Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Hesitancy

June 15, 2021

Probably realizing that the term anti-vaxxer has a lot of problematic (and inaccurate) ramifications to it, the term I see being used a lot these days for folks who haven’t sought out a COVID vaccine is hesitant. I don’t think the frequent vitriol behind this term is any more muted than that behind the term anti-vaxxer. But it sounds nicer. Until you start listening to what is being said to and about those who are hesitant.

I fall into that hesitant camp. Even though I’ve had and recovered from COVID without issue (as the vast majority of those infected with COVID do), I’m being told in the media that I still need to get vaccinated. My question is why. The vaccine is intended to prompt and instruct the body on how to produce antibodies capable of fighting a COVID infection, either preventing full-blown infection or reducing the symptoms of such an infection (thereby decreasing the odds of winding up in the hospital on a ventilator). That’s how the vaccine has been explained to us. However, since I had COVID, my body already knows how to produce those antibodies. It had to learn that a harder way, some might say. But it learned. It produced the antibodies, and it now knows how to produce those antibodies again should it need them.

A study released late last month indicates as such. And the report asserts people who have recovered from even mild cases of COVID have exactly the same anti-body producing capabilities as those who receive the vaccine. Yet the CDC’s current recommendation is that relaxing of mask and social distancing rules – not to mention potential travel and other restrictions – be lifted only for those who are vaccinated, and not for those who have recovered from COVID (and would presumably be given the option of a paper or digital certification that the associated antibodies have been found in their bodies).

What is being created is a dangerous and, at least in my lifetime, unprecedented division based on health decisions. One set of rules for people who have received the vaccine, and another for those who have not. The lunacy of this goes beyond simply the logistical level, and I believe contributes a great deal to the hesitancy and skepticism of some people – the very people the CDC apparently wants desperately to convince to get vaccinated.

Why won’t I get the COVID vaccine until it is unavoidable? Why am I hesitant or skeptical?

  1. I’ve had COVID (as verified by a state-run COVID testing site administered by professionals). Therefore, I have the antibodies to fight it. I have seen no documentation that disputes this is the case.
  2. I have seen zero evidence that having the vaccine on top of having recovered from COVID gives me any demonstrable improvement in my odds of fighting off or minimizing symptoms if exposed to COVID in the future. While some want to argue the vaccine somehow provides better protection, I’ve seen no reports explaining why this would be the case (let alone documenting that it is the case, whether we can explain it or not). Arguments that you can get sick with COVID again after having been infected with it once are not surprising to me, but the same argument can be used for the vaccine. There are documented cases of people being fully vaccinated and still getting COVID. This doesn’t surprise me either.
  3. Unlike a vaccine, I do not have worries that the antibodies my body created are somehow going to cause other problems in my body in the short or long-term. This doesn’t mean such complications or problems might not occur, but then it is a biological issue rather than an issue of someone else’s manufactured solution being found to cause problems. Articles repeatedly assert that vaccines are safe. What this means is not that the vaccine is safe, but rather that no health or other issues have been found directly related to the vaccine. This is a very different thing than safe.
    1. No organization can reasonably be expected to be able (let alone willing!) to test for every conceivable form of interaction problem or health problem.
    2. Even if such were possible, we would not necessarily be able to properly spot and identify those problems.
    3. While some short-term testing for some easily detectable problems has been done, there are no long-term studies about possible side effects. This is not possible because the vaccines are less than a year old. Despite being assured about their safety, already there have been many questions raised about possible direct side effects (heart issues, stroke issues, etc.) as well as indirect side effects (fertility issues in women, how the vaccine affects younger people and children). It is insulting when someone condescendingly dismisses concerns about safety as though I’m stupid because the vaccines have been proven safe. They have not. They have proven to be free of short-term, easily diagnosed reactions (in most people). We won’t know for years whether they are safe, either in and of themselves or in conjunction with other vaccines and medications.
  4. Science is once again making assertions without any serious attempt to validate or demonstrate why those assertions should be followed. Vaccines stimulate the body to create antibodies to fight off COVID. When infected by COVID the body creates antibodies to fight off COVID. Both create the same antibodies within the body (or do they?). Therefore, to treat the 30 million (at least) Americans who have been diagnosed with COVID over the last year as a health risk makes no logical sense.
  5. Therefore, I am skeptical about other intentions that could be at play here, with science and the pandemic being coopted to serve those ends. Creating a vaccine ID in any form that might be required for access to services or opportunities is a dangerous first step towards a broader system that includes or excludes people not based on their citizenship status or other longstanding criteria but simply based on whether they’ve done something the government wants them to do or not. Anyone with an awareness of history and human nature should be deeply concerned about any such efforts, even when they’re offered under the guise of protecting public health (or perhaps especially when they’re offered as such!).
  6. When scientists tell me something has to happen when science itself would seem to suggest otherwise, I get skeptical. Such reasoning is quickly dismissed in many corners as conspiracy theory stuff, and therefore not necessary to provide an intelligent answer to, or to take seriously. For me (and I don’t knowingly read conspiracy theories), there are two major, very possible (as vetted by history) reasons why science might be employed to push for universal vaccinations even though the science doesn’t support this is necessary:
    1. The vaccines include or do something beyond what the natural antibody response does. In other words, there is more to the vaccine than just COVID antibody instructions, and the important thing is that everyone gets whatever that other element is. Perhaps this wasn’t intended in the vaccine design but discovered afterwards. Or perhaps it was part of the design. This would explain why people who have recovered from COVID and therefore have the antibodies are being ignored or told this doesn’t exempt them from the need for the vaccine.
    2. The government is using this as an opportunity to push not simply for COVID vaccinations but to set the groundwork for a rolling, ongoing system of mandatory vaccinations to whatever is deemed viable. Vaccine IDs would be used ultimately not just for COVID vaccine (or even for just vaccines or health-related issues) but also flu shots and all the other vaccinations currently considered de rigueur as well as any future ones we might develop. Failure to participate in “recommended” programs and actions would flag you, limiting access to services and goods or requiring onerous practices in order to access them. If this sounds far-fetched, consider that California passed mandatory immunization legislation several years ago that mandates immunizations but does not require recipients to be told what vaccines they are being given (note item 11 under Section 1) and allows a state board/committee to decide when to add additional immunizations to the required list.

