Like a lot of people, my usual morning follows a routine. First, coffee. Second, make toast. Third, drink coffee. Fourth, say good morning to others who may be in the kitchen at the same time. Fifth, open computer, review the headlines and visit the puzzle page of The New York Times. Sixth, scan Boston.com (I’ve lived in Maine for almost twenty-five years, but I can’t quite shake that connection to Boston). And, then, finally, I’m usually ready to settle down and read below the headlines in the New York Times.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I think it may be time to limit my attachment to the New York Times. While it’s been the primary source to gather news and perspective, in regard to the U.S. and the world, I’ve become seriously annoyed at its coverage of the latest crisis. Here are just a few recent headlines that have grabbed my attention: “The Epic Failure of Testing in America”; “Stop Saying That Everything is Under Control. It Isn’t.”; “Can’t Get Tested? Maybe You’re in the Wrong Country”; “A New York Doctor’s Coronavirus Warning: The Sky Is Falling”; “U.S. Is Plunged Into Deeper Disruption and Paralysis”; “The World We Once Lived In Has Vanished.”
The COVID-19 Pandemic is certainly very, very serious. The news coverage, though, in the New York Times is aggressively disconcerting and unsettling. Everything seems poised to draw me into panic, rather than offer information and balanced perspective It feels like the headlines have been ramped up, to become something more akin to “click bait” on much less reputable sites.
As a clergyperson, I think it’s especially important to refrain from panic and to maintain, instead, the mantra that Jesus so often spoke: “Fear not.” How many times did Jesus utter such words? I don’t know. But, it was a lot.
In the first century, there was plenty to fear. There was plenty to fear among those who gathered with Jesus as well as among those who gathered long after the crucifixion, in the communities that organized throughout the latter half of the first century (when the Gospel accounts were written). The words “fear not” or “do not fear” were likely significant touchstones for those who actually knew Jesus when he was walking around, as well as for those who gathered in his name, in the early days of the church.
Do not fear. Fear not. These are the words to which we must cling, whether or not we find ourselves in the midst of crisis and/or a global pandemic.
This doesn’t at all mean that we should act recklessly, ignoring the advice of experts and public health officials. But, it does mean that we resist panic, and we recognize that we may need to do so in a conscientious way.
Therefore, it’s time to practice a little social distancing when it comes to the Times.
Take a breath. Remember who you are and to whom you belong. And, speak again and again the words of Jesus. They are just as important and just as vital as they were in the first century: Fear not.
And, share your witness of hope and love, of not fearing in the midst of crisis, with everyone you can.