2020 08 30 Today’s valuable input by Rev. Dr. Peter Storey was recorded and is shared here.
Two photos of exactly the same river from exactly the same position at almost exactly the same time, yet so different. The different shutter speeds of the camera captures the same reality … differently. On the left the water is sharp and distinct, while the exact same water on the right, taken at a slower shutter speed, is smooth and misty like the first faint brushstrokes of undercoat.
This is a metaphor for our Covid-19 times. The speed of our living has changed. In fact, the speed of everything has been forced to change. This enables us to see the same reality differently. That which was a misty blur, is now seen sharply defined. For this reason, to site one example, some of us have been able to see or at least acknowledge the dehumanising inequality that exists within our society and world at large. It has always been dehumanisingly present, but it is easily ignored at a certain speed. The forced speed change of Covid-19 has sharply defined this inequality as well as the systems that create and perpetuate it. This sharpness pierced our conscience with the knowing that we are complicit in what is wrong with our world. It also crystallised our convictions about what justice demands. This is the painful ‘gift’ of Covid-19.
As the speed of our living slowly increases again (even though we have not reached peak Covid-19 death and devastation) the temptation will be to forget the reality we were enabled to see under Covid-19 lockdown-shutter-speed. It is this we must guard against. Therefore, I invite you to write down the reality that was revealed to you by lockdown-shutter-speed. Write down what you felt. Write down what you said you would never do again. Write down what you promised to start to do …, etc. In this way our living may honour Covid-19 time as a Kairos time. In this way the grief of Covid-19 may also be known to us and others as well the creation at large as a time of grace.
P.S. I will be on leave for the next couple of weeks. The Sunday CMM Chats will continue with some wonderful facilitators. I encourage you to tune in at 11h11 each Sunday. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for the zoom link if you would like to join. I am also glad to report that the restoration of the Sanctuary will soon be completed. Thank you for your continued generosity.
P.P.S. Remember Max the fruit seller that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago? Well Max is back, which means Church Street is filled with nourishing colour again. Foot traffic is still low, so if you’re in town please support him.
Last week we reflected on the harrowing story of Hagar. We included a picture of George Segal’s sculpture of Abraham’s embrace of Ishmael as he and his mother Hagar were about to begin their journey of banishment.
Here is a photo of another sculpture by the same artist. I alluded to this sculpture during our CMM Chat last Sunday. Here is a little history about this sculpture:
“George Segal, who taught sculpture at Princeton from 1968 to 1969, was commissioned in 1978 by Kent State University to create a memorial to the four students killed by members of the National Guard during an antiwar demonstration on their campus. Segal found a metaphor for the tragedy in the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. In Segal’s version, Abraham, dressed in contemporary clothing, looms over a college-aged Isaac, who is stripped of his shirt and bound with rope. Kent State University officials refused it, interpreting it as a politically volatile depiction of murder. According to Segal, however, this group misunderstood the memorial: the theme, in Segal’s words, was “the eternal conflict between adherence to an abstract set of principles versus the love of your own child.” Segal selected Princeton’s site for the sculpture, near the University Chapel, to reinforce the work’s biblical associations.”
This sets the scene for our discussion on Sunday regarding Abraham’s decision to sacrifice and then not to sacrifice his son Isaac as recorded in Genesis 22:1-14. As we engage the ancient text we are asked to reflect on our understanding of the passage in the light of Jesus and his teachings. The primary question we always ask is: Would Jesus say ‘amen’ to our interpretation or not? Then as we move to our present context we ask how children continue to be sacrificed in the name of “god” or “abstract sets of principles”.
In our reflections I invite you to read the short story entitled: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin. This story is disturbing. As disturbing as Abraham considering to sacrifice Isaac. This story was written in the early 1970s but is even more true today. Let us ask ourselves: How is this story true today? I include links to the story and a brief commentary.
This may be all too much for us to hold, but we dare not turn our face away from the truth of things. Our liberation and healing rests in facing the truth. To help us stand in the presence of the traumatising truths of our living I invite you to lean into Psalm 13 – the set psalm for this week. The psalm is one of lament. Lament is risky speech. Lament is speaking the unspeakable. It is to voice the terrifying truth. It is in no way doubtful speech. Rather it is determined and demanding. The Deliverer must now deliver! The psalmist demands that grief stops leading the dance of life.
