How Do You Study the Bible?

July 28, 2020

I’m preparing to record a Bible study for posting online. It’s primarily for my parishioners during this time when meeting together is far more complicated. We began a study on 1 Corinthians in June when the state prohibitions against church gatherings were partially lifted. But since the reinstatement of those restrictions we’ve been on hiatus again. I want to try and lead my people through additional study but I don’t find Zoom to be the best format for this. So I plan to record short (less than 15 minutes) studies – lots of them most likely! – posted to YouTube for now but hopefully hosted eventually on our own website. People can read through the preparatory material, listen to the corresponding YouTube posts, and then gather for a Zoom time of discussion together.

I always begin my Bible study series with a section on isogogics – the contextual information we have about the book or section we’ll be studying. This contextual information does several things. It can help give us insight into the why of what is being said. It also is a reminder to us that these words do have a context. They have a time and place and actual people in and around them. They aren’t fantasy but a part of history.

Since this is an online study, I want to begin with a brief introduction to how we study the Bible. I’m trying to think of the major things I want to say in this regard. So far, they include:

  • We don’t study Scripture in isolation. We study with others – either in real time with people around us (either virtually or otherwise) and/or in conjunction with the thoughts and insights of earlier Christians on the text in question. This is the process of using commentaries and other resources to help us understand. We bring our own minds to it – we don’t simply parrot what others have said since they could be wrong. But to not refer to other people’s insights and knowledge is equally dangerous because we can be wrong as well.
  • We expect God the Holy Spirit to be present and active. God’s Word is not static. It is fundamentally different from any other written resource in existence. Opening the Bible is to bring oneself into the direct presence of God. Not that the book itself is holy, but what the book says is. What the book says is the inspired Word of God and it can and should work on us in unexpected ways.
  • Faith matters. A Christian reads the Bible differently than a non-Christian. A Christian – by the power and presence of God the Holy Spirit – will find things in Scripture the person without faith not only won’t but can’t. How does this work? I can’t tell you. I can only affirm what Scripture itself claims in this regard (Luke 24:45-49; John 3:6-8, 14:26; Romans 8:6; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; 1 John 2:19-27, etc.) . The Holy Spirit is the one who opens our minds to be able to see Scripture more clearly. A non-Christian can study the Bible and learn a great deal. But they read it at a fundamental disadvantage compared to the person of faith. We at least need to bear this in mind as we study the Word of God.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture – We shouldn’t read small sections of Scripture in separation from the rest of Scripture. We aren’t free to impose an interpretation on a particular section of text if that interpretation directly contradicts or ignores other sections of Scripture. This requires a broad knowledge of Scripture, which highlights the necessity of reading it with others as few people have an encyclopedic knowledge or recall of Scripture.

Other suggestions?

Political Suggestion

July 27, 2020

Perhaps like you, my town is starting to be dotted with notices of businesses closing. Doors shutting for good after being forced to shut down as part of the grand social sacrifice to stop the spread of the coronavirus. I’ve heard little mention through official channels of remorse for these closures, the preliminary wave of what I expect will be a much larger wave continuing on into the years ahead of us. I’ll assume our leaders presume loan monies are adequate to sustain businesses shuttered for months on end.

The signs and notices around town tell a different story.

Of course most of our elected officials don’t have businesses to run. Their salaries as well as their premiere health benefits are guaranteed through tax dollars. They can literally weather the pandemic indefinitely, determining who closes and who opens without any serious personal risk themselves. I’m sure they know people who are affected. At least I hope they do. I hope somebody close to them has lost their business or their health insurance. Not out of vindictiveness but so our leaders have an accurate measure of the economic and psychological pain being caused through prolonged closures.

For an illness that is far less lethal than we originally feared.

In some ways I imagine it is like royalty in centuries past. While the masses of people beneath them might be struggling through catastrophe, the wealth of the aristocracy could effectively insulate them from those effects, or allow them to relocate for a period of time. Responsiveness suffers when there is sufficient buffer between the reality of the electorate and the reality of those elected.

So a suggestion.

