“Why don’t Americans want to wear masks?” my Asian friend sincerely asked me several months ago.
My friend knew firsthand of American individuality, yet this resistance to mask-wearing seemed difficult for her to understand. She was accustomed to mask-wearing since Asians frequently wear a mask when they are sick to protect others from becoming ill. Naturally, she assumed that Americans, who she had experienced as being quite neighborly, would seek to keep others and themselves safe via the donning of a mask amidst a pandemic.
Of course, I attempted to explain how our country was founded upon exerting our rights as individuals, but because of the differences between our cultures, I am uncertain if my explanation was satisfactory for her.
Yet, her inquiry had an unexpected consequence . . . in me. Secretly, her question pricked my own conscience. Her simple acceptance of mask-wearing for the sake of others brought me face to face with the ugly truth about my own resistance to mask-wearing: good, ol’ vanity.
Yup. To put it plain and simple, it was my ego that interfered with my reluctance to wear a mask. Hmm . . . maybe Carly Simon was singing about me when she crooned, “You’re so vain.”
But my education on exerting my rights without consideration towards others was not complete. My friend was about to teach me an additional lesson.
My friend’s country instigated strong measures of protection for its citizens quite quickly after the coronavirus began to spread. It closed its borders and instituted a lockdown in its largest city, resulting in any and all gatherings being curtailed, including schools and churches. While this was transpiring in her country, other countries were experiencing different scenarios. Some American churches continued to hold services despite strong recommendations to the contrary. Several of these ministers vocally objected to any form of government restriction of their rights to gather, and some proclaimed that God would protect them and their congregations from COVID-19. In addition, religious places of worship in South Korea became hotbeds for the coronavirus, and some of the Korean religious groups were acting in defiance to the government’s orders.
Unfortunately, such activity did not go unnoticed by the people in my friend’s country. The country had already been suspicious of Christianity despite its religious freedoms. Thus, when churches in other nations became centers of COVID outbreaks and/or openly resistant to the foregoing of meeting together, this had negative ramifications for the churches in my friend’s country. Rumors surfaced, accusing the Christians of continuing to gather together, which placed them under increased scrutiny. In other words, the actions of Christians in other countries were damaging the witness of law-abiding believers in her country.
As I reflected on her story, I was forced to consider my reasons for resisting the wearing of a mask.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that I believe: Everything I do is to meet a need (see When Jesus Was Needy). By not wearing a mask, I was meeting two of my own needs: 1) the gaining of approval from others in my culture, since Americans do not espouse mask-wearing, and 2) the maintaining of my own appearance, or beauty.
With the mentioning of my needs, some Christians may wonder, “Isn’t all this talk about my needs just plain ol’ selfishness? What about Jesus’ call to deny ourselves?”
I certainly understand this concern as I have wrestled with similar questions. However, I realized that too often when I speak of denying myself, it remains only a nebulous concept, a memory verse with very little impact on my everyday life. That is, I fail to live this out in concrete and practical ways. In contrast, the naming of my needs is a definitive act. It is a form of resisting the temptation to be superhuman, or Godlike (Gen 3:5-6). As I accept myself to be the human that God created me to be, a person with needs, I place myself in a position to follow Jesus’ instructions to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him (Mark 8:34). As I deny my needs for approval and beauty by donning a mask, I am able to meet the needs of love and care for my neighbor. As such, the wearing of a mask becomes an act of ministry, making the nebulous explicit by being an agent of healing protection.
I long to be an agent of healing in the world (see When God Resisted Toxic Positivity), and the wearing of a mask corresponds with this desire. Studies indicate that mask-wearing may assist in protecting both the wearer and others (See Japan researchers show masks do block coronavirus, but not perfectly and How can Kansas slow the spread of COVID? New KU study has answers. Will anyone listen?) Thus, I can care for others and myself by not only maintaining a distance of six feet and regularly washing my hands but also by wearing a mask.
At this point, you may be wondering, “But aren’t you a pentecostal who is supposed to have enough faith so that God will protect you and others from the coronavirus?”
While pentecostals adhere to the belief in divine healing and protection, many also believe that “divine healing neither opposes nor competes with medical doctors.” In other words, it is a both-and understanding, not an either-or. Many pentecostals hold that God may not only miraculously heal and/or protect people from disease but also that God may use medicine to bring about the same results. This understanding embraces science alongside a supernatural intervention. For me, mask-wearing qualifies as an area of medicine that is verified by science. First, it has been upheld by the medical field for years (e.g., surgeons in an operating room), and second, it currently is supported by science to help curb the spread of the virus. Hence, it is a way to increase humanity’s healing protection from a disease that may or may not show symptoms and/or may have serious ramifications even in mild cases (see Long-Term Effects of COVID-19). As such, my donning of a mask becomes a way to participate in Christ’s ongoing healing ministry in the world.
