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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. 

Or

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. 

Leaning into the Rhythms and Patterns – Pastor Thoughts

Way back in March 2020, on the 18th  or 19th I think, I received a text from my family in Edmonton that a close contact of theirs had tested positive for COVID. Within days, my family had also tested positive. Shortly thereafter, my parents and sister endured a rough couple of weeks with COVID-19. They have subsequently been dealing with some long-Covid symptoms that still linger almost two years on. 

Those first few weeks of the pandemic were punctuated by the terrifying news reports, scenes of lockdowns in Italy, and growing cases in New York City…all alongside cheers and banging pots for healthcare workers at shift-change, sourdough starters and family puzzle time. But for me and my family, they also included worried texts and phone calls to family, constantly checking in every few hours. 

At that time, knowing someone who had COVID-19 was fairly uncommon. But hearing the daily struggle from people I cared about and loved impacted me deeply. It has coloured my approach and view of this pandemic. It is one of the reasons I have been outspoken about our need to care for each other and do what we can to keep our community safe. 

Of all the devastating waves of COVID-19 so far, it has only been in this month that I have been hearing about friends, colleagues and neighbours being sick. Some part of me expected April 2020 to be like this. 

Thankfully in January of 2022 most of us have been vaccinated – I was able to get my six month booster this week, exactly 6 months to the day from my 2nd dose. My kids will get their second doses of the vaccine on the 8-week mark from their first dose. And we have been illness free – at least we think – but this Omicron variant has a high level of asymptomatic or extremely mild cases. So the news about cases happening seemingly all around, is not quite as concerning as it would have been earlier on in the pandemic.

Still, here we are anticipating being exposed to the virus that we have spent nearly two years trying to avoid. Even after all we have endured during these trying years, it was hard even 5 weeks ago to imagine that this is where we would be. 

I have been thinking about what this change in circumstances will mean for us – as individuals and families, as a community and a congregation, as province and nation. I think most of us were ready for the pandemic to wind down. Wishfully some seem to think that Omicron will be the last wave, but I don’t think that it is likely. 

Instead, I think we might see a time where we live in a pattern of waves. Peaks and troughs as waves of new variants sweep through (there is already a Delta+Omicron variant called ‘Deltacron’). Vaccines will be updated as they are with flus, and I suspect that none of us will have rolled up our sleeves for the final time. I think we could live through patterns where we increase our activity in the troughs of the waves and pull back during the peaks. How our government and public health officials manage this is for another article. 

But as we come into the season after Epiphany, I am mindful that as a community of faith, we know something about living through patterns. We know what it means to ramp up our activity at certain times, to pull back at others. We know what it is like to live our lives governed by patterns that change us and what we do. 

The scriptures are full of patterns. The 7 days of creation that is the template for our 7 weekly habit of fathering for worship on the Lord’s day. Our pattern of daily prayer (usually observed by monks and nuns): morning, evening and night prayer rooted in the psalms.

The church governs our time and seasons with patterns and rhythms. Our calendar that builds from Advent to Christmas, pulls back again after Epiphany, and then marches us through Lent, preparing for Easter. Then we pull back through the long season of green after Pentecost and begin our building again by Thanksgiving, Reformation, All Saints and Christ the King.  

And as Christians, we know that these patterns help us to tell and re-tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. They form and shape us as people and as a community. They remind us that in the midst of all the other things of life, that God’s story is beside us. That God is with us along the way, informing and interpreting our experiences, relationships, hopes, dreams and fears. 

As this pandemic begins to form patterns and shapes that dictate how we live, we already know how to do this as people of faith. God has prepared us to live according to rhythms that change and adapt us as we go. 

But we also know that whatever life throws at us, whatever struggles or hardships are placed upon us, that God and God’s story goes along with us. And that God’s story is one of forgiveness, mercy and grace. God’s story is one of New Life even when surrounded by suffering and death. 

And God has a way of turning our story into God’s story, our living and our dying, into the abundant New Life found in Christ.

Sermon on the Wedding of Cana – Running Out on the 3rd Day

John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

On the 3rd day of the wedding in Cana, they ran out of wine. It might seem strange to be talking about a party running out of wine today. Last week, we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism where God spoke to the crowds and to us. It was a big deal. And then between Sundays, our world continued on through our collision course with the Omicron variant. Some have called it a new pandemic. 

Parties and gatherings and running out of wine, seems trivial in the face of governments seemingly giving up on managing the pandemic and the feeling of being left to fend for ourselves. Forget thinking about parties and gathering as friends and family, daily life has become serious business, stress filled and difficult business. So talking about a miracle where Jesus turns some water into wine at a wedding sounds almost trivial. 

