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Will we learn to hug again?
I don’t open packages until they go untouched for 24 hours
Yesterday, an Amazon worker knocked on my door and offered me the package of all-purpose cleaner I had purchased. I wasn’t wearing my cotton mask (made from an old polo shirt) and he wasn’t either. He handed me the package and I closed the door quickly to minimize our contact on that rainy Monday, placed the package down for its requisite 24 hours (the coronavirus survives on cardboard for just 24 hours, so I allow packages to lie for that time before opening them, just to be safe). I quickly ran over to the sink, turned on the faucet with my elbow, and washed my hands for twenty seconds making sure to get to every part of my hand thoroughly. I think I wondered if the worker was infected and if I was going to get infected and what that would all mean. I was concerned with protecting myself and my family, and it seemed so counterintuitive to my instinct to welcome and love everyone. How will I learn to hug again?
I don’t think my experience is an uncommon one. It seems like overnight we all changed our lives in order to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of this deadly virus. It’s amazing how quickly we changed when we realized so many lives were at stake. I appreciate the agility of people to change when they need to. And even though there will always be the conspiracy theorists and rebels that decide to be cavalier, most of us realize that our bravado isn’t going to save us, and that suspicion of the power of this deadly virus is not a viable strategy to defeat it. Jesus won’t reward recklessness, I’m afraid. And I’m glad it’s a minority of the population that falls into that camp. And I think I might be overexposed to them since I tend to make friends with people suspicious of the government and its claims, but even then, it is a small percentage of the rebels I call comrades.
Our caution is rooted in love now, but it might turn to fear
I’ve been writing about how our social isolation is actually the best way we can love our neighbors, and I need to emphasize this point because it’s so instinctively contradictory. We are used to serving and self-sacrificing for the greater good, but now we are sacrificing our social lives and social action for the greater good. It is not selfish or cowardly to stay inside: it’s the right thing to do.
But it won’t always be the right thing to do. I can’t help but consider what our lives will be like after this is all said and done. We really don’t know what the new normal will be, but I hope when it comes, we can get closer and not fear each other. The appropriate suspicion and caution I took with the Amazon worker is good now, but it could portend a fundamental shift in our society that leads to bigger problems.
It’s well-known that this virus has disrupted world trade and globalization. And while there is something to be said about the weaknesses of this political and economic ideology, it shows us how much a virus can change our assumptions about the world. Add to that, nationalist instincts and hysteria are triumphing, sadly. Unfortunately, closing the borders, staying tucked in, and not opening up our homes is not a safety measure. And even more sadly that is the exact Gospel that racist nationalists have been preaching, and it just happens to coincide with this moment. I pray that it is temporary, but we need guard against the changes it might cause in our society that would stigmatize people and exacerbate our fear of the other. If we start weaponizing hospitality, the consequences would be oppressive and deadly. My heart broke as I listened to an Asian American describe how she was treated early into the pandemic.
I remember 9/11 distinctly. And I remember how Arab-Americans were stigmatized and feared as a result. The hysteria surrounding them was completely unfounded, but it still lingered true. Here, the hysteria around Asian Americans is equally unfounded, but unfortunately, general caution isn’t unfounded and social distancing is the best practice.
The sun also rises
So this puts us in a precarious position. I don’t have any advice beyond paying attention to how we are changing now and what it could mean for the future. We cannot allow the virus to change us forever, even if it changes us for now. We will prevail and we will overcome this wicked plague. But we need to do so with our humanity and our Christian love of the other intact.
I’m eager for the change, too. I’m desperate for the connection. And it takes me a while to get there. I’m already of the extremely online variety and I have a lot of relationships with people just through the Internet. But I miss coffee with a friend, the greeting at the Sunday meeting, the drink with my wife on a busy sidewalk in Center City (let’s be honest, that’s pretty rare with a four- and a seven-year-old in a house, but a man can dream!). I miss passing the peace, and the physical connection of the meeting. Everything is different, and part of me worries that we’ll never return to where we were.
But I think that is an appropriate feeling for the time we’re in, both in terms of covid-19, but also in terms of the Christian calendar. Yes, Sunday was Easter. The commemoration of the world’s most important event. Jesus rose. He rose before us! Lent is over and it is a cause for celebration. But my smaller Easter breakfast table felt empty. The egg hunt was less dramatic. Even the coconut layer cake I salivate over during all of Lent ended up just being a cupcake. Add to that, it was a rainy Monday.
It’s hard to get into the spirit of resurrection, post-Lenten quarantine, when we’re still in a physical quarantine. I want to acknowledge that that does make the sweetness of resurrection a little bit harder to grasp. It is not easy to get into the glory of the season during the time. And I think that's OK.
The work is complete and it is still going. Jesus is the first of us to rise. It gives hope to the whole world. We rise. The ultimate expression of the resurrection is when we all rise at the end of the age. In the midst of your present suffering, we look to this hope.
Even though we get to participate in it in the present, it’s completion comes when we all rise. Jesus models for us what will happen to us. It will come to us. So even in this time of death that surrounds us, we walk confidently because we know what awaits us. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel despair, but we see resurrection through it. So we await our full liberation when we all rise, and we await our liberation from our stay-at-home order. Who we are after this is over will reflect our characters. We can dig into our fear and forget about the stranger, or we can acknowledge that in this temporary circumstance caution was warranted, but we won’t allow it to cause us to fear our neighbors. The sun rises as the Son has. I’ll leave you with Paul’s vision for the age-to-come’s inauguration:
The trumpet will blast, and the dead will be raised with bodies that won’t decay, and we will be changed. It’s necessary for this rotting body to be clothed with what can’t decay, and for the body that is dying to be clothed in what can’t die. And when the rotting body has been clothed in what can’t decay, and the dying body has been clothed in what can’t die, then this statement in scripture will happen:
Death has been swallowed up by a victory.
Where is your victory, Death?
Where is your sting, Death?
Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord.