In the world of sports there are the stars and then there are the role players. The stars get the attention, the glory, while the role players work quietly behind the scenes, and yet would Michael Jordan be famous without his supporting cast?
This past week one of those supporting cast men died after becoming infected by Covid-19, having succumbed on Tuesday of this past week, on the same day as another regular during my growing up days, Lenore Miller, 89, who loved to use testimony time at church to sing, and passed after becoming ill of the same disease.
John Kenneth Metzler, 82, better known as just “Ken,” had been in poor health for the past decade and really seemed to be living on borrowed time as it was. He was born in 1938, February 15, in Lancaster County, the faithful husband to his wife of 60 years, Arlene, and proceeded in death by his daughter Brenda.
I almost didn’t write anything about Ken. I mean, the Mennonite denomination is my past and Ken was simply Ken. A deacon in the church. But an awkward and common man. He ran a muffler shop for years, lived in a little ranch house beside it, drove a Chrysler minivan for years (completely practical like him) and spoke with his totally unsophisticated dutchified drawl.
Not really the kind who gets invited to speak in front of the crowds nor mentioned as someone noteworthy, and yet someone always willing to serve.
I’ll admit, as a teenage punk, who knew nothing and prioritized ‘coolness’ over substance of character, Ken was annoying for his self-effacing style. He would literally apologize for himself while sharing a devotional, for his lack of education and many shortcomings.
He also held some odd views, like the time he confessed to enjoying the comics page and acted as if it was some sort of terrible transgression. He would also, while teaching youth Sunday school, ask questions that would be more suitable for kindergarten students, which would leave everyone confused thinking he was asking rhetorically and him frustrated (or “fuss-trated” in his persistent Lancaster dialect) thinking we weren’t paying attention.
But in the end?
Ken was a man with a golden heart, who became more and more endearing as I matured and, despite his slightly stooped posture, had all the true qualities of a hero.
There are plenty of flashy Mennonites, big fish in their small ponds, who act as “missionaries” or “evangelists” and are roundly praised for their efforts. Many of them have the perfect hair, the superior intelligence, the pedigree and popular families. They travel to the exotic places, some have the academic credentials too, they have the wealth (or access to resources) and reputation for their wonderfulness.
Ken had none of that pomp and pizzazz. He wouldn’t want it even if he were capable. Instead he, slow and steady, like the persistent tortoise compared to the haire of children’s book fame, he worked mostly unrecognized for the good of others. If it was to cut someone a break on a repair bill at his shop or consistently running the canned goods distribution, you would hardly have noticed his contribution.
When crowns in heaven are distributed, I believe there will be many surprises. But it will not be a surprise to me if Ken received a reward bigger than that of the known names. No, he did not lead the church outreach, but he supported it wholeheartedly, and remained long after the charismatic movers and shakers chased after that next new and exciting project. He stayed, stayed true to his commitments, and is a hero in a world full of vain and self-serving ‘good’ men.
Ken also died as he lived. He could have, given his poor physical health, cowered in fear and never left his home. Nobody would have criticized him for doing this, he was clearly in that most at risk category and could not be faulted for hiding out the pandemic. But then why miss out on life when you already know that your days are numbered? He got out instead, remained a part of the community, and that is a choice that I respect—even recommend.
Ken’s death was not a big surprise to me. My initial reaction when I heard he had been at church when a visiting chorus was there, basically a Covid super-spreader event, was to think, “oh, Ken,” and question the wisdom.
But, on second thought, Ken made the right and heroic choice. Ken knew that risk of death isn’t a reason to stop living. He had been on death’s door before and made a deliberate choice.
Ken, unlike many in this age, understood life is difficult and every day is a gift. He may have lived a year or two more, possibly, but was not long for this world by any reasonable assessment. Sure, he likely suffered, he spent his last days alone because of nonsense policies created by administrators, but he was a man who never had it easy and lived a life of faith and sacrifice.
Real heroes don’t wear capes or live in the pages of comic books, most of them do not die in some grand saving-the-world deed, many of them pass unnoticed. They quietly play their role, in the background, until it is time to go home.
Recently I was asked, by a friend on Facebook, a Social Justice Anabaptist, to participate in a “focus group” discussion with Conservative Anabaptists who Support Trump (which they refer to as CAST) and for the stated purpose of finding common ground. I have no reason to doubt the intentions of such an effort, although there is a sort of wariness that comes from having observed these kinds of conversations, it reminds me a bit of the foot-in-the-door tactics of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon missionaries. This “having a conversation” can be code for a sort of Evangelical push of agenda.
But, my initial skepticism aside, I’m not truly part of the Anabaptist church anymore and I’m not sure how they would find common ground with me except they abandon their “former delusion,” stop dividing themselves into political categories, conservative and liberal, truly follow Christ and become Orthodox Christians. So, if they want my advice on how to heal their current schism, perhaps they should look to reconciling the much more significant division from the Apostle’s church first and leave their political disputes to a different venue?
Furthermore, I’m not sure that I “support Trump” so much as I oppose partnering with corporate elitist interests, in bed with a Chinese Communist dictatorship, against my neighbors. I did not vote for Trump in 2016 and even wrote several blogs (1,2,3) to persuade my conservative Mennonite and Amish peers to reconsider. It was only since then, since observing the viciousness of the assault against Trump and reconsidering my own perspective of the man, that I realized I had been duped by some very sophisticated propagandists.
No, that is not to say that my criticisms of the man were invalid, but understanding the other side, knowing their agenda and tactics, certainly can put him in a different light.
While I do not support those who confuse the American flag with the cross, I likewise have must warn those who are fooled into believing that the Gospel of Jesus is compatible with the divisive Social Justice narrative and grievance culture. As I’ve said in another recent blog, there is no rivalry between the kingdom of heaven and the ordained governments of this world. They are two parallel systems, one for our physical protection from evildoers and the other for our salvation from sin and death.
I don’t have a problem with voting for a leader who best fills the role of government described in Romans 13, providing some general protections for all people, but I do think it is problematic to use the government to enforce Christian morality and values. The point of Jesus saying “sell all and give to the poor” was not to express a Socialist ideal, or else he would’ve joined Judas in his rebuke of that woman’s worshipful display of pouring out expensive perfume, but rather it was to point people to the kingdom of heaven. In other words, Judas was trying to turn the words of Jesus into a political solution for social inequalities, while Jesus was primarily interested in the salvation of souls. So, unlike a leftist who looks to government as savior, I do not look to Trump (or any man) to fill the role of Christ. The President, in my view, is put in his position for a purpose different from my own. I do not look to civil authority to bring salvation to the world any more than I look to the fast-food employee flipping my burger to be my bread of life.
So, with all that in mind, here are my responses to the questions offered by the Social Justice Anabaptist:
1) What are the top three issues in ranked order you think best answer the first title question?
Rational, issues-based, voting is a myth. We make decisions based on our intuitions, our experiences, and what we know (or think we know) about the options available. Most elections come down to a choice between two candidates and are decided on the basis of their individual character or that of the ‘side’ which they represent. I didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 because I had questions about his character that could not be resolved. But, that said, I certainly did prefer the risk-taking approach of Trump over that of the careful, yet seemingly dishonest and conniving words of the alternative, and was proven right when she suddenly changed her tune about accepting election results to push a relentless “resistance” campaign based upon a fictional Russian collusion narrative.
2) Would you say the Bible has much to say to guide us in our political choices?
Men look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. There are many chosen by Jesus, to lead his church, who did not measure up to the standards of the smug and sanctimonious religious leaders of that day. Trump is outwardly flawed, he wears his faults on his sleeves, he is called a narcissist and other nasty things, but the blue-collar guy (hurt by ‘progressive’ tax, trade, and border policies) saw his heart better than the truly privileged social elites who hate him. Ultimately, God is sovereign, parsing the Bible for a concrete answer or justification for every choice is foolishness, and my stating some eloquent theology in defense of my choices wouldn’t persuade a skeptic regardless.
3) If so, what Bible verse or spiritual concept guides your political thinking most?
Nothing specific. But generally, God gives us freedom and choice. God also, for our own common good, provides boundaries and divisions. Cities had walls, civilizations have laws. The kingdom of heaven, while open to all who repent, has clear entry requirements.
4) I have heard a lot of folks say that they support the platform though they don’t particularly support the man, Donald Trump, his personal behavior, rhetoric and swagger. Do you feel like that is the consensus of CAST you know?
This question reminds me of the Pharisee, whose house Jesus was visiting, and protests the blunt commentary, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” (Luke 11:45). He gets bulldozed. Jesus doesn’t lose a beat. Jesus continues to hammer his point home. There are several times when Jesus gets questioned for offending the elites and he doubles down rather than soften his tone.
The political class often hides their corruption under pious speech and pretense of righteousness. Trump is hated by these people for his crudeness of speech and swagger. But the working class is more concerned with actual substance over style, they aren’t at all offended by a little shop talk, and there’s also a reason for Trump being extremely popular in hip-hop and rap culture. Or at least Trump was popular before his political enemies poisoned this connection.
Incidentally, those who have a problem with Trump’s flamboyant style are probably also, for strategic or cynical reasons, holding back on their judgment of others of similar behavior. By saying Trump is “not Presidential” or complaining about his neglect of decorum, they may actually be implying that he’s not elite (or white) enough for the office. In other words, it is sort of a racist or classist thing. Trump, in being like an uncultured average person, offends those who feel superior to all and entitled to rule.
Anyhow, those who said that Trump would choose conservative Supreme Court Justices were proven right thrice. That will be Trump’s legacy more than his personality, that and the fact that he didn’t lead us into another war, that he brokered several peace deals, and was extremely restrained in his response to the violence of leftists. Sure, maybe Trump is a Twitter troll, but at least he cared enough about random Iranian soldiers to call off a retaliatory missile strike in response to the downing of a drone. So maybe it is time for you, who judge him, to start considering his actions over his rhetoric? Maybe he is right to stand apart from the fawning praise of John “bomb-bomb-Iran” McCain and to defy the neocon establishment? He was elected to put America first, to end endless wars, and that’s exactly what he did, yet some ‘Anabaptists’ still hate him because he isn’t a smooth warmongering liar like his predecessors?
5) Is there anything about his rhetoric, swagger or personal behavior, that does resonate with you or CAST? If so, can you explain that a bit?
Trump’s lack of a facade is a breath of fresh air compared to the lawyer-speak and “focus group” silliness of most in the political class. Psalm 55:21 could easily describe many others: “His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.” I prefer Trump’s recklessness and hyperbole, that he attacks others in the privileged class, over those who call common folk “deplorables” and “chumps” behind closed doors or in front of a partisan audience. I’ll not soon forget how Obama allowed his surrogates to slander the loyal opposition as “racist” for opposing his massive expansion of government power. The pretty “mean girls” may get away with their exclusive cliques and bullying because they have such sweet smiles and know how to use their outward beauty work the system, but that doesn’t make them good people or actually superior to those less sophisticated.
6) I assume one of the reasons, you support Trump is his opposition to the “liberal agenda.” Can you identify one part of the liberal agenda that is the most problematic to you?
Depending on coercion and threat of violence to take the property of one group to give to another, so that you can manipulate these others into being a loyal voting bloc? Do I really need to explain to an Anabaptist how unChristian that is?
7) Urban – rural divide. A look at the electoral map shows a dramatic difference in voting patterns based on population density. It seems that one of the things that resonates with Trump supporters is his disdain for the “urban elite.” Can you explain who that is because I might actually fit that category? Can you then explain what it is specifically that makes the urban elite so distasteful?
