It’s Sunday morning and I’m seated at a Coffee shop.
Regularly, I would have been in church. The 9 a.m. service, with my hands lifted up in worship, together with 1000 of my fellow church members, singing hymns and spiritual songs. And hearing my pastor preach the word while I check the latest Football results on Twitter. (Don’t tell him that). And after service, we’ll all be at the atrium, catching up with each other, probably talking about the latest developments of the Covid-19 virus affecting our lives at work. And then, we go our separate ways.
But I’m here this morning and for the next few weeks, I’ll be home attending the service online (live streaming) with my family.
A lot has changed in the past few weeks. For one, there’re no more Football results to check on Twitter. Just frantically following the news whether the Premier League season will be resumed or cancelled and if Liverpool will be crowned Champions. (But that’s really beside the point).
What has changed is how the crisis is global and how the epicentre of contagion has moved from China to Europe and soon, I believe, to the USA. What has changed is now over 168,000 (and daily rising) are now infected globally – with over 5000 deaths – many amongst the elderly. What has changed is how more and more countries are banning travels, from more and more countries, to prevent importing cases onto their shores. What has changed is the desperate feeling that globally, we might be losing the war in our fight against Covid-19.
I’m not an expert on infectious disease. And because of that, I figured the best way forward as an individual is to listen to experts and take steps within my abilities to play a small part.
Which brings me to the opening line of this post:
“It’s a Sunday morning and I’m seated in a Coffee shop.”
There is for me a delicate balance between fear and faith. This post is not a theological debate about how one drives the other. But rather, the delicate balance between how to exercise my faith in a time of fear. How I would choose to skip Sunday services at church because I do not wish to be in a closed room with 1000 people, yet having a wholehearted belief that my God is a God who protects and heals. And at the same time, I would have no problems seated in a public area in a Coffee shop with my gear spread around the table so that the next nearest person is at least 1m apart.
In a moderated session at Straits Clan on Friday, I asked Prof Baron Peter Piot (an infectious disease expert who was one of the Scientists who discovered Ebola in the 1970s) what advice he would give a personal friend beyond – what the media encourages on washing hands and personal hygiene.
I was expecting some inner secrets that the experts have to protect themselves and their loved ones. His answer was pretty simple. Exercise personal responsibilities (wash hands, stay home if ill, etc) and social distancing and at the same time, continue to live life as normal as we can, but in a new reality.
His answer was pretty simple. Exercise personal responsibilities (wash hands, stay home if ill, etc) and social distancing and at the same time, continue to live life as normal as we can, but in a new reality.
The struggle I had this morning and for a while now is how do I as a Christian exercise that personal responsibility beyond seeing it as fear or giving up.
My conclusion, after a discussion I had with my family, is that if social distancing is the best way to minimise any further spread or create any new clusters, then the sacrifice of not being able to worship together with fellow believers in a church building is something I can do. And it’s probably the most responsible thing any leader can do at this time.
My faith dictates that before making any declaration that God can heal or protect, my first responsibility as a follower of Christ is to be a witness. And that means one that is not irresponsible in a time of crisis because of my personal faith but rather, arising from my faith, rationally putting my needs aside for the larger good.
I read with admiration the message Archbishop William Goh, who leads 300,000 Catholics in Singapore, on his deliberate decision to suspend Masses and continue to do so for the foreseeable future. “I appeal to all Catholics to be magnanimous, charitable and generous, especially during this season of Lent, for the greater good of our people in Singapore. When others see us as being socially responsible, they will appreciate our faith even more because they see us putting Christian charity into action. This is how we show ourselves to be good Catholics.”
Our Muslim friends are also temporarily closing mosque gatherings and suspending mosque activities. It is a big deal for them (similarly for Christians and Catholics). One that they have decided for the greater good.
So how do we exercise our faith in a time of fear? I suggest we live our lives worthy to be called a witness. Not of supernatural phenomenon but that of a fellow responsible citizen who believes our faith gives us the peace in times of crisis to make good and rational decisions.
In this time of fear, let’s choose to serve each other. In this time of Lent, let’s choose to sacrifice that which is important to us for the larger good.
It’s time for the church to suspend our services for a period of time.
Let’s congregate online and in our small groups. Let’s tithe and give our offerings electronically. Let’s have communion in cell groups instead of large gatherings. In this time leading to Easter, let our lives show forth His resurrection.
Let’s watch out for our neighbours who might have lost their jobs or whose pay is cut in half. Let’s give generously to those in need around us. Let’s live our lives in peace knowing that with God, we will prevail and that life goes on, just in a different reality for now.
Let’s play our part to make sure no one gets left behind during this difficult time. Let’s volunteer with groups and charities who, on the ground, reach out to those who are vulnerable. Let’s watch out for our neighbours who might have lost their jobs or whose pay is cut in half. Let’s give generously to those in need around us. Let’s live our lives in peace knowing that with God, we will prevail and that life goes on, just in a different reality for now.
That for me is how we can exercise our faith in times of fear.
Martin Tan is the Executive Director of The Majurity Trust (majurity.sg) and spends his waking moments the past few months wondering when Our Lord Jesus Christ will return and when Liverpool Football Club will win the Premier League.