I’ve yet to see an intelligent response to these concerns either in total or in part. What I typically find in either belligerent dismissals of hesitancy or attempts at empathy boil down to unsupported assertions or fear-mongering. Get the vaccine because it’s a lot safer than the actual virus. The vaccines are safe and questioning that for any reason is dangerous and/or stupid. These are not intelligent answers, no matter how empathetic they’d like to be. They ignore logic, common sense, history, and science itself. A much better response would be a balanced one that acknowledges both what we don’t know as well as all of what we do know. A better response would explain why natural antibodies are not as good as vaccine-induced antibodies. A better response would explain why, if vaccinated people are safe(r), those who choose not to get the vaccine for any reason are not entitled to that decision and the inherent personal risk associated with it, knowing that anyone else at serious risk has more than likely made a similar personal decision to take that risk.

Meaningful and intelligent answers to these concerns would help alleviate my hesitancy regarding the COVID vaccine. They won’t alleviate my concerns about setting up a situation where people are treated as second-class citizens because of a personal health decision. But I think a lot of other hesitant folks would like to see some good solid answers to these questions without being mocked, insulted, or condescended to. Particularly at this point when COVID is decreasing around the world overall (with some exceptions).

I’m fully aware that COVID could surge again. And as many have pointed out, it isn’t likely to ever go away completely. Then again, a year ago that wasn’t the goal of these restrictions and limitations. The goal was to make sure that medical systems and facilities and personnel were not overwhelmed by the small percentage (but large numbers when dealing with millions and millions of cases) of severe cases. Is this still the goal? Is the goal eliminating the COVID virus? Is that possible (hardly). Is it providing universal and complete immunity to everyone (doesn’t seem to be either possible or reasonable). Are there other goals further down the line that aren’t being discussed, and if so, what are they and why not lay them out?

The media could be a big help in this if they actually reported facts instead of distorting the larger reality to focus on worst-case scenarios and exceptions to the rule. All we hear about is deaths or long-term health problems brought on by COVID. We aren’t presented regularly with the overall figures and percentages that help put all of this into a proper perspective, and without that proper perspective people are vulnerable to any number of bad decisions both personally and communally. Ultimately (and long-term) the best protection we have in pandemics is good, solid information and not necessarily just a couple jabs in the arm.

