Rights & Responsibilities: What It Means to be a Citizen

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

On April 30, 2020, a group of armed protestors entered the capital building in Michigan to protest the restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This group was expressing the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and were protesting the fact that they couldn’t get their hair done… or something like that.

There are so many things wrong with what happened that day that it’s hard to really nail down a single point. Perhaps we could talk about the hypocrisy of these people who undoubtedly lose their minds when NFL players decide to kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest to the racial injustice that has been plaguing this country, but think it’s perfectly okay to intimidate elected officials in session by yelling at them while holding rifles.

I saw a video of another protest recently at a Florida Target. Of course it was Florida, right? (Sorry, sane Floridians, but get ahold of your people!) In this protest, a group of 20-somethings was blaring Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” while yelling at people to take off their masks. Because, apparently, asking people to wear a mask is a violation of their civil liberties. I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I’ve read the Constitution, but I don’t think this was covered by the Founding Fathers.

Sure, sure, I know people “can’t wear a mask” because they “can’t breathe” with it on. Ironically, probably the same people who are saying that George Floyd or Eric Garner should have just complied with law enforcement, and they wouldn’t have suffocated at the hands of that same law enforcement. But, I know, I know, that’s TOTALLY different. It’s a different kind of lack of compliance because our “rights” are being violated by ridiculous orders that would help prevent the spread of a deadly disease.

There has been a lot of talk about “rights” lately, but do we really even know what that means? Is it really a violation of our rights that we have to be mandated to look out and care for other people? Is that what being a citizen is all about — my “rights”? I can’t help but think the answer to that question is a resounding, “No!”

Being a citizen is about recognizing that we are part of something far bigger than ourselves. It’s myopic and dangerous to only be concerned with oneself, especially when it comes to things that can ultimately affect other people. That’s what people are losing sight of these days. We can’t be focused so much on ourselves that we completely disregard others. That’s no way to live. That’s no way to treat other people. A blatant disregard for others doesn’t make one more free.

Look, I get it. I don’t really like being told what to wear either. The other day, I went to Walmart. As I was about to walk in, an employee at the door stopped me and said that I was going to have to put something on before I did. We argued for a minute. Not too much. I know he was just doing his job. But it didn’t matter. Well, long story short, I went back to my car and put a shirt on so I could enter the store.

Okay, obviously that story is made up, but you get my point. We comply with things ALL THE TIME and don’t even think twice about it. I know Walmart is not exactly known for the classy dress of its clientele. But you still need to wear some clothes, and people do… mostly. And yet, they ask people to put a mask on with their shoes and shirts, and, suddenly, people start freaking out. Seriously, y’all, Walmart is asking you to wear a mask, shoes and a shirt when you go into the store. Ironically, you don’t have to wear pants…

We have a disease that has literally killed hundreds of thousands of people running rampant through our country and around the world. Is it really too much to ask people to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of this disease? I don’t think so.

Again, I get it. You saw an article that says masks aren’t 100% effective. Neither are condoms, but they are still a whole lot better than going without if you’re trying to prevent a pregnancy.

I don’t like wearing a mask either. Sometimes, it is difficult to breathe while wearing one. I’m a pastor. I wear a mask every Sunday morning when I’m not up front. As I’m walking around the church before the worship service starts, I get winded, especially if I’m going up some stairs. Because I’m fat and out of shape. And that makes it really hard to breathe, especially if I’m wearing a mask. But I do it anyway. Because, you now, I understand a fundamental truth about life: it’s not always about me. I did fairly well in my science classes, and have a very clear understanding that the universe does not revolve around me. A simple point that many people have forgotten.

My preferences aren’t always the priority. Because I’m not an infant that is trying to dominate my surroundings and can’t stand to be inconvenienced in the slightest. But, holy crap, there are a lot of needy adult babies out there.

If we are unable to put up with a minor inconvenience — and that’s exactly what wearing a mask is, people, a minor inconvenience — for the sake of our community, then what are we going to do if we are called on to make actual sacrifices for the good of our community?

What was life like for Americans during World War II? Do you think people were able to do whatever they wanted? No, all kinds of good and groceries were rationed during the war. Why? Because when a country is facing a crisis, the best thing some people can do is go without so that others can have what they need. Remember the Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020? That’s going to be in the history books, isn’t it? That’s what this generation is going to be known for — being so stinkin’ selfish that some people couldn’t find toilet paper on the shelf for several weeks.

We had women entering the workforce in droves for the very first time during World War II because it was what was needed to get through a difficult time in history. People gave of themselves for the greater good, and did so for several years. These days, we can’t even get people to put on a mask for a few months to stop the spread of a deadly virus.

Eighty years ago, young men lied about their age so they could join the military, go overseas and die on foreign soil. They were fighting for actual freedom. Today, people are throwing a fit because they can’t go into Target without a mask.

Citizenship is not just about our rights. It’s about our responsibilities as well. Maybe we’ve lost sight of that. Maybe we need to stop being so concerned about our rights and start focusing on our responsibilities to our community.

As JFK said in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” We’ve come a long way since that speech… and not in a good way. I think we are further away from the ideals espoused by Kennedy on that day, and in large part, it’s because we are so concerned about our rights that we don’t even think about our responsibilities — to one another, to the community, and to our nation.

Just some guy who is looking to make my pocket of the world a better place. Life is a journey; let’s walk together and help each other along the way.

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