Mask Up: Symbols vs Idols

Tonight, near the end of Adoration (prayer before the body of Christ in the Eucharist [the host or the bread] ), I felt the urge to read Psalm 95. So, you probably wonder what this has to do with the title. Well, at least in the New American Bible translation, Psalm 95 bears the title "A Call to Praise and Obedience". It's the last word of this title that relates to the post's title.

The moment I stepped on to my college campus I have had to wear a mask 24/7 (at least while I am outside my room). I have gotten honestly frustrated by this. I don't quite understand this hyper-focus on mask wearing. Though, I understand the encouragement to wear a mask to keep others safe, I don't get requiring wearing them one hundred percent of the time. Perhaps, this is to do with the fact that it's been so back and forth in the media whether they are truly effecru very against Covid-19. Or perhaps it's not even the question of their effectiveness rather that when this all began in March, mask weren't a requirement to wear. So, why all of a sudden does it seem that wearing them has become a requirement everywhere?

;I want to point out that for me who struggles to remember just the everyday school essentials due to dyspraxia, adding a mask to that list adds to my anxiety. I understand it's a small sacrifice to make. Yet, whenever, I forget it, there is a small part of me that feels as if I am a bad person and another that feels like good, you're living life like normal. Neither one of these is good; they are both an extreme. One tells me I am a failure. The other tells me I am a rebel or that normal is the true standard I should live by, not God's standard.

In Psalm 95:7-8, it talks about if we hear the voice of God not to harden my heart. I some ways I have hardened my heart on the issues of masks. I wear it because it has become a symbol of taking the virus seriously. Do I really think if I don't wear a mask, I don't take it seriously? Of course not. Though I have to be willing to acknowledge others may not see it that way. However, I do want to explore the mask as a symbol and how for those of Christian faith it can become an idol.

As I mentioned, early on in this pandemic there was much back-and-forth about how effective masks were. Science is not as cut and dry as say English (though even exceptions to those rules exist). I am willing to wait out a consensus on it. Even now, I'm not sure if there is one. Yet, despite that, it has for better or worse become as symbol of how seriously one takes the virus. Symbols are not inherently good or evil in themselves, it depends on association whether or not their good. Unfortunately, sometimes this symbol of the mask has been abused. People are made to feel as if somehow (as I mentioned I feel at times) they want the elderly or vulnerable to die If they don’t wear one . Obviously, this is not true and this is an extreme opinion and an exaggerated one.

I highly respect this symbol. Therefore, I choose to abide to the rule of my university despite setbacks to it. But, this requirement is not just at school, it's at restaurants and stores. It's everywhere. It can start to become a bit suffocating when added to the people limits imposed on businesses. I also sympathize with businesses, they have little choice in the matter of whether or not to require masks, several states have, at least temporarily, made it the law. I accept it has become a symbol, but I must be careful not to make it into an idol.

Now, the mask as an idol can take two forms: one positive and one negative, though the outcomes of these views are negative. Let me start with the negative. I can idolize as a prison. I can complain about how the requirement disregards my freedoms (at least in the US). But these freedoms found in the constitution, though admirable and rooted in God, are still worldly. The greatest freedom of all is to flourish as son or daughter of God, made in his image and likeness.

Here, the negative outcome is that I become resentful of the mask. It adds to my anxiety. It takes away my personal choice of whether I wear it or not. Forgetting to wear one make me feel negative about myself. Now this takes me away from God because I am only thinking about the negative aspects or when considering both the positive and negative aspects highlighting the negatives. God wants me to highlight the positive outcomes of this practice, however, the positives of mask wearing can too become an idol.

The positive way in which the mask can become an idol for me is as walking as if wearing the mask is a badge of honor. This badge of honor says I take Covid-19 seriously and that I want to keep others safe. I can view it as I am doing my job to keep me and my fellow students (who are on campus) on campus in in-person, hybrid, and online classes. I can see it as my job to tell others how important it is to wear a mask. Regardless, of the degrees of truth present in these above statements, this attitude takes me away from God. How does it do that?

It can either directly or indirectly hurt my relationship with others. Directly, if I remind people who are wearing a mask to wear one, they may view it as me being self-righteous. They may also feel negative towards themselves for the reasons I mentioned in the negative idol section. Indirectly, if I walk around with an air of haughtiness, I can be seen as someone who flaunts what they believe makes them better than other people. Also, it may make me seem unapproachable to even those also wearing masks because I appear to view myself as a hero. Obviously, wearing a mask does not make me a hero. Thus, by directly or indirectly hurting my relationships with people (other children of God) I hurt my relationship with God. God wants us to be in harmony with one another, so when I hurt others and this harmony is broken, it hurts God.

How do I make it a God-honoring act to wear a mask? Simple. I acknowledge that several of the statements I said above are true. Yet, I wear the mask as a sign of respect for Caesar be it the university or the government (local, state or federal, if it were to become so). I wear it to respect myself, but as humble servant in trying to build God's kingdom on earth and create harmony between all people. This honors my true identity as a child, a daughter of God, and co-heir to his kingdom, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, his Son.

Thus, in being obedient to the levels of modern day Caesar in wearing the mask, I follow the exhortation of Psalm 95. I hope that through my humble act (of wearing a mask), knowing that I tend to idolize it rather than treat it as a symbol, God's will bring about his perfect plan for humanity.