Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Book Review: Steps of Transformation

December 21, 2020

Steps of Transformation: An Orthodox Priest Explores the Twelve Steps by Archimandrite Meletios Webber

A friend of mine in the midst of recovery shared this book with me as she is converted to Orthodox from more traditional evangelical Christianity.

This is an excellent resource for anyone trying to understand addiction and the people embedded in addictive behaviors. It essentially is a series of reflections – some theological and others more clinical in nature – on addiction, addicts, and finally the Twelve Steps. Arguably the book’s strongest feature is the introductory sections on addition and people in addiction. The author does a good job of plainly explaining many of the thought processes involved in addiction that are so puzzling and infuriating and heartbreaking to those who love and care for them. Recognizing that traditional tools for dealing with other people (communication, rationality, honesty, etc.) are practically ineffective with people active in their addiction can be hugely comforting, and hopefully will direct friends and family to support groups such as Al-Anon designed for those who aren’t addicts themselves but have addicts in their lives. The author spends almost no time at all on these organizations but those with addicts in their lives would likely benefit immensely from a support network of others in similar situations.

Bible verses are quoted throughout and there are attempts to find examples of each of the Twelve Steps in Scripture, often in the parables of Jesus. References were also made to Orthodox saints and writers which, as a non-Orthodox Christian were curious to me and spurred me to outside research for more information.

Some of his language early on points to a perceived or real hostility among Orthodox Christians of the Twelve Steps as an alternative to Orthodox Christianity. Webber works hard to demonstrate why the Twelve Steps insist upon being so vague and non-specific about higher powers and the God of our understanding, which was helpful for me as I have been critical of the Steps for this in the past. Keeping perspective that the Twelve Steps are first and foremost focused on helping someone leave behind drinking or other addictive behaviors is critical. But at the same time Webber argues that the Steps offer a deep spirituality, however it is a depth I often see lacking (at least externally) in many of the recovery people I work with regularly. The steps are easy to pay lip service to, since many of the changes are -as Webber admits – internal and deeply personal and subjective. They’re hard to measure in any quantitative or qualitative fashion beyond whether a person is remaining sober or not.

This is a great resource for anyone with an addict in their lives, but it will make most sense to those who also are Christian. While aimed at Orthodox readers it is not done so in a way that is exclusive or which prohibits other Christians from benefitting.

As is generally the case in practical theology, there are aspects I think he should have mentioned as differences rather than focusing so much on trying to show the Steps as consistent with Orthodoxy, or at least not contradictory. For instance, his discussion in Chapter 12 of Steps 8 and 9 (making a list of all people we have harmed and being willing to make amends, and then actually making amends where possible) completely ignores the limitations of these steps compared to the deeper healing offered in Confession and Absolution. Many addicts have criminal backgrounds in the not-so-distant past. Sponsors are not protected or exempt from being subpoenaed and forced to disclose things a person in recovery may have admitted to them. A list of persons harmed and needing amends made to could be used against an addict when obtained from their sponsor, and for this reason some addicts are very honest that they can’t put everything down.

The rite of Confession and Absolution is however (at least for the time being) still recognized by the State as a sacred place, the contents of which cannot be disclosed and which a recognized priest or minister cannot be forced to disclose to others. Although there are active efforts in various places to begin undoing the private nature of Confession, at least for now Confession can offer a much deeper healing in that it can allow the recovering addict to be fully, brutally honest. And of course, making amends is not the same as seeking the forgiveness of God. Only in Confession and Absolution can the promises of forgiveness in faith in Jesus Christ be articulated by another human being and, perhaps, finally truly heard and accepted in a way not possible with generic corporate confession or through the Twelve Steps.

Again, I strongly recommend this book to those with addicts in their lives, or those who care for those with addicts in their lives. Certainly it should be required reading in seminaries where future ministers are trained in practical theology. Webber speculates that perhaps addiction has become a far more common occurrence in our time and place as opposed to in Jesus’ day. Perhaps that is true, both in terms of our psychological climate as well as the increasing availability and cultural acceptance of more and more addictive substances, as well as the increased anonymity possible in a culture where the family is fractured. If these things are true, it will become increasingly important that pastors and religious leaders be more familiar with the nature of addiction and the addicted mindset.