The psalm is a mere six verses. The first four verses (the majority of verses) voice the isolation, pain of the soul, sorrow of the heart, diminishment of being and overall deathliness of life. Followed by two verses of praise. Is this a sign that the psalmist has turned the corner? Does it mean the Deliverer has in fact delivered? If so, how long did it take the psalmist to move from verse 4 to verse 5? Or are the last two verses of the psalm the psalmist’s act of defiance and resistance? Perhaps there has been no change and no deliverance. In this case the psalmist is hanging on to the side of a cliff with just two fingers (verses). Hanging on for dear life. Somehow holding onto praise with bare fingertips…? Like the ones who walk away from Omelas.
If you would like the link for the 11h11 CMM Chat on Sunday – please email email@example.com
This week’s reading focus for our CMM Chat on Sunday is Genesis 16 and Genesis 21:1-21. It is the harrowing story of Hagar. I invite you to read and re-read this 2-part story.
One of the things we are often reminded about at CMM is how important it is to understand the context of a scripture to understand its meaning. This includes the social, economic and political context of the time as well as the theological context. It also includes being aware of the context of the story within the Scriptures. We noted how important this is to do when we reflected on John 14 a few weeks ago and how it related to the context of Jesus’ last supper and Peter’s bold statement of faithfulness in John 13. All this holds true if we are to understand the stories of scripture more deeply, but this week I would like to ask you to do exactly the opposite.
This week I invite you to divorce the story of Genesis 16 and 21 from the scriptures entirely. Read it simply as a short story in and of itself. I believe that this approach will help us to read the story more honestly.
For it seems to me that some stories within scripture escape a truthful reading precisely because they are located in scripture. What I mean by this is that because they are in scripture, we approach them with a pre-understanding or interpretation that directs our final understanding or interpretation. This pre-understanding causes us to focus on certain aspects of the story while ignoring others. As a result, we raise certain questions and not others. We give certain characters the benefit of the doubt while we come down hard on others. We may brush over some people’s pain and anguish because we are caught up in the bigger story at play. Put simply, we sometimes apply an “end justifies the means” approach to our reading. This is most clearly seen with the dominant interpretation of the crucifixion itself. The bloody horror on Mount Golgotha is sanitised by our pre-understanding / interpretation of the larger story that “God is saving the world”. And if God is busy saving the world then any piece in the salvation puzzle, no matter how gruesome and no matter what ethical questions it raises about the Divine, are unquestioningly accepted for the sake of the final salvation puzzle to be completed. So, questions like what kind of God needs a human sacrifice to save the world are simply not asked.
This sacrificing of the single puzzle piece for the sake of the whole puzzle is what I think often happens with the story of Hagar. Hagar’s horrific treatment by Sarah, Abraham and even God (according to the narrator’s take on God) is ignored or even justified for the sake of the larger puzzle of God’s promise to Sarah and Abraham.
Therefore, I propose we look at the two Hagar pieces of the puzzle, Genesis 16 and 21, on their own. I hope that our sharpened focus will provoke new questions to be asked and emotions to be felt. The ultimate hope is that Hagar will be honoured.
Hagar’s story is a painfully relevant scripture for us to be grappling with at this time. It intersects our own context on multiple fronts: This Sunday is Father’s Day and who can forget the Sunday school song: Father Abraham had many sons…? Abraham as a father of Ishmael and Isaac demand our critique. What does it mean to hold Abraham up as the epitome of faithfulness (Read Hebrews 11:8-18) in the light of his role with Hagar? The patriarchy of Abraham’s times demand we critique the patriarchy of our own times. In recent days we have had a renewed reminder of the horror of violence by men against women and how it continues unceasingly across our land. This intersects with Hagar’s horror. Furthermore, Hagar’s ignored rape anticipates the ignored rape of women through the centuries.
We will discuss together these intersections between this ancient text (short story) and our context on Sunday. I look forward to connecting with you all. If you would like the Zoom Link for the 11h11 CMM Chat please email firstname.lastname@example.org
This evening Bishop Yvette Moses will be delivering her Synod Address live via: Capemethodist Facebook page from 7pm.
