This was Sunday’s planned sermon title at Community Church of South Haven (KS). I suppose I should mention that as the minister and pastor, my dutiful attendance is usually expected. I was dressed and ready to go to church by 8:00 a.m. Just three minutes before I walked out the door I found out that there are at least eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Camden, SC.
So what, right?
The so what is that Randa and I just returned from Camden after spending eight days there spending time with our son Sam and his family. We had a terrific visit with him, Sara Jane and our four grandsons who reside with them. We met some of their neighbors, shopped in the community and participated in a few of the Irish Fest activities. In fact, Randa, Sam and I provided the musical entertainment for Irish Fest sponsors on the first night we were there. It was our first gig as a trio and hopefully will become one of many.
The big event that took us there at this particular time was another gig. A three-hour performance with 40 Thieves, a band that Sam put together three months ago just for this event. Sam lined up a drummer and bass player, both terrific professionals with a lot of experience. He invited some of his siblings and me to join him but none of them could make it.
So… Sam and I were going to be the front men, alternating singing lead on two dozen songs, including some old rock/pop numbers and several traditional Irish folk songs. Randa would take lead on an Emmy Lou Harris classic and provide harmony on several other songs.
She and I practiced for several weeks ahead, as did Sam. During our week visiting in Camden and prior to the planned Friday night gig at a popular local restaurant, Sam and I practiced for at least a dozen hours, plus another four or five hours with Scott and Gordon. Randa joined us for the second practice with the full group. We were ready!
Three months of expectation, many hours of practice, learning at least a dozen songs that I’d never performed in public before, fourteen hundred miles of driving from Kansas through Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, culminated in a genuine nexus of joyful anticipation: my son and I were going to be playing in public with a real band!
Just under twenty-four hours before we would start setting up our sound equipment at La Fiesta, Sam got a call from Army command. (Sam, currently a major, has been a soldier since 2007.) Unbelievably, Sam got orders that made it impossible for him to play the gig with us on Friday night.
We were all crushed, disappointed, heartbroken, sad, frustrated, in shock. Seriously? All that hope, anticipation, joy. Dashed on the rocks.
But… the show must go on.
Scott and Gordon contacted another singer/guitar player who agreed to fill in. I fumbled my way through setting up the equipment, with help from the others. I took over some of the songs Sam was going to sing, the other guy picked up a couple and we dropped one and subbed a different tune. In spite of the disorientation and a wind chill flirting with the freezing point, we did the gig. In the outdoor dining area. At least it had a roof over it.
The restaurant owner also had wind screens installed over part of the section and set out a couple of propane space heaters. Sam texted Randa a few times during the evening and she kept him posted on progress. Folks seemed to enjoy the show and we enjoyed performing—as much as we could under the circumstances.
Ironically, I’d had a premonition of sorts before we’d left Kansas nearly two weeks earlier. “What if something comes up with the Army and they order Sam back over to the Middle East or something else right before the show?” That was one of the reasons I’d learned to sing lead on most of the songs Sam was going to do. I will say, though, learning Mustang Sally was a definite stretch for me. Sam rips that song with a bluesy/rock style; I managed something of a folk/rock/country/twangy rendition. The bass guy and the drummer did a great job, though, and Randa and the stand-in guy pulled backup vocals.
In spite of the huge disappointment, I’m trying to follow Sam’s lead on focusing on the positive: having made new friends, playing together, a great visit with one another, and laying a foundation for future times together, including music gigs.
So… what does this have to do with “Faith, Fear, and Phobia?”
Even though I did not anticipate the challenges, frustrations, and disappointments, I never doubted that we would do the gig. Even knowing three weeks ago what I know now—except for the COVID-19 cases— I’d drive all those miles and spend that time there. Even though the gig was the huge, primary, motivating focus for making the trip at that particular time, it wasn’t nearly all there was to the visit. Three of my grandsons found out that their ole grandpappy can still chuck a basketball through the hoop, bounce the ball in a controlled manner and make a few passes. We met some really great people and helped a little bit with the fourth annual and biggest yet Irish Fest Camden. And we got to visit three other children, ten other grandchildren, and my sister and her husband on our way out.