An elitist Social Justice Anabaptist won’t be able to see it anymore than those who condemned Jesus could understand their own need of him. There is much to say about the pride of the religious and social elites. The left seems to believe that they have all of the answers to everything, they condescend to minorities and treat them like helpless children, keep them dependent, and yet are truly full of themselves. Living in an urban environment is to be removed from the earth, what is natural and good, and is to have the privileged of not having to see the hard work that goes into putting bread on the shelf of that corner store. The exposure to the cosmopolitan world gives one a delusion of being more well-rounded and knowledgeable, yet also comes with a lack of groundedness and the humility of good discernment as well. That is why many elites rejected Trump. I mean, how dare he misspells a word on Twitter or be honest about the threat presented by open borders?
8) Trump has made negative comments about “democratic cities?” Do these comments resonate with CAST? Can you explain one or two top things about democratic cities that are negative?
Maybe you should look up Kimberly Klacik?
She said it best…
9) Trump supporters talk a lot about his defense of religious freedom. Can you help me understand that? What freedoms are we talking about specifically? Are these the sort of things: Right to post Ten Commandments in the courthouse, right to not sell wedding cakes to gay couples, right to not pay for abortive contraception for your employees? Right to worship in groups in spite of COVID?
Why do your ‘scientifically motivated’ Democrats make exceptions for their own, for violent protests and premature celebrations of a Biden win? Why do they support ending the life of a fetus, a separate living human, while claiming to be compassionate and concerned with rights? Why do they choose a fictional identity over biological evidence when it comes to X and Y chromosomes? Why is it okay to demand that someone bakes a cake celebrating a homosexual union, but then perfectly fine for a business to turn someone away people for not wearing something that invades their personal space?
Most conservative Christians simply want the tolerance to go in both directions. However, the left is constantly (like a domineering mother) imposing their own values and preferences on everyone else. Again, God gave us the freedom to follow Him. God also ordained the government to provide some basic order, keep the evildoers restrained and good people should not fear this. But, that is not and never will be a license for tyrannical rule.
10) Health outcomes of African Americans and also low income individuals of any race are substantially worse than the general population resulting in higher mortality rate for nearly every disease and almost every age group. Which responses do you think best describe the CAST response to this information: You may select more than one.
That’s sad, but it is not a government issue.
The Democrats’ efforts such as Medicare for All wouldn’t help this number anyway.
That’s fake news.
That’s sad and healthcare is an issue I disagree with Trump on.
I never heard that before I would have to think about that. Other.
Maybe the questioner hasn’t been around enough poor white people?
Anyhow, this idea that black and white are homogeneous groups, where all white people are equally ‘privileged’ and all black people are all hapless victims in need of help from white ‘progressives’ (you) is absolutely racist. Various studies show that liberals talk down to minorities, there is this racism of low expectations, and I’ve seen this first hand.
I’m quite familiar with the condescending ‘helpful’ attitude, the patronizing, and pandering behavior.
I’ve been around conservative Mennonite inner-city efforts, I know some of the players involved quite well and can tell you that many of the minorities whose cause they claim to champion are quite aware of this superior spirit amongst these ‘progressive’ types. Sure, these ‘helped’ might not confront the ‘helpers’ for this, they try to appreciate the attempt at support or understand even if it is misguided, and yet they really do not need the white savior ‘progressive’ swooping in. I’ve had some confide in me about this, some of the special sensitivity and exaggerated concern is extremely off-putting to minorities and, frankly, in my opinion, it is racist.
Anyhow, I think Social Justice Anabaptists, like their secular atheistic Marxist teachers, ask the wrong questions. That list of suggested responses above, for example, presupposes that government intervention is the answer to racial disparities (rather than the cause) and neglects the fact that billions have been spent to alleviate these problems with very little to show for it. It seems ‘progressives’ assume that disagreement with them stems from ignorance about the problem. In other words, a perspective so incredibly arrogant that it makes Trump look humble by comparison.
All but one of the options offered by the questioner suggests the ignorance or lack of compassion of those who disagree with their presumption of government as a solution. Extremely loaded, more statements than questions, and pretty much designed to trip up the person trying to answer in succinct manner. Of course, the expectation is that their conservative opposition, not as educated or articulate, will sputter something incoherent in response to this deceptive “galloping Gish” rhetorical strategy and look bad.
But, this strategy doesn’t get past me.
The Social Justice Anabaptists have nothing on me as far as compassion and desire to help others. However, what they lack and I do not, is a basic comprehension of economics and the history of these occasionally well-meaning big government efforts. Furthermore, minorities dying due to inadequate care is very personal to me. Saniyah, my little hope who died unexpectedly, was African American. And, yes, she had access to medical care despite her mother being an illegal immigrant. But the doctor? Had I known how potentially deadly her respiratory ailments were and how incompetent inner-city physicians are, I would have made sure she had a qualified physician in conservative rural Pennsylvania.
Here are some of the right questions to help get our far-leftist friends pointed in the direction of solutions that actually work:
Why has the decades-long “War on Poverty” been a dismissal failure? Could it be that the government is not positioned well to address those problems? Didn’t Jesus tell you to personally intervene on behalf of the poor rather than use government as a means to force your neighbors to do something? And, if all poor people are our personal responsibility then what are you doing for Filipinos, in the Philippines, who have less access to quality care than those in our own inner-cities?
11) In a CAST world view, what is racism and what should be done about it?
Racism is to abandon the standard of Martin Luther King, where people should be judged by “content of character” and not their skin color. Racism is to collectively blame or exempt people according to their skin color and to assume that skin color, not the difference in behavior, is the lead determiner of outcomes. Racists treat everyone differently, raising or lowering expectations, based only on skin color. In other words, if one man rapes a woman this is explained away as something in his environment or mostly ignored. But if another does the same, he is roundly condemned and his evil treated as if it is somehow reflecting upon all men of his skin color or class. Racial tribalism is as racist and bad now as it was when white supremacists had the numbers advantage and the KKK roamed at night. The conservative stands against all racially motivated violence. But Social Justice Anabaptists refuse to condemn those behind the current violence. What should be done about racism? Well, stop being racist, stop excusing racial tribalism, start treating all people as unique individuals, that’s what should be done.
12) What core Anabaptist value most drives you or CAST?
The Golden Rule.
13) If you or CAST found out your pastor voted for Biden, would you have trouble listening to his sermons or receiving counsel from him on other issues?
One of my priests, Fr. James, I suspect would be a Biden voter. But, the Orthodox, unlike most Protestants, understand that “my kingdom is not of this world” means segregation of worldly politics from the church environment and worship. One of the reasons that I left the Anabaptists is because both conservatives and their ‘progressive’ activist counterparts do not know how to keep worldly concerns separate from their worship and Communion together. I suppose this is a tendency to confuse Christian and civil duties goes all the way back to the Münster Rebellion? Wherever the case, I’ve scolded Mennonite pastors who brought their conservative anxieties into the church sanctuary, preached their fears, and also confront those who bring far-leftist political agenda in as well. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about the establishment of a Socialist state and those preaching the Social Justice message are preaching a false Gospel and heretical.
14) What do you think a church that is politically divided should do about that?
Stop pushing politics down throats and start loving as Jesus loved. Or, rather, understand that ‘progressive’ politics are as unChristian as any other politics, humble yourselves, and lead by an example of love rather than continue in the politely condescending tones. If you really want to overcome the divisiveness of Protestantism, stop being a separatist, take a step of faith towards Orthodoxy, and being in Communion with the truly kingdom oriented church of the Apostles. Repent! Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
15) What does the phrase “Make America Great Again” mean to Conservative Anabaptists that support Trump (CAST)? Is it referencing the period in the 50’s, prior to the modern socially liberal agenda that included Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation, R v. W, Gay Rights, etc.?
Obviously, MAGA is not about any of those things listed. Sure, that is how the far-left controls minorities, through fear-mongering and lying about Trump’s intentions. It is also how smarmy Social Justice Anabaptists try to distinguish themselves as superior-minded and social elites. However, no Trump supporter that I know understands it to mean what the left-wing propagandists say and what it truly means is restoring the status of the United States as a world leader, building a strong middle-class (of all colors or creed) again and nothing to do with that leading question nonsense.
16) Do you think Trump’s strong economy (before COVID) is a key thing that contributes to CAST’s support of him?
Minorities did better under Trump, up until Democrat governors shut down their economies, and only a racist would not support the growing independence of minorities. Many do not realize that George Floyd had lost his job as a result of Democrat-imposed economic shutdowns. He had also been infected with Covid-19 despite these draconian measures. He may very well still be alive and well had it not been for ruinous ‘progressive’ policies. But the controlling left doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of their policies. They seem to believe that only their good intentions matter more than the actual results. Why aren’t you asking about the uptick in suicides and drug overdoses, depression, and quality of life concerns? The economy is life, conservatives intuitively understand this, they understand trade-offs, but ‘progressives’ routinely fail to recognize the folly of their utopian theories and disastrous outcomes of their solutions.
17) Is it a God-given right/responsibility for the secular government to maintain a strong military?
The common defense of a nation is the only legitimate reason why government exists, to physically defend people from evildoers within and without the borders, which is to provide for the general welfare of all citizens. One only needs to look at what happens when this God-ordained order breaks down to see how bad it can get. People need to be secure in their person and property to flourish. The weak and vulnerable suffer most from the neglect of these structures and institutions. That is why God ordained the structure of the family and church to care for our social needs, it is also why St Paul said we should not oppose this legitimate role of government to punish and protect us from evildoers.
18) All other things being equal, do you think it is more likely that a successful businessman would be Christian, or a government executive with a modest income?
Not my place to judge. Jesus had both a repentant tax collector and fishermen. As far as honest labor, certainly, the fishermen outranked a man who lived off what others produced. That’s not to say that those who truly work as public servants have no value, but they should also be appreciative that someone (often without a choice) is providing their income and needs. A business person, by contrast, cannot (outside of collusion with the corrupted government) cannot force you to buy their products and therefore must produce things of actual value or they would not be successful.
19) Is strong border security important?
Does your house have a roof, four walls, a door that can be locked?
Does your body have skin?
Of course, border security is important, President Obama articulated that on multiple occasions and echoed prior administrations about the need for secure borders. It is important for the same reasons why many people flee from other places to come here. They flee from places impoverished by corruption and unrestrained evildoers. Those who do evil would love to follow those fleeing them and many do get in as a direct result of lax enforcement of borders and immigration law. It is compassionate to let the good in and keep the bad out.
The real question is how can an intelligent and compassionate person not be in favor of vetting immigrants?
20) Do you see hunger as a moral issue?
The question is unclear. There is nothing immoral about hunger. Or maybe the question is whether or not it is moral to leave others hungry? If so, maybe we should establish some context first.
Are we talking about this:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
(James 2:15-16 NIV)
Are talking about the rich man stepping over Lazarus on his doorstep or the Priest and Levite who didn’t offer aid in the good Samaritan story?
If so, if we are talking about needs in the church and needs in our immediate physical proximity, then absolutely it is a moral issue. If God puts a need in our path then we should take care of it by the means God has given us. We are clearly instructed to provide for the needs of those in our church and extend a hand of charity to those whom we come in contact with. This is local, it is our individual duty, and not a responsibility that should be shunted off or delegated to the secular government.
If feeding the world is a Christian priority and moral prerogative, then let’s turn this around: How much food have you produced? I know farmers, conservative Mennonite, and many of them Trump supporters, who farm acres of land at a far lower cost than prior generations. They, through their labor, have done far more to feed the multitudes than anyone sitting on some ivory tower somewhere, would you dare speak down to them with this kind of inane question?
21) What are the top solutions to crime issues?
Definitely not Joe Biden’s 1994 Crime bill in light of his son still being a free man nor the zealous drug prosecutions of Kamala Harris who joked about using illegal drugs. Scripture says that crime should be punished. However, I am concerned with some crimes, because of political connections or being of the right class, being totally ignored for some and applied strictly for others. Favoritism is a sin in the church and, likewise, a legal double standard is an injustice. Equal protection under the law is ideal.
