DTS Magazine

Infringement on my Theology of Community, Touch, and Presence

We are living during some interesting times. “Unprecedented.” I’ve read that word multiple times in social media and in other places. The COVID-19 virus is now in all fifty states and all over the world. And the government has asked us to practice social distancing.

John Hopkins Medicine defines social distancing as a “deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Staying at least six feet away from other people lessens your chances of catching COVID-19.”

As an introvert, independent, millennial who discovered touch to be on the very bottom of my love language list, I thought this would be a piece of cake. Everything about me should love this experience. I like solidarity and interacting on social media, and I don’t mind when people keep their distance. Sure, I can do this!

Social distancing goes against all my beliefs. It infringes on my theology of community, touch, and presence.

Yet, several weeks into social distancing, I felt like I got hit by a pie in the face! I don’t like this at all, and I kept asking myself why. After thinking about it for a few days, I concluded social distancing goes against all my beliefs. It infringes on my theology of community, touch, and presence. Allow me to explain.

In the last few months, I successfully transferred my job to work remotely. I tried to remain a respected citizen and a good neighbor by limiting my commute time. I set up shop in my bedroom because living in a three-bedroom apartment with four roommates, can, at best, prove challenging. But once I set my work things up, I took off to the races. I got so much stuff done. I completed my tasks left and right until I felt mentally exhausted. And when I looked at the clock, I had only worked for an hour. It wasn’t even noon yet. I continued pressing into my work, dragging myself into my lunch break.

Why do I feel so tired? How did this happen?

It turns out working remote limits my interaction with the other creative people I rely on for productivity encouragement, positivity, and creativity. Even this introvert needs community and enjoys in-person interactions. Who knew?

Community

Honestly, I didn’t know how much I love coming into work. I need a community of like-minded people who keep me focused on accomplishing our mission. I’ve learned that the creative interaction of my office community is essential for me and my work.

It’s become so crucial for me that I have reconsidered my theological belief of community. I understand God hardwired humanity to live in relationship with others in a way that reflects His triune relationship with Himself. Community amongst ourselves, however, is also an opportunity to portray to the world God’s relationship with us.

So in my work context, I like working in the office because it’s one of my opportunities to embody what I believe God enjoys, relationships. How can we grow when we work apart from others?

We need to look for opportunities to stay in community and keep working on our relationships even though many people continue to work remotely. We can call and maybe Zoom with co-workers while working, not for a meeting, but solely for like-minded community.

Personal Touch

Social distancing has also changed my touch interactions. I don’t consider touch as one of my love languages. I have friends of all cultures who enjoy various kinds of physical greetings.

I tend to feel awkward and don’t know how to respond when people try to hug, shake hands, side kiss, or fist pump. It is stressful for me to figure out how to greet someone. I should love this idea of staying six feet away from each other, right?  It should be an opportunity to relax, knowing physical greetings are out of the question.

As believers, we reflect
Jesus’S humility and vulnerability.

But the reality is, I feel sad. A few weeks ago I finally got to see a friend but I had to stand six feet away from them. It felt more awkward to try to figure out a different way to greet each other and to express our excitement of seeing one another after days of separation. We finally decided to extend our foot out for a foot tap. And as lame as it sounds, it proved to be one of the most fulfilling moments of my day.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand the six feet rule. I’m trying to respect it, but surprisingly  it infringes upon the importance of touch. There’s something to be said about the action of appropriate touch. If you look at Jesus, He physically touched a leper, a blind man, an unclean woman, and many other people he wasn’t supposed to touch.

Yet, scientific research shows appropriate touch helps with the psychological relief of distress, fear, and self-doubt. It, therefore, makes sense that our inclination to hug or put our arm around someone in need will grow as we learn to love others. It communicates we acknowledge the need and struggle, and we are there to encourage and support. As believers, we reflect Jesus’s humility and vulnerability.

Please let me be clear, I am not saying go out and hug everyone you see. Use wisdom and respect authorities. I think it’s acceptable to feel conflicted about the six feet rule. I know when the social distancing guidelines cease, I will probably feel awkward in greeting my hugging friends again. Still, I will choose to appreciate the humility and vulnerability it shows. I also hope my physical actions will also reveal aspects of Christ as well.

Presence

Another aspect of the precautions we have taken in my city involves the people we inadvertently serve. Many restaurants, gyms, and places of entertainment have closed. Although eating establishments can fulfill take-out orders, these mandates have put a significant strain on businesses.

I have friends who rely on tips, and not many people tip to-go orders. I also have friends who depend on shift wages, and with limited traffic, businesses don’t need as many people working.

My friends are panicking and experiencing all kinds of anxiety. I don’t blame them. The reality of having limited to no income is currently happening to those we love. How can we support them? What about ministries who depend on volunteers? What can we do?

I have signed petitions online to encourage my governor to suspend rent, utility, and other payments. I tried buying coffee online from my favorite local coffee shop. I have shared my favorite restaurants on my social media channels. (Under normal circumstances, I am not in favor of posting ads on social media. It’s annoying.) But none of these actions felt impactful. My efforts fell into a void. Regardless of how much support and money I gave, it all felt empty and shallow.

I have come to realize my actions require personal presence and sacrifice to serve people. Recently, I decided to take the time to visit my favorite coffee shop to order my coffee-to-go. It made a world of difference to see my friend’s face light up when I walked in the door. I ordered my three dollars black drip coffee. Even though we remained six-feet apart, and I didn’t stay long,  I walked away from the shop fulfilled and satisfied.

God saw the importance of presence that He sent Jesus to live among us. Jesus is Immanuel—God with us.

There’s something to be said about physical presence and support. God saw the importance of presence that He sent Jesus to live among us. Jesus is Immanuel—God with us. And He continues to stay with us even in our darkest days.

This experience has made me appreciate the incarnation of Christ. He exemplifies that when someone physically shows up and remains present, it communicates support. When Jesus physically showed up on the earth, it is almost like He said, “I know you are broken and sinful, but I am here to support you, to save you. We can get through this together. Follow me.”

In Christ, there is a deeper level of hope I have never thought about before. When Jesus returns, we should view it as an act of faith and support through the brokenness of this world. No more tears, no more hurt, and no more coronaviruses. Until that day, I feel encouraged by Jesus’s presence in my life. And I look forward to the opportunities we will have once we reflect this Immanuel-love to others—even through the brokenness COVID-19 has ensued.

We don’t know how long the social distancing guidelines will continue. Yet it’s nice to understand  it’s perfectly normal to feel conflicted during this time. Personally, it has made me angry, frustrated, and I’ve had the desire to push the boundaries. Yet, I do what I can to focus on the things that I know I can do to help others.

It helps to remember God did not design us to social distance ourselves from each other. These mandates inadvertently create a conflict of how God created us to function. But the reality is, following distancing protocols is also a sign of what it means to be a good neighbor—do what you can to try to stop this spread of this virus especially to those around you.

Yes, we are living during some unprecedented times. So let’s create unprecedented ways to encourage one another during this time. How can we be patient with ourselves and others as we try to navigate this conflict? Even though we will all handle this infringement differently, we also know this will not last forever. As we practice social distancing, let us encourage each other to look for new ways to continue to cultivate community, appropriate touch, and presence—all for the glory of God.

 

Caroline Khameneh
Caroline is a current ThM student and serves as senior video producer in the Media Production Department at DTS. She produces videos and graphic animations for the seminary. You can see more of Caroline’s work at orangeandteal.com or on Facebook @orangeandtealproductions.
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