We are not okay – Giving up on COVID, Convoys, and the Right Wing Death Cult.

We are not okay.

‘We’ meaning civilized society broadly, North America and Canada more specifically. 

I think Omicron broke us. 

Human beings are usually quite responsive in a crisis. That’s why we open our wallets, send food and clothes, volunteer where we can. Earthquakes, forest fires, tornados etc… House fires, robberies, floods etc… Terminal illness, accidents, tragedies etc…

So when COVID first hit us last year, it was relatively easy for us to adopt a crisis mentality. Especially during a time when we were all affected, when so much was unknown and there was plenty to be afraid of. 

In short order, COVID-19 hit us hard.  People got sick and some people died. 

The reasons to follow public health orders seemed obvious then. 

Now, there were those early on who struggled making personal sacrifices for the sake of the many. Most notably the entitled and wealthy, celebrities and politicians (who couldn’t seem to stop having parties, travelling for holidays and generally breaking the rules that they set in place for the rest of us). 

There were also the chaos agents. People who had meltdowns in grocery stores. People who threw big house parties. People who could not bring themselves to follow any restrictions but instead starting casting about for conspiracy theories and deniability of reality. 

But for the most part, it seemed that the majority complied with the effort to reduce sickness, hospitalization and death.

Of course, as time went on, the segment of those who have been resisting and breaking restrictions during the past two years has grown and shifted from group to group. Some loudly protested and unexpected people turned into chaos agents, but we sort of had the masking, social distancing thing figured out. 

And then came the vaccines. Salvation. The end. Back to normal. 

While the majority couldn’t wait to roll up their sleeves fast enough, the chaos agents started banging the anti-vaxx drums. We all know how that went by the fall of 2021 and the Delta wave. 

More people got sick and more people died. Mostly unvaccinated people.

Meanwhile, the vaccinated were getting back to a new normal.  

It seemed like the narrative that we had heard all along (though with plenty of caveats from health experts) had come true. The crisis arc, though long, had come to pass. There was a pandemic, the scientists raced against the clock to find the cure (vaccine), and then we rolled it out as fast as we could. The lingering nature of the pandemic was hard, but there seemed to be natural arc that we had figured out and the crisis was ending. 

And then Omicron showed up. 

And it broke us. 

Or more accurately, Omicron turned the pandemic from a temporary crisis into a systematic problem. It felt like March 2020 all over again. The same problems repeating themselves, the cycle was restarted – so it seemed. 

Perhaps more accurately, cases exploded, resources for testing and contact tracing couldn’t keep up and the health system began to buckle.  

The thing that we had been warned to prepare for since March of 2020 happened. 

And again for the zillionth wave of the pandemic, people got sick and some people died. 

But in the face of this brutal Omicron wave, government leaders threw their hands in the air and said there was not more to be done. Everyone was going to encounter the virus. They bet on the fact that Omicron was “less severe.”

Meanwhile the chaos agents started collecting followers and the right-wing saw an opportunity. 

Making money, living our best lives, looking out of number one…. So many people decided that we just cannot put that off anymore, no matter the cost. No matter how many get sick, how many get long covid or myocarditis, no matter how many die… all of that is okay, as long as won’t have to wear masks in stores, or have smaller birthday parties, or zoom a little more often. 

And now vaccinated people were getting sick, it was the justification needed to loudly proclaim that none of the public heath measures of the past to years had done anything to stop the virus but only oppressed the average working person. 

Time to go back to normal no matter the cost. Hospitals full, healthcare workers burning out, business and institutions struggling to maintain staffing. Time to abandon the fight – death may come. But at least we can have our hedonism freedom. 

Now the pandemic can stop being a crisis. Conservatives governments and their hard right supporters have decided that we can now treat the pandemic like they do all other social problems and issues.

Whether it is climate change, white supremacy’s systems of power, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, poverty, economic inequality etc… It doesn’t matter if people get sick, if people suffer, if people are oppressed or if people die. 

The right has declared that hedonism freedom should reign. 

People should fix their own problems, the weak, the lazy, the less fortunate deserve what they have. Don’t let their issues infringe on my hedonism rights and freedom. 

