They say everything is bigger in Texas, but what they don't tell you is that it's not always a good thing. Particularly when the "bigger" is a mistake, like the governor prematurely removing the mask mandate. Outside the hazy afternoon light of my bedroom, the sun beats down on our weathered fence, and the brightness makes me feel a little sad. Although I know we're safe here in my room, the spotless blue skies feel a little too big for me today, because they beckon people to let down their guard and live "normally" again. And in a time when the old normal feels so dangerous, I wonder what the future holds for those of us who understand that we're nowhere close to it yet. Because it's not just a question of whether or not we should wear masks, or when enough vaccines will be available for everyone who wants one. The old normal was a time when I could hear Christian light rock music in the waiting room of a doctor's office and be mildly annoyed by it, but not think too heavily about what it says about the doctor.
I've never been a big fan of mass-produced religious music. I'm not anti-religion, per se, but it has always kinda rubbed me the wrong way that music artists can create a brand that profits off of worship. I get that some people feel deeply connected to songs and live performances and singing in their car while they drive to Kroger, so there's a market for artists to supply that very specific type of product. But my relationship with God/Phil/the universe/whoever is deeply personal, and for me to experience it to the fullest extent, I believe that I must turn inward. So when I hear an optometrist playing songs about Jesus bleeding because he, like, REALLY CARES ABOUT ME, it just makes me feel like someone is watching me while I shower. (I do not equate blood with love. One time, I sliced the top of my thumb off when I got too excited about cutting the rind away from a chunk of smoked gouda. It bled aggressively for about twenty minutes, and at no point during any of this did I think to myself, "I should call my dad.")
I feel like when Trump made masks political, he brought a shitload of evangelicals with him. Makes sense, right? Abortion is murder, but spreading fatal disease is fine because "that's my personal choice." And science is bad. Or maybe they believe the science, but it's some weird game of Christ-chicken? I don't really understand the logic, but apparently Trump appeals to the Jesus-y people, so somehow a lot of the megachurches have become outspoken opponents of mask laws. (Also, megachurches: BIG TIME EW. I don't ever want to hear about "doing the Lord's work" if you're targeting a specific income demographic for your congregation.)
So, it's problematic when I go to a doctor's office, and I hear the local Christian radio station being pumped into every square of the building. In the "before" times, I probably would've just rolled my eyes and put in some headphones, and it would've been another slightly irritating norm of living in the Bible belt. But it means something different now. Because Trump, as the face of the "silent majority" (gag me), said that the virus is a hoax and masks are stupid. Even though science points to masks' effectiveness, and the pro-life bunch supposedly cares about sparing innocent lives, a lot of conservative folks seem to think that Trump is more important. It just doesn't feel the same, anymore, when someone wears their Christian faith so proudly like that. Don't get me wrong: I believe people have the right to practice their religion without fear of persecution. I know and love a great deal of Christians, and will probably attend Lutheran church off and on for the rest of my life.
But when being an out-and-proud Christian aligns politically with a party that fights public health and safety, we've got a problem.
If your music is supposed to tell me you're a Christian, I won't necessarily assume you're a Trump-loving anti-masker. If the office policy still requires masks, great! That tells me you're committed to doing the right thing, even if it's inconvenient.
And yet, Trump has spent the last 5 years screaming into any microphone he can find about how anyone who opposes him is evil. When so many people want to believe that, and they've found a voice that amplifies their darkest hate, suddenly such outward displays of "faith" make me uneasy. It makes me acutely aware that even something as boring as an eye appointment has the potential to become needlessly political. I wonder, "Is the nurse going to take her mask off once we're in the room, and make a comment about how masks are stupid? If I keep mine on, will she treat me differently because she'll assume I'm liberal? Did I accidentally wear one of my feminist shirts today? What if the doctor has been unmasked with other patients and they're breathing, like, 6 inches away from my face?"
It's not just background music for me anymore.
I get that bias is real, and it hurts people. I know I shouldn't judge people by their choices in radio stations, because assumptions don't make things like this better. I know this is something I need to work on.
I just really wish I could do that work without fearing that trust could have such immediately fatal consequences. Of all the things we need to fix in the world-- racism, homophobia, gender inequity, poverty-- it feels like masks shouldn't be one of them.