Jim Rueb, July 15, 2020
It won’t be easy. Especially at first. And at this point no one, including Dr. Fauci, knows when ‘at first’ will be. As he said a few months ago, it will not be “like turning on a light switch.” In the meantime…
If you’re feeling a little disconnected from people these days, don’t feel like The Lone Ranger. No pun intended; but sheepishly admitted. Over the past five months we’ve gone from the normal approach-avoidance sashay to a reflexive aversion when someone surprises us coming around the corner at Central Market. Fact is, we in this legendarily friendly nation may be approaching a kind of herd acrophobia if not entry-level paranoia.
Which may make us wonder about all the “one another’s” in the Bible. I didn’t count them but for a sampling we could start with John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Jesus takes the commandment one spiritual and missionally strategic step further in v 35. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
When I originally began thinking about this column several weeks ago, my mind went to neighbors, people we pass by in our newly tentative public forays, work associates and our whole masked country. But I now think we’ll have our hands full just in the church. And perhaps even in our own families. This pandemic has been, among many other things, a divisive time. And it’ll require not only a lot of grace, but reacquiring some of the old, natural habits, even with those closest to us, to re-bridge the gaps opened by the coronavirus temblor.
One of the most natural and oldest habits is shaking hands. Galatians 2:9 refers to “the right hand of fellowship,” which after receiving, Paul and Barnabas would go up from Jerusalem and turn left just north of Antioch to radically change the course of history. My guess is that there’ll be some residual reticence ahead on shaking hands. But thankfully that reticence won’t last forever, and it’ll be back, if in slightly attenuated practice.
Since we haven’t recently done too much greeting one another with a holy kiss (Rom 16:16, 1 Cor 16:20 et. al) there’s less ground to make up here. But the hug. The hug! As longtime Dodger announcer Vin Scully might say, “Oh my!” It’s become as common as shaking hands. Actually, it’s often the replacement, stealthily avoiding synaptic eye contact, which is the most intimate contact of all.
You won’t find the word “hug” in the Bible, but you can read about Esau embracing his brother Jacob upon their reunion (Gen 33:4), along with several other references to what we now call hugging. One of the best and most moving is Paul’s farewell to the Ephesians elders in Acts 20. It’s a beautiful picture of love expressed in physical touching, kissing, weeping eye contact and embracing among people joined to one another in Christ. That kind of connecting will also be back, when our full expressions of human love are no longer thwarted by the rules of this pandemic. In the meantime…
We’re gonna have to be patient, give one another room, shush our expectations (a continuous and stubborn challenge) and re-connect from whatever distance seems necessary. And that’ll vary with each encounter, because everyone’s at a different place on the pandemic response spectrum. Respecting that can open new vistas of God’s grace…to us where we are on that spectrum…and through us to others where they are elsewhere on the line! Ironically, that’s a place to start reconnecting with people right now. It won’t be easy!