You’re Welcome

May 19, 2021

Not that I think Dr. Fauci is monitoring my blog, but it was fascinating today to see articles reporting him saying that boosters – third shots – will likely be necessary for people who have already had their two initial doses. In the ongoing struggle to get good information, we are once again fed confusing and contradictory information.

Vaccine efficacy lasts “at least” six months according to Dr. Fauci. He then goes on to assert it is likely to last much longer. I’ve seen more than a few articles over the last year contradicting him, but I don’t know if those articles were specific to the efficacy in patients who recovered from COVID or those who had received the vaccines. I suspect it’s probably the former since the vaccines have been available for such a short time, but I’m curious about his optimism.

The article links to another article from March 2021 (updated in April), which affirms among other things that six months is the longest timeframe recipients of the vaccines had been studied prior to widespread deployment. The article expresses optimism that antibodies and immunity actually will last much longer, but provides no data to support this other than anecdotal evidence from other mRNA trials and experiments. While I hope the optimism is proved accurate, it still seems pretty early for such leaps. And Dr. Fauci’s statements about boosters make it clear that this is more likely the case.

Still no addressing of those who have actually had and recovered from COVID – nearly 10% of the US population alone – other than to insist they should also get the vaccine without any substantive discussion of the antibodies produced in those who have had COVID compared to those who are vaccinated.

But for now, regardless of whether you’ve had COVID or had vaccines, be aware your antibodies aren’t necessarily going to last forever and you’re going to need to get either full vaccinations or boosters – at least until we know more about what we’re dealing with.

The Other Antibodies?

May 18, 2021

According to the World Health Organization, over 32 million Americans have had COVID. That’s about 20% of the total number of Americans who have received both one vaccine installment and about 25% of the total who have received both installments. It’s a sizable group of people.

Although reliable data has been hard to come by from the beginning, data seems to demonstrate that both those infected with COVID and those receiving vaccinations generate antibodies which are supposed to provide protection against severe COVID symptoms, possibly protection against mild symptoms, and possibly protection against re-infection. Not only that, a recent study suggests that these antibodies gradually disappear from people at about the same rate regardless of whether the person had COVID or was vaccinated against it.

So I find it fascinating that while a major media push continues to urge people to get their vaccinations (both doses) and criticizes anyone who is reluctant or uninterested, there is absolutely no data available for how people who have had COVID may alter their social distancing and mask wearing, particularly in light of the Center for Disease Control’s recent proclamations that fully immunized people can dispense with both masks and social distancing in most indoor and outdoor situations. The CDC site says nothing about whether people who have had COVID can similarly do without masks and social distancing. Perusing the CDC site, you’d be hard pressed to know that 32 million Americans have had COVID, have recovered from it, and have the same antibodies and therefore presumably protections the vaccines are supposed to create.

Information is hard to come by. Some reports make it sound as though the vaccines provide better protection than actually getting COVID, which seems counterintuitive to me but admittedly I’m not an immunologist. There are a lot of TV news snippets that address this topic, and given the short amount of time involved there aren’t any good references to support the assertions.

I was excited to find this article from MIT on the topic, however they assert that it’s possible to get re-infected after you’ve had COVID, implying that this doesn’t happen with vaccinated people. However there have certainly been more than a few anecdotal reports of people still getting COVID after getting both doses of the vaccine. The article references this CDC page, but the information here reads strangely to me as well. Experts are uncertain how long any of the antibodies and immunities last, whether from having COVID or from getting the vaccines, because everything was rushed so quickly they didn’t have time to do longer term testing – something this page at least acknowledges to some degree, while still insisting that despite a general lack of knowledge and understanding, you should still get vaccinated even if you’ve had COVID.

At the very least it would be nice to see more discussion on this. Whether from COVID or from vaccines, it seems pretty certain the antibodies created and maintained after fighting off the infection don’t last forever, and probably aren’t reliably around in adequate numbers as soon as six to nine months after infection/vaccination. Which means that in addition to pressuring people to get their first round of vaccinations, they’re going to need to start ramping up a campaign to encourage people to come back in for a booster. Or two. It will be interesting to see how well this is received, as people begin to realize they’re expected (or perhaps even required!) to receive at least one if not two annual boosters to maintain their antibody levels. Will the emphasis on getting flu shots every year make the idea of an annual COVID booster more palatable? For how long? Are we moving towards a general expectation (or requirement) that everyone come in for a shot every year containing whatever new things are believed to protect us?