So that pretty much wraps it up.
Still, I would love to hear a Social Justice Anabaptist answer my questions scattered throughout this post and also would ask why one would believe that a political party, known for historically treating some as chattel, is actually any different today?
The big difference is that Social Justice Anabaptists, like their forebearers in Münster, believe that the role of government and church should be combined into one kingdom. Their more conservative (or traditional) counterparts have learned the hard lessons of Münster. The ‘progressives’ merge the message of the cross with a political agenda and join those who look to the government for salvation. The conservatives, by contrast, want a President that allows them to live peaceably, a government that fulfills a basic role of military defense and necessary punishment of evildoers, and they do not seek to impose religious moral obligations on their neighbors.
In conclusion, my advice to the ‘progressives’ is that they not hold their traditional counterparts hostage to their political ideologies. If they must, that they find one of the many mainline Mennonite groups (beholden to the Social Justice Agenda) to hitch their wagons to and not drag the rest of their brethren down with them into that divisive and nasty place. And my advice to the conservatives is not to engage in the conversation at all. If you must vote, do it quietly, otherwise, live out the commandments of Jesus, and don’t get sucked into the black hole of politics. For all, seek after Orthodox Christianity rather than political solutions. There is one church and it is not divided between conservatives and liberals.
I’ll admit, it went through me when I heard that my brother had the clear symptoms of a Covid-19 infection. Sure, it was far enough along that the deadliness of the disease wasn’t so statistically foreboding anymore. But emotionally there was a certain significance that was given to this and a bit of dread as well. What if this loss of taste developed into serious respiratory issues? My brother or one of his family members, who had been at home with him during the shutdown, could die.
My brother is fine. He was never formally diagnosed with the virus, they would not test him given that his symptoms were not life-threatening or severe and he could ride it out at home. The probabilities were always in his favor as a relatively young person in good health. However, my own anxieties, despite my own understanding that the risk of him dying was not that much greater than it ever was for him or other members of my family, were something of interest to the more rational half of my consciousness. Why would I worry at all when the threat really wasn’t that great?
It is one of those quirks of human psychology, I suppose, that we can go from not knowing a person at all to being totally obsessed, wondering how we ever live our life without, “text me when you are home safe,” with them. Likewise, when something ‘novel’ comes into our lives, be it a new video game or an unknown virus, we can’t get our mind off of it. We are fascinated with this unknown commodity, whether we want to protect it (as in a new love interest) or protect ourselves from it, our thoughts will go there over and over again. It can be consuming, it can be blinding as well.
Fear of Covid-19 has much to do with availability heuristic or the tendency people have to judge the likelihood of an event based on how readily they can recall said event. This is what makes anecdotes so powerful. Some stories of young, otherwise healthy, people getting a disease and dying will feature far more prominently in our minds than the dozens lost in car accidents. I have a good friend who had a friend my age die and knows of another. The media has fed into this bias by highlighting the suffering of some. It feels likely enough and yet here’s the reality of the situation:
“To put things in perspective, the virus is now known to have an infection fatality rate for most people under 65 that is no more dangerous than driving 13 to 101 miles per day. Even by conservative estimates, the odds of COVID-19 death are roughly in line with existing baseline odds of dying in any given year.”
That is not to minimalize the threat. I know a couple of cases of people who have become seriously ill due to Covid-19 and, yes, many people have died who would’ve otherwise lived. The virus can be quite contagious in certain conditions, it can send a relatively young person to the hospital, I believe that many more will fall ill and some of them will die.
But, the thing is, our outsized focus on this virus is to minimize the many other risks equal or greater in consequence brought on by our response. It is deeply troubling to me that so many people seem so completely unable to comprehend the strong possibility that, with our saving people from the specter of Covid-19 and obsession on one risk out of many, we are ultimately killing more people by suicides, drug overdoses, neglected cancer screenings (along with other medical procedures being postponed) and starvation.
Why is it selfish for a young economically vulnerable person to work, to put food on their tables, and not selfish for you to order them home in a vain attempt to save grandma?
Furthermore, going back to my momentary fear of losing my brother, there was always a far greater risk to my brother’s life from him driving to come visit than from the infection. Why don’t I call him every fifteen minutes to make sure he’s wearing his seat belt? If physical safety was the only concern, then what would posses me to encourage him to take up flying years ago or to join him in the cockpit years later? It makes no logical sense for me to have a terrible fear of a virus that kills a small percentage of the infected while accepting or even encouraging more dangerous activities.
Rise of the Covid Crazed Karens
Many imagine a zombie apocalypse: The living dead, creatures of human flesh and yet no longer human anymore. Well, we are living in such times. The zombies are here and they are here to rob you of life with their devouring fears. And, unlike the fantasy horror movies, these are zombies that you aren’t allowed to shoot. But beware, if you decide not to comply with their screeching demands and choose to live as a free person, they may make real on their threat to shoot you.
Think I’m exaggerating?
Dr. Jennifer Rager-Kay, a gun control activist and school board member, not too far down the road from me. Decided that it was completely okay and rational to threaten to kill people for refusing to wear masks around her or her family. Dr Rager-Kay (aka “Karen”) was in such a lathered up panic about a virus that has a very low probability of death that she was actually willing to murder. Makes one think of the expression, “Physician, heal thyself.” This woman is obviously smart enough to make it through medical school, but seems woefully lacking in rationality and ability to keep things in perspective.
Now, in defense of Karens everywhere, most are content to only steal away your life by imposing their “new normal” and won’t actually shoot you.
However, they all have a sort of nurture gone bad, the assessment of their own importance that is shared by hall monitors everywhere. Possessed by their lack of contol or relative insignificance an a complex and unpredictable world, they wield their petty authority over their neighbors given to them by state snitch lines, wag their sanctimonious fingers at anyone who doesn’t meet their own standard, and are completely willing to imprison you for your own good. They stopped thinking months ago when their minds were reprogrammed, infected by fearful anecdotes, their cognitive function addled by scary projections, never considering new evidence, and they are now mindless zombies stuck on repeat, “Covid bad, must stop Covid!”
Of course, Covid Crazed Karens are not only women nor only the meddlesome troublemakers of memes, there are many man and people in positions of real political power who are willing to kill you for your own good and seem even to have some sort of sadistic satisfaction watching people squirm under their smoothering care. If only you would start thinking their way, sacrifice your all for their misguided public safety crusade, then everything would be just fine. You see, they think like a psychopath, that your suffering is only a result of your defiance against their wise council, that it would not be tyranny if you would simply submit to their lawless edicts.
You must be broken, like Winston in Orwell’s 1984, who after torture finally becomes a zombie to the cult of the totalitarian state:
“Years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
George Orwell, 1984
We may not have Big Brother. But we do have Karen watching and her fear-driven lust for control over you won’t be satiated once Covid-19 has passed. No, you are already being conditioned, you will accept her “new normal” or you will die. And, if you don’t die from the virus be sure she will punish you severely for her being wrong. A Karen is never wrong, being wrong does not compute with her one track mind, and she will kill you, if need be, to prove the point. The zombie apocalypse is upon us and these privileged elites are out for the blood of you ignorant and unwashed common folk.
But Covid Karen is not the only threat, Denial Deranged Darnell, well he’ll tell you masks don’t work because he once had a fart that stained his underwear and, with pride, he will tell you how he survived his entire life never once wearing a seat belt, that he actually drives better drunk, and you can’t tell him ’nuffin! Watch out for him as well, he may not have the power of government on his side, but he has already killed a security guard in Detroit and wounded a Waffle House cook in Aurora, Colorado, for the “disrespect” of mask policies. He thinks carrying a firearm to a protest makes him tough. No wonder so many Karens think the masses need to be controlled!
A couple of weeks ago I had a decent start to a blog on this topic and then Evernote, my usually reliable mobile word processor of choice, decided to send my work into the sea of forever-lost things. My hope was to describe something that I’ve noticed for years and has become even more pronounced in my mind as I observe the Covid-19 pandemic response.
Before I get started, and so nobody is unduly offended or thinks this explanation is personally directed at them, it is not. I wrote most of this before the latest round of conspiracy theory videos and adding this part later because some might assume that my commentary has something to do with that, which it does not. Any similarity between my words and a particular person’s response to the pandemic (over the course of recent days) is purely coincidental. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it!
That out of the way, the first two categories of response that I’ve observed represent the extremes. These two groups are the louder less rational of the three. The tools have the power of institutions behind them, the system is stacked in their favor and they feel special. The fools, on the other hand, are the unappreciated, those mocked as “deplorables” by political elites, and are being increasingly rebellious against the belittling authorities. The rest of us are in the middle somewhere, rejecting both extremes, seeing a little of both sides, and independently make up their own minds.
Anyhow, I have to be careful which group that I start with because once people who tend towards one group recognize themselves in my writing they might stop reading and dismiss me as being the much-loathed ‘other’ extreme. But, since there’s definitely a difference of tolerance for ideas (other than their own) in the one group, as compared to the other, I’ll start with the fools. They are used to taking a beating and will be more likely to hear me out than the tools.
So, fools, you’re up…
The “You’re Not the Boss of Me” Fool
They say to compliment a person before you lay on the insults and so I’ll stay true to that format by noting that the fools are more likely to be in that “essential worker” category as those who are willing to get their hands dirty for everyone else. They are mechanics, farmers, cooks, garbage collectors, contractors, and factory workers. These people might not be able to articulate themselves very well, yet they do know when they are getting the shaft and have been getting the shaft for quite some time. It is only right to mistrust the tools that have sold them out.
I’ll admit, I have sympathy for the fools, they are nose to the grindstone workers, won’t hesitate to help without asking for a dime, and are basically the bedrock of this nation. They are also the ones who suffer the most due to imported labor and outsourcing over the past few decades. They have seen their wages flattened and opportunities dry up. Smarmy politicians, with beautiful polish, told them how much they cared, that new jobs would come and then never delivered. In 2016 these people (some who voted for Obama and don’t care about political affiliation) came out for Trump in large numbers because he spoke a language they, as the blue-collar workers, could appreciate.
The fools, despite lacking a four-year degree, are not dumb and have “street smarts” that allow them to see things that their intellectual tool counterparts do not see. That said, they are as blind by their own biases much as anyone else and are quick to spread conspiracy theories that validate their mistrust for authority figures. And that is exactly what they think about this Covid-19 global pandemic, they aren’t sick themselves, they don’t know anyone who is sick, they don’t see the hospital parking lots full and therefore the shutdowns must be some sort of nefarious scheme. Of course, who can blame them? Only a month or two ago the corporate media was telling us that the virus in Wuhan was nothing to worry about, that we should be more concerned with the seasonal flu, etc.
The fools are right in that they are mistreated by the elites. They are also right to question the official narrative. I mean, let’s be real here, politicians do lie (both parties) and members of the media most certainly do have political agendas as well. At some point, and very often for good reason, the fools have become disenchanted with the establishment and sometimes they simply take this too far. They reject even common-sense recommendations, like wearing masks, because they a) don’t like being told what to do and b) they read some meme put out by some random internet user who agrees with them. A fool could be dying in an ICU bed, gasping for their last breath, and still in denial of the severity of a pandemic.
“The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.”
(Proverbs 12:15 NIV)
The fools are like Joker, they are agents of chaos that arise in response to an unjust order and challenge Batman (a tool of the system) to take off his mask so everyone can see who he really is. Perhaps the dark knight would look a bit less heroic, as one of the primary beneficiaries of the system he is defending, once his pretense of moral purity was removed?
