We have all seen them. Perhaps you are one of them, one of those peculiar individuals we see driving down the road in their own car all by themselves wearing a facemask to combat the Coronavirus. Of course, we know the benefits of wearing a face mask in public. In some places it is not only suggested but required, not only for employees of essential businesses but those who choose to use those businesses as well. But alone in the car seems to be a bizarre and unreflective take on things.
Last week, my good friend and colleague, Rev. Paul Koch, wrote an article on this site entitled, “The Church’s Failure in the Crisis”. I’ve known Paul for almost 18 years, and I’m certain that his passionate desire to faithfully serve God’s people led him to write this post. But as much as I respect Paul as a man and fellow pastor, and although I’m confident of the sincere intentions behind his words, I couldn’t more passionately disagree with him.
How did we get to the point where we are so weak and silly that we’ll wear a mask as we walk in our own neighborhoods, alone, at the crack of dawn? When did it become okay for our fears to rule our lives? Even worse, why are our fears allowed to dictate the lives of those around? The movement towards safety as the ultimate virtue in life has been building for a long time in our society.
A new story always begins with the spirits of hopes and dreams. Leaping and flying, spinning and whirling, the tale is bound to go anywhere. In a fictional world of no consequences, the story can take shape any way the spirits lead. Creative heights, unthinkable depths, there are no boundaries where she can go. Soaring away from reality, another world is unveiled where deepest desires and questions are allowed to surface. But silently driving the distant words of story, truth and reality press her upon unsuspecting souls.
One of the things this current pandemic has done is highlight the disjointed nature of the individual Christian. We are of this world, we have responsibilities amongst our neighbors, a duty to serve, protect and care for others. Yet, we are a peculiar people who have their eyes on the horizon, looking off to something beyond this age. Our hope is not rooted in the outcomes of the here and now but in the promises of Christ. These are promises which have us long for something that has not yet been revealed to us. So, as we want to love our neighbor and protect them from this virus, or to help them keep their business during the lockdown, we also stand with an unmovable spirit before the specter of fear and death knowing this age is temporary and will fade as the withering grass.
Two weeks ago, when I wrote about The Seventh Seal, I had one kind of response to it. Kyle Smith (and his commenters) at National Review had a very different response. Over the past year, people have had strikingly opposite reviews of movies like Joker, The Irishman, A Hidden Life, and Parasite. No doubt preference and taste account for some of those differences. Probably the egalitarian and democratic nature of the internet accounts for a few more (as “reviewing” movies is not limited to experts). When it comes to classic movies—cult or otherwise—some of it is inevitably nostalgia. But in terms of my own feelings about movies, I am more and more convinced that current circumstances play a determinative role in the experience of watching something.
As we are beginning to see the signs of our economy opening up (well not here in CA, but in some others states), and as we catch glimpses of life beyond this crisis, our thoughts begin to settle again on the future. I, for one, have been thinking a lot about the lessons we will learn from COVID-19. What will be the takeaway for the Christian congregation that tried to navigate the waters of uncertainty and fear while striving to be faithful to their confession and mission?
On that first Easter day the women went to the tomb and were greeted not by death but by life. They were directed not to weeping but called to not be afraid. After this, in Luke’s Gospel we find a radically different account of something that transpires and only he records it for us. It is something which happens not with the 11 disciples in the upper room but to two previously unknown, at least to us, disciples.
In Georges Bernanos’ 1926 novel Under the Sun of Satan (Sous le soleil de Satan), Mr Malorthy is described as knowing “very little about that superior form of cheek which the clever call cynicism.” Today cynicism seems like just about the only stance left for anyone to take. There is very little room, it seems, for the sincere and the unironic.
I have a difficult time viewing safety as a virtue. Resilience perhaps, fortitude to be sure, but not just safety. I want my kids to be safe, of course. I want them to take reasonable precautions when doing dangerous or risky things. Safety serves the risk; it serves a life marked by danger. It is calculated and reasonably weighed out. But danger, why, danger is the stuff that makes life worth living. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “As soon as there is life, there is danger.” To elevate safety above engagement is a cowardly and timid way to engage this world.