Freedom in the Time of Covid-19

The great paradox of life is that to be truly free one must abandon self(ishness) and embrace service and love to neighbour.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” (Kris Kristopherson).
“You gotta serve somebody” (Bob Dylan).
“People are slaves to whatever masters them” (2 Peter 2:19b).
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jesus in Jn.8:36).

When I retrieved my morning newspaper from the mailbox the day after Canada Day, there, on the front page, was a photograph of a large group of people on Parliament Hill holding up various placards expressing their opposition to many of the restrictions on their “freedoms” occasioned by the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. None of these protestors was wearing a mask, and they were certainly not maintaining the safe distancing protocols called for by every chief medical officer of the Canadian provinces and territories. 

Freedom. Who can be against freedom? We’ve fought wars for freedom. Many people have risked life and limb for freedom as they fled tyranny and oppression. Some antonyms for freedom are restriction, servitude, slavery. And who would be in favour of such things? However, in a strange and paradoxical way, some of our pop artists have been the chief critics of freedom, and they join St. Peter, St. Paul and Jesus in this critique.

Idols & others

In the plaintive song “Me and Bobby McGee,” American singer/songwriter Kris Kristopherson sings of the loss of his lover. When she leaves him unexpectedly, he is free of her, but he laments that this “freedom” leaves him heartbroken. He recognizes loving someone always involves attachment. Unencumbered freedom is heartbreaking; it’s “just another word for nothing left to lose; freedom ain’t worth nothing, but it’s free.”

Bob Dylan, another great American songwriter, points out in his profoundly Christian album Slow Train Coming, that every person must serve something or somebody: “It may be the Devil, or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.” Often, in our post-modern, me-first culture that service turns inwards to an idolatrous self-service where any consideration of the “other” is considered a restriction on one’s freedom. As St. Peter tells us, such people are not free, but “are slaves to whatever masters them.” St. Paul also discovered that he found true freedom when he turned from his freely chosen life of persecution of Christians and instead became a slave to Jesus Christ.

I think that what all these folks are telling us is also what Jesus told us and made manifest in his life on earth. The great paradox of life is that to be truly free one must abandon self(ishness) and embrace service and love to neighbour. The COVID-19 pandemic is making that abundantly clear, although some refuse to recognize this. So, let’s take on the restrictions of face masks, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and eventual anti-COVID vaccination to enjoy the freedom of health for both self and neighbour.


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