When the crisis began, we were told that “supply chains would be unaffected.” This statement was quickly proven untrue by a run on toilet paper and sanitizers, followed by a meat shortage. We learned that many of our sanitizing products come from China, and that some of the most vulnerable immigrant populations staff our meat processing plants. Maddeningly, farmers are destroying crops while others are hungry, because distribution – the middle link of the chain – is broken. Affect one segment of the supply chain, and the rest is affected as well.
This week’s Time magazine describes the fragility of one such system: our overburdened food banks. The article explains that the food banks are stressed because demand has increased at the same time as drop-offs have decreased (due to people staying in), restaurant donations have dried up (due to restaurants being closed) and volunteer numbers have diminished (as the majority of volunteers are retired and vulnerable). We are connected in ways we had seldom noticed, even though Martin Luther King picked up on it way back in 1967:
It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.
What should the takeaway be? Each political party has one part of the answer.
We should try to produce as much as possible in our own country (and every other country should do the same) ~ for example, it’s not healthy for any country to need to buy ventilators and masks from overseas during a crisis that affects shipping. If we can make our computers and cars and grow our own papayas and mangos, we should. But sometimes we can’t produce the best or most inexpensive version of a product (for example, coffee), which is where trade comes in.
This leads us to a larger issue: an appreciation of other cultures and nations. When we are grateful for our interconnected world, we develop a twin sense of community and cooperation; when we are resentful, we develop xenophobia: a dislike of people from other countries, even if they are already here.
This is probably a good time for me to interject that I am British, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian and (possibly) Chinese. How did that happen? People from different countries and cultures fell in love with each other over the course of generations, and one day, I popped out! Your background may be similar.
In Christ’s eyes, the immigrant living in a multi-generation household, going to work because he has to feed his family, despite the risk, is as important as the billionaire executive who will still be a billionaire after the crisis. The child living in squalor in a Bombay slum is as important as the suburban child complaining that they can’t play video games all day. The family in mourning in Wuhan is as important as the family in mourning here.
Jesus tells his disciples, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20, NIV). Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NIV). In describing heaven, John writes, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9, NIV).
Social class doesn’t count. Nationality doesn’t count. We are united by sin, and we are united by grace. Isn’t it time to realize that we are the world?