Now we have Freedom Convoys ejecting conservatives political leaders for not bending the knee to the death cult. We have communities across the country being terrorized by the same kind of tactics that the Black Shirts of Italy and Brown Shirts of Germany used. The kind of tactics that I remember being taught that good democratic people know how to stand up to. 

So, given all of this, I am worried about us. Maybe more worried than I have ever been. 

We are not okay. 

We cannot get our act together on economic inequality, with billionaires more powerful than any feudal king ever was. 

We cannot seem to make progress on racism, sexism, and all manners of systematic bigotry. 

We cannot seem to make our leaders care enough about climate change to do something meaningful about it (see point about billionaries above). 

We keep trying to play political games with a virus, making trade-offs instead of decisive actions. 

And now a big chunk of society, the hard and growing right is imposing its death cult on our public health response too. 

Poor people can die. Marginalized people can die. The Earth can die. The sick can die. They all can die if they in any way threaten our hedonism rights and freedom.

I think we are sitting at a crossroads as a civilization. 

We can continue down the path of death. The one of political appeasement of a small voting base that is willing to hold the rest of us hostage rules the day… (convoys or billionaires, take your pick)

This path leads to more people getting sick and many more people dying because of economic inequality, climate change, white supremacy and a pandemic. 

Until… it all gets to be too much for the majority who will begin a revolution. A geo-polticidal crisis in the same lines as the ones we seem to face every 80 or so years (think WWI/Great Depression/WWII about 80 years ago). This is a repeating cycle of history. 


We can make the choice to be better and care for each other, not just in the face of the pandemic. But in all things. 

We can adopt policies that redistribute wealth more equitably.

No one needs billions, it is a slap in the face of the inherent dignity of human beings for millions upon millions to suffer so that Jeff  Bezos can fly to “space” or dismantle historic bridges for his mega-yacht. 

We can actually make meaningful steps towards addressing climate change. 

We can decarbonize, actually turn to green energy and attend to the earth’s well being. 

We can dismantle white supremacy. 

We can root it out in every place, and insist on making space for those suffering under its thumb. 

We can empower society to weather the still-to-come waves of COVID that will keep hitting us until we vaccinate the whole world. 

This means knowing that we will get small as the waves hit, and expand as they subside. Things like Universal Basic Income, expansion of public universal healthcare and its institutions, direct support for more equitable and affordable housing will be our way through. 

There is a pathway out of the problems that we face. The question is, are we willing to take it?

The historian in me says that we are doomed to repeat history. 

But the Pastor in me has hope that we will find a different way. 

Following Jesus into the Deep

Luke 5:1-11
… For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Last weekend, we decided to take drive across town to check in on the lot, or ditch patch as we  call it, where our new house is going to be built this year. On our way, we drove through downtown and encountered a large collection of tractor trailer, pick up trucks and SUVs with Canadian flags adorning them and lots of “freedom convoy” labels. It was a some unexpected drama that has captured our national attention. Last week, as Jesus confronted us as we were tired and edgy, he reminded us that no matter the messes that human communities find themselves in, that God continues to come and meet God’s people. This journey through this season after Epiphany has taken us from the the banks of the river Jordan, to the wedding at Cana, to the synagogue in Nazareth for the past two weeks. But now we end up in the boat with Jesus and his disciples. 

Today, the drama of this scene in Jesus’ story can be lost on us prairie dwellers. Last week Jesus was almost thrown off a cliff, while today he seems to go for a gentle boat ride. We are used to snow plows and SUVs, to eating beef, pork and chicken. And so when we hear that Jesus gets Simon to take his boat out and fish, and then Jesus provides overflowing nets, it seems like a nice story, a quaint story about Jesus making life a little easier for Simon and his companions. But dig a little deeper, and we begin to see that this is not just about Jesus providing fish. Today, Jesus is just as offensive as he was a week ago, and today, Jesus isn’t the only one in danger of losing his life.

As Jesus begins to get more famous, people begin to follow him around. The crowds press in on him to hear what he is saying. And this time they press him right to the edge of the Lake, so when Jesus can walk no further, he hops in a boat, into Simon who will later be named Peter, and continues to teach. Simon has caught nothing and is going home for the day. Yet when Jesus hops in his boat, he obligingly takes him out a few feet. Simon would have seen that Jesus was an important teacher with all these people coming to hear what Jesus had to say. 

