Face to Face image

Face to Face

How much are we going to come to regret the phrase ‘social distancing’?

That, on my early morning dog walk, I pass other dog walkers at a safe distance is appropriate but it is getting weird how guilty and furtive many people look. One of the unwritten rules of British social etiquette is that dog walkers greet one another. Now they scurry by, faces to the floor, avoiding any kind of engagement: as if even looking at another human being might cause them to catch or spread the virus.

I worry that once things are ‘back to normal’ (and how hollow that phrase is beginning to sound) we will have developed habits of social distancing that are hard to break.

Isaiah says,

The ruined city lies desolate; the entrance to every house is barred. In the streets they cry out for wine; all joy turns to gloom, all joyful sounds are banished from the earth (Isaiah 24:10-11).

Other than being in the streets crying for wine – though I suspect that is happening inside many houses – Isaiah gives an accurate description of our current state. 

I keep having Zoom conversations with people in which we describe how exhausted we are feeling from too many Zoom conversations. Being online is tiring. I’m grateful for the technology, and already weary of it.

In our online service last Sunday I was speaking from 1 Peter 5. “Greet one another,” says Peter, “with a kiss of love.” That is a biblical command we cannot obey at present. I can’t kiss, hug, or handshake my friends and family via Zoom. Online we can have a simulacrum of reality but it is far from being the real thing.

This is why how we approach things like online services and online sacraments really does matter. I know some of my friends are taking communion online and it’s not an issue that I’m going to die for (though the fact that I have brothers and sisters who have died over the correct administration of the sacraments is enough to make me approach the matter with real seriousness and caution); but I want to develop good habits now, not embrace ones that train us to be socially distant.

Today is my twenty-sixth wedding anniversary. I’m glad I can see Grace face to face today. I’m glad we’re not reduced to Zoom. I want to experience social intimacy, not distance. I don’t want a simulacrum – I want the real thing.

So I’m calling my fellow dog walkers out! I’m not letting them scurry by but calling out ‘Hello’. I’m seizing opportunities to pause and share a few words. I’m trying to cultivate habits that will be healthy in the long run – for me, and my neighbourhood.

I’m committing to face to face.


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