The world is in full-scale freak out, it seems to me. It feels like it’s getting harder to find the right tone, and not contribute to what feels like growing panic.

Having lived though Swine Flu, Bird Flu, and Ebola —this last one, VERY close to home— one thing has become apparent to me. Nothing calls forth our recessive-gene capacity to “OTHERIZE” and demonize people like the fear of a global pandemic.

In a matter of days, otherwise rational and thoughtful people transmogrify from science-based, calm citizens; and into terrified, adrenaline filled hoarders who act and sound like fictional Zombie killers from TV.

Come on, people.

Take a breath.

Remember…we got through all those other health scares just fine.

That is not to say that Coronavirus is “Nothing.” That is not to say that you shouldn’t do things like wash your hands. But stop freaking out, people. This is how somebody eventually gets hurt.

I remember the Swine Flu. That’s when everybody broke out the hand sanitizers. Every Church in America —so it seems— started keeping hand sanitizer on their communion tables. We literally added a new liturgical act to our celebration of Holy Communion….

Elevate the host…
Lift the cup….
Apply the Holy Hand Sanitizer…

I rebelled against this trend. I refused to allow a bottle on the communion table at my old church. Further, I refused to publicly apply it when asked by others. I assured every: I wash my hands right before Church.

(Guess what? I wash my hands right *after* Church too…)

That’s all we need, people. Really it is.

And what’s the MESSAGE of the Holy Hand Sanitizer, anyway? 

To me, the message is: “You shouldn’t trust your neighbor, your church-member, even your minister…everybody is potentially a danger and threat to you…”

This is the antithesis of the message we should be giving worshippers in Church. IMHO. Our calling should be to remind people that their neighbors, and even strangers, are not necessarily threats.

So, for years I’ve avoided the application of the Holy Hand Sanitizer. But, I broke down and applied it this morning.

And I gotta say….I don’t feel good about myself. I really don’t. I feel like a sell out.
After all, I’m the guy with “Fear Not” tattooed on his arm…

Jump forward to Ebola…something we Dallasites know a bit about. Let’s remind ourselves, shall we?

A man visiting from Liberia contracted Ebola. He did indeed later die. He was treated at a hospital where our daughter was born and where I regularly visited Church members at the time. Two nurses caring for him also contracted the disease. They recovered. And yes, there were later questions about procedure at that hospital. Ebola IS a terrible disease.

But that’s not what I want to remind you of.
I want to remind you of how people surrounding the apartment where the man stayed in Dallas FREAKED OUT.
People all over Dallas FREAKED out.
Even people in other cities FREAKED OUT.

My favorite story on this last point is about a woman who came to Dallas for a convention in the Mid Cities during the Ebola panic. She flew into DFW. She was here for a few days…somewhere in the mid-cities…ten to fifteen miles from the hospital where the Ebola case was being treated.

And when she flew home, she was quarantined. Because she had TRAVELLED to Dallas.

Even with the mistakes the hospital allegedly made, no American ever died of Ebola here in Dallas.
For a few tense days, you woulda thought we were ALL gonna die of Ebola.

Therefore….Come on, folks. Don’t freak out here.

Now, it’s true, the President is not helping with his comments. One day, he’s all “Nothing to worry about.” The next, the government is buying up a zillion surgical masks.

We’re getting calm-down/freak-out whiplash.

What we learned here in Dallas, during Ebola, was: Remain calm. Do what you need to do to be safe…but remain calm.

Our Mayor and County Judge were incredible leaders, throughout. I wish we could bottle their calm and measured response and sell it to politicians and preachers everywhere.

Mayor Rawlings and Judge Jenkins actually visited with the *family* of the infected man…to model and show to the public just how safe they really were. (If memory serves, they may have even given the family a ride in their personal car…)

THAT is leadership. They were honest with the public. They didn’t mince words. But they didn’t freak, either. And they MODELED, with their own lives, how NOT to freak out.

But! And this next part is true: Some parents at Judge Jenkins’ kids school demanded that his KIDS be quarantined…because he had been close to people…who had been close to Ebola.


The desire to “otherize” runs deep in the human DNA. The desire to fear THREAT is latent in all of us. It’s why our species survived and why we dominate the planet. It’s also a potential danger in our social media fed world where fear circles the globe before truth…well, you know how it goes.

Also, in case you haven’t figured it out, this “othering” deep in our DNA is why we love Zombie movies so much.

Coronavirus might get worse in the next weeks and months.

Who knows? Some global health experts say the infection rate could be like the famous “Spanish Flu” of 1918.

But, as a counterpoint, they quickly note that our medical technology is far superior than it was then.

You probably don’t need to storehouse your food. If you think you do, stop watching the Walking Dead now, please. It’s not helping you think clearly.

No, you don’t need a box of surgical masks, either. But the folks at the hospital might. So stop hoarding those, so they can have them.

Look, just don’t freak out. You know what you could REALLY do to be helpful with this Coronavirus thing?

It’s very simple, and it won’t cost you a thing.

Wash your hands.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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