Uriah Y. Kim is the President of the Graduate Theological Union.
Community and Connection: Calling on “Our Better Angels” through Crisis
These are unprecedented times in our country and our world. Here in California, for the first time in history, the governor has ordered a statewide shelter-in-place as an extreme, yet necessary measure to mitigate further transmission of the novel coronavirus. Forty million people have been called upon to voluntarily limit their personal freedoms in order to help preserve the lives and good health of friends, neighbors, and unknown strangers alike.
Across the nation, individuals and communities are seeking to do what we can to care for ourselves and one another, making decisions about which activities, businesses, and works are essential, and which can be suspended. At a time when community and connection seem more important than ever, we are nonetheless asked to maintain social distance. This is no less true at the GTU, where over the past few weeks, we have shifted all in-person courses to remote learning modalities; cancelled numerous public events; and put provisions in place for staff to work remotely. And yet, in these past weeks, there is a sense in which we remain remarkably intertwined: engaging with one another through Zoom, chat platforms, email, old fashioned phone calls, and at a fundamental human level, in our shared experience of unfathomable circumstances.
"It is in times like these that the remarkable resilience of the human spirit can be fully displayed."
Indeed, it’s natural to feel anxious and afraid in times of crisis like we are currently living through. If we are not mindful, we can easily let the “fight or flight” instinct take over, allowing awareness of our vulnerability to expose our ugliest tendencies. Fear about the spread of the virus and anxieties about the availability of everything from test kits to toilet paper can cause us to turn on one another, blaming other people or nations, normalizing racism or xenophobia, and seeking our own welfare at the expense of the greater good.
But it’s also in times like these that the remarkable resilience of the human spirit can be fully displayed. Amid this outbreak, we have extraordinary opportunities to care for one another, to advocate for the most vulnerable, and to live out the spirit of justice and compassion central to so many faith traditions—and at the heart of the mission of the GTU.
As a biblical scholar, in good times and more challenging moments alike, I often turn to the Hebrew Scriptures for inspiration. In the Book of Numbers, we read of a moment when Moses’ sister Miriam has been struck with leprosy, necessitating her isolation outside of the Israelites’ camp for seven days (Numbers 12:15a). We are not told how she acquired the illness. But we know that her community refused to leave her behind, and the people did not continue their journey until Miriam was reintegrated to the community once more (12:15b). The story reminds us of the need for a community in crisis to come together in solidarity, to care for the afflicted, and to recognize that our futures are bound together.
From faculty, to students, staff, and alumni, the GTU is a community of scholars and seekers committed to exploring the very nature of spirituality, drawing illumination from the remarkable reservoir of wisdom in our world’s religious traditions and bringing those insights into conversation with our modern moment. And as this crisis has made clear, this work—now more than ever—is an urgent necessity. Among us are spiritual caregivers, pastors, religious scholars and educators, and community leaders who may be called upon to venture into unknown risk in order to offer compassion, connection, and care through moments of greatest need. As these events continue to unfold, may we all be led by “the better angels of our nature,” drawing inspiration from faith and scholarship to help our world as we navigate this crisis, and together shape the brighter future to which we are all bound.
This is the first reflection in a new series launched by the GTU called “Spiritual Care and Ethical Leadership for Our Times: Faith, Resilience, and Community in an Age of Uncertainty.” Through a series of written reflections, video lectures, and online resources, scholars, spiritual leaders, and cultural critics from across the GTU will explore the meaning of spiritual care, ethics, and leadership from a broad array of perspectives and traditions, offering inspiration, encouragement, and insights from both ancient and contemporary to speak to the current context. Find out more at www.gtu.edu/spiritual-care-through-crisis.