If the Lord Wills

December 14, 2020

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. James 4:13-16

I was talking with a friend the other day who cited something I’ve heard floating around a bit the latter part of this year. I’m not going to go see my parents this year for the holidays so that I can see them next year for the holidays. The idea being that because of the risk of COVID and the higher danger to older people more likely to have co-morbidities or weaker immune systems, the responsible thing to do is stay away from them (and have them stay away from everyone else) and then next year we’ll all be healthy and COVID will be gone and we’ll celebrate together then.

I understand the rationale. I don’t fault people for saying it. I know they mean well. And as I’ve maintained since all this started back in March each person has to figure out how to navigate the COVID landscape for themselves within the larger guidelines suggested or mandated to us by various government or health officials.

That being said, I always want to remind Christians to weigh this in the balance with James’ words above. There are no guarantees as to what the future holds, other than that our Lord is returning at some point! We make our decisions with the best available information and as we feel led or compelled to by the information at hand, but that doesn’t mean it will play out the way we hope it will. That’s not in our control. This means two things.

First, it doesn’t mean we switch our brains off and pay no attention to planning or available information or reasonable levels of prudence and wisdom. To say we are not in control is not to say we have no control. It’s just that our control is limited – a fact we dislike and often seek actively to avoid completely in our considerations. Christians who refuse to use the minds God gave them and the knowledge available around us are not being faithful, and those who are not Christian and wish to maliciously characterize a life of faith in Christ as one devoid of intelligence or thougthfulness are being disingenuous, to say the least.

Secondly, it means that Christians should temper our plans for the future with the understanding things are not fully in our control. And this is the important aspect to keep in mind with the adage above about keeping distant now to ensure opportunities to be together when the pandemic has passed. Although a great deal of hope is being foisted onto the shoulders of various vaccines available in various degrees, we don’t know how that will play out.

We can certainly hope that vaccines roll out as scheduled (or faster) function as intended and with similar rates of protection to what has been seen in human trials. But even if this is the case, the likelihood of COVID fears dissipating fairly soon is unlikely. Even if rates drop, the vaccines don’t seem to offer long-term protection from COVID, meaning that additional doses will be necessary to ensure the virus loses access to a large enough spectrum of the population long enough to begin dying out of circulation. That’s likely to take at least another year. It could take longer – we just don’t know. After all, it was just two months ago the media was laughing at our president for claiming vaccines would be available before the end of the year. Now that the election is over, what a shock to find out he had been right. Hmmmm.

Anyways.

That’s all COVID stuff. Ministering to older adults, many of whom have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren they miss dearly and look forward to seeing any chance they get, I know how hard the social isolation has been on them. I also know a fair number of these older adults are taking directions from their kids, and being more careful than they themselves might be left to their own devices. And I also know that things can change quickly as people get into their 70’s and 80’s – more quickly than they or anyone else expect, and sometimes with less advanced warning.

All of which is to say that not seeing your family is no guarantee you’ll get to see them next year, even if none of you contract COVID or have any complications from it. As James reminds us, life is fleeting. All too brief as well as unpredictable. And this at least needs to be discussed as plans (or no plans) are being made for Christmas time.

Again, it isn’t as simple as saying go see your aging parents or grandparents because you may not get another chance to. But it is worth reminding people that life is fleeting, like a mist. Talk about it together. Pray about it together. Make decisions together. Grant a great deal of grace and forgiveness in the midst of all the stress and craziness of this past year. And also take seriously the sovereignty of God in all things, even pandemics. Life is a beautiful gift we don’t have absolute control over but receive day by day as it is given to us without any assurances of the next minute let alone the next year.

You may reach the same conclusions you were inclined to before, but you’ll all be better for the discussion and the prayer and the deliberate inclusion of the faith you proclaim in the process.

Control

December 2, 2020

Thanks to Steve for his response to a previous post. I’m going to respond to his comment in this post out of convenience from a text-editing standpoint, and because the point he raises has been voiced by various people in different but related contexts. Steve wrote:

Would you really gather inside for worship wearing a mask and sitting 6 feet apart if the state allowed it? You would be devastated if a parishioner became ill after attending such a service. From a practical perspective it’s just not safe and too risky. Let’s be honest, this rant is about the separation of church & state.