But the nebulous also becomes explicit when I deny my needs for approval and beauty as a way to live out the gospel—a life of cruciformity.
I am drawn to 1 Corinthians, in which the Apostle Paul highlights the idea of surrendering one’s freedom (rights) for the sake of love (ch. 13). It is in this epistle that we see the message of cruciformity, which is defined by Michael Gorman as a daily “conformity to the crucified Christ.” Paul begins his letter by pointing toward the story of the crucified Christ when he writes in 1:23, “But we preach Christ crucified” and again in 2:2, “For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (see also 1:13). Such an emphasis is in stark contrast to the Roman culture, which had influenced the Corinthian church’s understanding of power. In Paul’s day, the gods were perceived to have the most power, which was followed by “humans who somehow had a share in these suprahuman powers.” As Gorman notes, those with the greatest affluence, prestige, accomplishments, education, proper lineage, outward beauty, and persuasive speech had the most power and honor. This produced a competitive culture that was based on merit, resulting in people being shamed and perceived as “weak” when they lacked the above qualities, or even lost them.
However, Paul defies his culture and welcomes a life of cruciformity when he sets himself up as an example for the Corinthians to follow. He does not demand payment for his ministry to the Corinthians, but instead he works with his hands, which prompts the Corinthians to view him as weak. He is willing to not eat meat if it causes another believer to sin (8:13). He becomes a slave to all “to gain even more people”; he becomes like a Jew, so he may win Jews; he is free from the law to minister to those who are free from the law; and he becomes weak in order to gain those who also are weak (9:19-23). As Anthony Thiselton comments, the term “weak” (9:22) is not referring to those who are “insecure” but rather those who are “vulnerable in sociopolitical terms,” meaning those who are without power in society. Thiselton writes:
In today’s terms, he [Paul] does not proclaim merely a ‘success’ gospel for extrovert ‘winners’ (italics original).
Instead, Paul stands with those who have very little social standing, who long for “identity, recognition, and acceptance.” In other words, Paul’s message is about championing the disenfranchised of a society, and in today’s culture, this is the poor, the aged, the immigrant, the non-white, the disabled, and the unhealthy, to name a few.
Paul, then, does not assert his rights, but instead he subdues his own body for the sake of the gospel (9:27). That is, he denies his needs. Paul does not seek his “own benefit, but the benefit of many” (10:33). Thus, in a similar fashion that God ministered to humanity by not grasping at status and prestige but by becoming human and dying, Paul now ministers to the Corinthians by entering into others’ death experiences. In this way, Paul becomes like the crucified Christ in order that others may be persuaded to believe in Jesus. Paul becomes the gospel by embodying the story of the Crucified One. By his example, then, Paul is instructing the Corinthians “to live out the story of Christ crucified in their community.”
And now, centuries later, Paul’s instructions beckon to me amidst a pandemic to do the same. That is, to deny myself, my needs for approval and beauty, and instead love and provide healing protection for my neighbor as I would love and protect myself. For me, I do this by simply donning a mask.
 See this study that indicates that many believers in God will protect them from COVID.
 “Divine Healing (adopted by the General Presbytery in session August 9–11, 2010),” Position Papers, Assemblies of God website, https://ag.org/Beliefs/Position-Papers/divine-healing (accessed November 23, 2020).
 Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Wm. B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2001), Kindle Edition, loc. 76. Gorman continues, “[T]this conformity is a dynamic correspondence in daily life to the strange story of Christ crucified as the primary way of experiencing the love and grace of God.” Gorman, Cruciformity, loc. 77. Gorman perceives this theme throughout Paul’s epistles. See Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letter, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2017) and Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), Kindle Edition.
 Ibid., loc. 3153.
 Ibid., loc. 3164-3168.
 Gorman comments, “Paul finds in his own personal narrative of refusing financial help and descending the social ladder an embodiment of the story of Jesus.” Gorman, Cruciformity, loc. 3405-3406.
 Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians in The New International Greek Testament Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), 706.
 Gorman writes, “Paul wanted his life and ministry to tell a story, a story that corresponded to the ‘story of the cross,’ to his gospel.” Gorman, Cruciformity, loc. 344-345.
 Ibid., 282.