Tomorrow the Synod will meet (be it a smaller version) online to complete all essential Synod work. This is going to be a challenge under the circumstances but hopefully we will be able to get everything done.
See you Sunday.
This Sunday at 11:11 we will reflect together on the story of Hagar. For this reason I’ve added Genesis 16 to be read first and in conjunction with Genesis 21:1-21 for the fuller story.
I invite you to read Hagar’s story as for the first time. Try and set aside all previous interpretations. Be aware of your feelings as well as the questions that arise for you. One question to ask is: what would Jesus feel and say about Hagar’s story? And furthermore, where is Jesus in the story? How does this story relate to the horror of gender-based violence today?
The scripture readings for this Sunday are:
Email email@example.com for the Zoom link.
June, 14 2020 The Sermon this week comes to us through the words of Rev. Victoria Safford, a minister in the Unitarian Church. They are words from 2005 but I believe them to be very connecting with our times. You decide if that is true for you. You may also want to see how the scripture readings for this week connect with her words. [Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7); Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)]
See you tomorrow at 11h11 for CMM Chat … “the holy occasion of hearing one another, of beholding one another.”
Psalm 116 begins:
1 I love the Lord, because the Lord has heard
my voice and my supplications.
2 Because the Lord inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on the Lord as long as I live.
Basically, the psalmist is saying: Wow I have been listened to!! Being heard is the basis for the psalmist’s love and lifelong commitment. What is so wondrous according to the psalmist, is that the All-Powerful One, who by rights does not have to listen to anyone, has indeed listened to this psalmist’s cry.
The Lord heard my cry, is no small claim. In fact, it is this very claim that sparked the liberation of the Hebrew slaves back in the day. Back then the dominant theology of Empire taught (as Empire theology always does) that God only spoke and listened to the king who then represented or incarnated God on earth. It was treason to suggest that God listened to anyone besides the king. In Exodus 3:7 we read the radical declaration from the lips of the Lord: “…I have heard their cry…”. Being heard by the Lord helped them to discover and trust their true identity. They were the Lord’s “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5) and not Pharaoh’s slave. On the basis of being heard by the Power above all other powers, the Hebrew slaves demand their freedom and are prepared to walk through oceans and deserts to get it.
The declaration that the All-Powerful One listens to the lowly and trodden upon, is one of the most radically subversive statements of the Scriptures. It is also the primary instruction for those in positions of power to imitate. Listen longest to the lowliest. In truth most of us practice just the opposite.
One of the reasons “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is that our desire to listen seems to decrease in direct proportion to the increase of our power. Perhaps this is because listening and humility go hand in hand and if anything tests our humility it is power. After all, “why do I need to listen to you, if I have the power to just tell you what to do?” This is especially tempting when we are pressured and rushed or feeling vulnerable and afraid ourselves.
If power is not bridled by accountability, we can be almost certain that there will be abuse. The refusal to listen is the beginning of this abuse. It is to treat another as if they do not count. And if they don’t count, it raises the question why do they exist at all? From here it is a slippery slope to doing them further harm.
When institutions constantly cover for those among their ranks, right or wrong, then a culture of impunity soon saturates the structures of that institution which make the abuse of power by members of the institution not just possible but probable. We have witnessed this among the police and army, both here and abroad in recent weeks. We have also witnessed it within religious institutions who have covered up sexual abuse over many years. And in recent days we have heard again of how multiple forms of discrimination are routinely ignored and go unaddressed within elite schools. This occurs when institutions exist to protect and preserve themselves above all else. The moment an institution closes ranks to save itself in this way, it begins to die. And while dying it causes death. This is the public law of self-destruction that Jesus spoke of in personal terms: “If you want to save your life you will lose it.”
Conversely, to listen to another is to affirm their existence and honour their being. To listen is to help another discover and trust their true identity as precious. To listen is the beginning of the liberation journey.
Many are asking, what can we do? We can start by checking who we give our ear to. We can start by listening. We can start by listening to the cries of people, especially the people from the margins of society. And in these June days we are called to listen especially to young people. To listen without argument or the need to answer. To listen to feel and to learn for the sake of liberation.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want the link to Sunday’s chat.
