Awakening to a New World Order
March was a difficult month to be away on sabbatical. The world has changed dramatically and may yet change even more drastically in the next few months – maybe even before you read this as I write these words.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has realigned the whole world. The fierce armed resistance of Ukrainians and the inspirational leadership of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has unified Europe, strengthened NATO and built a common commitment to stop Russian aggression. We haven’t seen this kind of unity for a long time, maybe since the Cold War. And for good reason. Will Estonia, Lithuania, Georgia, or even Poland be next on the Russian checklist of rebuilding Putin’s dream of a nineteenth century Eurasian Russian empire of totalitarian power?
In February, I wouldn’t have believed the Republicans and Democrats could come together to resist Putin’s aggression. Nor would I have forecast how Trump’s support of Putin could undermine his own popularity – though it is much too soon to see what the effects will be. Where they are not coming together is around treating gender dysphoria. Governor Abbott of Texas is sending Child Protective Services after the parents of children who are permitting their transgender children to receive gender-affirming care; care which he labels “child abuse.” Interfering with such care, in most if not all cases, is highly likely to increase the harm to these children rather than decrease it.
The refugee crisis the war has spawned will be coming here to Albany. I hope there will be ways we can be involved as a congregation. And … let us not forget the many other refugees in the world especially the Afghans, the Houthis in Yemen, the Central Americans, the Rohingya of Myanmar, Tigray of Ethiopia, and the Darfuri of Sudan, among others displaced by conflicts around the world, forgotten by many of the world community.
What is most worrisome however is pondering the mind of Putin. The effective defense of the Ukrainians and their unwillingness to surrender even against superior forces have foiled Putin’s plan for a quick victory. The uniting of the world against him, the strengthening of NATO, grueling sanctions and the lackluster performance of his military forces have painted him into a corner. And a paranoid authoritarian leader who seems to act unilaterally without accountability to anyone is very dangerous. I ordered some thyroid protecting iodine pills to protect against radioactive fall-out after the use of nuclear weapons. You might consider doing the same. And let’s hope we don’t need them.
Another big change in the world is our nation’s place as an oil and gas supplier. We are producing more than even Saudi Arabia now! And all that increased production is due to fracking which isn’t good for the environment. That fracking will increase now due to the high price of oil driven by the refusal of countries to buy Russian oil and gas and a tight market. And that will not be good for global climate change, unless the higher prices accelerate our conversion to renewable sources of energy. Not the greatest time to be cutting gas taxes – better to encourage conversion to electric cars or more efficient vehicles and making mass transit more attractive (though COVID isn’t helping in that category).
The other new world order I’ll mention that is coming is learning to live with COVID. I anticipate our congregation will be dropping restrictions on gathering in person and limitations for participation in worship, including singing on Sunday morning. I recognize there remain risks, especially with the Omicron variant BA.2 out there. But those of us who are healthy, vaccinated and boosted have a much lower risk of serious illness even if we do get infected. Vaccines are allowing us to begin to treat COVID the way we treat the flu. Yet there will still be individuals who are immune compromised or vulnerable to illness. Everyone is welcome to mask on Sunday morning or at meetings in person. We will also continue to do as much multiplatform as possible. There could be periods of mask requirements or even shutdowns in the future but hopefully for short periods of time. Adaptability is likely to be what the future looks like but most of us want to be together again with the least restrictions. Vaccines are making that possible.
The final awakening I’d like to offer is the most pleasant one. While March remains cold and wet, green shoots are pushing out of the ground. April flowers will soon be bursting forth. Tree blossoms, like the beautiful cherry tree in front of the sanctuary planted to honor former members Abby and Paul Jones, will lift our heavy hearts. This time in the seasonal cycle brings such joy as the ice and snow clear away and the promise of summer beckons.
Spring reminds us of the tenacity of the Spirit of Life and Love that we celebrate each week. My sabbatical has reconnected me with that Spirit. May we be inspired and awakened by the rebirth and new life that comes with April. May peace be found in Ukraine. And may we be able to establish a new normal as we continue to adjust to life with COVID.