A plea for compassion

November 19, 2020
Kyle Penner | Special to Canadian Mennonite

Kyle Penner has been lighting a candle every evening in prayer and solidarity with Steinbach health care workers, patients and their families. (Photo courtesy of twitter.com/kyle_penner)

Kyle Penner has been lighting a candle every evening in prayer and solidarity with Steinbach health care workers, patients and their families. (Photo courtesy of twitter.com/kyle_penner)

We are dying here.

So please, everyone who has suddenly got it in for Steinbach: get off your high horse and lead with compassion instead of smugness.

Even better, leave the smugness out entirely. Same with the eye-roll emojis. And the tweets about how your hometown is “ridiculous.”

Steinbach is the COVID-19 capital of Canada, and your first response is mockery? I have seen comments such as these on social media: “I’m so glad I’m not like them and their backwards ways.” “I read the comments for my entertainment.” “Steinbach never disappoints.”

Take a moment and meditate on the “Be Kind” bracelet you bought at Third + Bird. Send compassion and care kits and heart emojis and prayers and support.

Because we are dying here.

Some of us might think, “Well, they didn’t follow the rules, so they deserve it.” That approach to those with HIV, or alcohol addiction, is harmful. This way of thinking about public health leads to shaming, stigma and human suffering.

And we are dying here.

Do we realize we’re moving like a mob to lay blame for a global pandemic? China, truckers, Hutterites, schools, meat-packing plants, care homes, bars, churches, hockey teams, parties, weddings, anti-maskers, funerals, conspiracy theories, restaurants, family gatherings and government.

We want blood, don’t we? It must be somebody’s fault. Somebody is responsible for this mess, and we will keep throwing people overboard until we find the cause of our problems.

While people point fingers about who is to blame, we are dying here.

I’m not saying there’s no blame or everyone in power should be absolved. This tragedy was not inevitable. We are seeing the results of inadequate testing and tracing plans, and have done a miserable job of ensuring the safety of care home residents.

I’m only saying that this has become like the Salem witch trials, with many looking for the next person to burn at the stake. Now, it’s an entire city about to go up in flames.

Do those who are critical realize there are real people on the other end of our online pile-on? That while trashing a community of 16,000 people for the actions of a few might feel good, maybe it isn’t the most productive use of their time?

And while they post comments, we are dying here.

As for people making fun of conservative Christians, such as the one who expressed hope in God’s healing to a reporter, we certainly wouldn’t scoff at a Muslim praying to Allah to heal them. We wouldn’t mock an Indigenous grandparent offering prayers to the Creator.

No wonder conservative Christians feel persecuted. Maybe we should take a moment to reflect on what those “Coexist” bumper stickers really mean.

And while we mock someone else’s faith, we are dying here.

My sacred scriptures contain a story about a self-righteous person who went to the temple and prayed, “Thank God I’m not like those sinners over there.”

And while you thank God for not being like us “covidiots” here in the COVID-19 capital of Canada, we are dying.

I hope God is ignoring those prayers, and instead healing all of us, so we can be filled with empathy and compassion. Let’s lead with those.

And please wear a mask.

Kyle Penner is associate pastor at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach. This post originally appeared on his blog.


Kyle Penner has been lighting a candle every evening in prayer and solidarity with Steinbach health care workers, patients and their families. (Photo courtesy of twitter.com/kyle_penner)

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You put the lives of our vulnerable in our province at risk extreme risk and you expect compassion? I would grieve with you if your mother died, but if your actions also put my threatened the life of my mother - you can safely assume my anger would be the first emotion.

You take no ownership of the mistakes made and expect grace? It feels like a page out of the playbook of a premier that Southern Manitoba elected. Asking others to take responsibility for their actions while accepting no responsibility of their own.

You assume that those of us who are upset with the people of Steinbach were not also upset at Third + Bird.

Yes people are dying. Yes there is compassion but to simply dismiss the anger that accompanies it as a result of the actions of a few Steinbach 'covidiots' that also exists is equally as, if not more, smug.

I'm sure Kyle Penner is a wonderful human being and I hear the genuine fear and heart-breaking state he is in. His friends, his community, his city is dying - while he feels the rest of us are simply standing around pointing and laughing at their suffering.

As for the mocking of the conservative Christian asking for healing, you are right. These same people wouldn't mock a Muslim or an Indigenous person expressing a similar plea - but you fail to grasp why. Neither a Muslim nor an Indigenous person are the ones in power. Evangelical Christians in Manitoba hold all the power, all the cards, and influence all the decisions in Manitoba and those decisions express anything but compassion to the liberal, the progressive, the woman, the BIPOC, the LGBTQ+.

To have those in power plead for compassion and harmony but accept no responsibility for their own behaviour past, present, and likely future, wreaks of privilege.

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