For as long as some businesses must remain closed or at much reduced capacity, those elected leaders responsible for mandating the closures should endure a commensurate level of economic suffering as well. As long as there are businesses not allowed to reopen, all officials from the Governor down to the local elected leaders should not draw any salary. They should be entitled to unemployment benefits like everyone else, for which they must file like everyone else. They should have the same health insurance coverages – or lack thereof – of anyone else on unemployment. This situation should continue until mandatory closures are lifted and businesses can reopen.

If businesses are allowed to reopen (or continue operating) but at reduced capacity, all officials from the Governor down to locally elected leaders will only draw salary and benefits directly proportional to the reduction in capacity they are mandating for others. If restaurants can only serve half the customers, government officials should draw half salaries.

In the case of varying levels of closures or reductions in capacity mandated, government official compensation will be tied to the most restrictive mandates currently in force.

Again, this is not intended to be punitive. At least no more punitive than the existing closures and restrictions. But it is intended to lend an air of urgency to a very real and pressing catastrophe that many of our elected officials seem to be personally unaffected by. Their salaries continue as they order others into unemployment. Their benefits packages continue to operate without a blink while others are at risk of losing health coverage and any number of other benefits tied to employment and the overall economic health of an employer and the economy at large.

This would motivate our leaders to be more creative in addressing the issue than simply ordering people to stay in their homes and close down their businesses. It should motivate our leaders to be more creative than simply adding trillions of dollars to our national debt in bailout payments or destroying state budgets through loss of tax revenues.

If our leaders share our pain and our concerns, I have to believe they will be far more motivated to figure out solutions that everyone benefits from. This can’t go on indefinitely, or even through the end of the calendar year as some people (academics, government officials or others without any real skin in the game in terms of personal finances) are prone to warning us.

Thoughts?

What Are We Emphasizing?

July 27, 2020

On Friday I blogged about curious aspects of COVID-19 numbers are local City and County updates provide. Primarily, the issue that the number of reported cases is not the same as the number of new cases or even current, active cases where a person still has the Coronavirus and could be contagious. What is emphasized in the reporting are the number of reported new cases – many of which appear to be from weeks ago because the person is no longer considered infectious.

Here’s a Monday update, with two things to note.

First, in Monday’s e-mail, there was a new explanatory note included defining active cases – a number always reported but never emphasized – as cases that are still infectious. Frankly this is the number we need to be emphasizing. Highlighting large numbers of potentially positive test results that are no longer infectious only confuses the issue, keeps people fearful, and muddies the waters in terms of what is the current risk. This is what most people (rightfully) care about – what is my current risk of contracting COVID-19 based on the number of known infected people in my area.

Between the weekend (183 new reported cases) and Monday (77 new reported cases) there were 260 new reported cases. However the number of active cases – where people are considered to still have the Coronavirus active in their systems and therefore are potentially infectious to others – decreased from 361 on Thursday/Friday to 308. That’s a 14% drop rate in current infections! You’d think that would be cause for celebration but you certainly don’t hear this statistic touted in news articles.

The only local news article reported how the number of cases and hospitalizations have increased while the number of deaths and hospitalizations requiring intensive care unit care have declined. In other words, the impression is given there are more people who are sick or getting sick, but they are not as severely affected. Since they don’t provide us with a level of detail that includes when the various reported cases were actually tested, all we can conclude reasonably is that more people were sick than we realized, but that wasn’t really too big a deal because the vast majority of them got better without requiring hospitalization. Again, demonstrating that the Coronavirus – while still a risk to the elderly and those with underlying health issues – is by and large not nearly as lethal as we initially thought back in the spring.

Don’t just read the numbers, think about them and draw your own conclusions. I’d be interested to know what the data says to you.

Reading Ramblings – August 2, 2020

July 26, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 136; Romans 9:1-13; Matthew 14:13-21

Context: God cares for his creation. He cares specifically for you and I but we are a small part of creation rather than the sum of it we often feel ourselves to be, even if we wouldn’t state it as such. His care is demonstrated historically, always in the past tense but we are called to faith and trust in that care in the present and future tenses based on his track record. To those who would accuse Christians of blind faith we would respond this is inaccurate. Our view of God’s work is much better looking back than at the current moment, and only God knows the tangible specifics of the future. He has revealed some of these to us though, so we know what to expect, and contrary to people who reject his Word, we actually have far better vision.