Curiouser and curiouser.

When Worlds Collide

May 11, 2021

Recently my wife and I were back in St. Louis for a series of orientations preparing us to deploy overseas as church workers in Southeast Asia. St. Louis is where I graduated from seminary. It’s also where two other couples from our small campus ministry in Arizona decided to relocate with us to experiment with intentional Christian community.

Communes.

It was an amazing experience that spanned three years and was filled with lessons, laughter, and pain. We learned a great deal about ourselves, about other people, about living in close proximity to others, and about what we would or wouldn’t do again in creating another communal living situation. Friends of ours a couple of decades further along in life wryly observed when we told them what we were doing that they had tried the same thing back in the 60’s, and they at least had drugs to help the process along!

But while we were back in March, we met up with one of the two couples who embarked on that adventure with us. They decided to make St. Louis their home. Dear friends that are always a joy to see again, and a friendship that was thankfully not destroyed in some of the difficulties of living with each other.

As we enjoyed dinner with them Saturday night, they mentioned how they had just been part of a podcast on communal living. A text exchange later and the woman who organized the podcast was scheduled to come out again the next day so we could be included in the podcast.

If you’re interested, you can listen to the podcast here. It’s a combination of the initial podcast that we weren’t a part of, as well as some components of our recording edited in. And it’s an interesting spectrum of perceptions and experiences. Who would have guessed that nearly 15 years later we’d be interviewed about our crazy idea and experience?! I take issue with the characterization of Christian community as a hippie venture, despite the fact that some Christians who have attempted communal living have been hippies, and in America hippies are the only other group who experimented much with it (and for very different reasons!). But that’s a small issue I wish more Christians were able and willing to see past.

A COVID Year

March 17, 2021

One year ago I was driving out of Las Vegas. My buddy had just placed third in the world in his division after a multi-day battle. COVID panic was setting in and already the shelves in Las Vegas grocery stores were bare of many common toiletries, basic medical items, and of course toilet paper and paper towels. I bought the last multi-pack of tissue boxes they had. My wife was texting me from home telling me to keep my eyes open as the supplies were all gone there.

We loaded up in my SUV for the drive home. Not just my buddy and I who had driven out together but another teammate hitching a ride back, as well as our billiards league president and his wife, who didn’t want to risk another night in Vegas and maybe having their flight canceled the next day.

As we left the city limits at dusk there was a storm in the distance to the east over the mountains, with occasional flashes of lightning. A beautiful, complete double-rainbow amazed us all from the same direction. And the radio station dedicated to people on the highway towards and from Las Vegas had their classic rock lineup interrupted so the Governor of Nevada could announce Las Vegas was shutting down. Hotels and casinos would cease all operations in just a few short hours. Everything was to shut down by his order. COVID was upon us and we needed to bend the curve of new cases to ensure hospitals weren’t overwhelmed.

The drive home was pretty quiet. Inside the car we were all disappointed the world tournament was cancelled and none of us got to play in our team events. I suspect everyone was slightly in shock – Las Vegas could just shut down? Just like that? Outside the roads were quiet as well. We passed by deserted truck stops and hotels with empty parking lots.

A year later. My wife and I sit in a pub in St. Louis. Masks everywhere, even though regulations in the City have relaxed in the past week or so. Restaurants can seat people indoors if they maintain social distancing and limit the number of customers they allow in. Back home our county has dropped out of the most severe tier of COVID urgency. Things appear to be easing back towards normality but the news feed is full of warnings of a third wave of COVID likely as restrictions ease and a population exhausted by a year of isolation champs at the bit to get back out and be with each other again. Overseas Europe and Asia are reporting spikes in COVID numbers and renewed and more vigorous restrictions.

