A spiritual struggle

Published by Dave Holmes on 17 September, 2021

Hey! It’s been quite a while since I have posted anything, and so if you’re reading this, welcome back and thanks for sticking with me! Things have changed for me; I now live in Lacombe Alberta, just north of Red Deer (loving it) and I’m still feeling like the New Guy at St. Andrew’s United Church here in Lacombe (also loving it).

I’m thinking this morning about how the world seems to have gone bonkers. We’re in the middle of the fourth wave of COVID, here in Alberta; our hospitals are pretty much full, our ICU’s are pretty much full, mostly with unvaccinated COVID patients. Yes, there are a few who have been vaccinated — but even though unvaccinated people are mercifully the minority here in Alberta, they are vastly in the majority in the ICU. And yet… people are demonstrating outside hospitals against vaccinations, against the use of masks, berating the very exhausted health care workers who will, of necessity, serve them if and when they need care.

I was told of one person, whose job requires them to enforce a mask mandate in connection with our school system, who has received death threats simply because they are doing their job.

I have heard of others who argue that there is no real evidence that wearing masks is effective. Really? I mean, I genuinely can’t cite the specific studies, and I won’t waste my time looking for them. Every one of these COVID waves has been knocked back by the use of masks and social distancing. We have used masks for over a hundred years to prevent infection. Would you prefer that a surgeon operating on a loved one didn’t scrub up and put on a mask? Of course there’s evidence masks work! Good grief!

Here’s what I see: people believing ludicrous things, and asserting their right to these beliefs and their right to follow these beliefs with action — asserting these “rights” with passion, with anger, with violence, with hate.

It certainly goes beyond the pandemic, though that is top of mind right now. Some of my Muslim friends have been at pains to say that violent, hateful groups (Taliban, ISIS) that do their atrocities in the name if Islam are not, in fact, faithful to Islam. I see that! And I look at a good portion of evangelical Christianity, especially in (but not limited to) the US, and know that the Trump-style racism, xenophobia, patriarchy, and violence have little or nothing in common with Jesus Christ. (Yes I know, it’s not just evangelical Christianity that is in difficulty; almost this whole blog is about how mainline Christianity must change.) It’s like a huge number of people have, like those who flew off to fight for ISIS, been radicalized. They are passionately, violently committed to something that seems right to them, and false and hateful to everyone else.

This is a spiritual issue. I don’t think it’s about policy, or law, or even public health, though of course all these things matter right now. This stuff goes all the way down to identity, ethics, the fundamentals of human community. It’s about love and fear, insecurity and community. It’s about authority and truth. It’s about arrogance and humility. It’s about connection — to people, to the earth, and it’s about reverence. Or the lack thereof.

Because it’s a spiritual matter, churches matter. Some seem to be driving the hate, the misinformation, and the tribalism. Especially because of that, the rest of us need to be in this struggle, this struggle for the soul of society. Will we be a people fragmented, drawing lines of division and hating those on the other side? Or will we seek connection, respect, unity? Will we be violently protective of whatever privilege we think we have? Or will we seek the common good? Will we listen for wisdom? Or will we doggedly defend our own viewpoint?

It is tempting, but not good enough, to rail against the irrationalities and the violence and the hatred of those who would tear this society apart. That puts us on the other side of the debate, but adopts the same spirituality as those we oppose. I believe we need to embody an entirely different spirituality — to reject the worse by living out the better.

I’m proud of the way my United Church colleagues, the people of our churches, and our denomination has worked through this pandemic. But I think we do well to remember that these big issues we face — pandemic, climate change, racism, colonialism — these are spiritual issues. It’s not just political or economic. It’s a soul thing, individual and collective, and requires conversion, repentance, the announcement of good news. It’s covenant, commitment, a matter of love and whom we choose to serve.

I’d say, “this is our fight,” but it’s not a fight. That’s exactly the wrong spirituality here. It’s a life-and-death struggle waged with love. Does that make sense? But it’s definitely our struggle. It’s about soul, and spirituality. This is our strength, and the world needs us.