Yet, when the sermon ends, Jesus doesn’t ask to go back to shore, instead he tells Simon to go out into the middle of lake. The preacher in the boat tells Simon the experienced fisherman to do exactly what fisherman don’t do. They do not go out on the lake in the middle of the day. They fish at night, near the shore by lantern light. This is how they have fished for generations. Simon is not impressed with this teacher fellow sitting in his boat. In fact he begins to refuse, 

“Look teacher, we have been fishing all night, our nets need repair, maybe you should stick to speeches and let us do the fishing” Simon has just met Jesus, but it doesn’t take him long to use that impulsive mouth that he will become known for. But then, Simon changes his mind part way through his refusal and says, “Well I guess it won’t hurt, so if you say so Jesus”. 

We aren’t too different than Simon, we often wonder if God actually knows what is going on. Like Simon, we find it easy to stick to the routines and to stick to what we know. Even when sticking to the routines leaves us with empty nets. Yet, God is calling us away from the safety of the shore, out to the deep water, out the unknown.

The unknown is scary and terrifying. And these days we only have a certain level of tolerance for anything different, anything that demands something of us. The issue at the core of the freedom convoy and any protest against COVID-19 restrictions or mandates has often begun with the resistance to this calling into the unknown, the unfamiliar. Masks are uncomfortable. Staying home is boring and lonely and hard. Getting vaccinated might cause uncertainty. 

But our resistance to the deep water, to following Jesus away from the shore, to allowing ourselves some discomfort comes at a cost. Sometimes it might be missed opportunities, as a church it could mean missing out on reaching new people in new ways, and as we are discovering during this pandemic… refusing to do that unexpected, unknown thing is resulting in more people getting sick, more ending up in the hospital and more people dying… all for the stated reasons of freedom, but for the real reason of being unwilling to be uncomfortable for a while or give up something of ourselves for the sake of our neighbour. 

God’s call to the deep waters can feel so risky that we would rather starve doing what we know. 

But with Jesus in his boat, Simon decided to listen to the teacher in the boat. And imagine his surprise as he lets down his nets into the deep water and then begins to haul them back in. The weight of the net pulling back more than Simon ever expected, maybe more than he had ever experienced. And Simon tries to the get the net — and all the fish — in the boat, there is so much that he must call to his friends, James and John before the nets break, and still there is so much fish that they both begin to sink. If there was excitement at catching a lot of fish, it would have disappeared when the boats began to sink, in the middle of lake. The wandering preacher might have guessed where the fish were, but it wasn’t going to do Simon any good, if he drowned first. And yet, they catch an abundance of fish that they had never seen before. 

But fish isn’t Jesus purpose. Jesus has so much more in mind for Simon… And though Simon doesn’t feel worthy, Jesus speaks the words that angels have spoken to those being called by God into something new, time and time again, “Do not be afraid.”

Along with Simon, Jesus is calling us out to the deep water today. And today, that call seems as crazy to us as it did to Simon, who knew better than to go far from the shore. And yet, God is doing something totally unexpected. Something that does not make sense to us. God calls us to die. God calls us to die in the waters of Baptism… but the call does not stop in death. God also calls us out of our ruts, out of our routines, out of the water, out of death and into life.

To a people stuck in the ruts, in the routine of what is safe and known, Christ’s call to risk everything in the deep water seems like too much to ask. But there in the deep water, Christ is giving us life. Life in the form of fish for fisherman with nothing, and today, life for communities contending with far too much sickness and death, life for people who are feeling caged up and alone.  

Out in those deep waters God calls to us from those first promises made to us at the font “By the baptism of his own death and resurrection, [God’s] beloved Son has set us free from the bondage to sin and death, and has opened the way to the joy and freedom of everlasting life”. Out of death, God brings life. Out of drowning in the deep waters of baptism, God forces the breath of life back into our lungs and joins us into a community of newly alive people.

Certainly our instinct is to resist this call, to push back against the dangers that we think we see and feel in the unknown, in the loss that we believe will come with giving something of ourselves. 