Reclaim the City takes over the Rondebosch Golf Course to protest against the City’s failure to redistribute public land for the development of affordable housing.
Picture: Tracey Adams / African News Agency (ANA)
Today I want to talk about golf. Well actually golf courses. More specifically, golf courses that are proximate to the city. This may seem strange or insensitive to you considering what is going on in the world at the moment: Covid-19. Unemployment and growing hunger. Gender based violence. Military and Police killings. Murderous racism. Climate devastation. Beijing stomping all over Hong Kong. USA fracturing under fascism.
However, I assure you that focusing our eyes down a few fairways and landing our thoughts on a couple of greens has everything to do with what is going on in the world today. Let me explain.
You may remember that late last year, to draw attention to the stubborn reluctance of the city to reverse the persistent Apartheid legacy of spacial planning, we raised a yellow banner on the steeple of CMM with the words: “Golf courses or social housing? What would Jesus want?” (Luke 9:58 has the answer). We were collaborating with civil society organisations Reclaim The City, who occupied the Rondebosch Golf Course on Human Rights Day last year, and Ndifuna Ukwazi. Ndifuna Ukwazi released a report entitled “City Leases” showing that the lack of change is not for a lack of available land but rather that there is no political will to allocate public land for public good. Please read our press statement here.
One would think that when faced with the choice of preserving a recreation facility for the few or providing social housing for the many, especially in a country with a pandemic of overcrowded informal settlements, that it would be a no-brainer on every ethical scale of common decency and common sense to choose social housing. Yet the mowed fairways and manicured greens remain as do the under-serviced and overcrowded informal settlements. This is nothing short of murderous. But no murder docket is opened and you will not find a single article anywhere that describes this choice of recreation over social housing as an act of violence.
Most people do not see this as a violent and deadly decision. So we need to translate the decision to bring it home for us to see and feel. In fact, let us take this decision into our own households. This is very appropriate because the original meaning of the word ‘economy’ means: management of the household.
Imagine a parent favouring one child’s recreational desires over the basic needs of their other children. Surely this parent’s potentially life threatening behaviour would be called out as abusive in the very least? And rightly so. And how easy this is to see. Yet when it comes to seeing this on a larger societal scale many of us remain blind.
The overwhelming majority of parents would never do this because they know how unjust and inhumane it is. They know the emotional trauma and physical damage it will do to their ignored children. They know the suffering and heartache that will manifest forever in the future. They know that violence will one day erupt within their household when their ignored children refuse to be ignored any longer and when their ignored children demand that their lives matter. They know their parental authority will mean little at that moment of rage and revolt. Perhaps police will need to be called to the home to stop the violence or even open a murder docket. A picture may be taken and the heading ‘violent criminal on the run’ typed in bold. Simply put, the parents know that without fairness in their home there will be no peace.
The parents also know how their spoiled child will carry an ingrained sense of entitlement and superiority that will resist equality in relationships going forward because “when you accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”.
Above all else the parents know that their household is more peaceful, healthy and fruitful when each child receives the optimal level of care and respectful appreciation for their being.
When this public policy is brought into our own homes we can easily discern how violent it is. We can easily understand the violence of revolt. We can also clearly see who the victims are and who the perpetrators and beneficiaries are.
Can you now see how the decision to favour the recreation of a few, literally robs thousands and thousands of people of a more peaceful, healthy and fruitful life? It is a violence that seeds more violence. Violence must be pulled out at its root. Therefore, until systemic violence is seen as clearly as the violence in our streets is seen, there will be no end to violence. The one legitimises the other. Can you see how when similar decisions are made in just about every sector of society over years and years that we end up with the world we are living in today? If we cannot see this, then we have work to do. Let us have a conversation.
[See Abahlali baseMjondolo’s press statement this past week for further insight into the struggles of the landless.
For our CMM Chat at 11h11 on Sunday the context of systemic violence will form the canvas for our conversation. Please email email@example.com for the zoom link.
Vandana Shiva: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest
By now you would have heard that President Ramaphosa announced that places of worship may reopen with a limit of 50 people or less when the country moves into Level 3 on 1st June 2020.
I know that we have all missed gathering together during the Covid-19 Lockdown. It will certainly be a wonderful celebration when we do gather together under one roof. I look forward to that day as much as you do, but at CMM we will not be doing so just yet.
