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Letter from Australia 47 – The Human Touch

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I have a confession to make – I shook someone’s hand.  I couldn’t help it – they came towards me and stuck out their hand.  Having been conditioned by weeks of social distancing I shrunk back – and then the logical part of my brain engaged.  We haven’t had one case of community transmission for two weeks in NSW.  And the compassionate part of my heart (I do have one!) saw the longing in their eyes – and so I shook their hand.  I felt both guilty and good. Until I read this profoundly moving article from Neil Mackay in The Herald.

Here are some relevant quotes:

 I’m not sure if I feel at home in this world anymore. The Covid World is a dead world. The simplest of things, like human touch, feel forbidden and dirty.”

 Speaking of his daughter who had just moved into her own flat he writes:

The first time I looked at her through a window, and waved and blew a kiss, and then walked away, I got to the end of her street and cried so hard I thought my chest would break open. It felt so cruel, so inhuman. My child was in front of me and I couldn’t hug her or kiss her or put my arm around her.

 Then with the slight easing of lockdown she came around to visit.  But the government had mandated ‘no touching’.  And so…

“She arrived, but I couldn’t bear to be with her and yet unable to embrace her or kiss her. Nor could my wife. Nor could our daughter. It was like an invisible physical wall between us. For a few minutes, we hovered around each other, like bashful infants. The inability to touch, to hug, deadened everything – muting how we spoke, how we looked at each other. It made love feel less.

Then – and I don’t know who acted first – we stepped together and hugged each other. We all kissed, we embraced. And we came back to life. We became the people we’d always been with each other – easy, happy, loving, gentle. So, we broke the little rule, but we felt like human beings. Fool that I am, I still feel guilty for it. There’s people breaking lockdown everywhere you look – but I still can’t help but worry that our little family unit’s need to show and express love for each other might endanger one of us, or someone else.

I so empathised with that.  We have not had such a severe lockdown here in Australia. But even what we have had has been to some extent dehumanising.  Mackay goes on:

 In truth though, I’d rather not exist than live a life where my humanity has been stripped from me. Even the things we’re allowed to do are robbed of all humanity – by necessity, I know; for our own good, I know. Like shopping in a mask. I don’t feel like a person in a mask. If you’re in a mask I can’t see the look on your face. Humans have spent 250,000 years reading the micro-expressions on each other’s faces. Without them, we’re less than human.

I’ve tried masks twice, and much as I want to abide by the rules as best as I can to protect others, I can’t do that anymore. It’s hateful to me. I feel like I’m an automaton, not the messy, flawed, contradictory creature that’s a human being.”

IMG_8558 copyAmen, brother – preach it.  I went to the Apple store this week.  It was worse than airport security.  We had to line up outside – then get our temperature check; then answer three questions – then they gave us this facemask.   I hated wearing it.  Speaking to one of the staff he said he loathed it and he had to wear it all day.    The mask doesn’t stop you getting Covid – it only stops you spreading it. If you don’t have it – then it’s pointless wearing it.  In a society where almost no one has Covid it just doesn’t make sense.  But I suspect its being done so that Apple can say they are doing something and to give people a (false) sense of security.

I’ve been dreaming of a return to that wonderfully flawed, messy human world. Where you can pat your pal on the arm if they’re feeling down or kiss an old friend on the cheek at a party.

Mackay goes on to talk about the new post-Covid reality of working life and describes a new bubble type office block in Glasgow.

I get the reasons why. Employers must protect staff. But we’re going to become something less than fully human in this new dead world we’re creating.

And then comes this brilliant conclusion.

There’s a long, hot summer coming. The rightful anger and protest we’ve seen over racial injustice will not go away. The hate that breeds on social media gets worse by the day. Britain’s economy is set to be the hardest hit among developed nations by coronavirus. Mass unemployment is approaching us like a bullet train. People are going to go to the wall. This country is going to be wrecked. We know it. It’s just we’re not brave enough to admit it to ourselves yet.

Could such a recipe for unrest come at worst time? When the most precious – but also most subtle – parts of our humanity have been pared back and eroded. Many people need an arm put around them – but we can’t do that now. They’re angry, they’re fearful. They need the human touch to set them right, and there’s nobody to give them that.

By the end of this year, we may find that as a society we will need to put our arms around each other more, no matter what the rules say.

 I’ve shared much of this article with you because I think it is spot on.  We need the human touch.  Neil Mackay sees the problem.  He doesn’t know the answer.  We do.  Not the superficial, shallow and ultimately useless answers of the political campaigns but rather the answers given by the one who came and touched the leper, wept with the widow and gave his body that we might become His.  I see, hear and feel Neil’s world weariness – this IS a dead world.  Only Christ can bring it to life.

It’s for that reason we are having our Online Café tomorrow at St Thomas’s…Please pray for it – attend online – or if you are in Sydney and want to come – there is still time to drop me an e-mail to see if we have space.  Our entire focus is on Christ and introducing him into a world that so desperately needs him…and to be honest a church that does as well.