This is about my sixth take on a response (I deleted the first five!), and I’ve probably written a few thousand words before deciding to opt for the less-is-more approach. I take Steve’s questions in good faith and pray these responses will be received the same way.

Yes, I would really gather inside for worship if it was not expressly forbidden by the State. We did so for over 100 years prior to COVID. We did so in June and July and again in October and most of November when we were allowed. This is a Church, I’m her pastor, and it’s my job to provide the Word and Sacraments of God to the people of God. I’ve been blessed to do this for the last 13 years or so without having to explicitly question the means by which we did so under the rubric of whether it was safe or not. Of course it was safe enough – it’s what we’d always done! The only thing that called our traditional ways of doing things into question was COVID and subsequent restrictions on houses of worship.

We are blessed to reside in a county with some of the lowest infection rates of any county in the nation. We’ve adhered to CDC and state stipulations and guidelines, even as those have flexed and changed and changed again over the past nine months. None of our members has had COVID, thankfully. I could say this is because of the precautions we’ve been instructed to take but I’ll never know that for sure this side of eternity. The precautions as a whole seem reasonable and so we abide by them. What is unreasonable is when exemptions are made for some businesses with far closer exposure and fewer precautions while houses of worship are by and large arbitrarily restricted. I’ve heard of two outbreaks allegedly linked to houses of worship in the last nine months. I’d encourage anyone to research those further and judge for themselves if they are good enough grounds upon which to base a large policy restricting a Constitutionally guaranteed right. In San Diego strip clubs are allowed to operate while churches are restricted. I pray that recent Supreme Court decisions will begin to help state leadership re-evaluate their mandates. Not every church can, should, or will allow people back inside for worship during the pandemic. But that is a decision the congregation should make, not some official with no direct knowledge of the particulars.

Not only have we met when legally allowed to do so, my people have wanted to meet. I haven’t forced them. We have some who won’t or shouldn’t attend and I understand that completely. I’m supportive of those who don’t feel able to worship to stay home. Nearly all of my members want to meet, but not all of them can. If the majority of my members desire to worship and consider the risk one they are willing to take, it is not my job as pastor to tell them they can’t, that I refuse to provide them Word and Sacrament because it’s not safe to do so. Safe is a slippery word.

I would definitely feel bad if a member got sick. Would I take personal responsibility if they did? No. I am not the one who ensures their health and safety. We come to give worship and praise to the God we claim is in control of all things, including COVID. I don’t presume this means we can hug and kiss and sneeze into each others’ faces with impunity, but at least my witness of faith needs to be that God is the only one who keeps us safe. Therefore if my members are willing to gather, I will feed them the Word and the Sacraments. We’ll use the brains God gave us to try and do so reasonably given the circumstances, but I will not deny them the option. I also will use the brains God gave me to listen critically to what my elected and appointed leaders tell me. History shows them to be far less reliable than God!

This may sound callous at first, but let’s play it out a bit. I had a member (recently deceased) who went through a bad period of falls whenever she would come to church. She wore high heel shoes well into her 90’s, and as her balance and vision betrayed her she would regularly fall. Outside on the patio. Inside on the carpeting. Should we not have met because she was getting hurt and refused to wear more sensible shoes? Should I have turned her away in the parking lot for her own protection?

I can’t keep people safe. I can do what seems good and right and salutary by any number of different standards Biblical and otherwise as an effort to love my neighbor. But I can’t keep them safe. That’s not my job. I have to leave that in my Lord’s hands. Again, I don’t say this lightly or flippantly, but faithfully. I have to trust God to keep me safe every time I make a hospital call. I’ve been around people in all manner of infectious states (pre-COVID) and trusted ultimately in my God to keep me healthy and safe. I still put on the gowns and masks and gloves when told to do so, but my trust goes deeper than those things. As Christians, we are called to this level of trust, to remember we are not the ones in control of our lives.