The problem with the fools, is that they are like the zealots before the fall of Jerusalem (eventually destroyed by their own infighting, which is what happens when the inmates run the asylum) or the Anabaptist “Tailor King” who led a rebellion in Münster, they are able to expose the corruption of the system and yet unfit to lead themselves. The fools, useful as they are, were made to perform the mundane (yet essential) tasks and would perform them well, without protest, if their efforts were properly appreciated by their betters in government and the social hierarchy, they deserve to be heard as much as anyone else. But I do implore the fools, read the account of Josephus about the fall of Jerusalem, consider the end of the Münster Rebellion, become wise to your own foolishness!
For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.
(Proverbs 1:32-33 NIV)
Humility is the first step to wisdom. It is knowing your place before God and respecting those whom God has ordained as his servants. Rebellion against all authority, except one’s own understanding or that which one agrees with, is a path to destruction. A fool remains a fool so long as they are so arrogant as to believe that they, some blue-collar yokel who can barely spell college on a good day, knows more than those who have spent their entire lives studying a topic and have become respected in their field enough to serve Presidents of both parties. Sure, the experts get things wrong, but so do the fools and often (as the victims of Dunning-Kruger effect) more than they’ll ever be able to realize and would be smart to stay humble.
The “I’m Too Smart To Hear You” Tool
The tools took their guidance counselor’s advice, they believe in the fiction of “settled science” and have an undying trust in their institutions. They are basically fools, but with a larger vocabulary and a much more blinding subservience to the system that they have bought into. Now, in defense of tools, many are in the professional class, they are teachers, professors, nurses, doctors, and lawyers, often people on the government payroll, and deserve credit for being able to navigate their way through the ranks. Unlike the fools, who could not make it through a college-level class, the tools are masters at learning what they are supposed to learn.
However, despite their snobbery towards those of a lower social order, the tools are often no better than the fools whom they ridicule and are simply parrots using bigger words. A month or two back, when the corporate media (and NPR) was telling them that the seasonal flu was a bigger threat than Covid-19, they snickered at us dolts making our own alternative judgment of the facts and getting prepared. And now, when the same media tells them that the sky is falling and we must close everything forever, these tools soak it up like a sponge then lecture their neighbor, out mowing his lawn, for breathing the fresh spring air. Or call the snitch line set up by other tools. I mean, how dare he defy the experts! Of course, they themselves, like the media they consume, aren’t actually the experts and should probably question the experts as much as they do Trump.
Oh, and did I mention that the tools absolutely hate Trump?
To the tools Barack Obama was the pinnacle of the Presidency, they swooned as he read the teleprompter in his “clean” and “articulate” (thank you Joe) professorial tone. He could have spoken complete nonsense and they still would’ve been breathless about how ‘presidential’ he sounded. And then, in walks the brash billionaire, a Twitter troll, who uses crude blue-collar language and has a kind of humor that they can’t comprehend. The tools are horrified by Trump. He falls outside of their understanding of the world, an anomaly, and they believe that he is a fool because he is not like them and that’s what the media tools tell them. But the reality is that they hate Trump because he exposes their system for what it is, his mere existence creates cognitive dissonance for them and therefore he must be destroyed so they can go back to their religious faith in their system.
This is why, when President Trump, makes some off the cuff suggestion, something even the fools know to take with a grain of salt, they take him completely literally and (to the amusement of everyone else) have a conniption fit. Even if he muses something completely reasonable or worthy of consideration, such as his mention of hydroxychloroquine as a potential lifesaving treatment, they are desperate to prove him wrong and show the rest of us how intelligent they are. How dare he! It has side-effects, don’t you know! People might drink fishbowl cleaner! They are the rightful rulers, after all, they took AP Biology in high school, and the fools need to be put back in their place!
It has gotten absurd to the point that even when one of their own, a Democrat lawmaker from Detroit, gives the President’s advice credit for their recovery from a deadly disease the tools feel the need to punish that person. When everyone else hears Trump use colloquial terms to describe the goal of any medical intervention, to disinfect, they freak out and claim that he said the equivalent of “drink bleach” and then wonder why the fools aren’t taking them seriously anymore. They are not the bastions of rationality and pure goodness they see themselves as. No, they are tools for those more powerful, their reward for compliance is the right to exploit their lessors and thus they are as corrupt as their masters.
Every self-righteous tool in the universe is going to go nuts for me saying this, nevertheless, if they hear me out they’ll know it is true. Trump, like Sampson who was an unruly and disruptive character married to a foreign woman, is a type of Christ. Obviously, although I need to say it in case there are still some tools left reading at this point, Trump does not have a moral character worth our emulating and should never be regarded as being our Savior. But how the tools of our day oppose him as an uncanny similarity to how Christ was opposed by the social elites (and underlings of the Romans) of his day. For example, read the account of a man healed by Jesus in the Gospel of John (read the whole account here) and how the Pharisee tools weren’t having it:
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
(John 9:13-34 NIV)
Obviously what this man was telling them didn’t comport with their religious ideology or preconceived understanding of the world. Instead of celebrating with the blind man who was healed, they sought to discredit him so they would not need to acknowledge the truth of their own spiritual blindness. Jesus was a threat to their system, he was turning everything they knew (or thought they knew) on its head and was a very real threat to their own prestige. They, like the safety-conscious leaders who had it out for Sampson, muttered amongst themselves about how Jesus was a threat to their way of life and obsessed on finding a way to destroy a man who held a mirror to their own narcissism and true cowardliness.
Still don’t see the parallel?
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’ ” Yet even then their testimony did not agree.
(Mark 14:55-59 NIV)
They misrepresented what Jesus actually said. Yes, certainly, he had talked about the destruction of the temple. But he was making a metaphorical reference to himself, something they could have or should have known and probably did secretly know, and they were simply blinded by their agenda and irrational hatred of a man who defied their system.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Trump is no Jesus, neither was Sampson. But all three of those characters could expose the tools for what they really are.
The tools think they are smart because they follow the rules and are given the privilege of maintaining the system that subjects the fools. They enthusiastically latch onto anything their own masters (academic institutions, government agencies, corporate media, etc) tell them and yet refuse to acknowledge the reality that is right before their own eyes. Tools, as slaves to the system that created them, hate innovators and those who challenge their own status quo. Under their eloquent and silky words is a spirit of entitlement and a nastiness worse than that of the blunt and unsophisticated language of the fools whom they self-righteously condemn. They are like the enemy spoken of by David:
His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.
(Psalms 55:21 NIV)
I think we are all familiar with those who, pardon the expression, think their own shit don’t stink. The tools see their own motives as being pure as the wind-driven snow and beyond reproach. They even act as if they are patrons for those whom they claim to be disadvantaged, pushing social justice and identity politics to further their own advantage. It is not true love or compassion, if it was they would show equal concern and offer an open ear to those who weren’t as useful for furthering their own ideological agenda. In actuality, the tools are simply better at hiding or rationalizing their own toxic attitudes. They are as prone to confirmation bias as anyone else, blind to their own inconsistencies, and the least woke people of the planet despite their self-gratifying delusion of the superiority of their perspective.
Tools are tools because unlike the other fools (which they also are despite their intellectual advantages) they are quite unaware of the flaws of the system that they worship. They do not even realize that they are an apparatchik, an instrument manipulated, and are way too willing to do whatever they are told without asking enough questions. These are the people who know nothing outside of their own specialties and then will arrogantly lecture someone for deviating too far from the narrative-based in their own independent observation. It’s as if they do not realize that every advancement that they now enjoy and take for granted didn’t come as the result of someone silly enough to try something new and different.
The “Can’t We Just Get along” Messy Middlers
Okay, if you have put up with me this long, here’s the big reveal: Most people are not complete fools or totally tools and instead reside in the murky middle ground between the extremes.
Most of us didn’t go fill ten carts with toilet paper nor would we call a snitch line (other than to prank the authoritarian control freaks on the other end) and are willing to wear a face mask while also able to question the wisdom of months of economic lock down. We don’t worship at the feet of any politician and yet are able to cooperate with those who are authorities over us. We are skeptical of the official narrative, realizing that there are humans involved and often with agendas, but without turning to conspiracy theories.
Speaking for myself, my own worldview has been shattered enough times that there is very little smugness left about the power of my own reasoning or the authority of my own opinions. I mean, I still have an opinion and can’t really claim to be all that humble either, but one might say that I’ve been broken by the School of Hard Knocks. I’m smart enough to know that I’m basically average, certainly not extraordinary enough to call myself an expert at anything and yet not a blithering idiot or at least I’m not an idiot who lacks in words to express his perspective. I’m also too contrarian to be a tool. I zig when too many people are zagging. I think this puts me somewhere in the middle.
The middlers are those of us who readily agreed to concepts like “flattening the curve” and giving our medical professionals time to gear up. That made sense. There were shortages of masks and other protective equipment. We didn’t know what we were up against given the misinformation coming out of China. So we took the precautions that were recommended. That said, when “flatten the curve” morphed into “stop the spread” and months-long shutdowns, while the dire predictions of models proved false, many in the middle have begun to grow uneasy about the growing economic consequences, note the arbitrariness of the rules (crowded Walmart is okay, but beach and park is not?) and rightfully wonder if this strategy was well thought out.
No, middlers aren’t necessarily ready to join the fools in their protests. Or, if some of the middlers did, they at least wore masks or protested from their vehicles. However, middlers are also seemingly more able than the tools to see a broader perspective than that of the tools, like those celebrities who tell us “please stay at home” and apparently think that we make our decisions based on their pontifications, and think for themselves. The middlers, unlike the tools, aren’t consigned to the established dogma nor do they foolishly reject anything they cannot comprehend. Whereas fools are too stupid and tools too lacking in their own The middlers are the true critical thinkers, the Elon Musks who defy everything, those actually capable of creating advancements in science, technology, and medicine.
The middle is messy, especially in a world that has become increasingly complex and socially fragmented, where truth has become secondary to position and our institutions have failed to deliver as promised. Us middlers, like the decent people in Jeruselum before the fall, get caught in the crossfire. The zealous fools think we are “sheeple” for not joining their revolution of idiots. Meanwhile, the tools dismiss us as fools, with an indignant snort, because we dare to suggest that there’s another way to look at the facts and go against the narrative that they now accept as Gospel truth—until their masters tell them to believe something else. The middlers get that even experts and government agencies get things wrong, that experts don’t always agree and that’s not always a conspiracy or nefarious plot, it is just the reality of the world we are in.
It is hard to be in the middle. We suffer the excesses inflicted upon us by both extremes. We put up with the condescending tools and try to ignore the obnoxious fools. We aren’t always right ourselves, finding the truth can be a messy business, and being caught between two sides fighting for narrative control can be exhausting. It takes more work to maintain some independence in a world that has become increasingly polarized. It means standing up to both sides and also recognizing our own blind spots as well. We have been tools and fools ourselves, on occasion, and therefore try to stay humble.
False dichotomies pop up everywhere in the political discourse. You are either pro-life or you are a raging homicidal baby-killing feminist monster and, alternatively, you are either pro-choice or you are “at war with women” and would turn the world into “The Handmaid’s Tale” if ever given the chance. Of course, both sides of that dichotomy are grossly misrepresenting those on the other side. Some of the most vocal proponents of pro-life that I know are of the female gender, would rather not have their lives ruled by men or be treated like baby-making slaves. Likewise, many on the pro-choice side are intelligent and compassionate people who follow a different dogma as far as what does or does not constitute a separate human life.
Where you stand on the recent Covid-19 forced closures probably has much more to do with your politics than it does with your personal level of scientific sophistication. Sure, there are many, blinded by their own confirmation bias, who see everything they believe as being scientifically based and rational, but that is to be in denial of the role that their own emotions play in their judgment. The decision to shut down the economy due to the virus had has much to do with fear as fact. How do I know? Well, there weren’t a whole lot of reliable facts to go on when the decisions were being made. We had models, yes, but models are only as reliable as the data entered and the accuracy of the assumptions that they contain. Their predictions are not facts. What likely had a big influence is the scary stories coming from Italy and the lack of good information from China.