Yet, despite being a place known mostly for its poor party planning, Cana is also a place a place where life is serious, stress filled and difficult too. Cana knows the dangers of the world. They too worry if there will be enough on the table, worry about bills and taxes, work and family. Cana was a small town in the middle of nowhere. They lived under and paid taxes to the Romans, to Herod, to the Temple, to the Synagogue, to the local authorities and to soldiers. 

And here they were, trying to have a nice celebration for the community. To set a couple off right for the start of their marriage. A small celebration in an otherwise dark, serious, and difficult world. 

But on the 3rd day of the wedding they run out of wine. 

Mary and Jesus and the disciples are in Cana for a wedding. They are probably at the wedding of a distant relative, but for Cana this would have been a whole community affair. Like weddings today, the weddings of ancient Israel were big celebrations. It was expected that a fortune would be spent on the party. Wine and food was to flow for a week – literally 7 days. The Bridegroom was meant to be broke by the end of the party. The hospitality, celebration and the extravagance were meant to be sign of blessing. If it was a good party, it would be a blessed marriage. 

Except it is only day 3 in Cana, and they have no wine. 

Mary points this out to Jesus in only the way a mother could. And Jesus responds in only the way a son could, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come”. Jesus has different idea of timing than his mother. But, she doesn’t care. She tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you”. 

Jesus seems to only to see a party that has been poorly planned. A party that has run out. But Mary sees something different. Mary knows that the wine has run out on day 3, not even half way through. If were only a matter of poor planning, the wine might run out on day 6, but not day 3. The family is probably too poor to throw a proper wedding. 

Maybe they didn’t know about Manitoba wedding socials in Cana. Maybe they didn’t come together as people have done here, knowing that if everyone contributes a little to everyone else, when the time comes to host your own, the burden won’t be so great. But the people of Cana almost certainly did know this, and probably had all already chipped in to the party. 

And Mary sees that this community is too poor, they don’t even have enough reserves to have one party for these newlyweds. 

Mary and Jesus embody the moments of scarcity that we face every day. We know what it is like to need for more, to fear running out, to know that the time isn’t right, to hope for something different and to long for change. We have been living small lives, the fullness and busyness of what we used to know having been curtailed dramatically. We know what it is like to have celebration plans come crashing down (just think back to Christmas Eve!).  We have experienced a kind of scarcity of living and relationship these past two years that seemed inconceivable before. 

And we know that we too are closer to running out than we like to admit. Running out of patience, and resolve, and resilience. 

Running out of hope. 

Running out is something we all fret about, and yet it is connected to a much deeper fear. At the core of our being is a fearful sense that there is not enough. That if we run out, we will suffer, we will lose, we will be alone, we will die. We fear not having enough so much that it can make us crazy. It is the fear of running out that makes fight with each other, that makes us stubborn and unable to see the needs of those people around us, that makes us hold on with all our might, even when holding on is what is killing us. 

So when Mary pushes Jesus to act and even though he resists… it is because she must see that it isn’t really about the wine or the party ending 4 days early. It is about a community without much else to hold on to, a people without hope. If there is not enough wine, then there is not enough to eat or drink. There isn’t enough to live on. The world will have overcome them. There is no future, no hope, only death. 

Mary sees this deep connection between running out of wine, and how Cana itself is not that far away from death. She sees a community that needs some hope, that needs a future. And she knowns the only person who can truly provide. 

And so Mary presses the issue, not with Jesus, but with us. 

“Do whatever he tells you.”

Easy instructions for the servants… but words that should take our breath away. 

As we face challenges and struggles of this most difficult moment of a long pandemic, of making ends meet and just keeping it together day to day…
As we wonder if there is any hope for us, if there is a future here…
If all we have to look forward to is death…
“Do whatever Jesus tells you.” is a word that demands faith from us. Faith that we really don’t know how to give. 

But God does. 

Even when it doesn’t seem like Jesus’ hour… Jesus steps into the void.

And it isn’t just an abundance of wine that Jesus provides. Instead, God breaks into the world. God comes to a small community that is forgotten by everyone else. And God blesses the wedding, blesses the whole community. 

It is not about the wine. It is about the blessing. About God’s presence in that moment. Mary seemed to know that with God present at that wedding in Cana, running out of wine was something that Jesus needed to do something about. 

And all of a sudden on the 3rd day of the wedding, when hope was lost, when there was no future… God breaks into the world and provided wine. God meets that community and gives them hope. God creates a new future. 

