After the Lockdown

Posted on: May 2, 2020, by :

There will come a time when we are free of the restrictions imposed – appropriately so – by the COVID19 pandemic.  Some states are already relaxing the rules, broadening the boundaries. While I think the stance of the Victorian government in not removing restrictions too hastily is a wise and sensible one, the signs are that we can expect some degree of flexibility in the months ahead.

There is, I think, a general recognition that things won’t simply go back to being as they were – there will be a new normal, one that might take account of some of the insights gained in the lockdown phase about work practices and material excess and car use and cleaner air and greener planet. The pandemic has offered a chance to reassess and refocus and hopefully it will result in some longer-term change to previous bad habits.

But there is one possible change that we might want to resist, or at least guard against. There is a chance that this experience could leave us all a little risk averse. We may have become so used to avoiding people and keeping safe that we find it difficult to re-engage with neighbours and become more suspicious of strangers. It would be an unfortunate consequence of the pandemic if we develop a preference for staying home and keeping safe rather than getting out and engaging the world. It would be an unfortunate consequence of the pandemic if we find ourselves leaning toward an avoidance of minority groups or a mistrust of those who are culturally and linguistically diverse. It would be an unfortunate consequence of the pandemic if we begin to feel uncomfortable in less familiar territory – whether geographic, emotional or intellectual – and opt to stay safe within the boxes we have constructed around our own ideologies and beliefs.

The gospel reading that is set down for this week is the parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-10) in which Jesus likens himself to one who cares for the sheep and keeps them safe. Often this is unpacked to imply that the safety Jesus offers is within the fold, protected from the thieves and bandits who climb in over the wall. But I wonder if this is a misunderstanding. The story Jesus tells is of a shepherd who leads the sheep through the gate, out of the fold (perhaps away from the thieves and bandits who are breaking in the back way), and into the wide blue (or black if it’s night) yonder. Safe and protected, yes, but taking the risks that are entailed in engagement with the big wide world.

This is an important teaching for communities of faith, who have a habit of hunkering down in their safe, familiar cloisters while turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to the needs and injustices of the world.  And it is an important teaching for a society that is about to open the box, gently and gingerly, and step out into some brave new world. Let us be bold and brave enough to risk encounter with strangers, to act for justice on behalf of minorities, to speak out on behalf of the voiceless and powerless, to step beyond our comfort zone in the quest for a more harmonious, more just and more friendly world.

This is not a call to foolhardiness or carelessness. It is a call to genuine community in which all people can feel safe and secure because they are confident that all others are concerned for their wellbeing, looking out for their best interests. Quite the opposite of carelessness in fact: it is a call for a careful society in the true sense of that word – a society that is full of care!

And the great news is, as nuanced in this cartoon by Edward Monkton, it is in preparedness to risk its safety for the sake of others that a society finds true freedom. This is the heart of the gospel. And it is an invitation that we might do well to consider!

David Brooker.

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