The Changing Understanding of Covid-19
I had been in favor of the shutdowns, initially, to give time to make a more accurate assessment of the actual threat and also to give time for our medical professionals to gear up amidst global shortages of personal protective equipment. Sure, many Americans are of the pigheaded mentality that they will drive eighty miles per hour into a blinding fog bank and then have massive pileups as a testament to their inability to slow down for anything. But it is only prudent to enter into a potentially deadly new situation, with many unknowns, with an abundance of caution. The arrival of Covid-19 onto the world scene was such a circumstance. The idea of social distancing to “flatten the curve” made sense at the time.
However, as a couple of weeks morphed into a month or more and the language of state politicians mysteriously shifted from slowing the spread (as we were told was the reason for the shutdowns) to trying to stop it entirely, while at the same time the there was growing evidence that the virus was not as deadly as first thought, was likely here earlier than had been previously known and may have actually reached the peak (unflattened before the shutdown measures had been implemented) in some places, I kept waiting for decision-makers to shift their policies according to the actual evidence. But they did not. Frozen by fear or too stubborn to revisit their previous decisions (or maybe even wanting to punish those opposed to their lockdowns and show who is boss, who knows?) there was no change. They were determined to plow ahead with their prior decision based on bad data, economic consequences be damned, so wear your masks, go to Walmart like good little citizens and shut up.
We all have an idealogical team we are pulling for, whether we realize it or not, and it can cloud our perspective of an issue. Sure, you might believe that your ignorance of virology is “common sense” (which, unfortunately, is probably common and yet good sense is not always common) and refuse to take reasonable precautions. Or you might think your own opinion (and that of the experts whom you agree with) is some kind of “scientific consensus” and an irrefutable fact. But the reality is that you might just be too arrogant (in your little knowledge or, rather, knowing just enough to be dangerous) to understand that there could be perspectives greater than your own. The frustrating part for me was always being caught between the false choices put out by those on either side of the political debate. Those calling the virus a hoax, dismissing the effectiveness of masks, and being generally ignorant only armed those pushing for control with a false moral imperative to double-down on their shutdown or die mantra.
Covid-19, while certainly deadly for many and even if those terrifying early estimates of a 2-4% death rate had held true, is nowhere near the Spanish flu. The real number, given growing evidence gathered by antibodies testing and from various ships where everyone was tested, shows a true death rate closer to 0.5% which isn’t too different from the seasonal flu over the course of an average year. Yes, it did certainly stretch our medical resources thin, and likely would’ve with or without the shutdowns, yet there is little evidence to show that our economic self-sabotage actually saved lives. No, if anything, we may have simply destroyed opportunity for those most vulnerable here and around the world for no real gain. It is quite possible, even probable, that more will die as a result of the forced shutdowns than were saved. In the end, the decision to shut down the economy was never a question of shut down or die. For many, it may very well be shut down and die.
False dichotomies are dangerous. They are lies. This polarization of our many choices can come with tragic results.
Economic Shutdowns Also Kill People
In my many discussions about Covid-19 I’ve run into many reoccurring and economically illiterate sentiments, like this one: “I’m sorry but I can’t believe I’m reading this. No compassion for human life and suffering?” That in response to a well-written article weighing the benefits against the costs of the economic shutdown. Apparently, in this person’s emotion soaked and one-dimensional brain, the only way you can show compassion for human life and suffering is to keep people caged in their homes and unable to feed themselves?
As a starting point, there was never a scenario where there could be zero deaths from Covid-19. That ship had sailed long ago, in China, when the authorities there continued to let people from the epicenter travel around the world (although not domestically) and sailed when many Western leaders were more concerned with things like “xenophobia” than the virus. Maybe had Europe joined the Trump administration in banning travel from the source of the outbreak there may have been a chance of containing it. But it was already too late by the time concern about the virus and death tolls had finally exceeded worries about political correctness and virtue signaling about race. Places like New York City and Los Angeles were going to see tens of thousands dead regardless of what was done at that juncture.
When the shutdowns began, in earnest, the virus was already deeply entrenched. The first verified case in France, for example, has been recently discovered to have been back in December already and much earlier than initially thought. It had likely spreading while some politicians here were still encouraging people to crowd the streets of Chinatown and was definitely being passed around while Italian leaders were telling people to hug Chinese people (from Wuhan, no less) in a misguided effort to prove they weren’t racist. The die had been cast and we were in for a wild ride.
But what we did have a choice over is how we responded to the threat. Certainly, the virus had not reached us all, and we could not know (without significant testing) if the peak of infections was a couple of weeks out or still months ahead. If the virus had reached relatively few of us and the death rates were already skyrocketing then the most desperate measures were completely justified even if it cost some lives. On the other hand, if the virus had already been in circulation for months and the hospitals weren’t already jampacked, there was very little to be gained and plenty to be lost from sweeping anti-economic measures. Those with strong social networks and a fat wallet, like the Hollywood celebrities urging us plebes to stay at home while they sip martinis in their hot tub, might not get it, but there are serious consequences to economic shutdowns even if you do not personally experience them.
For those who still think that there’s no harm done by shutting down (simply because they are amongst the privileged less affected and able to put food on their own tables), keep reading.
This idea that the economy is about Wall Street and stock portfolios is complete and utter nonsense. The concern many have about the shutdown has nothing to do with the fiction you hold of Scrooge McDuck swimming in his vault full of gold coins and perpetually worried about losing his wealth. Not at all. First, no billionaire (other than the Hollywood fantasy villain version) actually has moldy money, billionaires are billionaires because they make good investments and their investments are often in life-sustaining industries, like healthcare. Second, most of the economy is Y-O-U. The economy is, simply put, our transactions together, the labor we use to produce things of value to trade with others for our wants and basic necessities.
That out of the way…
Domestic Abuse, Drug Overdoses, and Suicide Rates
Shutdowns have consequences and the consequences are often much more devastating for those most vulnerable. I think often of my waitress and waiter friends, people in the restaurant industry, who have suddenly without warning had their entire income stream dry up by the executive fiat of someone who gets their paycheck via the state treasury or through an accumulation of assets. Sure, Trump and Congress have taken action to offset some of these losses by direct payments, unemployment compensation has been extended to many who might not otherwise qualify and yet that will do nothing for those permanently unemployed.
For many in the world, in the same way that Covid-19 is deadly to those with comorbidities, an economic shutdown is (or will be) that proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Sure, you can say that the guy devastated by the bills piling up and his bank account drying up, his business being shuttered, should see the bigger perspective. But that is no different from saying that we should not care about Covid-19 deaths because those most impacted were dying anyway and that their comorbidities actually killed them. The fact that not everyone is as financially healthy as you are or as emotionally able to weather the storm caused by the shutdown doesn’t undo the damage done to those who are more vulnerable.
The socio-economic cost of the shutdowns should be factored into the decision as much as the potential gain. Sure, there is a possibility (although it is not proven) that the shutdowns may spare a few that would otherwise have perished from the virus and accompanying complications. But there is definitely an uptick in things such as domestic violence and child abuse that comes with forcing weak and emotionally vulnerable people to stay confined together, away from their sources of stress relief and friends, for months. Believe it or not, not everyone shares your advantages in mental health, not everyone can keep doing their work via Zoom, we aren’t equal in this together as some will proclaim, some are isolated alone, and with only their suicidal ideations to keep them company for the duration.
And, for those of you looking down your noses in condemnation of the shutdown protestors at state capitals, thinking that your own rationality and compassion is what is guiding you, think again. True compassion would have some sympathy for those who are suffering from the economic consequences of the hasty and arbitrarily enforced shutdowns. Unlike you, they might not be able to afford to shelter in place for months at a time. The truth might be that you, in your fearful overreaction to Covid-19, simply do not care enough about their livelihoods being ripped out from under them and are too ignorant of the economic consequences, the increase in domestic abuse, drug overdoses, and suicides that accompany economically dire circumstances.
It is certainly no more dangerous to do a couple of laps around a state capital, than it is to go to Home Depot, Walmart, or the grocery store. I suspect the real issue some have has to do with political affiliations. It is a moral superiority contest between them and those who decided that the risk of government overreach and economic ruin is greater than the virus. Some would rather live in denial of the serious economic consequences they’ve imposed on others, ignore the evidence of the suffering caused by their selfish demands for safety at all costs (to their neighbors), and maintain their dangerous tunnel vision?
Of course, who knows, in the current political climate, maybe some would rather the protestors killed themselves than peacefully vent their pent up frustrations?
But this is far bigger than domestic politics…
Economic Downturns, Food Shortages, and Starvation
The most troubling and continuing consequences of the imposed shutdowns is the impact it is having on the agricultural industry and food supply chain. It was very early on when the stories started to cross my newsfeed about small farmers, in the Philippines, being forced to dump their produce. If one understood the labor that it took (most Americans can’t even imagine), that these farmers would give up their meager profits, it is hard to understand. But that is what happens when the market is closed down, there is no refrigerated warehouse to store their vegetables until things reopen again. And, sure, some of it is distributed to their neighbors, and yet the real demand comes from the cities. So the cities are cut off from their suppliers and the poor farmers from their buyers and only source of income.
I’ve realized recently that many people can’t understand logistics even at the most basic level and see the actions of agricultural producers here as being greedy or suspicious. When I mentioned how producers were culling herds due to processing plants being closed over Covid-19 concerns and the possibility of people starving, I had a guy respond with the following, “If we don’t want people to starve let’s start by distributing this food that is being wantonly destroyed by the factory farms.” His ‘solution’ may seem reasonable at first glance. I mean, why not? But then you have to considfer that these big producers would not just throw away their profits. They aren’t that stupid. And if they can’t process this protein then you can be 100% sure that government or anyone else is going to replace their production capacity. They are the specialists.
Sure, like in rural parts of the Philippines, the neighbors to these massive barns will get all the pork or poultry they will ever need. However, that’s nibbling around the edges of the problem. The real reason we have these “factory farms” is not to supply Union County and the surrounding communities. No, not at all! The real market for this meat is the big cities. So, while it is great that some rural neighbors get to fill their freezers at a below-market price, that is going to do very little for the needs of those downstream and cut off from their food source. A couple of “community gardens” in Brooklyn can’t offset the literal tons of beef, pork, and vegetables that are imported into that city every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love a ‘feel good’ story as much as the next guy, but this isn’t an issue that will be solved by a couple of generous farmers.
The abrupt shutdowns and closures are causing incredible bottlenecks that cannot be easily resolved overnight. Closing down schools and restaurants, for example, meant that all of the food in that pipeline, packaged for that kind of usage, was now jammed up. There are some grocery stores now selling meats that were originally intended for restaurants. But the retooling cannot happen like the flip of a switch. That is why some dairy processors, what specialized in supplying schools, had to dump their milk at the same time grocery shelves had run dry of the staple. That is why potatoes are piled up to rot in Idaho. When networks within the supply chain break down, when the market is majorly disrupted without warning, there are shortages in some places and over-supplies in other places.
Those big animal operations need to keep moving things along, the whole process can’t be held up for long before there are major problems, finished pigs need to be moved along or there is no room for the feeder pigs to go. Sure, they can change the feed to try to keep the finished pigs at a particular weight for a period of time. But eventually, something as to give. That is why there are piles of dead pigs a hundred feet long, going to waste, and soon enough the shelves will run empty as well. It will seem strange. Many won’t understand how it is possible, but it is happening and it is happening like a slow-motion train wreck.