In regards to not safe and risky, I believe that’s a decision each group of believers has to make for themselves based on their circumstances and their understanding of God’s Word. Christians met illegally and under threat of death for 300 years in the Roman Empire and for decades in Communist China and the former Soviet Union. They are still persecuted and executed around the world for their faith. And yet in all these places and times Christians have prioritized worship. They took precautions, I have no doubt. But they often made the decision that despite the risks and despite a definite lack of safety they would gather together to receive the gifts of God in his Word and Sacraments. This meant many of them were arrested, tortured, disfigured, and executed. This did not discourage other Christians but oftentimes emboldened them. We hold up and honor those Christians who were willing to take risks and suffer the consequences rather than renounce their faith or opt for a safe alternative. How can we be critical when Christians continue to seek God’s Word and Sacrament today?

Perhaps the issue is not whether Church is a safe place (it’s not – spiritually and otherwise!), but whether Americans value worship as much in an age where the Word and worship is a click away – a television station or a radio station or a YouTube channel away. Maybe the deeper question is how technology has impacted our valuation of human contact and community, leading us to believe that technology can fill these needs in our lives. That in an age when everything else is self-serve and an Amazon delivery away, worship ought somehow to be the same – on our terms and for our short term comfort. Perhaps a deeper question is how our avoidance of death through a cult of youth and beauty and exercise has left us vulnerable to the rawness of a world we do not control.

Barring the return of our Lord first, all of us are going to die. The Church is here to teach people how to live as well as how to face death. To give hope and assurance that COVID or cancer or substance abuse or abusive parents or any number of other tragic events do not have the last word on us even if they kill us. If we’re going to glorify doctors and nurses and grocery store workers and other front line workers, we should no less glorify the God of Church for sustaining his people to proclaim the Word of God and provide the gifts of God to the people of God. The Church does no one any good by acting as though a few more days or months or years of life is more important than eternity. There is no other organization that bears witness to this truth! And just as I want doctors and nurses and teachers to stand by their posts and do their jobs despite the risks, those of them who are Christian need to be sustained by the Church to do so, to know that what they do has meaning and value and their lives – if sacrificed in love of neighbor – are not lost or wasted but eternally anchored in the Son of God who overcame COVID and death. Their non-Christian colleagues need this same support and truth, they just don’t realize it yet.

So yes, I will meet inside again as soon as my people are ready to. The cold and damp weather is just as dangerous to them as COVID. So is the isolation and distance that has plagued our country and world for the last nine months. I’m in no hurry to die, and I’m in no hurry for my people to die. But if they face death – and we each do every day – they should be prepared to counter that fear and anxiety with hope not grounded in the fiat of a government official but in the resurrected Son of God, Jesus the Christ. To the best of my ability I will model that courage, and give my brothers and sisters in the faith the opportunity to model it as well, even as we use our best judgment to love and care for each other.

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.

Irony

November 30, 2020

Our state is once again under lockdown. Nearly almost as strict as when we all began this back in March. Not quite as strict though. You can still go shopping pretty much anywhere you want, but churches aren’t allowed to gather indoors for worship even if we’re all maintaining the exact same precautions as retail businesses – or more. Churches are too dangerous, apparently. (As a follow-up edit, I found an article rating various activities from least dangerous to most dangerous on a color-coded graduated scale. The last [and therefore presumably most dangerous] activity listed in the category of highest risk was going to a “large or crowded” religious service. No definitions of those terms – is a worship service at 20% capacity more crowded than Costco at 20% capacity? Also no justification at all for assigning worship to this highest risk category I certainly haven’t seen many reports of churches as epicenters of COVID transmission in the last nine months, and the one that was cited extensively at the start of COVID turned out to not really be a worship service at all but a choir practice for a group not associated with the church itself.)

So it was not without a bitter sense of irony that I read an article in our local “Independent” weekly news magazine, where one of our county health officials quoted Galatians 6:9, And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. The reporter didn’t bother to look up the exact location of the quote but was astute enough to at least mention it came from the Bible.

Of course, the context is all wrong. It is not a verse about protecting ourselves from physical harm but rather a verse about protecting ourselves from spiritual harm by continuing to engage in those things which benefit us spiritually while avoiding those that are detrimental. A good argument could be made this verse is dealing specifically with care for those who are preaching and teaching the Word of God (v.6). At the very least it has to do with caring for one another and especially those who are brothers and sisters in Christ (v.10).

