It seems we can’t look at a newspaper or turn on a TV or radio without hearing about the H1N1 flu. For the most part the media has presented a fairly consistent message. Beyond simply reporting the facts and statistics of the number of people becoming ill and some even dying from this flu, they are doing a good job of pointing out the risks and providing information about how to protect yourself and your loved ones.
But then you start talking with friends and neighbours and colleagues and you get a whole different picture. Some people are concerned about the safety and long term effects of vaccines. Some figure this will be no worse than a regular seasonal flu. Some see a conspiracy between drug manufacturers and governments. Some think the whole saturation of the media is just hype or that we’re not getting the whole story.
It can all be very confusing. And then when you hear about people dying including children, some who were otherwise normal and healthy, it can all be very frightening. So what do you do? Do you give in to the fear? Do you cower behind closed doors, never to venture out into public again? Or on the other end of the spectrum, do you ignore or disbelieve the risks and go on as if nothing is wrong and nothing harmful is out there?
I would suggest living our lives with common sense and faith. The medical community have told us what the best practices are to reduce the risk. Wash your hands frequently. Don’t touch your face more than necessary. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve. If you are sick, stay home so that you don’t spread germs to others.
Even in church we’re encouraging people to stay away if they are sick. When we share the peace we are telling people that it’s perfectly acceptable to speak the words of blessing with a nod or another gesture and they may refrain from shaking hands. For those concerned with drinking wine at communion from the same cup as others people we offer the option of individual glasses that are filled from a pouring chalice, or people are free to receive just the bread. We also have hand sanitizer pumps in a few locations in the church.
That’s the common sense part, but what about the faith part? We believe and teach and trust in the grace and love of God. In baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked forever with the cross of Christ, who is health and salvation for the whole world. That doesn’t mean we’re magically or mystically protected from all illness or even death. It does mean that God is present with strength and comfort in time of suffering.
Does this mean that Christians are never afraid? No way! What it means is that in the midst of confusion, doubt, and fear we can live in faith, trusting in God’s promise to always be with us. It means we can depend on God to bring us through times of difficulty. It means that we are part of a community of faith that walks with us in good times and bad. It means that even when illness leads to death, God accompanies us and our loved ones, holding us in his loving embrace no matter what.
So, my prayer is that we can live and walk and perhaps even struggle through this flu pandemic with faith and common sense. God be with all of you.