I had to run a quick errand today, so I put on my surgical mask and headed inside. I heard someone call out my name, so I turned to see the familiar face of someone who has attended my church. After I said hello, they frowned and shook their head as if disappointed. I could see their expression clearly because they were not wearing a mask. They said to me, “Almost didn’t recognize you with the mask. I never took you for a sheep, pastor.” My puzzlement must have registered, even with the mask, so they continued, “I can’t believe you’re falling for all this hyped-up flu.” I think I said something about wanting to do my part, but I don’t really remember. I went about my errand feeling a strange mixture of confusion and peace. Confused as to why I wasn’t ticked off for being called a sheep, but at the same time finding peace and even certainty. There was something about being called a sheep that though it was meant to insult me, it served to inspire me.
I live in New Mexico, which requires wearing facemasks in public. This has sparked controversy as folks argue that wearing a mask won’t prevent someone from contracting Covid-19. But no one said the mask would prevent contracting the virus, making those arguments baseless. Instead, masks are effective in providing a barrier between one’s own droplets and their contact with surfaces or other persons. This has made sense to me all along. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t enjoy wearing the mask! It fogs up my glasses (anybody else hear me out there?), it makes me sound weird, and let’s be honest, after the toothpaste wears off it just stinks in there!
However, some believe the state’s requirement to wear masks is an infringement on their individual rights. For folks who think this way, to wear a mask is to voluntarily give up one’s rights in consent to overreaching government authority and in concession to fear over what some believe to be at best hype and at worst a hoax. A meme making its way around the web sums up this sentiment,
“I wish people would be honest. You’re wearing a mask for one of two reasons. The first is you’re just a sheep who is conforming to what everyone else is doing. The second is that you bought the manufactured fear they sold you about the coronavirus. You’re a scared drone perpetuating this insane notion that being brainwashed, fearful, and sacrificing freedom somehow makes you an upstanding citizen.”
I suspect this is the line of thinking by which the person at the store called me a sheep. But aren’t all of us conforming to something or someone? The person who wrote the meme above is conforming to an ideal and is, by publishing the statement, seeking to have others conform to the same ideal. Those who share the meme would be sheep, by the meme’s definition, and would, by sharing, engage in sheep-making, right?
If the points of contention for my friend at the store, the author of the meme, or those who share the meme are conformity and fear, why then are they utilizing rhetoric that plays on fear of the other in order to generate conformity to their perspective?
So who’s a sheep again?
And the person at the store is.
And the author of the meme is.
And the people who share the meme are.
And you are.
The question is, who is your shepherd?
I understand that citizens are within their rights to refuse to wear a mask, and I would not want that right taken away. However, I also think those who call Jesus their Shepherd have a responsibility to consider the health and good of others which outweighs their individual right.
So I wear a mask because I think my responsibility to you trumps my individual right. I wear a mask because I’m engaging in conformity to an authority outside and above myself; an authority which teaches me to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4).
I wear a mask because, yes, I’m a sheep. And my Shepherd said the greatest command is to love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as I love myself. (Matthew 22:38-39)
So, BAAAAAAAAA …