Isaiah 55:1-5 – Blossoming from the Suffering Servant language of chapters 52 & 53, chapter 55 continues beautiful language of restoration and love and comfort and care from God for his people. These verses in particular are beautiful in evoking power, specific images and ideas about what the reign of God made possible by the Suffering Servant will allow for. An entire way of existing foreign to us, where work for payment and receiving the blessings of God’s creation at a financial cost are unheard of. They no longer exist, they are no longer necessary. There is more than enough for everyone and there is no scarcity, no monopolies, no fluctuating markets and no need for work in the sense we understand it now. The emphasis is not on achieving but rather on what God provides to and for us. And what God provides is always good and of the highest quality (v.2) and alone capable of sustaining life (v.3).

Psalm 136 – The assigned verses for this week exclude the middle section of historical remembrance (vs.10-22) but since I think history is important, I’m asking you to read them all the same! After all, our hopes of God’s goodness to us now and in the future are based in God’s goodness in the past. His reputation establishes his trustworthiness and it’s good to remember the past when looking forward to the future. We remember God for his mighty acts of creation He has revealed to us in his Word, but his Word is validated to us through his works in human lives and history, prophetically demonstrating that He is who He claims to be. All of which will come to a climax not in isolated victories over specific enemies but in his final deliverance of his people from our most ancient of foes, Satan, which I think is a very reasonable application of vs. 23-26. There is little reason to give thanks for a God whose love lasts forever unless we will be able to enjoy that love forever!

Romans 9:1-13 – Paul moves from his central message of faith in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected as the source of our salvation rather than obedience to the Law to deal with a possible objection or conundrum (v.6). If Jesus is the source of our salvation, the promised Messiah, then why in the world didn’t more Jews recognize this and receive this? Why weren’t more of the Jews of Paul’s day Christians? Paul begins with a moving lament in behalf of his Jewish brethren. How desperately he wishes they would open their eyes to the Word of God and see Jesus Christ there! How many of God’s gifts had been given specially to these people, only for them to remain blind! The emphasis in this section is not on the Jewish people but rather on the work of God. Those to whom God extends his promises can trust on his ability to deliver his promises. Abraham and Jacob were not special or different than all other people except in that God made promises to them and would keep them. They had only to trust in those promises. Likewise, as God extends his promises to all people through Jesus Christ, all can and should trust God is capable of delivering them. If He chooses to do so using the weak figure of a crucified Messiah, is this any different than God choosing the second-born Jacob instead of Esau? Or the much delayed Isaac rather than Ishmael? God works how He will and through whom He will but all are invited to trust his promises!

Matthew 14:13-21 – What can and can’t Jesus provide? Should we place our trust in God rather than ourselves? Should we simply receive the good gifts of God without at least demonstrating our deservedness of them? This passage should raise many questions in our minds, yet I can imagine many good Christians responding as the disciples did – let these people take care of themselves! They should have planned ahead for their meal and needs! This isn’t our concern – it’s more than we can possibly handle! And yet it wasn’t too much for Jesus to handle. Jesus is pointed in his rejection of the apostolic suggestion that Jesus send these people away. You give them something to eat. Make that your first goal and intention, and leave it to me to do what you can’t possibly envision being done! Don’t begin with the assumption this is none of your business, but don’t also assume that your business is somehow separate from my presence and power!

How easy for the Church to act in this way. How easy to dismiss the needs of the people around us with a clucking of the tongue and a prideful If you had made better decisions like me, you’d be better off! People God the Father created and God the Son was preparing to die for were in need, and He expected his followers to take that need seriously rather than presuming they had no part in it. Jesus had compassion on this great crowd and He gave them everything – first the Word, and then food and ultimately his death and resurrection. First the good news, and then evidence of just how very good the news was and why they should listen to him, then the creation of and validation of the good news He preached.

