We are living in strange times, and this is a very strange year.
I don’t want to criticize the authorities who must make hard choices, but some restrictions are strange. Where I live, the government and the medical authorities are being cautious with social restrictions. We are mostly warned to be careful, and given good advice. I haven’t heard about fines or arrests for breaking the rules.
My work, for the government, is high-risk, and I have a generous supply of spray cleaner and hand disinfectant. I also have training on how to use the cleaners and stay safe. A neighbor goes to a church near us and they are probably still refusing to wear masks in their services. No one is talking about this in the news, my neighbor told me when I met him in the back alley.
Do you believe in God? If you are a believer, what tells you to believe? What are the signals that you need? Do you attend a church or a temple, a mosque or a synagogue, or maybe have you gone on a pilgrimage, or to a conference or a summer camp; to remind you? Can you believe alone?
Belief always has a critical mass; humans need group activities to support their convictions. Without group reinforcement, believing in anything is lonely, and most of us will drop out. All religions have group reinforcement, with pilgrimages and conference. That includes Muslims, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it included Communist parades and Nazi torchlight rallies. That is how humans believe.
That was how we believed. Now, in the Covid crisis, believing anything has become a lonely exercise. I am a Christian, and I can’t remember the last time I went to church. I can only log in to a virtual service on the Internet.
In Canada, in the province of Manitoba, Christians are trying to meet for worship services. The plan is to drive to a church parking lot and tune the car radio to a local FM signal. The preacher and the song leaders broadcast their message through low-frequency FM to people in parked cars listening on their radio. If you don’t know Manitoba, there are two things to note: 1) Nothing radical ever happens there, that place is never in the news, and 2) The place is cold in the winter. The big city, Winnipeg is also known as ‘Winterpeg.’
That translates into two things; people behave nicely, and no one rolls a window down. It’s just a thing.
Strangely, some districts in Manitoba, districts where almost everyone is a conservative Mennonite, are in the news, and not in a good way. Quiet-living, God-fearing, non-violent country people are being fined thousands of dollars, and risk being arrested, when they attend drive-in church services:
This is not a radical mob who throw things at the police. This a country crowd, where the preacher stands on the back of a pickup truck, and families tune in on their radios, with the windows rolled up. That is strictly forbidden, for the sake of COVID safety. At the same time, regulations state “Bars and restaurants will be closed except for take-out, drive-thru and delivery.” That means you can drive to a take-out window, roll your window down, and exchange money and food with someone who also has an open window. That is safe, but tuning in to God on a car radio is dangerous and forbidden.
I’m sure the people who make the rules know this is ridiculous. I’m also sure the police don’t want this assignment. Their usual interaction with those “criminals” is to wave when they pass on the highway, or to say hello when they stop for coffee. Those country churches are not high-crime locations.
We can criticize the authorities, and get angry or laugh at the COVID “safety” regulations, and we know that someone should review what is happening, and make changes. Those are easy targets, but there is something important here, that we might miss; everyone eats, only a few believe. Those country Christians have been tolerated for many years because they are harmless and over there somewhere. They were never loved or popular.
Regulations are relaxed for people who eat food and drink alcohol, but when a few worship God, push becomes shove. We should admire the courage of the pastor who preached from a pickup truck, in a cold parking lot. We should also know that the activities of a few people will not be tolerated, not at the level of more people eating and drinking.
Some people will be surprised, but this truth never went away, and it is coming back with force: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3: 12) This “will” happen, to anyone who …
The lesson for us, is that we can lose our emotional supports anytime. We may have to believe alone, and under restrictions. If the restrictions happen once, the precedent is made, and it will easily happen again. We should be ready to worship in loneliness and under restrictions. That radical change is coming on us now.
Of all the systems that humans believe in, it was Jesus who told us how to succeed in this new world:
Look! A time is coming, and is here, when each of you will be scattered to your own homes and you will leave me alone. I’m not really alone, for the Father is with me. I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world. (John 16: 32 and 33)