Communally Isolated: The Irony of the Coronavirus

I read an article that one of the greatest acts of community we can do right now is to isolate ourselves. 

The irony is so thick in that statement.

As you may (or may not) know, The BFFs Church is a space where we dialogue about our need for community: To wrestle with the causes and effects of loneliness, be enlightened by our God-given design for community, imagine what it means to be friends with God, rediscover spiritual friendship in our churches, and utilize the power of our friendship to reach our lost and lonely world. 

Friendship is one of humanity’s greatest gifts. We can’t be fully ourselves without other selves. 

As we continue to witness the deconstruction of the world around us by the coronavirus, I have been flabbergasted by the irony and paradoxes that have ensued, and how parts of our normal communal living have been completely flipped on their heads. Here are three ironies I have observed.

1. Small Worship Gatherings Win
It was taboo in church culture to sleep in and watch service from any church you want without leaving your home. That was definitely the most convenient option, some would say. You could easily be a part of any church in the world as long as it had a decent streaming service. Yet digital attendance never brings the sacrifice involved in leaving the comforts of home, going to a place of worship, and joining a body of people who can see your face and say your name, not just read your username in a livestream chat room.

But that all changed last week. Churches have been forced to cancel at the risk of large gatherings spreading this disease. “But we can’t just not meet, can we?” In a flurry to ensure Christ’s body still gathers, churches have revamped and revitalized online streaming efforts or encouraging people to gather in homes so they can still worship. What was once a taboo has become the saving grace for us to still praise the Lord Almighty—with the added benefit of never having to change our of our PJ’s. 

But one of the most ironic things of all is that the churches that can still gather are the congregations that are less than 50. The churches that can still meet in person are the ones some would deem as “not as successful” according to church growth statistics or be looked down upon by modern megachurches. Perhaps this virus is God signaling to us that the small are still mighty. Intimacy happens when groups get smaller. Discipleship occurs when it’s broken down to 100, 50, 10, and 2, not necessarily mass gatherings of 1,000 plus. It’s the small gatherings that come out on top here. 

2. A Common Tragedy Yields Community
Almost every single social media post is about the coronavirus. Every. Single. One. The only posts that aren’t about the virus are the sponsored ads that are trying to get me to join a pyramid scheme or buy the product I quickly searched on Amazon that are clearly out of touch with the crisis that’s ensuing before us. 

Everyone has said something. And everyone feels like they have to say something, whether it’s a funny meme to clear the air, a life update on how it’s effecting work, a picture of a barren toilet paper aisle, a political statement, a jarring article, or a bible verse to shed some light on the situation. 

Everyone is talking about it.

And the irony here is that I am seeing people from every corner of my life from all over the country with absolutely nothing in common whatsoever talking about the exact same thing. The unity that is found in this catastrophe is truly astonishing. 

This is effecting everyone. And yet I find it eerily beautiful. Not that everyone is suffering…. But that everyone is suffering. The very foundation of a community is that each member shares something in common. Common” and “community” have the same prefixes for a reason. And when everyone is suffering in a common way, then everyone is brought together by a common unity—community. 

3. Isolation as a Communal Act
We’re all too familiar with the term “social distancing” at this point. I don’t even know if I’m doing it right. Whenever I’m in public now, I subconsciously wonder, “Am I too close? Should we be further away? I shouldn’t have shook his hand… Why’s everybody looking at me after I sneezed?” 

In this common fight against this common tragedy, it is now our civic duty, on behalf of our newfound worldwide community, to isolate ourselves.

I subscribed to a new gym membership just 3 weeks ago so I can workout with one of my best friends, Ethan. About 80% of this gym’s members at 5:45am are all over the age of 65. Ethan and I are the two youngest dudes there first thing in the morning by a long shot. Out of protecting our dearest, elderly workout partners, I have to find other means of working out by myself in the mornings. It’s my civic duty.

My wife and I are about to celebrate our 1-year anniversary. We had a whole day planned for us to get away, receive a couple’s message, watch a movie, and eat great food. Now, we need to cancel our day-date because it is our civil duty to play our part in not spreading this disease, and not do unnecessary travel. It’s very upsetting. But community requires sacrifice. 

The university I work for has moved classes to online formats and cancelled our chapel services to limit the interactions with each other. Some universities have closed altogether. Schools, businesses, churches, sports leagues, concerts, plays, conferences, state primaries—anything that would bring us together have now been cancelled so that through isolation we can fight our common tragedy. 

What Does This Mean?
I wish I could tell you. Nobody knows. Things will be continue to get uncomfortable. You won’t be able to eat out as much. Finances will get tight. God forbid jobs are lost and we’re on the brink of a new Great Depression. But what I do know is people have an innate ability of assuming the worst.

It certainly doesn’t have to be the worst. 

Human history has proven time and time again that we, as a social species by God’s design, know how to rally together in the face of crisis, chaos, and catastrophes. Strangers become friends, enemies become allies, as people who couldn’t be more different are now bound together by a common fight, a common tragedy, that forms a community. And we, as the body of Christ, have a huge role to play by instilling hope into the chaos and completely reinventing what it means to still live in community and minister through our friendship. 

All while in the comfort of our PJs.


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