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Summer is coming to a close, and parents are preparing for another school year unlike any other.

The pandemic caused by COVID-19 continues with the Delta variant, putting masks back on faces and on school supply lists.

We are learning more than reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Instead, we are in a remedial course on “The Golden Rule.” We are all being schooled on what it means to be a good neighbor.

Pencils down, there are millions of Americans who have failed the test though there have been countless reviews.

We have heard all of the arguments, looked at the statistics and heard the stories of the vivacious lives lost – and now, with a life-saving vaccine, we read about a growing number of preventable deaths.

So, we cannot feign ignorance. Yes, the message about the vaccine has been politicized, but school officials who enforce the mask mandates shouldn’t lose their salaries, as is the case with Florida Governor DeSantis.

COVID-19 is not a Republican, Democrat or Independent. Taking the vaccine should not be viewed as a win for the other team. “Getting shots in arms” should not be about scoring political points and, if it is, then we are playing with our lives and the lives of our neighbors. Nobody wins.

Learning lessons the hard way has never been of interest to me. Perhaps, I saw too many bad examples as a child. Consequently, I’d rather save myself the time, money and heartache.

Learn from their example, rather than follow it. Because there are more than enough examples of how not to do this. Don’t take it from me; take it from the millions who have died unnecessarily due to COVID-19.

Don’t do it for yourself but as an example to your children, the next generation, and as another iteration of community.

I love the word “community.” I have been studying it with my Doctor of Ministry cohort at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. for the past two years.

It has not been easy. The closer we get to its meaning, the more it hurts.

Faced with hard truths and tough admissions, we are doing more than pushing papers; we are pushing back on the boundaries of our Christian faith tradition. The “Life Together” track, inspired by the seminal work and sacrificial words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, brought us together.

Martyr and minister during the Nazi regime and the reign of its leader Adolf Hitler, Bonhoeffer remains an example of what it means to die to self and for a better community (Matthew 16:24-26).

He wrote in Life Together, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. … Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.”

We belong in and through and to his body, and his body has suffered enough.

Still, retracing his steps, following in his footsteps is hard enough without the political pressure of falling in line behind an American president, former or present.

Christianity is not about a political party or its campaign but a new kind of community. I assure you. It is not in a church brochure and will not be found on shiny new websites.

In fact, it may be unrecognizable because of what we have become accustomed to. But it’s coming soon as I see the signs in the tired eyes of people who have no interest in a church program.

I found a card during my travels in a local shop that I carry with me now. I place it on the desk of my hotel room or in an Airbnb. It has become a kind of calling card for me.

“How to build community” is a list compiled by the Syracuse Cultural Workers in Syracuse, New York. I lived in Buffalo, New York, for about 10 years, so they were just down the road from me.

Their mission is “to nourish communities that honor diversity and creative expression, and inspire movements for justice, equality and liberation while respecting our Earth and all its beings.”

The card captures a list of things we can all do to build community, which include, “turn off your TV, sit on your stoop, pick up litter, ask a question, seek to understand, learn from new and uncomfortable angles.”

I would add get vaccinated. Because we all want to come together again, to spend time with family and friends.

This virus is the cause for the distance between us – not a mask mandate, a vaccine or a political party.

Around the country, children will return to classrooms and there is still time for us to learn this, to model a new community and to be a good example for them.

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