving on the board of ZIONESS, a progressive pro-Israel advocacy organization. I am not only proud to call her my esteemed colleague; I am also proud to call her my friend, whose wisdom and strength has caused me to grow over the years.
  • Reverend Neil G. Thomas, the senior pastor of the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, the world’s largest progressive Christian church with a primary outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. He is known as a prominent social leader and commentator on the intersections of faith with color, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. He is a former senior pastor of the Founders Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles, California.

Rabbi Eger and Rev. Thomas take their experiences with the AIDS epidemic, and they find the echoes and the mirrors of that horror in our present crisis — a crisis which has not yet entirely disappeared.

One of the things we discuss: America needs a national, ritualized way to remember the victims of COVID. We need a “Yom Ha Shoah” for COVID. (We discuss why America is not particularly good at that sort of thing. We live in the land of the denial of death. Consider our euphemisms for death: “Passing away.” “Gone.” “Passed.” Which gets me wondering: When did “die” die?)

We also discuss how American culture has not yet created its own responses to COVID. There is, as yet, no body of COVID literature; no movies about COVID; and little, if any, music about COVID.

Israel, by contrast, was much quicker to respond. Within weeks of COVID’s outbreak, the Israeli popular singer, Hanan ben Ari, had written “Longing for Human Beings.” Check out the video, with its scenes of the empty streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. 

We thought we’ve already won it all

Made buildings that reach the sky

Man, who needs people?

Another Flood won’t come nowadays

We will never ever fall

Drop it, we’ll be fine on our own

Wise, correct, and just

And nothing is above us

Until you came along and infected us

And drove us mad and confined us

And confused us and frightened us

Who are you?

How you’ve brought back the sanity

Longing for other humans

The loneliness aches suddenly

We no longer fly from here to there

All the parks are closed

Weddings are almost empty

We’ve almost lost ourselves

We’ve almost stopped feeling

Soon this would all end

And I’m asking you, if I may

That on the morning, after you leave

We won’t be the same again.

On the morning after, after COVID (finally, irrefutably) leaves — will we be the same again?

Join me as I discuss this question with two remarkable colleagues.

And, stay safe. Like I said, this isn’t over yet.

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