One of the unintended consequences of the Stay Home Orders is to view other people as germ-carriers, contaminated, and threatening. I don’t want to overstate this, but you can feel the suspicion. Many now experience dis-ease with others because of this COVID-19 disease.
You can see it in the way people wearing masks look at others not wearing them. Having been trained in social distancing, many are going to be very uncomfortable with physical proximity and touch when (or for some, since) the Stay Home Orders have been lifted.
We’re caught in a classic case of competing values: self-protection versus other-connection.
We long for connection.
Many have now experienced the reality of working from home. They found both upsides and downsides to this. Technology allows flexibility, but it has limitations, especially in relationships.
One of the first to popularize the dynamic challenge between technological progress and relationships was social forecaster, John Naisbitt in his bestseller MEGATRENDS: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives (1982). He used the phrase High Tech/High Touch. “We are moving in the dual direction of high tech/high touch, matching each new technology with a compensating human response.” Decades ago, he spoke about the mixed reactions workers had to working from home. “They like the freedom and conveniences [of working from home] but miss the interaction with co-workers. People want to be with people.”
We are created for community.
Our longing for connection is rooted in creation. In the Genesis 1 account of creation, every day closed with the refrain, “And God saw it was good.” At the conclusion of the sixth day, “God saw it was very good!” The first “not-good” designation of an aspect of creation came in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.” God proceeded to the creation of woman and the establishment of the human family. But the implications of not-being-alone go beyond family to the broader network of human connection.
We affirm each person’s value.
As I continue to reflect on Jesus’ resurrection, I realize that, in addition to being a validation of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, it is a validation of human worth and human destiny. The incarnation, the resurrection, and the promised New Creation are ultimate testimonies to our value as human beings.
In one of his most influential essays, The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis pondered the implications of the eternal destiny of human beings. He pulled back the taking-people-for-granted curtain to consider both the eternal glory that will be manifest in those who receive salvation—or the eternal horror of those who reject salvation.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
Then Lewis considered our role in encouraging everyone with whom we interact to move toward the redemptive vision.
All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities… that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).
We respect each person’s journey.
Caring for one another is not optional. We are stewards of God’s grace in and through our relationships and community. Even when it’s not comfortable. So, whether we are quick to move on from social distancing, or slower to make the change, we respect and value each other in Christ.
“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7 ESV).
The early church expressed their love and support through physical touch. I thought of the exhortation in the New Testament to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” When I did a search, I was surprised to learn that it occurred not just once, but in four of Paul’s letters and one of Peter’s letters (Romans 16:16: 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). In other words, this expression of love in Christ was a common practice.
While that may be true, we’ve been through an experience that won’t easily be forgotten. It’s going to be awkward at times. The important thing to remember is that “it’s not about you.” A person’s slowness to engage in physical touch is not a statement about our value. It’s a statement about their comfort and security. Love respects that.
Our priority is to be spiritually and emotionally connected, even as we sort out how to be physically present.