On the first day of the coronavirus quarantine I went for a walk through my neighborhood to the park. The weather was warm and the walk was nice. The park looked like a park in central Texas should in the spring, with wildflowers and bluebonnets in bloom and dandelions popping up like little white clouds above the grasstops. Kids were out playing, oblivious as they should be to the world’s problems, when they should have been at school. But everywhere I looked on the way to the park, where there should be empty driveways, there were cars. Everyone was home. It looked like a Saturday morning, but it was Tuesday.
Some of my neighbors were working from home, as I was, teleworking to avoid the coronavirus. But surely some were home because they could no longer work. Their businesses are shut down by the virus. They were inside, worrying how or if they can keep their homes. Worrying about what tomorrow would bring, and the day after that. This creeping dread we all feel once in a while has taken up residence in millions of American homes.
There’s a little church along a country highway heading east that I pass often, a small thing that some pastor had the vision to build to reach a small community. It’s a shell now, empty. Closed. It failed. Someone cuts the grass around it every once in a while, probably a city crew, but when they delay, the grounds get overgrown and it looks lost in time.
There are few things in modern life that gnaw at me like a shuttered church. There’s something heartbreaking about a place built to exemplify faith that has failed and hollowed out. We’re seeing a lot of shuttered churches now, not because of any failures within them. Their faith is fine, maybe stronger now than a few weeks ago. Hardship will do that. They’re closed because we can’t gather in groups anymore, because of the virus. We can’t worship together, or have large weddings or funerals. Games and graduations and concerts are canceled. The gatherings of our lives are gone for a while. Because of the virus.
Right along with shuttered churches, shuttered businesses break the heart. A failed business represents a failed dream, livelihoods lost, risks taken but not rewarded, the end to something that often did not lead to a new beginning, just bankruptcy. Before the virus, out-of-control property taxes were killing businesses around here. Now it’s the virus.
We have hundreds of thousands of churches and businesses and schools across America that are closed now. Many of them will not re-open. They didn’t fail because of some flaw within them or because their model didn’t work. They failed, or will fail, because of a tyrannical system beyond our shores that lied to the whole world. America’s churches and businesses and schools are closed because, on the other side of the world, China’s amoral dictators failed to be a normal nation and do the right thing. They lied out of their paranoid obsession with power. In America, we can make fun of Trump, call him names and mock whoever we want and find others who will laugh with us. In China, merely displaying a cartoon of Winnie the Pooh — because of his resemblance to dictator Xi — risks imprisonment. Should we do business with such a thin-skinned despot?