At this time, the most Christ-like (life-giving) thing we can do as CMM, is to continue not to gather in person.
There is still much we do not know about Covid-19, but what we do know is that increased gatherings of people, increase the potential for the virus to spread. Therefore, if meeting as a congregation endangers people’s lives, we will not meet. “There is life and death before you, choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
We are very fortunate not to be faced with the ethical conundrum that many sectors are faced with at the moment. For many the continued Lockdown means economic collapse and family hunger and therefore for them choosing life involves a painfully difficult decision. They are stalked by both disease and hunger. Whatever they decide carries high risk. Therefore, all the more reason why those sectors with less painful choices, make the least risky decisions. Our continued aim is surely to spare the health services as much as we can.
It is worth repeating that we are not deciding whether to open the Church or not. The Church, as a community, was never closed under Lockdown and therefore does not require opening. We are deciding about opening a building and as many have said, we do not need a building to pray or praise.
The question, “is now the time we are reopening CMM?” sounds very much like the question that the disciples asked Jesus in last week’s scripture reading (Acts 1:9). Jesus told them that there were more important things to focus on than dates and times. Instead he invited them to be witnesses to his life-giving ways wherever they were. Similarly, we are invited to witness to justice, mercy and humility wherever we are. When we do this, we are an open church. When we don’t do this, even if the doors of our building are open, we are a closed church.
An open church opens others to life. A small example of this may include CMM’s decision this past week to assist all the traders outside our office block in Church Street to re-open. We will be assisting them with “seed finance” as well as helping them meet the Level 3 regulations. In this regard, let me tell you about Max. Over the years I have watched Max grow his fruit selling business. He began with a few bananas and apples a couple of years ago. As his business has grown, he arrives to set up his stall every morning at around 05h30 and packs up after dark each evening. He is the inspirational epitome of hard work. Just before Lockdown his fruit stall was a beautiful rainbow of nourishing colours shading under two umbrellas. Sadly, fruit doesn’t last too long. Max lost around R6000 of stock due to the Lockdown. Next week we help Max open again. Wherever we are, may we look for opportunities to help people like Max to open again. An open Church opens others to life.
An open Church opens us to the dignity of all. I hope that our very brief experience of not being able to gather together will sensitise us to the pain of those who have seldom experienced the Church as open. To this day LGBQTI people are not fully accepted in many churches. The building is open, but the community is closed, resulting in fearful and closeted Lockdown for years if not forever. An open Church is a radically welcoming community that celebrates the sacred worth of everyone. An open Church opens us to the dignity of all.
Let us reflect more on what it means to be a church that is open. I hope that by using the lens of Pentecost, we can continue this conversation on Sunday at 11h11 during our CMM Chat via zoom. If you would like to be part of this, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org for the link.
Over the years I have repeatedly recommended Nan C. Merrill’s Psalms For Praying – An Invitation to Wholeness. Her rendition of all 150 Psalms is exquisitely beautiful. It is also imaginatively courageous. She writes as a jazz musician plays. Keeping true to the original and underlying score while improvising on the surface in ways that allow us to hear the original melody with renewed wonder and appreciation.
Merrill’s artistry carries the distinct influence of Jesus, who also did with words as a jazz artist does with strings and keys. Allowing Jesus’ baseline to influence her own, Merrill demilitarises the Psalms. The trumpet of vengeance is silenced. The hum of humility replaces the beat of triumphalism. The enemy that must be fought is no longer out there, but within. To be fought with forgiveness, not fists. The childish schoolboy boast: “My God is bigger and better and stronger than yours” is quietened by the mature realisation that God is always for all … ALWAYS FOR ALL.
This is clearly witnessed in Merrill’s rendition of Psalm 47 – one of the Psalms set for Ascension Day. A Psalm that traditionally shrieks of nationalism and conquest with the psalmist boasting about the Lord’s kingly power that “subdued peoples under us”, biblically entrenching an ‘us versus them’ that too many throughout the ages have blindly followed. Read Merrill’s account to hear what the Psalm sounds like when the performing artist is tuned into Jesus.
Clap your hands, all peoples!
Acclaim the Creator with
loud songs of joy!