None of us thought we would be here a year ago. We hoped and prayed things would go back to normal in a few weeks. They haven’t. And if things keep on at the current rate, normality is a long way off. A new level of fear and paranoia grips people. The airports we flew in and out of barked at everyone to keep their masks on and stay six feet away from each other, but we were seated shoulder to shoulder on the airplanes (masked, of course). Now that the election is history all the news stations seem able to talk about is COVID. News reports are beginning to admit what was obvious all along but nobody wanted to say – the vaccines are an uncertain bulwark against the virus, and even if they function as well as intended, people are going to need to get used to annual booster shots, similar to flu shots. Frankly we’ll be lucky if we only need one booster a year. I’m guessing we’ll be told to get at least two.

The world has changed. Not for the better. You don’t hear much of the ridiculous blather that was pushed early on in COVID, about how we’re all in this together and we’re working together for the good of the people. We weren’t. We aren’t. We’re tired and exhausted. Some people are terrified still and others are throwing all caution to the wind. The toll this all has and continues to take will only unfold fully over the next decade of more, ensuring multiple generations of social scientists of all stripes have plenty to dissect and analyze and hypothesize about. And the list of core memory moments in my lifetime increases from Reagan being shot and the Challenger blowing up and 9/11 to include COVID and a year-plus of trying to be a source of assurance in the midst of chaos, of calling people back to the Word of God that transcends all things, and has itself sustained many, many generations through far worse disasters and atrocities than this.

We are still here. And those with the Word know where we’re headed. May we all have the strength and grace and peace of God to know He’ll bring us there in his timing and his way.

Condemning Without Examination

February 11, 2021

This article is a fascinating example of the importance of analyzing the intent of a communication. What is it the writer or speaker or producer wants to occur in my thoughts or actions after ingesting their work?

The tone of the article throughout condemns the various bans on facemasks throughout Sweden during the COVID pandemic thus far, repeatedly juxtaposing Swedish stances on the issue with the larger body of established evidence. We are to shake our heads at those poor Swedes whose government agencies have failed them during this crisis by communicating inaccurately and ineffectively. We will, rather the author intends it or not (which means they probably do) also likely lament the supposed fate of the Swedes. After all, if their government directly contradicted prevailing medical opinions, was silly enough to even communicate their concerns about the safety of facemasks to the international medical community, and then did a terrible job at communicating the need for facemasks and under what conditions, the average reader would likely conclude that things in Sweden are far worse than places that followed more conventional wisdom and communicated clearly and strongly to require facemasks as protection against COVID.

But while this is likely the inference of the average reader, the article nowhere bothers to confirm this reaction (let alone dissuade it). The author clearly feels Sweden was out of place in the course of action it has taken in downplaying the efficacy and safety of requiring citizens to wear masks. The author certainly substantiates with external links that such a course of action stands in marked contrast to what most of the rest of the world recommends. But the real proof in whether a travesty has taken place or not is whether this decidedly different approach resulted in a pandemic situation worse than those countries pushing mask wearing. In other words, going a different direction can be good, bad, or indifferent based on the results. Or it can be simply dismissed as bad in itself – taking a path contrary to the established norms of the larger group is always bad, regardless of whether what the larger group recommends is actually helpful or not. That’s ultimately what this article leaves you with.

But that’s not necessarily true. It can be. But as a rule of thumb, a guideline to live life by, it can be very dangerous and misleading, and is actually a logical fallacy – an appeal to the majority (ad populum, to use the Latin). Just because more people think something is true – or because a particular group of experts think something is true – does not necessarily mean it’s true. It’s certainly something to take into consideration! But the demonstration of whether they’re right or not must lie somewhere else or in something more than opinion.

So let’s do some research. Sweden has a population of roughly 10,400,000 people. The World Health Organization says there have been just over 604,000 reported cases of COVID, and just under 12,4000 deaths. That pans out to an infection rate of the overall population of about 6%, and a mortality rate of COVID infection of 2%. For comparison, the US has a population of 330,000,000. The WHO reports US COVID numbers as just over 27,000,000 infections and 468,000 deaths. That comes out to an infection rate of 8% and a mortality rate of 1.7%. Arguing for any number of mitigating factors like population density and we could generously say that the infection rates are roughly similar and perhaps the mortality rates are a smidge higher in Sweden than in the US.