Sometimes I feel that much of the church has forgotten Christ.  They have the name but not the person or the power.  Jesus is just someone we tag on to our personal or political causes.  It’s depressing seeing the quality of Christian interaction on social media.  (I admit I’m not without fault on this one!).  For example, in response to the Christian Today article I received a number of responses from Right and Left (I use them as political terms which have come into the church) which were depressing.  From the Right I was accused of being too weak and excusing anti-white racism.  From the Left I was on accused on one UK church leaders website of being someone who ‘brings pain’ and doesn’t speak for Jesus.   My problem with that, apart from the nastiness, is that I don’t think I do speak for Jesus on political issues – everyone seems so sure that Jesus would be on their side of the tribal divide.  I haven’t a clue.  Because all I can do in speaking for Jesus is speak what he says in and through his Word.   I have my own political opinions and analysis – but I can never claim divine authority for them.  I do however know that we live in a broken world (as Neil Mackay has discovered) and that the only Saviour of the world is Christ.  So I will speak of him.  Rather than taking down statues of dead people (or seeking to defend them)..I will speak of the Living Saviour.

“In reality, salvation was bought not by Jesus’fists, but by His nail-pierced hands; not by muscle, but by love; not by vengeance, but by forgiveness; not by force, but by sacrifice.  Jesus Christ our Lord surrendered in order that He might win; He destroyed his enemies by dying for them and conquered death by allowing death to conquer Him. ”  A.W Tozer Preparing for Jesus’ Return

Until next week (or the Lord comes – apparently, the Mayan calendar has next week as the end of the world)…

Maranatha – Come soon Lord Jesus,

David

Ps.  Just after I wrote this I thought is it wrong that I as a Christian can so empathise with Neil Mackay’s world weariness?  I think the Christian has a wonderful win/win in this situation.  We are weary of the world and long to be with Christ – but we also have a work to do here – joyfully.   And then I heard this sermon from Andrew last night…it expresses that win/win hope of the Christian so beautifully…enjoy

Letter from Australia 46 – Riots, Reading the Bible, Flowing Waters, EarPods and Spotify

 

 

 

 

6 comments

  1. Funny that you should be saying what you have David, about criticisms you receive from the right and the left. I have been saying that I am equally hated by both sides. And it seems to me that there is this kind of dynamic across the political spectrum. Those toeing the party line where there is polemical adversity with “the other” and it’s this which seems to get air time, column inches and clicks. And others that though have a political inclination are in dialogue with people who differ, some even at another time could be considered an “enemy” but are finding connection through shared compassion, truth, equality, peace and dignity.

    But that, perhaps is not is getting reported as much. Good news of any kind seems to be resisted by the world just as the good news of the Gospel of the lord Jesus Christ!

    And of course naturally what we are all resistant to – took me 33 years to realise I couldn’t make it on my own and that whatever I gained, left me wanting more and frustrated as to why I had everything I need as “a man of the world” but like Mick Jagger I could get no satisfaction. Seems I am not alone in this – and following your recent Fleetwood Mac link – here’s another which says it better than I could in a few lines of text. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJWOtL-PZiE

    Which takes me to your point about Christ-less church which of course is an oxymoron. If Christ is not present in a meeting on a Sunday, whatever is happening at the gathering is not church in it’s true sense.

    So what is to be done? Seeing how God is at work and choosing to be part of that seems to be a good place to start. And how did God speak to churches in Revelation?

    Smyrna – Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer.
    Pergamum – Repent of your sin
    Thyatira – those who commit adultery with [that woman who calls herself a prophet] will suffer greatly unless they repent. [to those who have not followed her false teaching] hold tightly to what you have until I come.
    Sardis – you are dead. Wake up!
    Philadelphia – Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.
    Laodicea – be diligent and turn from your indifference.

    So there seems to be sliding scale. Everything form encouragement to hold on and tight, then be diligent, to repenting of sin and following false teaching, to you are dead and wake up!

    But I think what is most prominent to all churches is that God does not abandon any in this account. There is no throwing into a lake of sulphur but encouragement when needed and also discipline when required, just as with an earthly father though of course when God disciplines it’s always for good whereas an earthly father disciplines as he sees fit.

    So – it’s a comfort I think, that we will not be abandoned so how do we want to be treated? With reassurance and encouragement or with discipline and rebuke? So just as the line between good and evil is drawn down every human heart and what one of us would cut off our own heart, we like it or not, are all part of the body of Christ with all that goes along with that.

    And, very sadly and painfully, sometimes this requires breaking fellowship, leaving a church etc. in obedience to Jesus just as he instructed his followers to give a warning and testify against those who didn’t welcome them.

    What is imperative of course is to know when that is done for the right reasons- out of obedience to Jesus and not acting in the “sinful nature”.

  2. Your article makes very difficult reading. While I can appreciate the points you make about Neil Mackay’s article, I also have to balance this against his earlier article when he likened Dominic Cummings, a man also created in the image and likeness of God, to a “vomit stain on (his) clothes.” Do we not all seek to portray our shortcomings as a contravention of “little” rules and those of others as major crimes.
    As you point out, Neil Mackay sees the problem but, like the rest of us, perhaps he refuses to acknowledge his contribution to it.

  3. Jesus was well aware of the political and cultural goings on when He walked the earth. His answer was Mark 12v17 “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are Gods” He never wavered from the mission He came for…”Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” Matthew 4 v17
    In Matthew 8 v1-4 Jesus touched a leper. He didn’t have to do that – only speak the Word, yet in His humanity He wanted humans to understand the love of the Father by using a compassionate touch. Why are we surprised to feel this way when it’s hardwired in us?
    Be encouraged David….John 15 v16-21….you’re on the narrow path!

  4. That is a very apt message. Thank you Pastor. I have just learned about your site and will keep reading it.

    Nathan
    Tasmania

  5. Thanks for this article David. Social distancing and wearing face masks are both dehumanising. I hope and pray that both of these will last no longer than is absolutely necessary.

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