For the Beloved of our hearts
the Most High over all the earth.
Love invites the people to
the nations to peace.
Love is our birthright, our heritage,
to be shared with all.
Let Love rise up to shouts of acclamation;
join in the cosmic celebration!
Sing praises to the Creator,
Sing praises to the Beloved,
For Love has created the universe,
let us dance to the flute
and the harp.
Love reigns over nations,
awaiting an answer to its call.
May the leaders of the nations
gather to bring peace and
justice to all.
For the earth belongs to Love,
Who yearns to see creation healed!
Sing praises to the Beloved!
©Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying
I remind you that the CMM Chat at 11h11 on Sunday will be a discussion with three healthcare practitioners from CMM who are directly involved in responding to Covid-19 on the ground in the Western Cape: René Goliath, Yvette Andrews and Ian Proudfoot. Please email email@example.com if you want to receive the link to the Sunday CMM Chat.
Look forward to seeing you then.
Last year I attended a seminar by Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and public health expert. Hearing from Garrett about the human impact on the environment and the resulting emergence of new and mutating deadly viruses was frighteningly enlightening. As early as 1995, Laurie Garrett’s book, The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance pointed to the present we are now living.
Before I share a passage from Garrett’s book, the thing that struck me from her seminar was the sad pattern of human response to plagues:
1] Garrett stated that religious bigotry and religious exceptionalism accompanied plagues throughout history. We only have to think of HIV. Religious bigotry creates division: “us versus them”; “clean versus unclean”; “protected versus punished”. Religious exceptionalism encourages non-compliance of health precautions and reckless complacency towards the disease. The pandemic is spiritualised, for example, Covid-19 is seen as a demon, not a disease; a test of faith, not science.
2] Blaming the victim also stains the history of plagues. Today we note an increase in the stigmatisation of those who test positive for the coronavirus. This is very concerning. Blaming and banishing the victim creates a context of fear that ultimately discourages people to be tested and to seek care. https://www.iol.co.za/capeargus/news/call-to-stop-covid-19-stigma-as-it-often-causes-people-to-avoid-care-47923253
In response to this sad human pattern, we ask: “What does the Lord require of us in response to Covid-19?” Answer: What the Lord has always required of us. Namely, “To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God” [Micah 6:8]. I invite you to allow this single sentence to take hold of you. Take time to reflect on what, justice, mercy and humility mean in our pandemic present. We will re-visit this question over and over again.
I now share with you an extract from Garrett’s fascinating and detailed book, in which she introduces us to the human lung and viruses and the 1970s oil crisis and globalisation via the airline industry. Her gift is seeing connections where none may even look. It is the gift of a prophet. Another name for prophet is a ‘seer’. A seer of the past and present with such truthful clarity that she enables us to see a bit of tomorrow…
The human lung, as an ecosphere, was designed to take in 20,000 liters of air each day, or roughly 60 pounds. Its surface was highly variegated, comprised of hundreds of millions of tiny branches, at the ends of which were the minute bronchioles that actively absorbed oxygen molecules. The actual surface area of the human lung was, therefore, about 150 square meters, or “about the size of an Olympic tennis court,” as Harvard Medical School pulmonary expert Joseph Brain put it.
Less than 0.64 micron, or just under one one-hundred-thousandth of an inch, was all the distance that separated the air environment in the lungs from the human bloodstream. All a microbe had to do to gain entry to the human bloodstream was get past that 0.64 micron of protection. Viruses accomplished the task by accumulating inside epithelial cells in the airways and creating enough local damage to open up a hole of less than a millionth of an inch in diameter.
Some viruses, such as those that caused common colds, were so well adapted to the human lung that they had special proteins on their surfaces which locked on to the epithelial cells. Larger microbes, such as the tuberculosis bacteria, gained entry via the immune system’s macrophages. They were specially adapted to recognize and lock on to the large macrophages that were distributed throughout pulmonary tissue. Though it was the job of macrophages to seek out and destroy such invaders, many microbes had adapted ways to fool the cells into ingesting them. Once inside the macrophages, the microbes got a free ride into the blood or the lymphatic system, enabling them to reach destinations all over the human body.