What about a European comparison? Germany has a population of approximately 83,000,000 people, of whom 2,320,000 have had COVID leading to 64,200 deaths. That comes out to an infection rate of not quite 3% and a mortality rate of not quite 3%. Germany’s infection percent is half of Sweden’s but it’s mortality rate is 50% higher. Interesting trade-off.

The United Kingdom has implemented increasingly extremely restrictions and punishments to discourage gatherings and travel and stem the high rates of infection. The UK has a population of 68,000,000, of whom 4,000,000 have contracted COVID and 115,500 have died. That yields an infection rate of almost 6% and a mortality rate of just under 3%.

So it would seem that while Sweden’s advice on health masks has been at times contrary to prevailing ideas on the efficacy of face masks, and at other times confusing to the point of being almost useless, the resulting levels of infections and deaths have not been noticeably higher than those countries that have imposed very harsh restrictions and mandated facemasks in all public spaces (at the very least!).

Perhaps COVID isn’t the best way to examine issues of what and how governments communicate to their people. Or if you’re going to do that, you should focus more exclusively on that rather than implied judgment about whether what was communicated (however poorly) was the right thing to try and communicate or not. I think you could write an article showcasing poor communication skills without also implying pretty heavily that not only was the communication poor, the message was wrong.

Breaking Good

February 8, 2021

The Supreme Court Friday determined the State of California could no longer enforce bans on indoor worship. This is good news for people of faith – Christian or otherwise – who over the past nearly year have by and large been unable to worship indoors and required to meet virtually or in parked cars, separated from one another by varying degrees of frankly arbitrary directions enacted by executive fiat rather than a due process of legislative evaluation and feedback. Good intentions to curb the pandemic, but good intentions which look at only the material, physical side of the suffering and ignore and even exacerbate the emotional, psychological, and spiritual sides.

Of course, just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Some religious groups may opt to continue worshiping outdoors because they believe it safest for their members. Others will joyfully be back inside tomorrow – or today. This will be another test for congregations – to determine what the best course of action is for them and their people regardless of what congregations around them might be doing.

Further, while indoor worship cannot be banned any longer, additional limitations – such as stronger language prohibiting singing or chanting – may may outdoor worship the preferred option for many congregations, especially if (like ours) the weather makes such an option reasonable. Good news in this case comes tempered by additional restrictions which may ultimately make it less good.

Back in June when the first stay-at-home order was lifted, I pushed easily to have us move back inside. We had already polled our members on this and their response was nearly unanimous that they wanted to return to indoor worship. We didn’t yet realize the staying power of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it seemed the most reasonable course of action. Eight months later, the option to return to indoor worship is more complicated for me.

Firstly, we’re blessed to live in an area where the weather is temperate year round, rainy days are rare and snow days are practically non-existent. It might be nippy at mid-morning still – in the 50’s – but workable, particularly when the sun is shining and there isn’t a breeze. As such even though my congregation is comprised almost exclusively of post-retirement adults, they’re not only willing but able to handle outdoor worship with some layers of clothing. The seats aren’t terribly comfortable, but they weren’t happy with the 50-year old cushions on the pews inside either!

More than a few people have commented how much they like being outside. A change of venue perhaps, or the ability to enjoy our glorious weather a little more than they might otherwise. Because a small group of dedicated volunteers has committed to coming early to set out chairs and set up the sound board and microphones and electronic keyboard, our outdoor worship really is a beautiful setting, even in a parking lot.

The pandemic certainly appears to be affecting our county more in the past couple of months than it did the rest of the previous pandemic period. While I still personally know very few people sickened by COVID, the reported numbers for the county are far higher than they used to be. Those numbers have dropped dramatically in the past two weeks or so, but they’re still comparable to earlier rates we considered high.

While many of my parishioners have either begun or completed their vaccination cycles, some of them won’t. None of our members have had COVID at all, despite our continued in-person worship whether outdoor or indoor. Some dismiss the media frenzy about COVID and point to the overwhelming recovery rates from COVID, despite the fact they are in the highest vulnerability demographic. Some of our folks may not feel comfortable worshiping indoors again knowing not everyone is going to be vaccinated, but that will likely be a minority and moreover that shouldn’t matter if they themselves have received the vaccine.

