We have all seen them. Perhaps you are one of them, one of those peculiar individuals we see driving down the road in their own car all by themselves wearing a facemask to combat the Coronavirus. Of course, we know the benefits of wearing a face mask in public. In some places it is not only suggested but required, not only for employees of essential businesses but those who choose to use those businesses as well. But alone in the car seems to be a bizarre and unreflective take on things. I suppose if wearing one in public makes sense then wearing one by yourself just protects you even more. Perhaps such individuals do not deserve the usual mocking my children aim their way as we drive by. Perhaps they should be applauded for their diligent work.
My friend Graham wrote a piece aimed directly at an article I wrote last week about the lessons we will learn from this whole pandemic situation. When he texted me and said he was going to do this I welcomed the idea. This site used to have a fair amount of back and forth between the various voices and I have missed it. I was hoping for a good theological explanation of how I was wrong or how I may have been misguided in my questioning the lessons the churches will learn. I have been very open that my response on behalf of my congregation is not something in which I feel 100 percent confident. I have listened to many of my friends and consulted many colleagues on how to best go forward, so adding another brother’s voice to the list would do me some good.
That is what I hoped for, but not what I got. What I received was exactly what I ruminated on in my article. What Graham wrote yesterday is precisely what the message will be at next year’s pastor’s conference. It will be a giant pat on the back, with no mention that there could or even should have been another response. Though I appreciate his points they were not points that needed to be made for they are the common message of our secular society streaming into our life every day. In other words, though he seemed to want to speak to the theological or spiritual side of things he stayed clearly in the political realm. In fact, Graham’s critique felt like it could have been written by my county’s Chief Health Officer.
He is misguided to say no church was required to shut their doors. Sure, in Florida where he lives, church is considered an essential service and if they adhere to the guidelines for numbers they can meet. Not so in California. Church is not essential! And perhaps, just perhaps, churches going along with that might send a message in opposition to the Gospel they proclaim. At least consider the possibility that going along with it could very well harm the faith of those who are swayed far more by the fears of our society than the promises of Christ. I would even contend that for the masses who view the Church as a sort of meaningless institution, getting in line with the “non-essential” moniker only doubles down on this claim. I gather small groups of my members throughout the day each Sunday to hand over the goods even if it may be in violation of our county health order.
Now as far as streaming services go, I regularly critique Facebook Live as some sort of savior for the worship of a church because, once again, I do not think we are asking essential questions about what this will do to our understanding and practice of worship. I happen to believe the medium is the metaphor through which we interpret the message we receive. At the very least it has an impact. Did we consider what this might be or how we walk back from it if we must? I doubt it. Blogs, and Facebook posts, and podcast have always been used in service of the Church. They are tools which are a blessing when used well. But they are not the Church. So, what happens when church is lumped in with them? Where will this take us? Is the possibility that there might be a need for repentance truly a bizarre notion?
Recently, I have been watching the amazing series Band of Brothers with my son. We have been going over some WW2 history and highlighting the differences from video games and the monstrosity war really is. In one scene there was a chaplain rushing to the side of dying soldiers in the street during gunfire and explosions all around. We was giving last rights to the dying men. I pointed him out and told my son, “That guy is a pastor.” He was shocked. He had never considered there might be a pastor/priest in the midst of it all. I wonder if Graham would be in favor of reducing our current chaplain core. After all, with all the great technology we have you could just live-stream the message and facetime the counseling to bases and ships around the world. We could cut the numbers and continue to “be” and “do” church in perilous times and places from safe social distances
Think of how easily we have adapted our language. We now say things like, “Join us for church tomorrow on Facebook live.” But is this actually church? Have we all become TV evangelists now? Is this the new normal? Will people now simply default to “do” and “be” church from their homes? Is there any necessity in gathering together? How long do we tolerate it, for a month or two or three or what? Why are we not at least asking these questions? Why are we not struggling with this text: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
In the end, there may not be any need for repentance. Perhaps Graham is right and this whole thing will prove to be a huge boon for the Church. I remain skeptical of that, but it is a possibility. Perhaps in our current culture there is no room to critique the man driving his car while wearing a mask. It is safe. It is in line with the law. It shows an abundance of caution. In virtually every way it is a complete success.