The best way to protect the lungs was to provide them with 20,000 liters per day of fresh, clean, oxygen-rich air. The air flushed out the system. Dirty air—that which contained pollutant particles, dust, or microbes —assaulted the delicate alveoli and bronchioles, and there was a synergism of action. People who, for example, smoked cigarettes or worked in coal mines were more susceptible to all respiratory infectious diseases: colds, flu, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and bronchitis.
Because of its confined internal atmosphere, the vehicle responsible for the great globalization of humanity—the jet airplane—could be a source of microbial transmission. Everybody on board an airplane shared the same air. It was, therefore, easy for one ailing passenger or crew member to pass a respiratory microbe on to many, if not all, on board. The longer the flight, and the fewer the number of air exchanges in which outside air was flushed through the cabin, the greater the risk.
In 1977, for example, fifty-four passengers were grounded together for three hours while their plane underwent repairs in Alaska. None of the passengers left the aircraft, and to save fuel the air conditioning was switched off. For three hours the fifty-four passengers breathed the same air over and over again. One woman had influenza: over the following week 72 percent of her fellow passengers came down with the flu; genetically identical strains were found in everyone.
Following the worldwide oil crisis of the 1970s, the airlines industry looked for ways to reduce fuel use. An obvious place to start was with air circulation, since it cost a great deal of fuel to draw icy air in from outside the aircraft, adjust its temperature to a comfortable 65°—70°F, and maintain cabin pressure. Prior to 1985 commercial aircraft performed that function every three minutes, which meant most passengers and crew breathed fresh air throughout their flight. But virtually all aircraft built after 1985 were specifically designed to circulate air less frequently; a mix of old and fresh air circulated once every seven minutes, and total flushing of the aircraft could take up to thirty minutes. Flight crews increasingly complained of dizziness, flu, colds, headaches, and nausea. Studies of aircraft cabins revealed excessive levels of carbon dioxide—up to 50 percent above U.S. legal standards. Air quality for fully booked airliners failed to meet any basic standards for U.S. workplaces.
In 1992 and 1993 the CDC investigated four instances of apparent transmission of tuberculosis aboard aircraft. In one case, a flight attendant passed TB on to twenty-three crew members over the course of several flights. Similar concerns regarding confined spaces were raised about institutional settings, such as prisons and dormitories, where often excessive numbers of people were co-housed in energy-efficient settings.
In preparation for the June 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the World Health Organization reviewed available data on expected health effects of global warming and pollution. WHO concluded that evidence of increased human susceptibility to infectious diseases, due to UV-B immune system damage and pollutant impacts on the lungs and immune system, was compelling. The agency was similarly impressed with estimates of current and projected changes in the ecology of disease vectors, particularly insects.
It wasn’t necessary, of course, for the earth to undergo a 1°—5°C temperature shift in order for diseases to emerge. As events since 1960 had demonstrated, other, quite contemporary factors were at play. The ecological relationship between Homo Sapiens and microbes had been out of balance for a long time. The “disease cowboys”—scientists like Karl Johnson, Pierre Sureau, Joe McCormick, Peter Piot, and Pat Webb—had long ago witnessed the results of human incursion into new niches or alteration of old niches. Perhaps entomologist E. O. Wilson, when asked, “How many disease-carrying reservoir and vector species await discovery in the earth’s rain forests?” best summed up the predicament: “That is unknown and unknowable. The scale of the unknown is simply too vast to even permit speculation.”
Thanks to changes in Homo Sapiens activities, in the ways in which the human species lived and worked on the planet at the end of the twentieth century, microbes no longer remained confined to remote ecospheres or rare reservoir species: for them, the earth had truly become a Global Village.
Between 1950 and 1990 the number of passengers aboard international commercial air flights soared from 2 million to 280 million. Domestic passengers flying within the United States reached 424 million in 1990. Infected human beings were moving rapidly about the planet, and the number of air passengers was expected to double by the year 2000, approaching 600 million on international flights.
Garrett, Laurie. The Coming Plague (pp. 569-571). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.
You can find her book: https://www.amazon.com/Coming-Plague-Emerging-Diseases-Balance-ebook/dp/B005FGR6RO Or follow her: Twitter: @Laurie_Garrett.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like the zoom invitation for the post-sermon connection and chat on Sunday at 11h11.