What that looks like in the age of COVID is tricky to define. A great deal of grace and respect must be given, and those amounts and forms vary almost by individual. What is loving for one person is insulting to another, and visa versa. But it’s safe to say that allowing people to get their nails done and their hair done while prohibiting the people of God from gathering under equal or even safer conditions as part of their life of faith probably doesn’t intent of Galatians 6:9.

We will one day reap what is sown. The habits we fall into or are forced into have long-range repercussions on our lives of faith which in turn affect our eternal life. All this should be kept in mind as our elected or appointed officials seek to do good. Hopefully the recent Supreme Court decision in regards to banning worship in New York will have wider ranging impacts even here on the opposite coast. Our leaders will one day have to answer to more than the CDC or the WHO or the press for their decisions.

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.

Forced Flu Vaccinations

October 8, 2020

Not that it’s gotten a lot of mainstream media coverage, but Massachusetts now requires flu vaccines for students attending in-person classes. There are religious exemptions, home-schoolers are also exempt from the mandatory vaccinations. Otherwise as young as six months old, children need to receive annual flu shots. The state is expected to mandate flu shots for certain workers in the state as well.

Although certain states already have mandatory vaccination requirements for students, this is the first time the seasonal flu shot has been made mandatory. Decisions like this are of keen interest to me since much focus is directed to the development and roll-out of a COVID-19 vaccine. Much like the flu vaccine, concerns about COVID antibodies not persisting in the body for more than a few months at a time mean seasonal COVID vaccines could be a reality, and I have concerns about nearly all mandatory vaccination programs, let alone a mandatory vaccination program that is both unpredictable as to it’s efficacy in any given season and for an illness that for the vast majority of infected people results in relatively minor symptoms and effects.

According to case law going back over 100 years, states do have the right to mandate vaccines and impose penalties on those who refuse to get them, an issue that will become more and more pertinent as the argument that public health trumps private health decision-making rights continues to gain momentum. The specter of wide-spread mandatory vaccines is unpalatable to people (even people who believe it’s the best course of action). We don’t like the idea that people could be put in jail or fined for refusing an injection from a stranger. We prefer the more pleasant options of public shaming or exhorting people to ‘voluntarily’ receive a vaccination, but those are just pleasantries the law currently does not require.

Vaccines in and of themselves are not necessarily bad things. But I’m very uneasy with broad assertions that vaccines are more or less completely safe and that concerns to the contrary are some how indicative of a lack of common sense. My concern is less with long-established vaccines with a long-term record (even if difficult to come by) of associated side effects, and more with the avalanche of possible vaccines being developed without benefit of easily available (and readable) discussions of interactions between vaccines or long-term possible side effects. I’m also very wary of mandatory vaccine laws (such as California’s) that don’t define an exclusive list of mandated vaccines, allowing for new vaccinations to be added under the existing law without notifying constituents let alone getting their approval on it.

So I’ll keep digging through the news to see how pushes for more and more mandatory vaccines are going. I’m grateful for advances in medical science, but I’m also all-too aware that even good ideas can have unanticipated consequences and we need to be very sparing in demanding people accede to well-intentioned programs, particularly when the individuals will have to bear the brunt of any problems that develop, with notoriously little support or acknowledgement from the institutions that caused those problems in the first place.

COVID Coping

September 25, 2020

We’re all trying to figure out how to get through this season of COVID. With restrictions on where you can go and what you can do and who you can be with, people are getting a bit stir crazy and I’m no exception. I’ve admitted to being not the smartest guy on the block this summer, an admission some would argue was far overdue and hardly limited to this summer. But as a closing foray into stupidity, last night I took the Paqui One-Chip Challenge.

I’d like to defend myself somewhat. I haven’t eaten Tide Pods or overindulged on cinnamon. I haven’t poured ice water over my head. I’ve never been much of a joiner, and taken more pride than probably reasonable in going against the flow. I’m fairly discerning usually when it comes to common sense. But apparently not always.

Because another source of pride throughout my life has been an affinity for spicy food. The hotter the better. And the more other people back off and avoid it, the more inclined I am to try it. So when I saw a YouTube video for the One-Chip Challenge, I immediately started Googling to see where they could be purchased locally. Just a few hours later I had two small bags of their chips and one of the casket-shaped One-Chip Challenge boxes.