There’s no indication in this passage that Jesus only gave food to those who really needed it. There’s no indication that some of these people didn’t take advantage – ate free food from Jesus when they had a perfectly good picnic basket next to them. What mattered was not them in that regard, but Jesus. Jesus as the source of all good things. Of his willingness and ability to feed his people what they needed. Would they recognize this or not? That was secondary. And recognition would be fully predicated on the giving of Jesus first. As with God the Father’s mighty acts of redemption in the Old Testament, the Son of God called the New Testament people – first his disiciples and then others – to faith in him based on the mighty acts He performed.

His goodness was sufficient. More than sufficient it was abundant enough to fill the crowd completely and still have plenty left over. What is not possible with man is possible with God (Matthew 19:26). We as God’s people are called to trust his abundance today as well, not simply as a historical miracle.

Preaching Patterns

July 25, 2020

The next chapter in the preaching improvement book I’m moving slowly through is on the importance of remembering the fundamentals of sermon preparation. It’s very easy in the hustle and bustle of other weekly activities to short cut these fundamentals. To rely on someone else’s work rather than your own. He outlines five fundamentals:

  • Study the Text – the grunt work of the sermon-writing process and the most easily short-cut because it isn’t necessarily obvious to your hearers how well you’ve done this (or whether you’ve done it at all). This step might include reading the text in the original languages for hints and clues translations might lose, consulting commentaries and other writers on the text, and other forms of help in understanding what the text is trying to tell us first, before determining what we want to say about the text.
  • Define the Thesis – clearly identify the main point you want to convey in a sermon. You can’t preach all the nuances of a text in a good sermon, so figure out what you want to hone in on. Identify that early to keep your sermon clear and understandable
  • Choose the Sermon Form – I don’t do this. For me, the sermon shapes itself in relation to the first two steps. Sometimes it’s built around a single exchange, an event or character study. Sometimes it’s more of a teaching sermon. Sometimes it’s highly emotional in nature. They tried to teach us sermon structures in seminary but I struggle here because I have been writing since I’ve been old enough to hold a pencil, and those instincts replace the structural definition step of sermon writing for me.
  • Develop Illustrations and Applications – find out ways to make the text and the message accessible and relevant to your hearers. Teach by all means, but show how the teaching applies, how it connects with the hearers. It’s too easy to simply toss out doctrines and explain a text contextually and historically and culturally without ever connecting it to Jesus and then connecting Jesus to the hearers.
  • Prepare Introduction and Conclusion – Say what you’re going to say, say it, then say what you said. The basics of writing an essay in school are helpful in sermon writing as well.

Definitely good reminders. Preaching should require work and effort. Unfortunately it often doesn’t receive it. I feel I have a good grasp on the basics, though my former homiletics profs might disagree!

Listening for the Spirit

July 24, 2020

I take the Holy Spirit seriously. At least to the best of my ability. I know He’s at work, and that his methods and timings are not always ones I might expect. I don’t expect miracles in the Biblical sense, necessarily, but I do hold out the reality they could happen.

The first impression is important. As much as our culture attempts to convince us that first impressions are judgmental and flawed they remain necessary. In a sinful and broken world where trust is elusive and things and people are not always what we might want them to be, we look for clues to help guide us in how to respond.

His clothes appear clean, though he’s traveling with nothing more than a mostly-consumed bottle of Diet Coke and a jacket. He’s in his mid-to-late 30’s, I estimate. There’s a faint odor of unwashed clothes but it’s the stale odor, not the foul one. Not yet. I’ve learned in ministry that smells can tell you a lot the eyes might miss.

Yes, I have 15 minutes and I invite him in. He clearly has things on his mind though it’s impossible to tell yet what they might be. We sit in the front office and he begins to talk. Not disjointed, but the connections are sometimes complicated and slippery. He has ideas, ideas he’s trying to understand and more importantly trying to apply. He quotes passages from Scripture, demonstrates a familiarity with the Word of God and Christian concepts. But it’s also clear he’s spent time exploring many different sources and ideas, something he confirms later.

