August 5, 2020
Emily is a bit more of the nervous type. She tends to let worst case scenarios take over her thoughts. In a matter of minutes, she can imagine terrible things, feel overwhelmed, and have full-blown panic attacks. Her husband, Marcus, tries, in his words, "to walk her back from the edge of the cliff." Marcus likes to think of himself as a bit more rational and trusting. He assumes that there is always a way to fix something and is frustrated with Emily's persistent (and at times unfounded) fears. Emily, on the other hand, thinks Marcus does not take things as seriously as he should. This reality is exposed in how they view fixing things around the house, car maintenance, finances, planning for retirement and the kids' college expenses, and extended family challenges. It's an ongoing challenge to stay on the same page.
Then comes Covid!
This is the perfect storm for Emily, and she simply does not know what to do. She is fearful that anything she does may be harmful to her, the kids, and others. So much of the stuff she reads in her endless research on the internet only exacerbates her fears. Marcus, on the other hand, accepts that Covid is real and is serious, but doesn't panic. He thinks masks are an overreaction and frustrates Emily to no end when he goes out without wearing one or complains about it. She accuses him of not taking necessary precautions, which he views as being ridiculous. He is tired of Emily living in panic mode, and she feels alone and not understood.
Then the research studies get reported.
Emily finds studies that support her fears. Masking, gloving, disinfecting, staying home at all times, and washing hands for 3 minutes with lava soap imported from an exotic island are cited as ways to stay disease-free. She demands the family play by her rules. Marcus finds studies that support his views. Masking has limited value, and may actually be harmful in the long run by giving people a false sense of security. Gloving is pointless since the disease is not spread by that kind of contact, and staying at home at all times and disconnecting from people may reduce your exposure to the virus, but will destroy your life.
I may not be describing your home, but I am describing some homes. This week I talked with a group of our members and asked them what they thought the biggest challenges of Covid were. They said personal angst, facing obstacles, knowing how to respond in the right way, not being able to make plans, being unsettled, having so much more to process, and being isolated. Also, being frustrated with church members who are not being Christ-like, feeling under pressure all the time, fearful of backlash, uncertain how to discern information, hearing seriously conflicting information, and realizing that isolation contributes to thinking way too much about yourself.
One of our members who is a school teacher was asked (probably for the 100,000th time), "What is going to happen in the fall?" Her response was, "You literally know as much as I do."
Personal note: I just reread what I've written and took a deep breath and said, "Wow." Brothers and sisters, this is a lot to consider and work through. But, we can and we will. Emily and Marcus represent many members in our church, and I want them to be like Jesus toward one another, the church, and our world. Can we help them do that? YES! Can you help them do that? YES! This is what we promised to do when we covenanted together as members. Membership is a commitment to helping one another look more like Jesus and get home safely. How can we do that? Our life together as a church can help Emily with her fears and help Marcus help her. But, in order to do that, we need to acknowledge the reality of the challenges that we are facing. There really is conflicting information about some of these matters!
I am a pastor and not an epidemiologist. That means that I am not an expert on masks. Many of you are parents and not epidemiologists. You are not an expert on masks. And here is what is admittedly frustrating. The experts do not agree. In February, the CDC recommended against wearing masks. In April they changed their position and recommended wearing them. Today I read from a trusted source, "The only way to ascertain the efficacy of face masks in the real world is to do randomized trials. So far there have been only a dozen examining the efficacy of masks in preventing respiratory illnesses, and conclusions have been difficult to draw because of poor compliance by study participants. None of the six trials published over the past decade found that masks alone had a significant effect on the spread of flu or similar illnesses in the health-care workers or the general population."
I can point to studies that say masks are necessary, and I can point to studies that say they may do more harm than good. I really do not know what is the truth. I suspect that the benefit of masks has something to do with the quality and fit of the mask, but that is my suspicion. My point is, what are we supposed to think about this? I really don't know. But, since the governor has told us to wear them when going into public buildings, I do so. But how are we supposed to treat each other? I can speak to this. Consider this:
1. My relationship to you is WAY more important than your view of masks.
2. You have reasons to support your view of masks.
3. There is a lot yet to be learned about this. Masks may be helpful, and they may not be.
4. Love (caring about others) and humility (we don't know everything) are infinitely more important than getting someone to agree with me on my view of masks.
I really don't want to write anymore about masks, as I am sure you don't want to read any more about it, so how about some better things?
The staff and Elders are working diligently on mapping out a helpful ministry plan for this fall, so that we can MAKE SOME PLANS for good things. As soon as we are able to get this completed, we will be communicating it to you. There are some things that we have to do, and some things that we can do and have an opportunity to do, and we are committed to doing them. By God's grace we will be a better church as a result.
For the church,