I tried the bag of Fiery Chili Limon chips for lunch. It claims to be Super Hot!, but it was disappointing. I mean, there was some heat to it, but I ate the small bag without the need for water – let alone bread or milk. I make much hotter pico de gallo and while these chips were somewhat respectable by mass produced chip standards, they certainly didn’t live up to the hype.

So when my kids found the box at dinner they naturally assumed I should do it. Right then. And really, why put it off?

Frankly the most impressive thing initially was that this company found a way to keep their chips intact! The small bag of chips was not a bunch of crumbs as is often the case with chips. Almost all of the chips were intact, which was impressive in and of itself. And the One-Chip Challenge was even better insulated to ensure I found it intact. This year’s challenge uses a blue-corn tortilla chip covered in their signature blend of ground chili spices, utilizing the Carolina Reaper chili, the Scorpion Chili, and Sichuan peppercorn. The chip looks black and it’s covered in this black spice. The challenge says you have to eat the entire chip, so I broke it in two and ate it.

Initially it wasn’t terribly impressive. But, as chilis sometimes do, the impact grew over time. Still, it wasn’t really all that painful initially. Eventually it was the sides of my tongue that took the brunt of the burning. The rest of my mouth was relatively unaffected. Or perhaps completely numbed. I’ve longed to take spicy challenges for years, but this is the closest I’ve ever come to actually doing one. Beyond the growing burning on my tongue were other physical reactions I’ve watched in other people but never experienced myself. I began perspiring. My eyes started watering and my nose started running. My hands were shaking and my legs were a bit weak. There was a jumbled sense to my thinking, as my brain rapidly occupied itself almost completely with what was going on in my body and how unhappy it was with it.

The challenge grants different levels of recognition depending on how long you can hold out before eating or drinking something after eating the chip. My goal was to last at least five minutes – the lowest level of Featherweight. It’s what I had seen the host do on the YouTube video, and since we had guests for dinner I didn’t feel like drawing it out indefinitely. And, honestly, it hurt. So the glass of milk I had my kids bring me in advance went down pretty quickly but only provided moderate relief. As with the water after. Ice cubes were more effective at numbing my tongue and easing the pain. And with homemade apple crisp with ice cream for dessert, I found the frozen dairy was most effective in helping neutralize and disperse the oils binding the burning to my tongue. Within 15 minutes or so I was feeling mostly back to normal.

I could feel it in my stomach, as the packaging said I would, but it wasn’t anything bad. Until about 30 minutes later. I was sidelined severely by a terrible burning sensation in my stomach that left me almost completely incapacitated for about 10 minutes. Some cold water eventually helped to ease the pain, and within another 15 minutes or so I was fine again. I panicked a little, thinking perhaps the spices had eaten through my stomach or aggravated an ulcer I didn’t know I had. But a few years ago I had a similar (though far less intense) pain from a particularly powerful chili pepper I ate, so I figured it was basically the same reaction this time and it would pass before long.

Blessedly, it did. I was able to sleep without any other side effects and, other than a slight tenderness in my stomach today, I appear to be fine.

This challenge is not for the faint of heart. Visit the web site to see different reactions from customers. I have a good tolerance for heat and rarely find something uncomfortable, but this certainly was. Paqui doesn’t indicate what heat level the chip is, but the Carolina Reaper chili clocks in at 1.5 million on the Scoville scale (a typical jalapeno clocks in at 2500-10,000). So it’s a serious heat!

I’m glad I did it. That being said I feel no need to do it again. And I’ll probably let the small bag of Paqui Haunted Ghost Pepper chips lie untouched for a little while. I know it won’t be anywhere near what the One-Chip Challenge felt like, but still. I’ve had enough heat for the time being.

Cold Comfort

September 21, 2020

What a relief.

If a COVID vaccine in the United States turns out to be dangerous or unsafe, we know who we can blame. Dr. Anthony Fauci has assured MSNBC and the American public that if anything goes wrong with the vaccine process, he’ll take “the heat” for it and make sure we’re kept informed.

I’m sure he will. Whether he should or not is more complicated. But not as complicated as exactly what his taking “the heat” will actually accomplish. I assume at some level it means he’s willing to fall on his sword and resign in disgrace from his position if a vaccine is approved that turns out to be dangerous. Of course, with no long-term clinical studies ahead of time, it may well not be possible to know of potential problems with the vaccine until long after Dr. Fauci has either retired peaceably or even died.

