So at one point during the last few years the pulpits of the church, the term love your neighbor was applied to masks.
Now the masks in question are simple enough to understand while the loving your neighbor bit might be a bit more complicated. Because at one point any mask was both allowed and in fact loving your neighbor by wearing it. A cartridge filter full-faced respirator was loving your neighbor, a bandana was loving your neighbor. The cartoon bedsheet recycled handmade unit your grandma made for you was loving your neighbor. The message was clear and the practice was near orthodox. Put something on your face, love your neighbor.
But then the creeping admittance of the quality of masks began. Truly it's been there all along. We all knew masks were a spectrum of good and better. But now better is getting put into the spotlight, and we get to see if it's the kind of good loving your neighbor is. The very second we switch from any mask counts to any mask better than this counts, you stop loving your neighbor and you start protecting yourself. We are about to switch from an act of preservation to an act of self-preservation. You see you can make the argument and demonstrate the usefulness of almost any mask stopping your sneeze from reaching your neighbor, but an N95 stops their sneeze from getting to you. The half-face respirator does the same and a hazmat suit which is the end of this spectrum treats the person on the inside and the person outside very differently.
This switch erects a fence between the neighbors we loved. Makes an us and a them and instead of insisting we are all in this together with good intentions, we become all in this at the same time with some very distinct barriers between us. But then again what makes better neighbors than good fences.
Can you love your neighbor by protecting yourself first?
Is it not love when you forego the protection they may not have?
Is love being equally unprepared, like a bandana in close contact, we could use the greater personal protection, but at the cost of protecting ourselves and no longer our neighbor.
The problem the church faces is that we applied a theology of grace to an object of wrath. We said something was beautiful when in fact it was disposable and contaminated. And that contamination was never dealt with. It found its way into every part of our lives under the auspice of love when in fact it was nothing more than darkness. We believed in a thing called love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends...
We were not patient when we took masks that don't protect us from a virus as if they did so we could do the things we had done before.
We were not kind by excluding people who would not wear these inefficient masks.
We boasted of their effectiveness, in spite of evidence to the contrary.
We arrogantly compared them to clothes as if masks were a matter of pants in public.
We rudely insisted on this way or nothing in our churches. Well, not nothing, you could always visit us online.
Don't get me started on irritability and masks.
Best leave resentment out too.
Did we rejoice in wrongdoing? Well, We called a thing that doesn't work a thing that did. It's a grey and troubled water that rejoicing in would be questionable, to say the least. We most certainly did not rejoice in the truth.
We believed a lot of things, bore a lot of things, hoped for and endured a lot of things, all while wearing these masks. Asking ourselves if this would ever end.
At one point we decided that loving your neighbor was what we were going to do. And we would have done it if not for our approach. We tried to love with a broken idea of love, of saying one thing but meaning another. Ignorance is only bliss until truth shows up. And truth is about to show up in every box of N95's that will actually stop this bug from infecting people who wear them. Just not the way we've lovingly said masks would from the get-go.
Why this is a problem is because of the dichotomy of actual vs. real protection and barriers in the practice of the Christian faith. Because if loving your neighbor was possible with a barrier that doesn't stop the virus from being transmitted, then how on God's green earth are you going to argue a condom doesn't make sex, not sex by being an actual barrier between offending sexual body parts. Especially if a non-Christian or a Christian for that matter says sex with a condom isn't real sex, the same way we said loving your neighbor with a mask that didn't work was love.
"You can't conflate the two things, Mikey" They'll say.
Oh really? If only there were scriptures that talk about actually touching things.
Exodus 25:10-15 ESV
The Ark of the Covenant
“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.
Samuel 6:6-7 ESV
And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.
Tell me, does your understanding of the Biblical instruction and definition of extramarital and pre-marital sexual sin, talk about the contact of genitals or orgasms. Because I can guarantee if you said wearing a mask was loving your neighbor, you think it's orgasms and can't defend it from your understanding of the Bible. The very same way David lost Uzzah's life by putting the Ark of the Covenant on a cart instead of using the poles that were meant for it. And the reason why is because you thought intentions of safety through an ineffectual mask wouldn't pave a road to hell.
When does sex become sex? We were told at youth group that asking for a line was the problem in and of itself. That knowing how far was too far was the wrong heart to have about something as serious as sex. But now in the age of infections and breakthrough cases and contact tracing and jabs, We find ourselves ironically preoccupied with how close people got and whether or not bodily fluids were transmitted.
Matthew 15:8-9 ESV
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
The masks were never about safety, they were about principles, and you didn't have any. You had emotions. Emotions won't save you or your neighbor. But they will make you feel good like all orgasms tend to do. The truth of the matter is that it wasn't the false notions of sex with protection that made you sinful it was the lust. And your anger at the unvaccinated made you their murderers, heaven knows the virus wasn't statistically likely to do it for you. And now you are faced with the slowly encroaching problem of real barriers and the compromises you'll make to use them. The looming threat of N95's protection on the shelves beside cherry-flavored permission to sin.
How on earth are you going to navigate a world where other people can make you sick because of their lack of PPE. How will Christians maintain their witness and love their neighbor when they will and can asymptomatically give them a disease. How do we run a kids program without knowing if everyone is vaccinated? Look at all this due diligence, stacking up like mint and cumin. Eventually, someone is going to take it personally, and get sick personally, and is it really the worst thing in the world to be sued as a Christian for giving another your cough?
1 Corinthians 6:6-8 ESV
but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
Or maybe, just maybe, the answer isn't finding ways to sin but finding payments for it. We sing songs about being desperate for the grace of Christ. At least we did in the '90s. And we're lost right now, like 1 sheep out of 99. The only person who is going to save us is Jesus. And he's not going to do it through an AHS update or a vaccine or a mask.
He's going to do it with a cross.
Everything else we do is filthy rags.
Isaiah 64:5-7 ESV
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.