But like with Simon, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

Because we do not follow this call alone. We do not go out into the deep waters alone. We are not in this boat called the church all alone. Jesus is with us in the boat and Jesus has much bigger purposes for us. Jesus is preparing us things that entirely new. 

We don’t know what is far from shore, what is out in the deep water, but Jesus does. Jesus knows where we need to go, and what path we need to follow. Jesus knows what must be done for the sake of a hungry and dying world. 

So no, this story today is not a quaint story about a little boat ride and catching fish. It is about the fear and uncertainty that come with following Jesus, with stepping out of what is comfortable and known, of being willing to risk, to be uncomfortable, to give of ourselves. 

But it also the story that always comes after, “Do not be afraid.” 

It is the surprising story of God’s surprising abundance given for us, nets full of fish, salvation found in the waters of our baptism, new opportunities out in the deep water. 

It is about following God’s call into unknown AND of God’s promise that wherever we God, Jesus is in this upside down boat with us. 

February Blahs – Pastor Thoughts

Well, what a week!

The world is a topsy-turvy turmoil these days. 

The freedom convoy rolled through town at the end of the week last week and then made its way to Ottawa, where protestors have taken up residence tormenting the poor folks living there in the name of some misguided sense of freedom. 

One of our nation’s political leaders lost his job, but not the one most were thinking of. 

Manitoba’s government is planning for the pandemic to be over in a few months, regardless of what doctors say.

A large apartment building burned down on our street (but not that close to us). 

The Winter Olympics have begun! 

And the Winnipeg Jets can’t stop losing while my Edmonton Oilers ended a long losing streak of their own with winning a streak!

Did I catch you up on the all the news?

Oh, and as you read this you might have just been digging out your driveway full of another snowfall. (I finally broke down and bought a snowblower 3 weeks ago…)

Also, I have a 26 day streak in Wordle going so far! 

There seems to be a lot going on these days, in the news, on the TV, in pop culture, in politics and more. 

Yet, even with all of that going on, I cannot help but feel the February blahs. Maybe you feel it too. All the positive steps towards a new “post-pandemic” way of life came crashing to a halt at Christmas, and since then it is has been hard to re-engage. I am looking forward to when we can gather again. I am looking forward to walking through the journey of faith with you. I am looking forward to the future. But these past weeks have felt like a deja vu of March/April 2020 but without the sourdough starters, family puzzle time and sense of coming together to support healthcare workers.

At our zoom clergy gathering this week, of all the things to be worried about, my colleagues were most concerned about tired and disengaging members. We were most concerned about our own tiredness and disengagement. 

But there was one thing that lifted my spirits in an unexpected way this week. My annual report. Yes, seriously, writing my annual report. As I read my report on 2020 and then reflected on all that came to pass in 2021, it turned out that this past year in ministry was better than imagined:

  • We came together and created incredible worship despite difficult circumstances. 
  • We gathered in-person for worship many times and shared in Baptism, Confirmation and the Lord’s Supper
  • We delivered sermons to shut-ins and seniors 
  • We started some family ministry events
  • We had 4 sessions with small groups
  • We hosted programs and events for youth as young as grade 3 all the way to young adult
  • We started a committee to call all the members of the congregation 
  • We started a meal team for The Urban
  • We had the choir sing and musicians play
  • We made the Free Press, the Globe and Mail and were featured on CBC, CTV and City News!

I know there was even more than that behind the scenes or things that I am forgetting. 

But somehow in the midst of all the struggle we have endured, we actually did an incredible amount of new and exciting things. I was reminded of the incredible ministry that we have strived to do together, despite all the odds. 

Of all the things that have been seemingly bringing me down lately (except that Oilers winning streak!), reviewing what we had done together this past year lifted my spirits tremendously.

But more importantly, they reminded me just how the Spirit has been at work among us. God has been doing unexpected and amazing things in our community. And by the Holy Spirit’s leading, we have been making a difference in our world. That hardly seems possible when I think of all the obstacles in our way. 

I am so grateful for all of you. I am grateful for the ways in which so many have stepped back to keep each other safe, and have stepped forward to lead and drive our ministry. And most of all, I am grateful to be able to see that despite the obstacles that appear before us, God has been leading us in new ways to new life!