If he has to retire because of the fallout of a bad vaccine roll-out, I have no doubt there are plenty of sympathetic individuals and companies who would be happy to ensure he doesn’t end up homeless in exchange for the relative luster of even a disgraced former immunology expert on their board.

Fauci might take some level of public blame, but that hardly means much. Especially since he’s not a political figure or a political appointee in any substantive manner. Not much comfort – not if you or your child or loved one is affected for life by unanticipated side effects of a vaccine. At the very worst, Fauci can rely on the passage of time and the dustbin of history to remove his name from common parlance and disparagement. But I guess that’s what those who might suffer side effects can count on as well. Nothing lasts forever, certainly not even life itself.

I’m not faulting Dr. Fauci or even MSNBC. This is political talk and it’s expected and perhaps has some place. But let’s be clear about the limitations of such talk. Having a scapegoat hopefully won’t be necessary. But if it is, nobody’s going to be very comforted by knowing who to point the finger at, no matter how willing that person is to be pointed at.

Words Matter

September 19, 2020

As I’ve tried to argue here repeatedly over the last 14 years (!), words matter. Language matters, and we need to pay attention to what is being said and how it’s being said.

For instance, for the first time I can remember, the flu is being called a pandemic. I don’t argue whether or not the flu qualifies as a pandemic. I’m pretty sure it does – it affects a good portion of the world (at least I assume it does – I think press coverage of world health issues is normally pretty light, and since the flu recurs every year, there has been little interest historically in talking about it unless it’s somehow more dangerous or otherwise distinctive) and it affects a good portion of the population (in the neighborhood of 19 million Americans annually (as opposed to the estimated 6.7 million cases of Coronavirus reported in the US after 6 months).

What I do question is the curious fact that this year, the flu is being called a pandemic. Most of the news stories I see using this terminology are fear-mongering, painting dire possible scenarios since COVID-19 is ongoing as flu season begins. The other common denominator in stories referring to the flu as a pandemic is the emphasis on getting the flu shot.

The overall impact is one of creating fear. Fear is a particularly useful emotion as it is very powerful and hard to resist. It’s also hard to live with over a prolonged period of time (like, say six months or more) without some debilitating psychological, social, spiritual and even physical side effects beginning to manifest in some people. In a situation where one is afraid, the urge to remove the source of fear somehow can become nearly overwhelming.

How do you remove fear of illness? With the flu, the insistence is not on proper rest or diet or hygiene or anything else – it’s almost exclusively on getting the flu shot. It’s not that these other things aren’t recommended, it’s just that you never hear about them. The only thing that appears in the news and media is the importance of getting the flu shot, despite the fact the flu vaccine at best has effectiveness rates of 60% and regularly (four times between 2014 and 2019) still clocks in at less than 40% effectiveness. Still, the answer to easing fears about the flu is to get vaccinated.

Likewise, much emphasis has been placed on a vaccine as the answer to our Coronavirus fears. Certainly, government mandated social distancing and mask wearing is also emphasized, but particularly in the last month or two, the emphasis increasingly turns to vaccines and when they might be available. Part of this is due to the fact that like it or not, most people are resigned to the reality of masks and social distancing. There are mandated signs and other repeated emphases locally to reinforce these measures (though they are, at best, questionable as to the degree of their effectiveness).

So media decides to focus on the vaccine. As a political football (of course), and as the source to the end of our COVID-19 fears. Despite the fact there are nagging suspicions that immunity is short-lived (I’ve seen allegations of someone getting reinfected just a month after recovering from COVID-19. Other reports question anti-body likelihood after 12 months).

Vaccinations are the answer to our health fears. Health fears stoked in large part by incessant and uncontextualized media reporting. Big numbers provided in isolation from other numbers that might give them different meaning. Big numbers intended to create fear, and fear intended to be dealt with by recommended (and eventually, I’m sure, mandated) measures such as vaccinations.

Watch the language, folks. And watch what it does to you. I’m not saying there isn’t anything to be worried about. But what I am saying is the change in the way language is being used this year should be an equal source not just of curiosity but of concern and intrigue to you as well. Stay informed, but recognize that simply watching or reading the news is not enough to accomplish this.