What's Tony Thinking

A Both/ And Time


I used to have an old VW Bug. On the back of it I had two of those fish symbols. One said “Darwin.” The other one “Jesus.” Personally, I never saw the theory of evolution as a contradiction of the biblical creation stories or vice-versa. Nor do I see science as intrinsically opposed to faith. They seemed to me apples and oranges. One, the theory of evolution, deals with the “How” question. The other, Scripture, struggles with the “Why” question.

Not only that, but Scripture is full of the most gnarly tensions and paradoxes. Are we saved by faith or by works? You can find arguments for both, consulting, in turn Paul and James. Are we “to go and do likewise,” the concluding words of the Parable of the Good Samaritan? Or are we to “sit and listen,” as Jesus commends Mary for doing in the story of Mary and her sister Martha, which directly abuts the parable of the Good Samaritan?

Which is it? “Go and do,” or “sit and listen”? Which is it, “be still and know that I am God,” or “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling”? Did I mention our claim that Jesus is “fully God” and “fully human”?

I could go on, but the point is that truth, and life, are more often lived in the tension between truths, in the tension of polarity, than in resolving mystery and paradox in favor of one pole or the other. Heresy, by the way, is not total falsehood; it is elevating a partial truth to the whole and entire truth. It is resolving the necessary paradox in favor of one pole or the other.

And now, in whatever stage of the COVID – crisis we are currently in, it seems to me a both/ and moment. Both preventing the spread of the virus, and getting people to work as it is possible are important.

Yet, the public discussion is being framed not as “both/and,” but as “either/ or.” Either you are for health, safety and a concern for the vulnerable. Or you are for the economy, employment, and “freedom.”

To support the “either/ or” framing we profile and draw attention to the extremes. The gun-toting “open-uppers,” vs. the chart and graph-carrying Governors like Cuomo, Inslee and Widmer. And of course that is not a real equivalency, only one that reflects our penchant for thinking that if we choose sides an issue or challenge has been adequately dealt with. Actually, choosing strident sides gets in the way of making progress on the issue/ challenges we face.

But this one really is a both/ and moment. We can’t stop doing all that is within our power to “flatten the curve” and avoid spreading the virus. But we can take what we’ve learned and make adjustments that allow people, if and as they are reasonably safe, to go back to work. Even then, we will not go back now to pre-COVID times. We may never go back to B.C. This is going to be long and complicated and we will be, and should be, different on the other side.

Those who sound the alarm of “deaths of despair” borne of joblessness, a sudden slide into poverty or homelessness, addiction, domestic violence and a heightening of the symptoms of mental illness are not wrong. People need meaningful work. They need a way to contribute. They need to feel they have some agency and are not utterly powerless. And they need health care, that is alas, tied to the jobs they no longer have. (The pandemic should end the debate about national health care for all).

And there are questions to be raised about an economy where so many people are one to several paychecks from homelessness. Something is wrong with that picture.

Meanwhile, those who hit the bright, flashing yellow light of CAUTION: PANDEMIC are also not wrong. We are a long ways from being out of the woods on this one.

So this, i.m.h.o., is a most challenging both/ and. It is not an either/ or.

That said, it could be a far safer and saner both/ and had the Trump administration shown itself capable of effectively and efficiently increasing U.S. capacity for testing and tracking. Trump does not get a free-pass on this by blaming predecessors, the Democrats or those who provided him his information. No, he has under-performed drastically. Given an opportunity to lead, which a crisis always is, he has failed. He is a one-trick pony.

But that can’t stop the rest of us from moving forward. As we do, we need to resist an either/ or framing. We need to resist the temptation to expend all our energies on shooting at the enemy in this newly opened front in the culture wars. We need to focus on the real struggle, to re-build a nation and its people.



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