The intellect at work is not small. A good vocabulary, a line of reasoning that, while slightly flawed in terms of philosophical categories is still grappling with aspects of reality most people don’t spend much time contemplating – the interconnectedness of everything. How to make sense of the reality we are bound together in more fundamental ways than Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter might have us think. That these ties that bind us grounded in our shared creatureliness entail obligations to one another we are too quick to gloss over in our bid for Facebook and Instagram popularity or notoriety.

He asks for a pad of paper and a pen, quickly sketching and writing out things as he talks, helping him track his line of thought. It’s difficult to tell if he’s under the influence. If it is, it’s chemical as I don’t smell alcohol on his breath, no slurring of speech. Is there mental illness as well? Odds are good of that as well. He wants validation but grows fidgety when I’m talking instead of him. He’s trying to listen but clearly also figuring out what he wants to say next more than listening to what I have to say. Certainly no shortage of that these days in people who consider themselves sane and rational!

He continues trying to drive towards his point, what he really wants to apply in his life but it’s difficult for him. Minutes click by. Not unpleasantly. As I listen I also watch. Body language says a lot, like odors and clothing. Is he violent? His obvious agitation when I speak, when I try to validate aspects of his line of thought while offering tweaks and adjustments, identifying limitations to how far some of his ideas can be blended together, they convey that he’s really here to talk, not to listen, and perhaps it would be better to do that. Perhaps dialogue is too much to hope for in this setting.

Of course I wonder as well if he’s violent. Alone in the office, I try to size him up. Not a large man but size isn’t everything, depending on what substances he might be under the influence of. I know that letting him in and sitting with him like this entails a risk I’d prefer not to think about but have to. I try to stay loose physically and concentrated on him, watching for tell-tale signs that might give me a second’s warning if he becomes agitated. I don’t think he will. But my gut instincts, while right far more often than wrong are not perfect.

This is a child of God. I ache for him as he runs circles in his mind, looking for how to connect the loose ends, perhaps looking for the break in the circle that will allow him peace from these dog-eared ideas. I ache for whatever has diverted him from the channel of what we call normal and into whatever dry riverbed he’s ambling down.

I have another appointment that I’m now missing. Quick text messages to apologize. Yet this seems where I’m supposed to be at the moment, even though I look forward to my standing Friday engagement. Still, I’m apparently needed here and now with this man and his grasping for understanding and application. After an hour I beg off. I stand, move us towards the door. We’ll meet again next Tuesday, a day and time he writes in ink on the back of his hand. Hopefully it will be washed off before then. Less because I don’t want to see him again and more because I hope he’s washing himself well enough. What will kill a person quicker, unresolved mental ramblings or poor hygiene? Perhaps it’s a toss-up. A matter of how you define death.

I don’t think I’ll see him Tuesday. But it’s on my calendar just in case. Because we are bound together, he and I, this unlikely wanderer and this unlikely pastor. Bound together by a God who created both of us, redeemed us both, and offers to abide with both of us. Offers more to create a new and eternal relationship to one another. So I’ll put it on my calendar and be here just in case. Listening for the voice of God the Holy Spirit, knowing I may not realize I’ve heard it until long after it’s wandered down the railroad tracks and disappeared into the underpasses.

What Are We Testing?

July 24, 2020

I continue to lament the difficulty of interpreting the Coronavirus/COVID-19 data pushed at us on a daily basis whether through the media or through government sources of one sort or another. Numbers without context are unhelpful at best, dangerous worst.

Case in point – daily updates on new COVID-19 positive tests in our county.

On nearly a daily basis I receive an e-mail from our city detailing the number of new cases of COVID-19 reported. Presumably through testing. The source of this data is our county public health office, and the news of late has been dire. If you only look at the headline of each e-mail, the very clear and terrible information communicated is that we have 100+ cases of Coronavirus detected in our county on a daily basis.

