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Divide and Conquer

For me, the ancient proverb, ‘divide and conquer’ has taken on a new meaning. It has surpassed being a formal military tactical strategy of how to win. Every nation had a choice about how to fight the new invisible enemy: Coronavirus. We are still participating in this invisible world war called the pandemic. To fight the enemy, we have to literally hide. Our weapons are new phrases and terminology to soothe our wounded humanness: self-isolate, bubble, physical and social distance. In this situation, being a warrior is being alone or almost alone and being excruciatingly patient and working distantly together. Compounding this counter-intuitive instinct to fight more aggressively is the choice of whom we name our immediate ally. 

Divide. Bubble. Same difference.

I often wonder about the people who no one wanted to bubble with especially those who didn’t have the privilege of making this choice. I listened to my east Asian newcomer friends who felt threatened about their asianness making them visible targets for racism because of the origin of the virus. Single parents were lonelier than ever. My young kids were so down. Social distancing on the sidewalks declared the fullness of the virus’ conquest that strangers were now potential enemies. Our weapon, isolating and distancing was also breeding palpable fear everywhere. 

“Is this the darkness of the tomb or of the womb?”

I know scripture advises and reminds us to, “Be not afraid…” and that God is always with us no matter what but the pandemic feels different. The enemy lines aren’t clear, our support systems are threatened, self-preservation is key so it’s every person for themselves, we are mostly surviving, we cannot gather to grieve or support, we have been divided, some of us are further isolated because of existing circumstances and the only guarantee in all this is that the end isn’t in sight. So what do we do with all this? 

I’m not one for platitudes that this is, “...all part of God’s plan or that we won’t be given more than we can bear…”. This is hard. This is devastating. This is divisive. This is agony for some. It’s messy and God is in this mess. 

Valarie Kaur, Sikh-American writer and social justice advocate offers a perspective on this new type of war, “Is this the darkness of the tomb or of the womb?” I found this a captivating question. It prompted me to reflect on Jesus’ agony in the garden before his death and the meaning of the resurrection. Jesus knew what was coming when he went to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. He took his friends with him and asked them to stay up and wait, isolated himself and was disappointed by them. The pandemic has forced us into isolation and separated families, friends and communities into harmful divisions. In the garden, Jesus prayed for, “...this cup to be taken…” (Matthew 26:39) from him. He was scared. He knew and yet, he did not know. He was tortured in the garden by just his thoughts. 

We are being forced into reimagining the meaning and practice of relationship

The deep division of the pandemic, being alone with our thoughts and immediate situations, however wonderful, ok, or awful they may be, is all we tangibly have. For some people, this is agony. This is the darkness of the tomb. Our friends are all tired and trying to cope with their own lives as much as the next person. We are divided. As much as we may want to care, we don’t and can’t sometimes. Peter loved Jesus and yet in those agonizing times, he abandoned him and denied him. Jesus needed his friends but their fear and tiredness conquered. 

In 2020, in the midst of unimaginable division and personal stories, we are being forced into reimagining the meaning and practice of relationship and community. It’s not what it used to be. We need a new type of church and should begin with personally answering the question Valarie Kaur put to us. “Is this the darkness of the tomb or the darkness of the womb?” Jesus laboured and entered the tomb despite the agony in the garden, the betrayal from his closest friends, and the abandonment and inaction of followers. Christ transformed the tomb into a womb so we would have life. It was not easy nor was it clear. He listened, he communed with the most unlikely souls and he still lived the way he was called to. He laboured. Are we? Can we?  

We need to decide today what life and labouring means to us. Once we are brave enough to be uncomfortable and be in pain, new life will come. We can’t do it alone though, we need each other. We need a new type of church. It certainly won’t be without a new set of challenges but it will be Life with a capital ‘L’ just like we have been given.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash


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