That all said, I’m not afraid for myself or most Americans. We might miss out on a steak or pork chop. We will likely pay a little more for our food in the coming months. However, my real concern is for those in the many places around the world where people work hand to mouth. The rickshaw driver in Mumbai can’t afford to pay more for his family’s food and especially not after being locked in his own house for months. The person in a Manila slum, already living on “pagpag” (a Taglog term meaning “garbage chicken” or literally food pulled from the trash) will not do well when others are fighting over the disappearing scraps as food becomes scarce. Many in the world live on a very small ration, meat is a luxury to them, and now have been deprived of their income in a desperate fight against a virus that may not even be stopped by their sacrifice.
Making the Right Trade-offs…
There is no question about the seriousness of Covid-19. I have a close friend in NYC who lost two friends. They were both my age and died in their own homes. It is not a virus that should be laughed off or treated as no big deal. Tens of thousands have died and tens of thousands more will likely die and in a relatively short period of time. Sure, many of these people may have had comorbidities and yet they would very likely have been with us for many more years had they not had their encounter with this deadly virus.
It is possible that some could be saved from Covid-19 through the shutdowns. There is no solid evidence that this is the case. Nevertheless it is possible. That said, it is also possible that our efforts only prolonged or even worsen the pandemic by preventing “herd immunity” from ever happening, which means we could suffer more deaths from Covid-19 and also the experience the hardships of the economic shutdown.
Whatever the case, the “shut down or die” mythology needs to be confronted. Those looking for a perfect solution here are living in fantasy land. The hope that a vaccine will be developed quickly and then become widely available is (sorry, anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists) basically a Hollywood fiction. We still don’t have a vaccine for SARS or MERS and may never have a vaccine for Covid-19. So, this idea that we can just hunker down and wait this out is not realistic. Sure, I would be glad to be proven wrong, it is possible, but there are also huge trade-offs to our waiting that need to be discussed.
Speaking of trade-offs: According to ASIRT, 1.35 million people die in car accidents every year (over 38,000 in the US) and an additional 20-50 million are injured (4.4 million US), some with permanent disabilities as a result. This, unlike Covid-19, is a ‘pandemic’ that disproportionally impacts the young and with no pre-existing health conditions. We could, quite easily, in the name of safety, ban all automobiles and save far more lives in a couple of years than the shutdowns ever would. Of course, we would never do that, we have valued the freedom of movement and economic advantages over the risk of serious injury or death. I suppose people feel more in control behind the wheel, but if we were really in control of the outcome of our trip then nobody would leave home knowing that they would get into a fatal car crash, would they?
Based on what we now know about the virus and death rates we should not have shut down the to the extent that we did. We may have saved a little on the front end, compared to Sweden who remained open, and yet will very likely end up in the same place as far as Covid-19 and far worse off in terms of the economic consequences. My fear is that many more will perish as a result of the shutdowns than from the virus. Millions of the world’s young and most vulnerable are suffering right now, as I write this, and could die of starvation. A good analysis must weigh all factors. We cannot be zoned in so much on one problem and only one solution that we cannot see any others. The virus from China is bad, but the panicky response of governments around the world may have made it many times worse.
It is supposed to be the most exciting time on the Christian calendar, the time when Jesus rose from the dead, and here I am. Meh. The shut down, tolerable at first, is starting to weigh down on me and I just feel a bit down.
I mean, not that anyone should worry about me, I’m fine and have a good support network. And yet the excitement of something unprecedented has worn down. My routines of work, the gym, eating out, and going to church, have all been disrupted and I barely need to leave my bedroom.
And then there’s the stupid politics, on both sides, TDS on one side and conspiracy theorists on the other, and I’m even starting to doubt my own perspective. I felt I had covered all angles. But, then, I’m no different from anyone else, I’m working with my own set of biases and blind spots like anyone else in the discussion.
So here I am, walking alone, down a windy rural Pennsylvania road, everything turning green despite the cool air, a couple cars on the road, and did I mention that I’m alone?
Today is the day that I typically (yes, even now) spend at my parents house, with my sister, and enjoy a Sunday dinner. But they decided to go to a State Park for the day and I stayed home because that’s what Charlotte wants. Well, I’m not home, actually, I’m at my parents house, for the change of scenery, the bench press, and the sandwich and pie my mom left in the fridge to show her love.
Charlotte, for her part, is doing okay in the Philippines, despite the lock down in her country (far stricter than our own) and has even found a way to get to her new job. She was tired of being cooped up in her little apartment, with Y-dran and her sister, and refuses to accept that I’m fully capable and willing to backstop her until this is over. That said, I’m completely proud of her and her determination to support herself and her son. I think I found someone even stronger willed than I am!
The bleh and blues come somewhat due to the lack of progress in bringing my little family together. With government offices shut down there, in the Philippines, the indefinite time frame of the whole process of her coming her has been stretched even longer. And, given my luck romantically, my doubts about the happily ever after loom always and even larger now. Could this pandemic be part of that invisible barrier, that impossible to overcome obstacle? For now, and as long as I am able, I will cling to my hopes.
What else can I do?
Last, and probably least, the one thing that could have brought me a little smile only left me a few hundred dollars in the hole and that’s only the first week. For the first time in my life, I decided to put some money in the stock market. There’s practically no interest earned by savings, I wanted to help along my goal of financing a kitchen remodel, what could possibly go wrong, right? Since then I’ve run into nothing but negativity, that the market may drop by another 50% and that’s just typical for me: Too little, too late. Too much, too soon.
But then again, I’ve made it this far down the road and at least I’m not going through this one alone. In a few more weeks things will begin to be a bit more normal again. My plans to visit Charlotte in December will hopefully work out and I’ll even be able to stay longer now that it is a proven fact that working remotely is possible. It does make me sad that everything seems to take so long, that those whom I love are stuck on the opposite of the world from me, but them being here with me some day soon will make it all worth the wait!
Even the economy, bad as it seems now, will eventually come back. Most of us will not die from this virus (or the misguided policies to keep us safe from it) and the world will likely come out better on the other side. There is no need to panic, no reason for despair, this too shall pass and everyone will soon find something else to complain, theorize and argue about. The world is not ending, or at least not that I know, and the sun is still shining…
There are many things largely forgotten to history, one of them a horrendous tragedy that took place on June 15th, 1904, near “Hell’s Gates” on the East River, which would forever change one ethnic community in New York City, and that being the General Slocum ferry disaster.
What had started as an annual church excursion of German-Americans, mostly women and children, from their community in the city’s East Village to Long Island, ended with terror and over 1000 deaths. The poorly maintained boat caught fire, while underway, fire fighting equipment failed and the wooden craft quickly became an inferno.
Helpless mothers, unable to swim themselves, especially not in the heavy clothing of the time, put life preservers on their children only to see them sink like rocks into the river as the cork in the flotation devices had degraded. The Captain, likely trying to avoid causing a more devastating fire on shore, decided to head for some islands, into the wind, which only made the wooden ferry into a blow torch before it felt apart.
The result of this hell on earth was the eventual dissolution of the German-American community in New York City and one can only imagine the personal torment this left for the survivors and the fathers and husbands left behind.
My worse nightmare is not being able to help those whom I love. I had, in casual conversation with a psychiatrist, been told that I showed symptoms of PTSD after the unexpected death of Saniyah and judging from my current awful feelings and tears right now, from writing this, I would guess that they were right in their analysis.
If only seeing someone I loved deeply wail the loss of their daughter could rip the fabric of my being to such an extent, I can’t even begin to imagine what seeing them roasted alive would do. Lord have mercy!
My Covid-19 Mini-Crisis
Being raised in an American culture that too often confuses health and prosperity with God’s favor, the idea that someone that I love could be felled by a virus seems obscene. But, faith, right? Shouldn’t faith prevent my family members and loved ones from dying prematurely from a virus?
But it seems that the truly Orthodox have no such delusion. True, Fr. Seraphim expressed his belief that one cannot become sick through their participation in the body of Christ. However, even still, that does not preclude the possibility of our becoming sick during the fellowship and interactions afterward, does it?
It is was in the contemplation of father’s words that I ran across the story of early Christians who, unlike their pagan neighbors who fled, deliberately went into harm’s way to attend to their plague suffering neighbors. They attended to the sick, taking the illness upon themselves in many cases and succumbing in as much agony as anyone else.
How could this be?
Did their faith mean anything at all?
My own thoughts continued an ongoing internal discussion about the evidence (or lack thereof) for a God that actually cares. In my American-tinted perspective, they should have been protected from disease to prove God’s sovereignty over all of creation and show the truth of their Christian testimony, that’s only logical, right?
I can’t claim to understand. All I know is that many of them died, yet the stories of their extraordinary faith spread throughout the Roman world and you can still read of their testimony even in Foreign Policy articles published in our time. They died and yet they also demonstrated an example of love that has lived on to this very day and have defied my own logic in that.
We have but one life to live, all people die eventually, yet it is said that all people have two deaths: The first death being their physical death, when their body is put into the grave. Then a second ‘death’ at some point in the future when their name is said for the last time. And, I would argue that, in that light, those who, in faith, sacrificed their lives for their neighbor’s sake have actually outlived those who fled in fear.
It turns out that the Christ of Christianity only ever promised a life of suffering for others to those who would follow him. The ‘faith’ of those seeking health and wealth is shallow and will fall apart in times of crisis. But true faith lives for the good of others, despite uncertainty and fear, the proof is not in their own health so much as their faithful and lasting impact on the world.
No, your faith will not spare you, but if you live in love you will find God waiting on the other side of your suffering.
How I Have Seen God At Work
This may be a strange way to make an announcement of sorts, but I’ve never professed to be anything other than strange. I mean, I’ve tried to act normal, yet it never seems to work out for me. And so I guess I work with what I’m given, right?
Anyhow, I mentioned a bhest in past blogs, including my last blog, and haven’t really explained what bhest really means.
Right now, on the opposite of the world from where I am currently writing, lives a beautiful flower, her name is Charlotte. I found her in a moment of great faith, when my life remained consumed in my Mennonite identity and struggle with the father of a young woman, and had agreed to participate in her life as only an encouragement. She had moved to Taiwan, from her mountain home in the Philippines, as a means to support her son and secure an annulment from the father of her son.
Given her marital situation (along with my Mennonite and purity culture priorities) and my continued faithful pursuit of the impossibility, I told her that our relationship would have to remain platonic (which is something she allowed without any protest) and offered to be her encouragement. My commitment was to show her that someone still cared about her life, despite her being separated from family and not having anyone else to turn to at the time. At the time I was also on the road, away from home, so I understood the loneliness that comes with separation from family and friends.
There was a bit of a pattern that developed. I would be her faithful wake up call, to wish her a wonderful day, but later (with the stress of a high-pressure work environment and conflicts with coworkers) she would come back online with the crying puppy emoticon, which was my signal to get to work, and I would make it my mission to cheer her up again. Soon, by whatever miracle, I would have her laughing and smiling again.
At some point, pretty early on, she asked me if it was okay if she would call me “bhest” and (after a momentary hesitation to consider the potential damage of letting her use a term of endearment in our context) I decided to give her permission. It is a term that I had no idea what it meant really then and still am not entirely sure. But, eventually, it felt dumb to let her be alone in using that term, there was no term and thus she too became my bhest.
Bhest, according to Charlotte, meant this: “the very best best person, who is my friend, who is always beside me, to pray for me, advise me, cheer me up and who really shows care for me.”
Bhest, best explained, is a word mystical in meaning, has become a sort of joint identity and not something my words can easily explain. But I do know that it stands for a commitment to care. And, when my own road reached an end in the Mennonite church, like hitting a brick wall, it was the hand of my bhest reaching through, telling me in a moment of suicidal darkness, “if you go, take me with you,” and demonstrated a level of commitment to me even greater than my mother. It was then that I decided to stay to serve this lost sheep that I had found and if only for her good.