A compilation of the data communicated just for the last two weeks:

  • July 13 – 56 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 14 – 184 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 15 – 89 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 16 – 224 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 17 – 137 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 20 – 85 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 21 – 135 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 22 – 160 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county
  • July 23 – 162 “new confirmed cases of COVID-19” in our county

Add these up and one would logically conclude that, as per the e-mail title, there are 1232 new cases of COVID-19 in our county. That’s a big number. Our county population per 2019 census data is 446,499 people. Which means that .00276 percent of our county is infected. That sounds like a much smaller number, but of course small numbers can be very dangerous if we’re dealing with a highly infectious and deadly virus.

I won’t go into a discussion on whether that’s actually the case or not.

And I’ll ignore that the VAST majority of these confirmed new cases occur roughly 65 miles away in the north end of our county. So our city is roughly 65 miles away from the real problem area for our entire county, yet our city is subject to the same restrictions as this infection epicenter. Despite the fact that our city is only 95 miles from the center of Los Angeles, a distance that traverses another entire county. Since the governor’s current lockdown orders are on a county-by-county basis, it means we’re affected by happenings 65 miles away in our own county, where we wouldn’t be affected by happenings just a little farther away in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

I’ll ignore that for now. Grudgingly.

The e-mail headlines add up to 1232 new cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks. That sounds like good reason to panic. But then you open up the e-mail.

The first thing we’re then told is that the county is reporting this number of new cases. Reporting is different than being. Reporting is at least one step removed from the actuality of an infection, because reporting may or may not happen in real-time with the infection. Do the reporting numbers only include tests from this particular day? Could tests from previous days be reported now because they’ve only just had time to process the tests or only just now been able to add those numbers into the mix? We aren’t clear here. A certain number are being reported on this day but there’s no indication that means that certain number were discovered on this day. It’s possible that positive test results are being included from tests conducted at some point in the past.

And it immediately becomes clear this must be the case. Because our county’s current total of confirmed cases is 5,444 since the outbreak began in March. But the number of recovered cases is 5,051. Which means that, taking into account the 32 actual deaths in our county attributed to COVID-19, there are only 361 active cases at the moment. And 162 of those active cases are being reported on this day.

What?

If 1232 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in less than the last two weeks, how can there only be 361 active cases at the moment? And if there were 162 new cases reported yesterday, which are part of those 361 active cases, how could it be that on Tuesday there were allegedly 350 active cases?

The only way that’s possible is if the reported numbers are for cases that were tested so far back that the people have already recovered and are no longer considered active. Indeed, we’re told in the e-mail that 93% of those infected have fully recovered.

So while the e-mail claims it is reporting new, confirmed cases of COVID-19, we need to be cautious in distinguishing this from new, active cases of COVID-19, as that clearly can’t be the case. Apparently, from yesterday to today, despite there being 161 new cases reported, there are really only 11 new active cases. And since there are no new fatalities being reported, it means that of the 161 new cases being reported, 150 of those folks have already recovered. They aren’t currently infected.

I’m not a math major by far, but I think my logic and my arithmetic is good so far. Please point out to me if that’s not the case, or if I’m drawing inappropriate or faulty conclusions from the calculations!

Now let’s just focus on the two reports for 7/22 and 7/23.

On 7/22 I was informed by the city, from the county public health office, that:

  • There were 160 new cases of COVID-19 being reported for the day
  • Two previously reported cases were found to be duplicates and removed from the numbers about to follow
  • There were 5282 positive cases of COVID-19 to date in our county
  • Of these 5282 positive cases, 4900 have already recovered and are no longer active cases
  • There are currently 350 active cases of COVID-19 in our county
  • 160 new cases are included in that 350 number of active cases (this would be the logical, simplest way to interpret this information)
  • 32 people have died thus far
  • 85 people are currently (I believe) hospitalized for COVID-19 related issues
  • 29 of those hospitalized people are in ICU

When I go through those numbers, things appear to add up. Total positive cases to date are 5282, which equals the 4900 recovered folks plus the 350 current active cases and the 32 fatalities. Of the 350 people actively infected at the moment 114 of them are currently hospitalized.

