Pandemics, Convoys, Freedoms and Fear: Some Thoughts on Being a Canadian and a Christian in a Divisive Climate

Some thoughts that came from a discussion with someone regarding what, if we could just take a step back from the highly charged division and speak honestly for a second, it is that I genuinely think, fear and wonder about coming out of this past week living and Canada and measuring the reality of the convoy. And just for the record, since this inevitably overlaps with politics, I would qualify myself as a generally leaning socially minded Canadian rather than holding any particular political allegiance. Liberal/democratic and conservative/Republican in the U.S. and Canada are all equally as corrupt as they come in my eyes, a fact we have to live with while trying to uphold democracy. One is just far better at allowing us to address real social concern in the meantime in my opinion.

I don’t fear a speculative future where perceived experimental vaccines end up leaving us with long term negative impact. I am concerned about what we do know today, which includes long term Covid effects for those even with minor symptoms, actual and potential deaths due to irresponsible behavior, and the freedom and ability to respond to things like vaccine side effects, hospital overload, taxed workers, emerging data, and economic, social and mental struggles caused by being in a pandemic, things that proper research can help us target.

I desperately fear what this pandemic is going to do when it comes to empowering those who have married it to political agendas and power on both sides, because while I believe this world is good I do also believe that such tendencies bear very real consequence in the here and now, both for matters of social concern and for matters of faith, which really should be one in the same.

I fear what happens moving forward with this perpetuated political divide in terms of creating even more resistance to good polices that can help address real, systemic problems. I fear a world where any attempts by the experts to continually guide us through this pandemic is going to be co-opted for a political cause. I fear the way I hear people using such political causes as a way to define freedom in problematic ways, and I fear this is going to undermine our ability to respond to the very real problems we encounter in this world.

I don’t fear communism. In truth, far more than fearing the so called liberal left, because I believe we have the tools to filter through the corruption on that side, I fear the power of an unchecked political right (read: fascism) which tends to blur the lines much more sharply between notions of freedom and notions of power, particularly when it comes to its full on dedication to a belief in the liberated person, something that I think gets shown to be a fallacy pretty quickly. None of us live alone, therefore none of us are truly free. There is also a reason that dangerous forms of the alt right can so easily co-opt this political side for their own purposes, and there is so much tendency towards thinking in pardigms that portion out this world in us and them terms. This is so much bigger than Covid, this is about that beast that we know, historically speaking, gaining traction here in Canada, and it is far harder to wrestle that version of the far right down because of how it utilizes power and economics in ways that oppose policies concerned with real social issues and becaus of how it utilizes the cult of the indiviual to do so.

Personally I fear a world where should I get sick my sickness will be inevitable fuel for that political side to say, see, I told you so. We were right. We are the self proclaimed prophets of this new freedom movement. This is already happening as we see governments responding to good and right data about this most recent variant, something that was in process long before the convoy, and it is already inhibiting our ability to bring us out of this pandemic in a responsible and measured manner. People are far more interested in believing a heavily entrenched and apocalyptic narrative to be true than in measured discussion about good and bad mandates. We are in for a long haul not in a fight for freedom but of incredible political divide that will outlive this pandemic.

I grieve for the Christian witness. I see so many Christians representing Ceasar rather than Christ and embracing toxic forms of Empire rather than the Kingdom of God. How we hear Christ telling Peter to put down his sword in this I have no idea, but a faith that is more interested in upholding the sort of ideals of freedom that would have run rampant in Rome while also paying allegiance to the gods of material success, personal health, the cult of the individual, power, and economic interest at the same time is what Christ came to overturn.

I’ve been thinking lately about the imagery of the river crossings in scripture, something a friend brought to mind again today. Interestingly it is this imagery that the Gospel writers use to depict Jesus’ baptism. He goes out of Egypt and through the water. I do wonder if one thing we often miss in this movement out of Egypt and towards the promised land is the importance of Sinai. As the Gospels tell Jesus’ story he ends up ascending and descending the mountain like Moses with the Beatitudes, a Sinai moment. It is here that we are meant to be shaped as the people of God and in the ways of God. The real question posed, I think, in these two parallel stories is how does this speak to the problem of Empire, which in the story of Israel is patterned after Babylon and Egypt. What we find as the people of God enter the land is they forget about Sinai and what this means. They forget about the Covenant which establishes them not as a people arrived at the promised land but as a people who arrive at the promised land “for” the sake of the world. A people called to represent a different picture rather than Empire. Thus they establish themselves immediately in the pattern and image of Empire becuase this is what such allusions to freedom, when not defined in Exodus terms, leads to. They see freedom as power and the upholding of their rights and they become more and more exclusively minded and protective of these rights rather than representing what scripture calls the “mixed multitude” who were carried out of Egypt for the sake of the world. They become image bearers of the wrong thing losing sight of their true identity.

This is genuinely my concern with what is going on right now. The end result in the story of Israel is a community misplacing what freedom is and means, forgetting the story of Gods faithfulness, neglecting the call of Sinai, establishing a kingdom based on power, and ultimately doing destructive things and being given to the destruction around them at the hands of the next emerging Empire. The desert turns to exile. I don’t think the desert is a picture of slavery and oppression, rather it is where they are shaped against the temptation of power and Empire, something Jesus resists and ultimately rises to tear down and rebuild, beginning with the temple itself. That temple then is also us and it is, in the promises and faithfulness of God, the whole of creation. That’s what we are called to at Sinai, at the Sermon on the Mount, to participate in, is the Kingdom of God. This is the part that I worry about, especially when we know this is cyclical. Every generation ends up in exile precisely at the point that they take the form of Empire losing sight of the way of Christ and the picture of the covenant promise to make my people a people for the world. My prayer continues to be that we don’t miss the way of Christ in this which leads to the Cross.

In truth, it is not fearing some side effects 5/20 years down the road that is the problem to me- even if that did happen I would still say we did the right thing in the moment based on what we know and I would still believe helpful protocols and vaccines helped save a lot of lives that would have otherwise died. It’s fearing the very real challenges of a Christianity that has lost the ability to locate freedom in Christ working in relationship with politics and government for the sake of the world. That has very real consequence in the here and now. Imagining a world with policies that address systemic issues is going to be an even greater uphill battle.

The real problem with defintions of freedom floating around out there is that when we say “us” it includes “me”. While sometimes this is imporant, particularly as it deifnes the cries of the disenfranchised, this can also be incredibly dangerous and destructive. This says: we are the victims therefore it matters, as opposed to there are the oppressed hear their cries. And the problem is the oppression being cited by the opposition describes the same sacrifices all of us have made in order to help the oppressed. This is not oppression, and if it is then we all are facing the same thing together. There is no us and them paradigm at work here, which is why it is so difficult to locate compassion and empathy for these self proclaimed freedom fighters. Further, desiring to see “them” rather than “us” is going to take a lot of work to uncover and model in the aftermath of this pandemic, especially following the rhetoric of the convoy.

And while I genuinely believe MRNA is going to become commonplace in future treatments and medicine, a church already lagging behind these discussions is going to increasingly be unable to ensure that we keep asking the most important questions when it comes to navigating the ethics of these sorts of changes and developments. In all honesty I can’t remember the last time when I struggled so much with the words “Christian” and “Canadian”, two words that intersect with my own life, beliefs and value systems, and that genuinely breaks my heart.

These are my fears. Hope, the more important subject, requires more thought.

Published by davetcourt

I am a 40 something Canadian with a passion for theology, film, reading writing and travel.

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