Our denominational leadership at global, national and local levels has maintained a position since the pandemic began asking local congregations to adhere to all applicable restrictions and instructions from health officials. Our denomination does not see doing so as in any way restricting our ability to worship our God (since we can do so virtually, outdoors, or with other reasonable adjustments), and a failure to abide by instructions runs us afoul of admonitions to civic obedience in Romans 13. Every individual congregation must make their decisions in this regard for themselves, and the range of responses is a rather wide spectrum.

Thrown into the mix are varying ideas of what our obligations are to one another in terms of safety and Christian love. Is it loving our fellow-parishioners to return to indoor worship knowing if they contract COVID they are more likely to have complications from it – complications which could prove lethal? What is the duty of a Christian congregation in the pursuit of safety? Christians around the world routinely choose to worship together despite a host of very real dangers in terms of arrest, imprisonment, capture, or worse. Christians the world over and throughout history have prioritized Christian worship and fellowship as worth risking their lives for. How does that reality and history impact decisions we make today in relative safety and comfort? And how do our decisions balance the reality that we proclaim a God who created all things and sustains all things and is more than able to keep us safe, with the recognition that this God also gave us our brains and we should therefore use them?

So the possibility of worshiping indoors again is more complicated this time than it was eight months ago. At least for me. But I remain steadfast in maintaining that regardless of the decision made, it is the duty and privilege of that local body of Christ – my particular congregation – to keep loving one another. Even if we’re not thrilled with the decision. Even if we would have preferred to stay outdoors or return indoors. Our personal preferences don’t outweigh direct Scriptural commands to show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ in our patience and willingness to sacrifice our personal rights if it in any way might endanger the faith of a brother or sister in Christ (1 Corinthians 8-10; Romans 14-15). It sounds simple but it turns out to be quite challenging for many people. Pandemics apparently don’t make it any easier, either. I trust we’ll make a good decision. Maybe not perfect, but one our people can work and will work with in love for one another and their God.

Burning Books

December 28, 2020

Thanks to Ken for forwarding me a link to this story in the Wall Street Journal lamenting (weakly) a growing movement to ban classic literature from teaching curriculum for being out of touch with modern concepts of political correctness. (Note, the WSJ has a pretty strict firewall so you may not be able to access the article from the link above)

Some who are willing to continue teaching classical literature indicate they will only do so in the service of modern definitions and conceptions of anti-misogyny, anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc. Meaning the works will be studied out of their appropriate context and forced to serve modern ideas of what literature should or shouldn’t affirm or deny.

Disturbing, but hardly surprising.

What is more surprising and more disturbing is the apparent bubble some educators feel they work in, wherein their comments and decisions – even those they choose to publicize openly on social media like Twitter – are supposedly immune to any query or question. Surely if you’re so proud of your changes to school curriculum you should be willing to talk with a reputable news outlet like the Wall Street Journal rather than retreating behind victim language such as invasive!

It’s hardly invasive, it’s important. What educators decide to teach – and not teach – as well as how they teach it matters a great deal beyond the private kingdoms of their classrooms or school buildings or districts. The decisions they make contribute to their larger community and, in our age of mobility, to our nation as a whole and potentially the world. Of course, I trust some educators are fully aware of this and it is with such audiences in mind that they craft their curriculum and nuance their instruction so their students sow similar ideological seeds in further fields.

All of this might also reflect the growing educational emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) coursework as the necessary and ideal educational focus for children on through university age. Such an emphasis obviously devalues a grounding in history and literature and the arts, the arenas of a classical liberal arts educational tradition stretching back perhaps thousands of years. The idea is no longer to create well-rounded individuals but rather to provide useful skills for particular business or industry careers. Why focus on all that other stuff that isn’t useful when you could focus in on what really matters? And if you have to teach those other, lesser areas, at the very least they should be made the servants of contemporary ideological goals rather than windows into different times and places and ideas.

The educator in the article who is aghast that 70-year old values might be seen as somehow beneficial and valid still today demonstrates an alarming disconnect. Those 70-year old values enabled her to be in the profession she’s in. What exactly does she think the United States of 70 years ago looked like, by and large? That would be an interesting conversation to have.