Charlotte’s happiness, I decided, was worth my suffering through another day of this life. The seed of faith that I gave to her months before, in my pure concern for her, grew into a limb that I could hold onto until my own feet again. She was the one who told me to “be strong for her” and gave me the courage to walk through the doors of Holy Cross, in Williamsport, on the road to my Orthodox conversion. And it was Charlotte who finally gave me that reason to no longer be “thirty years old living in Milton” (as the faithless alternative explained) and compelled me, months later, to board a Boeing 747 headed for the other side of the world.
Bringing This to the Present
There is so much I could say about Charlotte and her son. So many moments, from profound moments of sadness together (after the murder of her uncle Roland) to those of our greatest joy and many others somewhere in between. Her family has embraced me, reposed uncle Roland especially, welcomed me with open arms, and made me feel right at home twelve timezones from my current residence. I honestly felt like I had experienced a taste of heaven in Baguio City and in our various excursions.
Now that country, like my own, is experiencing the same Covid-19 lockdown (albeit stricter than my own) and our hopes for the future are overshadowed with even greater uncertainty than before. But at least Charlotte is stranded, for once, with her son Y-dran, whom she loves deeply despite being separated from him for years. He’s a real handful, a biter when I met him (who learned quickly that, unlike his grandma and aunts, I bite back), and has since matured to a bright (while still completely energetic) eight-year-old. His wide smile always welcomed me and I’ve missed him since our first meeting.
More recently, due to his history of illness, and a recent bout with pneumonia (he’s still coughing), along with the spread of Covid-19 worldwide, along with my own struggles due to some history of my own mentioned earlier, it has been exceedingly difficult for me to rest easy and trust God in this moment of chaos.
In one of my silly, more romantic moments, after Charlotte watched one of my favorite movie classics, “The Last of the Mohicans,” I recited to her the words of Hawkeye, “You be strong, you survive! You stay alive, no matter what occurs, I will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you!” Which was a promise said with a little smile and laughter, nevertheless pretty accurately represents the commitment that I’ve made to her. I’ve nearly had to make real on that once when she called me after almost being abducted by two men, while in Taiwan, and our current situation has left me wondering what extreme measures might be necessary to bring her here to my side, with her son, our son, Y-dran?
As of today, upon the request of Y-dran (a shortened version of his full name, pronounced yid-run) himself, that I will begin to call Y-dran my son. I had worried a few months ago whether or not a young Igorot boy, with his own biological father, would ever accept this goofy overwrought religious refugee American. But we hardly even speak the same language yet (although he was actually using sign language today and will likely learn English far quicker than I learn Tagalog and his tribal tongue) and yet he has asked me if I could be his father. *gulp* I really didn’t know how to express all my excitement, he had completely pre-empted all of my preparations for the future where I would need to explain this, where I would have to walk gingerly to avoid undermining the man that is his biological father, and now I do not have to worry about that.
And, speaking of prayer, unprompted, Y-dran, after all that, requested that I lead the prayers before he went to bed. So, being as Orthodox Christian as I know to be, I gathered myself and my phone, we went to the prayer corner of my house and led in the Lord’s prayer before praying for our future together, that it may come quickly and that he can remain healthy until then.
Dreams and Prayers
I have big dreams of what to do as a father with his son. But I also have a fear that hangs over me. My own life has been full of hopes ripped away from me right at the time when I thought things were in the clear. Now, before I can have my happy and simple life, with a little broken and repaired family, there is this monster called Covid-19 lurking in the darkness. I have full awareness of the terrible tragedies that have cut down the faithful and heathen alike, sometimes on a bright sunny day, like that day those German-Americans boarded General Slocum before their final hellish terror.
However, come hell or high water, I am determined, as determined as I am to pursue impossibility in faith, to not live my life in fear. I believe that God exists and that God is good because I have not alternative. I believe in God because without God there is no good. Logic and reason cannot explain away the feelings I have for my precious bhest and her livewire son. Even if we are cruelly kept apart for many more years, due to legal nonsense or plague, I know we will be together again and someday soon.
May God have mercy on us!
Only will tell if my dreams for this life will ever come true. It is easier for me to predict a global pandemic than to know if my next few days, weeks, or years on this planet will be happy or harrowing. Maybe my battered faith will finally meet it’s match, in something awful yet to come, and my hopes finally drown in a seas of despair. Nevertheless, as long as I’m alive, let my hymn be this: “Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have set our hope in Thee.” And, in the perilous days ahead, may I cling all the more to the words of St Paul:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39 NIV)
P.s., Y-dran, like his father, is also a fan of Dunkin donuts, which they do have in the Philippines, so the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree!
Well, that’s if you don’t count those canned soups that I heated.
Anyhow, it was in the midst of my dinner preparation that I discovered that I had accidentally purchased “angel hair” rather than my normal “thin spaghetti” noodles, which there was also a box of the latter as well and, besides that, another box of regular spaghetti.
So, apparently, in my panic buying “just buying a few things” (to use the words of a classmate I bumped into stayed a safe six foot away from at the grocery store) I had grabbed a couple of different spaghetti noodle varieties from my usual. So this apocalypse I will have to deal with the mix up and be more careful in my panic buying routine restocking for next apocalypse.
But, as a general rule, I’ve been pretty lucky throughout this Covid-19 event. First, I’m not dead yet. Second, I had purchased a pack of eighteen “mega rolls” of toilet paper before the hoarders emptied the shelves. I also got a haircut while it was still safe and legal. Add to that, my having a D-Link router installed weeks prior made the shift to working at home rather than forty-minutes drive away a smoother transition.
Truly, the timing of everything has been fortuitous, so far, and I hope that streak continues.
Things had been overwhelming at work.
Now, with an extra hour of sleep at night and some flexibility to meet obligations during the day (by making up for the time lost in the evening) I feel more productive and relaxed.
Sure, I do miss my three big screens at work. But nothing beats rolling out of bed and getting right to work. And I’m not really sure how I would’ve gotten through all of the necessary steps to get a renter into my old house had I needed to run back and forth from the office right now, it would be next to impossible and, considering my current workload, completely stressful at very least.
Oh, and did I mention that my new renters (recently unemployed) are awesome???
Yeah, they spent last week raising the value of my property and are anxious to do more. They do great work, he can do the laundry list of small items the home inspector found, and I’ll consider keeping them employed to help me get some projects in my new house wrapped up. I mean, it just so happens that they’re currently unemployed.
I honestly don’t know how I would’ve gotten everything done there without them and hope they are as happy with the arrangement as I am. It will be interesting to see how long we are off work, I’ve already told them there would be flexibility as far as move-in dates, given the current unforeseen circumstances. yet (given Congress finally did get their act together) they are set to receive a check for the US Treasury soon and their state compensation, so we should be good to go.
My anxiety-prone nature also gives me an advantage in times of crisis when the confident people are feeling lost. I mean, it is a sort of “welcome to my world” type of scenario for me. When your whole life is basically a crisis there’s no big adjustment needed for the end of the world, it’s just another day and you know you’ll figure out a way through or die.
And, so long as I don’t get a bad strain of Covid with my Dunkin coffee, I’m not dead yet!
Anyhow, it was nice to at least get a practice run working remotely, I think I might take my work on the road this winter, at least if we get that far, and make my second trip to the Phillippines to visit my bhest again…
And just like that, everything stopped. A little over a month ago I had started to follow a story developing in Wuhan, China. A virus, a novel virus, had somehow driven the industrial heart of China to a standstill. It is astonishing how something not even considered to be a living organism (since it doesn’t reproduce without our help) can defeat the best measures that us ‘intelligent’ creatures could throw at it.
We are fortunate, at this time at least, that the Covid-19 isn’t as deadly as some viruses. Unfortunately, it is very contagious, it is serious enough that it could easily overwhelm our medical infrastructure and, if there were no effort made to slow or contain the virus, it is very likely that Covid-19 would kill far more than the seasonal flu. As a precaution against a worse case scenario many governments around the world have ordered a suspension of unnecessary commerce and non-essential events as a means to blunt the spread.
For me personally this comes at a time when I was close to being overwhelmed by my workload and falling further and further behind. I had worried (and perhaps not nearly enough) about how I would meet deadlines, particularly as far as my income taxes, and stay ahead of the growing stack of truss layouts. The economy had, in three years, gone from pedestrian growth to bullet train speed. I dreamed about not having to drive my long commute, freeing time to finish dozens of waiting projects or basically gaining a little time somewhere in my busy schedule to finally breathe again and relax a bit.
Church, entering the Lenten season, did not seem to offer much relief for this breakneck pace. No, if anything the additional services were only adding to my already impossible list of obligations and stress. Looking back over the past months and years, at my growing list of responsibilites, my life was on a trajectory that could not be sustained. I needed a break. I needed a push back against all those who depended on me and would pressure me to perform at a higher and higher level.
Lent was supposed to be about the withdrawal of Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, how had it become yet another thing to cram into an already overcrowded schedule?
Going Nowhere Fast…
That seems to be the world we live in.
Busy, busy busy and many don’t even know why anymore.
I’m amazed by how traffic flies on the interstate. I tend to set my cruise at or right above the speed limit and get passed like I’m grandma out on a Sunday drive. It makes no sense. Of course, then, I’m really no better in that it is next to impossible for me to focus on one thing even while hurdling through the early morning darkness or traveling back in the full grid of pushy tailgating morons. Would it really hurt them that much to slow down?
Perhaps (while ironically using the device to write this) it would be good for me to put the phone down for a moment?
The same people snicking about toilet paper hoarders, a week earlier, have about lost their minds when the governments of various states started to tell them to close shop for a bit and stay home.
Those infected with the restless American spirit pile up wealth for themselves, more than anyone else in the world, and yet the thought of taking a few weeks off for sake of their vulnerable neighbors will induce a panic. “How will we eat?” Cries out the guy, with three properties, to the guy who recently bought a brand new truck when the old one was just fine. We, unlike many others in the world, could afford a week off to reflect on ourselves and our cultural priorities.
We could be the busiest, furthest traveling, civilization in all of human history, but we aren’t the first people scurrying about our various responsibilites and fretting about the lack of help. A few weeks ago, while contemplating the fevered pace of modern life and the justifications given for it, I had to think of the example of a stressed out woman who lived two millennia ago and finally expressed her exasperation about the lack of help to Jesus:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:38-42 NIV)
There are many anxiety-ridden people in our society today and that fact has become all the more clear in the past few weeks. There are many who, like Martha, are working at their full capability, struggling to keep up with their seemingly ever-increasing workload and begging for help. From those panic buying to those complaining about their favorite events being cancelled, both are missing the perspective of Mary, who sat listening, and really do need to take a deep breath and maybe just appreciate that they are still breathing rather than be so worried about things that will pass away soon enough anyways.
Be Still and Know…
Everyone, from government leaders to those who think that they know better than government leaders, wants to be in control. And that is what drives the frantic pace of our lives. We think, “if I just could have that one more property” or “after this year I’ll kick back and relax,” yet when we get there there is always that one more thing that needs to be done before we can feel secure. There are many who pursue this sort of material completeness until the day that they die. Some do better than others at accumulating their pile of stuff, some are like this foolish rich man Jesus describes:
Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
(Luke 12:15-21 NIV)
Listen up, folks! This shutdown may be the last wake up call you get from God. Instead of complaining about your schedule being upset and all the things that you want to do, including church services, maybe it is time to be like Mary and do some serious contemplation instead?
When Jesus told the crowds, “take no thought for tomorrow,” he was likely talking to an audience with many who lived hand to mouth (like many still do in the world) and had every reason to worry about where the next meal was coming from. While we fret and fuss about the inconvenience, fight over toilet paper, some will literally be going hungry while trying to wait this virus out.