On 7/23 I was informed by the city, from the county public health office that:

  • There were 162 new cases of COVID-19 being reported for the day
  • There were 5444 positive cases of COVID-19 to date in our county (5282 from the previous day’s totals plus the 162 now being reported)
  • Of these 5444 positive cases 5051 are fully recovered and not active cases any longer. The previous day there were 4900 recovered cases noted.
  • There are 361 currently active cases of COVID-19 in the county. The day before there were 350 active cases. Which means that of the 162 new cases reported today, only 11 are active cases. The other 150 reported cases are earlier cases where the person is already recovered
  • There are 86 people now in ICU (up one from the day before)
  • There are 27 people hospitalized in total for COVID-19 related issues, down two from the day before

None of this interpretation is provided or highlighted or summarized in the e-mails. I’d like to better understand how it is our whole county is under lockdown and my parishioners are prohibited from gathering to worship when there are, in reality, only 11 new active cases of COVID-19 reported in our county in a 24 hour period.

Pay attention to the details. Don’t assume that what you’re being given means what you think it means. Look through the data with other people and try to make sense of it. You might be surprised at the picture you arrive at compared to the picture painted for you just through headlines or selected numbers.

Coronavirus Roundup

July 23, 2020

A few miscellaneous items related to the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly in the United States but also around the world as well. After all, who can escape the daily headlines with staggering infection counts and updated fatality tallies? And if these things are being reported so loudly and often, they must be important, right?

Certainly they are important. It’s not as though Coronavirus appears to be fictional. The question becomes what sort of important are they, and how do we make sense of them with other important things?

For instance, we’re being quoted daily the number of new fatalities linked to COVID-19. Certainly we don’t get daily death tallies for other illnesses, diseases, or accidents. Surely the death figures for COVID-19 must be devastatingly abnormal? Surely far more people are dying in 2020 – and primarily related to COVID-19 – than in other years?

What if that doesn’t appear to be the case? What if death rates aren’t massively higher than in other recent years? Could that tell us anything about Coronavirus or how it’s being treated or reported?

More and more I hear different industry experts and commentators talking about how they don’t anticipate any change in how things are being done right now until a safe and effective vaccine is developed. Considering vaccines aren’t necessarily discoverable on demand, this seems like a problematic place to lodge your hope. Add to that how effective or safe is defined with no long-term studies and things get further complicated. And add to that the possibility that antibodies may not last, or may not act like other antibodies and it gets even more complicated. After all it would be pretty frustrating to push (or demand) everyone get vaccinated only to find it didn’t offer long-lasting protection.

And protection is what we’re after, right? We want to know we’re being protected. That’s what our governments are there to help do, right? Protect us?

Or maybe just some of us?

Evidently some people aren’t as deserving of protection as other folks, which is disturbing to say the least. But this is an issue European nations find far less disturbing now than they did when, say, the Nazis were deciding which people merited living and which ones didn’t. At least this is Great Britain we’re talking about, rather than America.

Oh, whoops. Perhaps the problem isn’t as distant from the land of the free as we’d like to imagine.

So this COVID-19 thing has a lot of dimensions to it. But in the midst of it, don’t think that while your businesses and schools and churches might be shut down, that your legislators have stopped working on their pet projects.

AB 2218 was introduced into the California Legislature back in February of this year. In other words, a lifetime ago in Coronavirus terms. I’m sure it didn’t seem so unusual back then, wanting to take money from the general fund to specially fund and provide for transgender individuals and their very specific needs. Whatever those are, as defined by special interest groups where the president/CEO is transgender and 75% of the employees are transgender (Section 2.f.2.A-C). Doesn’t sound like a very diverse workplace, frankly.

Back then in February, it was apparently suggested that a specific amount of money be appropriated from the General Fund for these very vague purposes. Fifteen million dollars ($15,000,000). However despite the pandemic raging and society crumbling and all that, this bill was amended in Assembly not once but twice (May and June). Somewhere in those amendments the dollar amount was eliminated. Meaning there is theoretically – or literally – no limit to how much money from the General Fund could be appropriated for these purposes. After all, this Bill clearly defines the huge need. It asserts at least 218,400 Californians identify as transgender. That’s a huge number. But considering California has an estimated 40,000,000 residents (and that’s probably a low figure given our very hospitable attitude towards unregistered folks), the figure comes out somewhere in the neighborhood of .00546 percent of our overall population.

