Some years ago, you may remember bumper stickers were the thing. You don’t see them so much anymore, which I have found to be somewhat gratifying, especially when it comes to Christian-themed bumper stickers. I remember seeing some doozies in my time. “Jesus is coming; look busy.” “Warning: In Case of Rapture This Car Will Be Unmanned.” And my personal favorite. “Honk If You Love Jesus,” along with its more unsettling addendum: “Text if you want to see him.”
Of the many factors that each of us has had to weigh in making decisions during this season of COVID, one factor that we would never have imagined being as pronounced as it has been over these last several months is the element of risk. It’s not that we hadn’t been weighing risks in our decisions prior to COVID, it’s just that it seems that so much more is at stake now, because we’re talking about our health. And so, before we do anything or go anywhere, we ask ourselves the question, “Is it worth the risk?” If so, then we move forward. But if not, then we stay put.
Of all the guidelines we’ve been living under over these last three months as we’ve been doing our best to navigate this COVID-19 crisis, the one that I’ve found to be the most difficult to practice is making sure that I don’t touch any surfaces unnecessarily. In my mind, there’s a reason that God gave us two hands. He did so in order that we could touch stuff and surfaces and people. But now we are being told that none of that is in our best interest and we should do all we can to refrain from touching anything we don’t have to touch.
I learned a long time ago that in order to get along with others and “keep the peace,” there are certain topics that should always remain off limits. That’s because those topics tend to be so controversial that any discussion of them is more than likely to push people apart instead of bringing them close together. The two topics that come to mind, of course, are politics and religion because of how people are all over the map on their discussions of them.
Years ago, I served a church in a community where the local newspaper had a section in each Sunday’s edition in which they printed public records. You could see who got married and who got divorced. You could see who bought property and who sold property. You could see who got arrested and for what reason they got arrested. And worst of all, at least in my mind, you could also see who had filed for bankruptcy.
We’re at that time of the year in the Deep South when weather systems tend to collide with one another, creating the most calamitous conditions in terms of both people and property. Tomorrow, for example, marks the beginning of the hurricane season, and as I understand it, forecasters are predicting an above-average season for hurricanes this year, which should not surprise us at all. If the 2020 hurricane season goes like everything else has gone in this remarkably troublesome year, then we’d better be prepared to “batten down the hatches,” as they say.
Back when it became apparent that the coronavirus had made its way across the Pacific (or the Atlantic, or wherever it came from), I really did think that we’d be in a state of disruption for a month, maybe two, and then everything would get back to normal. That’s one of the reasons I had thought we’d keep the church open, keep our heads and hearts down, and just bulldoze our way through this thing until we made it through to the other side.
Last year Psychology Today magazine ran an article that would turn out to be far more prescient than they ever could have imagined. The article was titled, “What Are You Afraid Of?” While a glance at the title might lead one to believe that the article would be about different phobias that leave people paralyzed – phobias like the fear of spiders or snakes or the fear of heights – the article actually delved more deeply into core anxieties that act as an undertow in our lives, those fears that are constantly dragging us down and holding us back from becoming the type of person we really want to be – phobias like being rejected or being abandoned or being controlled or manipulated by others. What intrigued me about the article was the way it underscored our fear of losing control and being at the mercy of other people, especially when other people can rarely be trusted to have our best interest at heart (“What Are You Afraid Of?” Psychology Today, 8/4/19).
Hard times, such as the one we’re going through now, have the potential both to teach us new things about ourselves and to confirm other things we already knew. I’m still not sure what all I have learned over these last two months, but there is one thing that they have confirmed to me about myself – I am not too good at doing deprivation.
Earlier this year, The New York Times ran a story titled, “How to Be an Expatriate in 2020.” It was a story that focused on a middle-aged couple, Chuck and Kirsten Burgess, who decided one day to leave behind their two comfortable homes, one in Manhattan and the other in the Hamptons, along with their good careers, in order to move abroad to an entirely different country, where they owned nothing, knew no one, and had no real capacity for speaking any language other than their native English. And so they sold off everything, picked up the little they had left over, and moved lock, stock, and barrel to Barcelona, Spain. What really got my attention in the article was, of course, their reasoning. According to the couple, they transitioned to an expatriate life “because they yearned for something more – not something more in the sense of material things, but in the satisfaction derived from new adventures in new lands.” And as the article went on to feature other Americans who had come to the same decision as the Burgesses, it concluded with this observation on the “expat” life: “This is not a life for those who are running away; it’s instead a life for those who running toward something (“How to Be an Expatriate in 2020,” The New York Times, 2/21/20).