In short, in the weeks of prayer and preparation, I always believed we would have a good visit, a good trip. That’s faith.
I am also sure that even though our country and our people will suffer through the coming weeks and months of dealing with COVID-19, we will survive. We will once again see good days. Even after the staggering losses to IRA’s and investments. Even after enduring sickness, witnessing the sickness of others and possibly suffering the death of loved ones. Those that we love in the Lord will go on to their rest, we will grieve and we will mourn and we will never be the same again. But we will go again. Faith.
The “fear” part?
Well, sometimes the word is used to denote cowardice, timidity, or lack of courage. Sometimes, though, it means a proper respect for the true power and nature of something. Or someone. Like “Fear the Lord and keep his commandments.”
While I don’t think COVID-19 even faintly approaches the power and awesomeness of the Lord God Jehovah, it does warrant proper respect and understanding. It is not “just a bad cold” or “another type of flu.” As a novel virus, there is no pre-existing immunity developed from prior exposure. It is much reportedly about fifteen times more infectious than influenza Type A or Type B, and has a fatality rate over thirty times higher.
Yes, many people will have it and never know it. Mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. No fever, no aches, no hacking and coughing. No big deal. Many of these asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic people will spread it to others. They either don’t know or don’t care and so they continue to go to work, go to church, go to the store, hang out with others. By whatever means, many others who are more vulnerable due to age or underlying conditions will require hospitalization and many will die. Maybe not millions but likely thousands.
Especially if we continue to mock science, medicine, common sense and compassion. Some medical and especially infectious disease experts believe that as many as one hundred thousand Americans were already infected by the time of the president’s declaration of a national emergency. That cannot be verified because of the extremely limited number of testing kits available, because many people will be sick but not seek treatment, and again, because many people have the virus but are asymptomatic.
If we properly “fear” this disease, we will support precautions, remediation, prevention and cautious behavior for as long as it takes to protect ourselves, our families and others. We will minimize contact with others, we will wash our hands zealously, we will check our temperature daily, we will quit assembling in large groups, we will avoid physical contact. We will stay home when we are sick and maybe even when we aren’t.
This is not being a sissy, scaredy-cat, or coward. It is being sensible and compassionate. In fact, it could be argued that denial is actually a manifestation of greater fear than realistic precaution. If we don’t admit it, then we don’t have to deal with it, right? If we ridicule, mock, and denigrate scientists, physicians and health officials, that proves we ain’t skeered. Right? Maybe, although other interpretations are also possible.
While God has assured us of his infinite love and care, he has also sternly warned us “Do not test the strength of the Lord your God.” In other words, don’t deliberately put yourself in situations that require miraculous intervention to protect or rescue you. And do not by your actions set in place a small series of chain events that could put others in such situations.
Put your trust in God (faith) and demonstrate proper respect (fear) for natural and spiritual dangers or threats. Our sojourn through this time of testing may very well be different than you planned and hoped. Stay safe as much as you can, show compassion to others and remember what a great visit you had with those you love.
The “phobia” part? Buying a trunkload or a truckload of toilet paper. Not speaking to your neighbor from across the yard. Not calling your grandmother or checking on your aunt. Buying six months’ worth of groceries or a two-year supply of sanitizer. Gargling with bleach. Putting ammonia in the humidifier. Moving to Outer Mongolia.
So, this is the sermon I’d planned to deliver Sunday morning. We had no idea until less than an hour before church started that there were identified cases of COVID-19 where we’d just visited a week earlier. Now, it is possible that the exposure contact for those people occurred after we left Camden. Possible. And… the show must go on, right?
Well, they did go ahead and have church, so yes, the “show” did go on. But sometimes, it’s best that the show go on without us. Even though I was prepared, dressed and ready to go, I didn’t go. Sometimes the greater compassion is in what we do not do.