The Other Side of Life: ARC of the Covenant

By : Jason Leclerc
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Remember when, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the NAZIs found the Ark of the Covenant and thought it would make them invincible? Remember that scary scene when they opened it and out came a host of spirits that eviscerated the evil warmongers, stripping them of their skin down to bare bones? I was seven when that movie came out and that scene was so frightening that I was escorted from the theater in a trail of horrified tears.

I was a sensitive child.

I’ve been obsessed with that scene ever since, and the power of covenants has haunted me for decades. I encountered covenants again in high school, learning of the Puritans and John Winthrop and the founding of America as, “We are entered into covenant with Him for this work…” and on the principle of (ironically enough) religious freedom – we should all have the freedom to be Puritans, he argued. It was a revolutionary theory in the 17th century, and though it seems absurd by today’s standards, it set the ideological stage for Jefferson’s First Amendment and the freedom of today’s atheists – Crucible-infused – to proclaim their disdain for the frustrations of religion.

But, let’s be honest with our collective self.

The idea of covenants endures. It is, in fact, the centerpiece of modern liberalism. We can stand behind our tax dollars and our federal budgets to proclaim our interest in our neighbors. We have invested in safety nets and welfare to justify our disengagement with the real needs of our most needy. As a “body politic,” to use Winthrop’s phrase, especially since FDR, we have hidden behind New Deal-ism – and its heir, Great Society – to prove that we are a caring nation, that we reward the accidents of citizenship with compassion and generosity.

The Ark of the Covenant, the shrouded chest around which beat the heart of the Israelites – and America’s city-on-a-hill – gilded and holy though it was, contained within it a pot of Manna, the Ten Commandments, and Aaron’s rod.

If we, in America’s 2017, want to talk about covenants, this should still be our starting point. Let that starting point be a “Radical Center” that eschews the partisan fringe-mongers who seek to undermine our covenants.

If we, from our Christian history or our free-to-be-anti-parochial present, want to walk our village-walk, we should recognize our village – call it a church if you please – and the contents of its covenants: the right to live (Manna); the right to be whole (Ten Commandments); the right to love (Aaron’s rod, *wink*)

We are not dishonest landslides from a crumbling Zion. We are a good and honest people – not NAZIs for whom the attempted misappropriation of the covenants led to tomb-Raiders’ defeat.

If we are going to be honest, we need to understand that in a world where science and medicine converge in a nation of hope, every member of our body politic deserves a chance to live. In the year 2017, in the nation where capitalism has underwritten scientific advances, where rich Canadians can afford to visit American doctors, we are responsible for the the protection and preservation of American lives – regardless of the poorest Americans’ means. If this means healthcare underwritten by an overwritten insurance industry, so be it.

If we value life, we value all life and its quality: Life and Choice needn’t be exclusive.

If we are going to be honest, aside from Number Three, those Commandments’ rules apply whether we are ragingly God-fearing or otherwise. We, as an American people, rightfully dwell upon our ideologies. The rule of law and the streams of justice converge in a gold-covered chest where we are required to acknowledge the slights upon human kind from which we’ve benefitted. Human dignity and American pride require us to repair the atrocities that our forebears perpetrated against humanity. The displacements of the indigenous and the African-rooted – AND, AND! – upon this continent are inexcusable. We owe them our apologies and our riches.

If we are going to be honest, we must acknowledge that the institutions around love have failed us. Not without note, the laws around the dissolution of marriage have emerged as powerfully as the creation of marriage. Love, the rock upon which marriage should stand, cowers in the shadow of its absence. Marriage is a farce meant to perpetuate other institutions whose values should stand on their own.

Love is more than licenses and ceremony: Love is a human right.

If America has the capacity to survive, it will be upon the mantle of its future. If honesty and covenants matter, if our promises to our neighbors matter, if the freedoms of Winthrop and Jefferson and Tubman and Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt and MLK matter, we are commanded to respect life, wholeness, and love with equal vicissitude.

If we expect to march through the universe with the moral obligations of an Ark of the Covenant before us, we must recognize its contents. To the extent that we favor one over the other, we fail in our honesty; we invite the horrific ghouls of an under-appreciated God’s vengeance:

Otherwise, we fail in our American – parochial and otherwise – covenants.

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