And of course conversations – including or especially conversations with the past – are at the heart of education. It isn’t that assigning Uncle Tom’s Cabin as reading material means you’re justifying everything in it. Much value is gained in seeing positive changes over time. But much value is also gained in being cautious to assume that only the current moment is valid or right. The old maxim that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it is not an old maxim for no reason. The present continually makes the mistake of presuming now is all that matters and what is now must be what is right and best, when a cursory glance at the past might indicate otherwise. Might provide a break against directions very likely to lead to disaster.

But that would be education. Learning to think critically. To analyze not just words on a page but ideas conveyed in those words, to test and weigh and determine relative value. And when you teach someone to think critically rather than limit them to what you deem as safe and appropriate, you create the dangerous possibility that it is your ideas that will be found wanting in the evaluation.

One of my most cherished aspects of my secondary educational experience came the summer before I started tenth grade. I was given one of those lists of recommended books to read. And that summer, I set out to read everything on that list. I didn’t finish it by a long shot, but I read a lot of great literature. I did so without guidance, so I undoubtedly didn’t get as much value as I could have from reading them with someone there to guide me. But then again, reading them without someone there to guide me led me to discoveries I might not otherwise have come to. I could fall in love with the stark beauty conveyed in Death Comes for the Archbishop. I could find myself entranced with the curious Babbit. I could recognize my flailing through The Inferno or The Canterbury Tales and knowing I needed far more tools than I had accumulated to make good sense of them.

Limiting reading to young adult literature denies students the opportunity to grow their vocabulary or force them to research an allusion to some historical person or figure. One might appreciate Harry Potter as literature to some extent, I suppose. But comparing it to The Lord of the Rings helps us to better see the difference between something written for young adults as opposed to something written as, well, literature. Denying students the literary achievements that enabled their own teachers and professors to get to where they are today seems patently unfair, and will only ensure that at least for the near future, we chop ourselves off at the knees, culturally. Can you imagine winning the Nobel Prize for Literature without having read anything written before 1950?!

So pay close attention to what your kids and grandkids are being taught – or not being taught. Asking for reading lists and reading recommendation lists is a very good idea. And it is not invasive for someone to be interested in what kids are learning these days. It’s part of being a community.

Other COVID Effects

December 1, 2020

Just a reminder – COVID and related restrictions have other costs associated with them than just who gets sick and who doesn’t.

A fascinating article here about Japan, where suicide deaths in October alone exceeded COVID deaths for all of 2020. The mental health effects of COVID and associated isolation and lockdowns is being seen in real time in some countries.

Other effects of COVID and related restrictions include deepening levels of social awkwardness as people deal with their own fears of others and reciprocal fears. Traditional understandings of how to engage socially – shaking hands, smiling – are all being deconstructed when our faces are hidden behind masks and human touch as become a social faux pas.

Long term impacts on school-aged children during COVID will be gradually revealing themselves for another decade or more. At risk students has a whole new dimension to it in the age of COVID. I developed and taught online curriculum for over a decade when it was a brand new field of technology and Internet possibility. I witnessed firsthand that online education is not for everyone, and that means both teachers and students. For those with learning styles requiring more or different than what is possible through synchronous or asynchronous online learning platforms, the risk of falling through the cracks is even more prevalent now.

And of course the working world is changing. For the first time the reality of a large percentage of employees working remotely permanently seems to make sense. But of course, not all jobs have that option. Many jobs – particularly ones with lower salaries – require people to show up in order to bag groceries and cook food and harvest crops and any number of very tangible, real-time duties. How does our society deal with this shifting away from the idea that everyone goes to work? Is working from home a benefit to the employee, and as such should the employee be taxed for that benefit in order to provide additional funds to those who have no such option? Or should employers be taxed for this option, since it will inevitably enable them to save money through smaller office space needs and other very tangible, bottom line benefits?

A vaccine is not going to make any of these issues disappear. Damage has already been done, and changes in approaches to work and personal life will continue even if a vaccine is ready or herd immunity is reached or the virus simply quits infecting at the rates it has been. COVID is going to be with us a lot longer than the actual Coronavirus might.

COVID Risks

November 3, 2020

A good reminder that the risks of COVID are not restricted to the physiological illness we are conditioned every day to fear, but also the psychological (and I would argue spiritual) side effects that prolonged isolation bring on. This article reminds us there are lots of risks, and many of them won’t show up in a mucus sample.