Reflections on Rights and Restrictions in the time of Covid-19

It’s been a minute since I’ve written here, largely because I’ve been dedicating all of my free time to writing my book (!!!). But also because this year has been an obstacle course — since my last post, our family has:

  1. Totalled a car
  2. Had a mental health episode/hospital stay
  3. Camped on an island in the middle of Lake Superior (fun and challenging!)
  4. Started a school year full of distance learning
  5. Minted a new teenager
  6. Survived an election

Promise I’ll write about all of those things! But this morning it feels important to write about the next 4 weeks, the ones before the holidays, unique this year as we’re facing another round of government restrictions and heading into another quarantine — starting today.

It’s like March all over again; stores are out of toilet paper, empty shelves sit in places where Clorox wipes used to be. Lines are excruciatingly long everywhere, with people wrapping around the building at our local Trader Joes to buy up all the staples to see their families through another Great Minnesota Hunker-Down.

But the stakes are higher now than they were back in March. As a country, our response to the virus has been slack at best, criminally negligent at worst, with the current administration largely dismissing citizen’s concerns even as they bury members of their own (Republican State Legislator “Dakota Dave” was elected this November in North Dakota; tragically, he’d already died from Covid-19 in October).

As a state, our MN covid numbers are surging. We’ve had our highest death tolls yet and lowest ages of infection. Remember when we used to think this virus only killed the elderly? No longer is this just about saving Grandma. A 20 year old died this fall from covid-19, and before that, a nine month old baby.

I have friends who are pregnant and others with newborns; I have immuno-compromised loved ones who are truly isolated and have been since before the summer made us all forget about the virus in favor of outdoor barbecues in warmer temps and swim days at hidden beach. I’m guilty of loosening a lot of our restrictions this summer, too, letting Lola’s buddies inside our house (masked), hugging a couple of my friends, and eating indoors at restaurants a handful of times.

The cold snap woke us up.

In October our first single digit temperatures of the season brought a spike in covid cases, followed by our worst days of new cases on record. Naturally, all of my restauranteur and gym-owning friends listened with trepidation as talk of new restrictions, not relief, circulated. One of my favorite yoga studios closed for good. Many of the best restuarants in town shuttered their doors indefinitely, including my favorite Taco Cat, while a few of our neigborhood joints preemptively went to take-out only; shortly thereafter, Governor Walz introduced new restrictions to close gyms, bars and restaurants (besides takeout), and entertainment venues.

In addition to these measures, new restrictions are also limiting people’s ability to gather indoors –no hosting holidays with people from other households, even family.

Understandably, lots of people are upset about this. Though the restrictions are scheduled to lift in just four weeks on December 18th, Thanksgiving will look very different this year for so many. My heart goes out to my friends who live alone in apartments in the city, now isolated away from families they typically visit for the holidays. And selfishly I worry about what the restrictions mean for the every-other-weekend arrangment I have with my nephew who doesn’t live with us.

My heart breaks for the local businesses that won’t survive these next four weeks, as my own small businesses scramble to make our numbers make sense. It’s a scary time to be self-employed!

But my stance since March hasn’t changed: I’ll gladly keep my distance from the humans I love if it means I’m helping decrease the collective anxiety we are all breathing in right now. I’ll wave at you and smile with my eyes from behind my “Better Than Dying” mask, because wearing a mask *is* better than dying and if my wearing one helps another person feel safer out in the world, then I believe that’s what Jesus wants me to do.

Looking out for the well-being of others, even at my own inconvenience, kinda falls under the whole loving-your-neighbor thing to me. Here’s a guide on how to SMIZE if you need help.

As a highly social person, this is hard for me. I love people, and have a real need for interaction in order to be happy. But even if it’s more work and an awkward effort, I’ll socialize via facetime and zoom because right now, my needs aren’t the most important needs.

Every time someone tells me the recovery rate for covid-19 is high and the mortality rate is low, I hear “Yes 250,000 people in our country alone have died, but I’m not feeling sick and I want to eat in a restaurant so that doesn’t matter to me.”

And yet those people matter deeply to God.

As Dr. Rachel Kincaid put it best: “1.3 million people are dead worldwide. 250,000 in my own beloved country will never see another sunrise. God, help us do better. Show us the way of the cross.”

