The difficult year of 2020 is still throwing punches, and this post is your chance to talk about it. This morning, there was snow on my deck and trees blown down all over town in my little corner of Wyoming, while the headlines report 120-degree weather in California, with wildfires running amok and Santa Ana winds expected this week (those are hot winds blowing from the east, very not good during fire season). I’m sure a couple of readers will remind us that hurricanes are hitting Florida and the Gulf Coast already and it’s not even hurricane season yet. When did the weather get so freaky?
First, let’s talk about fire. Twice in my life I’ve had the car packed with a few necessities (water, snacks, a bag with clothes, the wedding pictures), parked facing outward with a full tank of gas. Last week, my son and his family left their home in the Bay Area for a week because of fire — the mandatory evacuation line was two blocks from their home. They figured it was wise to get out of town before fires closed the highways they would use to evacuate.
A roaring, racing forest fire is one of those natural events that is largely beyond human control, even with planes dropping fire retardant and choppers makes water drops. I’m sure you’ve seen photos of a family sorting through the debris of a destroyed home when such a fire sweeps through a neighborhood, usually with a quote to the effect of “we’re just happy everyone made it out safely and our family is safe and sound.” It’s going to be an ugly fire season. If you’re facing a fire threat, I hope you get lucky and the fire moves away. If not, I hope you and your family get out early and safely.
Then there’s Covid-19. Yes, it has become a medical disaster, at least in the US. Recall that just over 400,000 United States soldiers, sailors, and airmen died in all of World War Two. That was over four years. We’re close to 200,000 deaths right now in the US, and it’s still going strong. It has also become a social disaster and is becoming a political disaster. Who would have thought, a year ago, that the key issue framing the presidential election of 2020 would be a new version of the superflu? Who would have thought, a year ago, that many schools and universities would suspend in-person attendance for millions of students? Who would have thought, a year ago, that any set of circumstances could arise that would shut down LDS church services in the US for four months? And that, upon re-starting sacrament meetings, such drastic changes as these would be implemented: only one ward per Sunday in a building; every other row seating, with attendance limited to one hundred people; no singing; young men actually washing their hands before administering the sacrament. If you’re facing a Covid-19 case in your family, I hope it is a mild case and everyone makes a full recovery.
I just received an email announcing the resumption of church services later this month for my stake. There was a four-page attachment outlining the many measures being taken to provide for the safety of those who choose to attend, along with the suggestion that those who are at heightened risk should consider just staying home. Some of the details: just one ward in the building each Sunday; no second-hour meetings; masks required for all in attendance; cleaning and disinfecting the chapel before and after meetings; bread morsels spaced out on the tray; a pair of young men passing the water, one with a water tray and one following with an empty tray to gather used cups (this is very clever). My only concern is that singing is still part of the meeting, although all hymnals will be removed and people are asked to instead use their devices to access the lyrics and music. On the one hand, this is a very responsible set of procedures, and the local leadership deserves credit for thinking seriously about how to deal with this challenge. On the other hand … this is likely to be an entirely different, somewhat alienating, church experience.
Riots and music. Do you miss the sixties? If so, I have some good news. Riots and music are back on the menu. You might still enjoy those old tunes on your favorite classic rock station or stream, but suddenly they are more than just a catchy tune: they’re relevant. Four dead in Ohio. Once again, we find the cost of freedom buried in the ground. Who would have thought, a year ago, that Stephen Stills would be playing For What It’s Worth at the Democratic National Convention? Battle lines being drawn. A man with a gun over there. Paranoia strikes deep. Time to pack your bags for the Misty Mountains.
This too shall pass. Nice thought, but we’re not there yet. Covid-19 can still deliver a second and a third wave, with no vaccine clearly in sight yet. The election is going to get very messy. We could very well have a contested result. The period between the election and a new president taking office (if that, indeed, is what happens) may see large-scale civil unrest. It is, perhaps, an apocalyptic moment, and Mormonism certainly has a strong dose of apocalypticism in its history and doctrine.
I wonder what we’ll hear in General Conference next month? Will apostles be quoting Joel, “the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come”? Will significant new changes be announced, perhaps to the missionary program? Or will we get the usual talks on the usual topics, with little or no reference to the new world we seem to be living in?