This Lenten shut down can be a very good thing to sort out what is truly life sustaining from the truly frivolous. My design work has aided in the construction of many barns over the past few years and there had been a great deal of optimism before everything came crashing down a little over a week ago. Suddenly, much like that ambitious fool whose life was required of him the very night he felt satisfied, we too have been forced to take inventory over our lives and it would be a good opportunity to reorder our priorities. When is the last time you’ve thanked God for the chance to work and have food on the table? Have you noticed the sun still shining as the stock values plunge?
We may have BMWs to show our prestige and iPhones (emphasis on the ‘i’) to keep our schedules straight, but we aren’t the first self-important generation that needed brought to it’s knees and reminded that it was not sovereign over anything, that their power over the earth was only an illusion. It is the wise person who lives in awe of the mystery of everything that the foolish take for granted. It is the very thing that the Psalmist tells us to be still and know:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
(Psalms 46:1-11 NIV)
Time to Reset and Refocus…
We are not in control. And, “except you become as little children,” (Matt. 18:3) everything you accomplish in this life will eventually be wiped away and forgotten. All of those barns my long hours and overtime have made possible will eventually, maybe in less than a century, be reduced to rubble, rot away or be burned. Nothing we have built with our hands, no great intellectual endeavor, should take our eyes off of the true sustainer of life. That sustainer being that which has set this universe in motion and holds it together while we frail critters delude ourselves, imagining our own invulnerability, and will some day need to face the reality of our own situation.
I was writing this blog (afterall, you, my audience, are too important to wait) as my dad toiled with the landscaping outside. There had been many times where I had intended to buckle down and help for a little, despite questioning if all the work was ever worth it, but got swept away in my own projects before actually lending a hand. Today, with no gym ritual or other routine to keep, I decided it was time to haul a couple wheelbarrow loads of mulch before finishing this blog and borrowing my dad’s truck to haul a few loads out of my old house in preparation for the new tenants.
I do not believe Covid-19 will be the end of us. But let it be the end of this paradigm we are in. Let it be a time to slow down, to respect our fellow man and to, most importantly, be in awe of God. It is truly, in these reminders of our own mortality, that God’s mercy is made manifest. We can be the hands that help, the ears that listens, and the voice of calm in troubled times. We live surrounded by chaos on all sides, it is terrifying if you stare into that abyss of uncertainty of the days and months ahead, but those who have faith in God never have a reason to fear and will always bring hope as long as they have breath.
So, take a deep breath, Martha, get your soul right and even Covid-19 cannot snuff out the light that you’ll bring into the world. For a Christian there is beauty even in death. Live in love, not fear, my friends, because in love there is a breath of life that cannot be extinguished. Stop ‘adulting’ for a little, stop being like Martha, and learn to be a bit more like Mary. Use this Lenten season to be still, to sit at the feet of Jesus, and set your eyes on what is greater than our daily grind. All of the activity here will eventually come to an end, what have you done of eternal value lately?
Spanish flu of 1918 was unusual, amongst modern influenza outbreaks, because it killed young and otherwise healthy people. One of the possible reasons for this is an immune reaction called “cytokine storm” in which overreaction of a bodily system leads to a cascade of other failures and eventually to death. I’ll let my friends who are medical professionals correct me on the details, but that is the basic idea and sufficient explanation to set the stage for this blog post.
The Herd Reacts…
The psychology of human behavior, in particularly how it pertains to people in groups, is a fascinating study. We are social creatures and because of this our own response to anything can be easily influenced by the reaction of group. If one person or several, who are considered credible by the group, start to do something new, it won’t be very long before there are many others copying them. That is how fads and fashions are born, that is why religious people conform, we want to share in the credibility of the credible by doing what they are doing. We do this unconsciously, like the contagious yawn, and can help explain what happened last week.
All of the cancelations of the past few days may very well come down to the actions of one man. Rudy Gobert, days before becoming the first NBA athlete to positive for the Covid-19 virus, decided it would be funny to deliberately touch all the mics and recording devices in a news conference. This led to the NBA suspending their seasons and, like Mrs O’Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern starting the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, one man’s caviler attitude could very well have triggered the response of the NBA and the long list of other cancelations that soon followed.
It goes like this: The NBA canceled because 1) a few of their players tested positive, 2) they realized they were no longer in control of the situation, and 3) they could possibly be held liable if the death of someone’s grandpa could be traced back to one of their sporting events. So, in the name of public safety and all things good and right, they decided to approach this unknown risk by abruptly ending their season. This, in turn, very likely influenced other leagues to follow suit for fear of their own inaction, despite knowledge of risk, becoming a heyday for trial lawyers everywhere or simply a public relations disaster.
The more leagues and events that cancelled, the more others felt pressured to do the same. Sure, this was something rationally justified, the idea of “flattening the curve” or slowing the spread of a disease by “social distancing” soon became common parlance, and yet the spread of this idea to start canceling events seems also to be very much like the simultaneous run on toilet paper. Anxiety disorder is something I know a little about and, while I’ve never been tempted to hoard toilet paper, it certainly has gotten in the way of my better judgement.
So is the reaction to Covid-19 wholly rational or was it post hoc rationalization and basically a collective panic attack?
Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself…
I have a friend who was an Air Force medic during the First Gulf War. He told me an anecdote you’ll never hear reported in the news, a behavior that doesn’t make any rational sense and yet is something he encountered a few times in the lead up to combat in Iraq.
Apparently some of the young soldiers were so keyed up and anxious that they couldn’t take the pressure of the wait anymore, they would find a place where they had a little privacy (the porta-potties as I recall) and take their own life using the firearm issued to them.
It makes absolutely no sense. Why would someone, facing the danger of death, be so anxious that they would actually kill themselves?
In times of crisis people want to do something, anything, to lose that feeling of powerlessness. That is probably the reason why many people have recently started to stock up on things that really would not help them. That is why young soldiers, concerned about losing their life, took their own life rather than continue to wait in fear. Fear often leads to an irrational response. And our most educated and elite, given responsibility to make decisions, are not immune to this kind of irrational “do something” impulse either. Our leaders are capable of panic as much as any of us.
It reminds me of the story of Easy Company, told in the series “Band of Brothers,” where the Company Commander, 1st Lieutenant Norman S. Dike Jr. (or “Foxhole Norman”), was portrayed as being frozen by combat and unable to make a decision. He had obviously been talented enough to rise up through the ranks and become an officer, but apparently he lacked the calm and collectedness to be an effective leader outside of a controlled predictable environment. He had to be replaced by a more common and practical man, with the right instincts to get the job done:
During the assault on Foy, Dike had ordered a platoon to go on a flanking mission around the rear of the town. During their charge, he ordered them to take cover. His subordinates informed him they were going to get killed because they were sitting ducks. At the same time, Captain Richard Winters, former commander of Easy Company and the Battalion executive officer, tried radioing him to tell him the same thing. Having no idea how to control the situation, Dike froze. Carwood Lipton, at that time the company’s first sergeant, later put it: “He fell apart.” He was relieved during fighting at Foy by First Lieutenant Ronald Speirs under orders from Captain Winters, then moved on to become an aide to Maxwell Taylor, 101st Airborne Division.”
Could it be those whom have power in our institutions are men (and women) of similar caliber to Dike? Smart, capable of working their way up through the established system, and yet lacking the courage necessary to lead society through uncharted waters? Some of them freeze in fear, others overreact in their anxieties, while others (seeing the bigger picture) are more more able to make good decisions and navigate the stressful circumstances of the present moment. Running the NBA or being at the top of a government agency does not mean that a person is qualified to manage a crisis and in some cases those in those positions are probably going to make matters worse rather than better.
Self-sabatoge, Fear-based Overreaction and Titanic Failures…
It is really hard to know, actually, in a politically polarized time, when many are willing to cut off their nose to spite their face, what is a real crisis and what is merely an opportunity to try to undermine a political opponent. In fact, there are some in this country who seem quite willing to destroy the economy in a desperate bid to get their power back and a few who even seemed to cheer the plunge in the markets. When some see personal benefit in feeding hysteria and panic, it is hard to know who too trust when clearly not everyone is on the same team anymore.
But that said, I would tend to see the fear as being real and the reaction a sincere effort to prevent the worst case scenario from happening. It was easy, as Covid-19, ravaged China, to deny the severity of the situation. For one, the Chinese government is not the most trustworthy source of information (add to the that they had every reason to minimize the outbreak as not to scare away investment dollars) and, two, it is very easy to dimiss China as a them rather one of us. The real wakeup call was Italy, a country clearly on par with our own in terms of medicine, and how quickly a few isolated cases suddenly exploded. And, unlike China, where the government kept a tight lid on information, the truth was allowed to escape.
What has happened since I see as being similar to when a driver dozes off, wakes up while crossing the rumble strips, and reactively jerks the wheel. Their immediate reaction may spare them a trip into the trees, but it could also be an over-reaction that takes them head-on into an incoming tractor trailer. It could be too little too late. There are those right now who call the idea of “flattening the curve” a “deadly delusion” an that only complete containment strategy will make a difference. But then I begin to wonder has the opportunity to save those most vulnerable been missed a month or so ago when we failed to close our borders when it was clear that China was dealing with something unprecedented in our own times?
They say had the HMS Titanic ran straight into the iceberg, rather than barely grazed it, some would’ve died from the violent collision and yet the ship would likely haved stayed afloat. It is also strong possibility that they could have avoided a collision with the iceberg altogether if they had only used the rudder rather than try to reverse the engines. The Titanic, unlike many ships of the period, had two outer propellers run off piston engines and one in the center that was powered by a turbine. The outer propellers could be reversed quickly, the inner could not, and the result of their attempt to reverse being turbulence over the rudder which made the magnificent ship unresponsive.
Sometimes I wonder if it is too late to spare the lives that will be lost if we slam headlong into Covid-19 and let be what will be. Yes, people will die. But people will die regardless and crippling the economy may only add to the death count. Don’t get me wrong, I believe cancelling unnecessary activities and avoiding large group gatherings is a precaution worth taking, as is practicing good hygiene, washing hands, wearing masks and self-quarantine. However, I would also argue that wrecking the economy will only make matters far worse and must also be avoided at all necessary costs.
In my own mind there is a vast space between paralyzing fear or irrational over-reaction and blinding arrogance. We can and should be getting prepared, but with deliberate calm. We are at war, the strength of our enemy is not fully known, we must not recklessly expose our vulnerable flanks, we dare never freeze in fear. It would be wise to buy some time, to allow better countermeasures to be deployed and that does mean social distancing, less travel, more cleanliness, and really what should be common sense.
What Is Coming?
Despite our best effort, war is coming. We can expect that in the coming weeks that case numbers will jump dramatically and, not only that, but ICU beds will begin to fill at an alarming rate. We could see abandoned shopping centers and malls converted into makeshift hospitals. We will probably see some “wartime medicine” or triage, where those most likely to survive are given access to treatment over those who have only a slim chance are basically left to die, so snap out of your dismissive stupor and conspiratorial denial now or you will not be prepared for the battle of the coming days.
That is the truth.
We are emotional beings, not wholly rational.
We make poor decisions, both collectively and individually, that can turn a dire circumstance into an absolute disaster.
If you are seeing this only in terms of politics, who gets blamed or who benefits, you are the problem more than the virus. If you have filled your cart with toilet paper because suddenly you feel vulnerable and don’t know what to do, stop thinking only about yourself and stop feeding into the anxieties of others. It is time to buckle down, put aside partisan differences, selfish ambitions, and act together as one nation again.
In the end, remember, like the case of many who caught Spanish flu and died because of their strong (yet unhelpful) response, overreaction can be more deadly than the actual threat. We cannot bring the economy to a grinding halt out of fear, instead we must thread the needle with a prudent and properly measured reaction. There is no point in stopping the virus by killing the patient. We should pray that our leaders are given extraordinarily wisdom and calm for this unprecedented event.