Now there are roughly double the number of Coronavirus infections (remember Coronavirus? That’s where we started this post!) in California as transgendered people. I think it’s safe to say that the Coronavirus case numbers will grow much more rapidly than the transgendered numbers. And currently most of the counties in this state are under some sort of restrictions or lockdowns due to inadequate medical facilities to handle the potential surge in need for hospital beds and ICUs and qualified medical staff.

So why in the world would our lawmakers decide that right now, in the middle of a pandemic when California is reporting more cases of COVID-19 than any other state in the country, right now we should free up unlimited funds for the support of transgender folks? Why aren’t they figuring out how to direct more funds to those areas areas with the least medical support or the highest rates of hospitalizations? Or at least I’d think they’d be working tirelessly to direct any available funding towards relief of from the Coronavirus, and providing support services for people and families who have lost their jobs and businesses and savings.

So yeah, curious times to be sure. Good to keep your eyes and ears open. You never know what you might learn.

Say What?

July 22, 2020

One of my all time favorite sites is Get Religion, a site that critiques how the press reports on or draws religion into news stories. And they don’t disappoint with this article about a headline a couple of weeks ago condemning churches as essentially Coronavirus hotbeds. I remember seeing the headline and thinking it was excessive, to say the least. This article does a good job at breaking down the bias, the lack of any kind of support and the false contextualization, all in an effort to malign churches (probably) and Trump (definitely).

Be careful what you read, folks. Or more importantly, be careful how you read. Think about what’s being said in a context larger than the sentence or paragraph or article it’s embedded in.

When the Hand that Feeds You, Bites You

July 21, 2020

Remember the giddy, pre-COVID days when Christians could argue with and insult one another over whether immigration laws should be enforced in our country or not? Such simple times, weren’t they?

But a popular argument by many Christians at the time (but not exclusively at that time) was to equate government aid with the Biblical call to charity. In other words, if government programs help people, then Christians can’t in good conscience argue against such programs and are really bound by God to support and expand them, without any clear limitations or even guidelines. Mercy is mercy, and Christians must not only sanction but actively support any allegedly merciful program, period.

But God isn’t the only one who giveth and taketh away, and certainly by comparison He’s a lot more patient and inclusive than human institutions. After all, He daily sends sunshine and rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45) – his faithful and his sworn enemies. But we’re likely to be a lot less forgiving and giving with one another. Certainly attitudes and tactics employed by a small group of people bent on recasting our national history through the largely arbitrary destruction of public property are an example of this.

But there are examples aplenty where government aid programs are shown to be what they must inevitably be at some level or another, a means of purchasing the loyalty or at least obedience of some recipients. And when recipients fail to respond in the expected ways, aid is withdrawn. Consider the situation in at least parts of China – Christians dependent on government aid are being told to remove their religious symbols from their homes and replace them with images of Chairman Mao.

Undoubtedly it might be argued that China is not the United States, and that’s true enough. But the demands are being made even of members of the Protestant, State-approved Three-Self Church. And certainly our own country has demonstrated shockingly in recent years just how quickly things once taken for granted as cast in stone can be changed and discarded. Socialism was once a pariah concept in our nation, mocked and denounced in comparison to the far greater opportunities of capitalism. Now we have avowed Socialists running for President, and Socialist ideas and agendas are actively promoted as the right future for our country. The idea that religious freedom could ever become an obstacle to State assistance shouldn’t be shocking to us.

Some level of State assistance to the needy is a good thing and I support and understand that. That doesn’t mean I think our current programs are doing the best job they could, and it doesn’t mean I don’t believe there is a great deal of waste, theft, and other forms of abusing the system that should be eliminated, potentially by recreating the whole system from scratch. But it does mean I reject the simple-minded and Biblically erroneous assertion that Christians are required by the Bible to support secular aid programs carte blanche. The Bible never allows Christians the option of outsourcing mercy and love for neighbor, and expediency is not often a Biblical metric.