And if we haven’t recognized it yet, let us be clear. Our 3rd day moment of scarcity is upon us too. 

And here… today…  God is breaking into our world here and now.
God is here among us, here with us wherever we are are.
And God is offering hope.
God is offering us a future.

Even as things feel dire, God offering us life found in the gospel word. The word that finds us today wherever we are. God is meeting us friends and community that have practiced being there for each other, even over a distance, even in the midst of struggle. God is reminding us that we have been here before, and God has weathered the storm with us. God has already shown us the other side, that we do not go forward alone but together with God. 

Sp yes, the wine ran out on the 3rd of wedding at Cana.
Today, our wine, our hope, our self-propelled future is running out. 

But make no mistake. As we gather on the 3rd day, on this Sunday, the Lord’s day,  we  are meant to be reminded of that other 3rd day miracle. 

When life itself seemed to run out, when the life of God in Christ ran out on the cross, the 3rd revealed something new and something unexpected. When all hope was lost, God emerged from the empty tomb. And like the servants drawing the water turned into wine, New abundant life was revealed to us in the most surprising of ways. When we didn’t seem to have a future, God provided new life in the resurrection. 

Here on this 3rd day, here in our world, here in our community, it might feel like we are running out of wine. It might feel like there is no hope and no future. But God is revealing to us the Christ who brings delicious and abundant wine, who fill the jars of our hope, who makes sure that there is future – because Jesus has saved good wine until now, he has saved it for us. 

Pastor’s Thoughts – Running on Empty

This week has been a lot of sitting at my kitchen table on my computer while the kids go to school or do activities close by. 

Remote learning has been some of the hardest ever stretches of parenthood. Having to become a sub-par replacement kindergarten teacher, and then a kind of Educational Assistant for subsequent grades has taken all my resolve.

Still, I know that others are also facing again their most difficult moments of this pandemic. Whether it is business owners pivoting, paring back, or just shutting down. Care home residents being locked down again, care home workers barely scraping by short staffed, teachers facing the impossible shift from remote, to in-person, and then to likely hybrid due to chronic widespread absenteeism. And of course, health-care workers. What more is to be said about the unending herculean task being dumped on them? The only comparable I can imagine are the soldiers forever in the trenches during World War I. 

This fall, I had finally felt like the ground was stabilizing under my feet. We had hope for the future, light and the end of the tunnel. Even as Omicron loomed and then appeared just before Christmas, I still maintained a level of optimism. 

But this week I am no longer in that optimistic place. 

I will be honest in saying that our political leaders’ decisions to ostensibly give in to the spread of Omicron was demoralizing. Like so many, I am struggling with sending our kids back to school knowing that they will almost certainly be exposed to the virus. I am heartbroken for health-care workers, who are being left to just manage. I have empathy for all those folks who have been doing everything they possibly can to keep themselves and their community safe, only to now find themselves sick. I am standing with all those facing impossible choices between staying sane by seeing friends and family, putting food on the table, caring for family and almost certainly being exposed to the virus. 

Hope is scarce right now. We are near empty. 

This week, the lectionary comes to us with a story all about running out. 

The wedding at Cana is a key story in the post-Epiphany season. We hear it normally with an ear to the revelation of Christ in the miraculous. 

But this year, that small community of Cana just trying to throw a party and then running out of wine only 3 days into the 7 day affair feels very on point. 

Could we ever use grumpy Jesus and his mom right now! In the midst of emptiness Jesus shows up and provides an abundance. When I use this story at weddings, I usually point out that Jesus provided about 7 bottles of wine per wedding guest. That is an abundance indeed!

It is often at our lowest point, when all there seems to be is emptiness that Jesus has the habit of revealing himself to us. I suspect that right now will be no different. 

Even as we are feeling abandoned, even as we are running out and running on empty…  Jesus will certainly surprise us with abundance. When we are certain that we have run out, Christ will provide us the resolve to care for each other. Jesus will show up with the catalyst of love, mercy and grace that gives us what we need to make it through.  

Okay, so maybe there is sill some optimism in me after all. 

Ep 201 – We‘re Back! Season 2 Starts Now!

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-iadqi-113f3e4

We’re Back for Season 2!

It’s been a while since you last heard from us! Things have changed a lot since the end of season 1 and ministry has taken new shapes as this pandemic continues to evolve. Join us as we catch up on pandemic ministry in our first episode of Season 2!

Check out The Millennial Pastor blog.

This podcast is sponsored by the Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synodof the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

Music by Audionautix.com

Theme Song – “Jesus Loves Me” by Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Alberta and the North (LOMAN)