Dr. Rachel Kincaid is a wise woman – I screenshot her instagrams almost daily.

Every time someone tells me they need to work out or interact or see other people for THEIR mental health needs, I hear them. I need those things, too. But what’s really REALLY good for my mental health is knowing I’m doing my part to spread peace of mind and comfort to my neighbors, and keeping my family healthy in the process (plus, it’s never been easier to workout from home!).

I need to remember this time in history as one where I did everything I could not to preserve my own interests, but to serve others. If you want to find your purpose, be of service, right?

So here’s what I’m noticing: many people are resistant to these restrictions because of how they will be personally inconvenienced, or they claim big tyrannical government is trying to control their lives and take their rights and make us like a dictatorship. One recent thread on a friend’s facebook feed refered to Gov. Walz as Tim Jong Un, a comparison to the North Korean dictator (face palm). Another commenter called mask enforcers “Nazi’s”, displaying a true misunderstanding of both sarcasm and world history. A final comment before I slammed my laptop shut: “I think we should waltz down to Timmy’s residence and camp out until he lifts his draconinan measures”. Yes it seems no matter what our government decides to do in managing this crisis, they will be critized.

And these comments are coming in hot from a lot of the people I grew up with at church, who are now taking up space online complaining about the unfairness of masks and belittling our governer who is already under so much pressure. It makes me want to scream ROMANS 13:1-2 at the top of my lungs!

And a lot of church folks are claiming it is their God-given right to decide whether or not to mask and social distance for themselves, airing a flag of individualism I can’t seem to locate in our sacred text anywhere. Nowhere in scripture does it say “Jesus Christ is my personal savior”; instead, Jesus taught us to pray using Our, We, and Us — words that indicate an unavoidable collective we are meant to be a part of.

Matthew 6:9-13

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.”

If we love God, we have an inescapable call to put other people’s interests above our own. If we love God, we will LOVE PEOPLE in real, tangible ways. Like wearing a mask. Or not adding to the noise of negativity.

My friend Dani has been an exemplatory force of positivity in the face of some would-be negative circumstances.

She is pregnant and partnered up, but still works two jobs to support herself. This week, one of those jobs drastically reduced her hours as the brewery where she works was ordered to close for the next four weeks — aka, the busiest season of the whole year for the hospitality industry, a critical time in the tipping economy that would have put some much-needed cash for the baby into my friend’s pocket.

What comes next is holy. Do you know what she said to me?

“I mean for real. Does it suck that I won’t make much money in the next month?? Of course! But I’ll survive AND have time to do things during the day that I have not been able to do for so long. Things that fill my cup and *hopefully* end up bringing a little light to others.”

If the uncertaintly of being pregnant in a pandemic and losing her income can’t shake my friend, why is it so hard for the church of Christ to adapt?

Where is our faith? Is it in God, or in a government mandate?

The root of every complaint is fear. Fear that there won’t be enough, fear that we won’t be enough, fear that our rights will be taken from us, fear that our world will never be normal again. I get that. I have my own fears to navigate as the new restrictions unfold.

But even in the face of fearful adversity, what if we tried spreading light like Dani, sharing our faith instead of our fears? I’m telling you, this approach would change our lives, our families, and the lives of everyone around us.

Because if we’re lead by faith we will care more about the needs of others than our own fears. If we’re lead by faith we’ll know there will always be enough, and that we don’t have to fear anybody taking away our rights if we freely give them up.

That’s what Jesus did when he relinquished his rights as God to become a person, embodying all the horrible restrictions of humanity, only to deny even those rights and take it a step further by giving his life for ours. It’s a paradox I will understand never but embrace forever – his strength for our weakness. To God be the glory.

I borrowed this from a buddy in Bismark – everyone needs a @carlylovesamos in their lives!

I know we can do this whole setting our own interests aside thing for the good of others and the glory of God. Join me?!

Because if you’re reading this, you’re still breathing – which means you’re one of the lucky ones (cue the Daughter song).

It could always be worse, and nothing is guaranteed.

But God.

May God help those of us who are still breathing live out of love, not fear. Help us see our neighbors with eyes of empathy, and remember our small sacrifices (masking, distancing) are for a season, not forever. Help us overcome feelings of fear and scarcity and isolation, by grace, for the good of others and Your glory. Amen.

Galatians 6:9 NIV

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

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