Thursday, December 16, 2021

After the storm

 It’s been 6 days now since our little corner of the world was turned completely upside down.  The initial assessments have been made.  Debris is being cleared.  Rescue and recovery have been going nonstop.  Volunteers have come in by the droves to assist us and help where they can.  Water and electric are being restored. Donations are continuing to pour in, and for all of this I am grateful.   

This morning, I woke up with heat and lights for the first time since Friday morning. Like so many others, I’m experiencing a certain amount of survivor’s remorse because we were so close to the main path, but relatively unscathed.  This has caused no small amount of theological wrestlings and reflection.   So, as I’ve done for years, permit me a few minutes to process all this through my keyboard.   

Why?   Why did the storm track shift a little less than a half mile from what we were expecting?   The original track was taking the tornado directly over our house, instead, it came by less than a half mile to our south and east.  

How?   Surviving this storm was certainly not because of anything I did.  No one can stand against winds knocking on 200 plus miles per hour.  I did everything I knew to do in order to protect my family, but short of installing an underground bunker, there was really nothing I could do.  It seemed to be the luck of the draw, and even typing that makes my stomach turn.  

As we listened to tornado rip through neighborhoods and downtown as it passed our house, my first thought was “Thank God.  We survived.”  It was all I could think to do.  Now for the theological reflection.  

Paul, writing to the church in Thessalonica told them to give thanks in all things, because that was the will of God. (Paraphrased). We should.  Sort of.  

A lot of people are struggling with the events of last Friday night, and rightfully so.  I’m struggling with it.  I do give thanks for many things that did or didn’t happen last weekend, like so many others are right now, and I do believe that there is much, for which, to be thankful. However, there is one phrase I keep hearing that haunts me.  

“I’m thankful that God protected me.”  I appreciate the sentiment behind statements like that, but I’d like to take a minute to unpack some of the theology in it.  

“I’m thankful that God protected me,” alludes to the idea that God picks and chooses who receives protection and who doesn’t.  We don’t mean anything by it when we say things like that, other then genuinely offering thanksgiving that we’re still here.  I totally get that.  I would encourage us to reflect what it says to others, though. 

As I came out of our hallway after the immediate threat had passed, I stopped and said “Thank you.”  Meanwhile, in the couple minutes it took to pass by us, lives were lost not a half mile away.  The thought of that is gut wrenching.  If I were to say I was thankful God protected me, it would insinuate a divine hand redirecting the path of the storm away from my house, and directly over others.  I can’t serve a God who does that.  I just can’t.  A god who picks and chooses who survives and doesn’t is not worthy of our worship.  

It was just a fluke of nature that I’m even here to write this morning.  

That being said, theology is messy.  Part of the curse of a theological education is that, in our training, we are forced to recognize and wrestle with things of this very nature.  The “Why?” questions.  The “How?” questions.  And, to do so in a way that honors our God and our fellow humans.  

So, for all those who feel this week that God’s hand of protection has been removed, let me assure you that God’s heart is breaking right along with yours this morning.  Nature is a brutal force at times, and were God to directly intervene, saving some while others perished, the theological ramifications would be endless.  

The sucky part in all this is that there just aren’t any easy answers.  A friend of mine said something yesterday that stopped me in my tracks.  He said, again paraphrasing, “God wasn’t in the disaster, but lives in the response of the people to the disaster.”   

This week I encourage all of us to find something in the aftermath of this storm for which to be thankful.  I encourage us to let empathy guide our words and actions.  

God is here.  Now.  With you.  With me.  With us.  

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

What if?

 I'm tired.  I know you are, too.

Everywhere we look, COVID is there.  For the past 18 months it has pervaded basically every aspect of daily life.  Who has it now?  Am I going to get it?  Mask?  No mask?  Vaccine?  No vaccine?  What's working?  What isn't?  Am I essential?  Why are they essential and I'm not?  If I can't work, how will we pay the bills?  Then, add to the mix the number of social media medical experts telling us their opinions of why this or that does or doesn't work.

I'm tired.   

I have never really been a people person, and have always preferred my bubble to be fairly tight, only letting in the closest of friends and family.  Now, I find myself cringing when someone stands too close behind me in a checkout line.  Are they COVID positive?  Did they just cough?  I can actually feel my anxiety levels rising in certain situations that used to just be mildly uncomfortable.  

I remember in February of 2020, when we first started hearing about this new strain of SARS and thinking, "Oh, this isn't going to be good."  I started reading everything I could find on it, and trying to stick with articles that were from reputable medical sources.  Infection rates were higher than we usually see.  Transmission rates were higher than we normally see.  Mortality rates were already alarming.  From the looks of things, early on, it was going to get much worse before it started getting better.  We masked up in public, kept our distance, limited gathering sizes, and it seemed to be working. 

Like most folks, the idea of a two week quarantine, were one of us in my house to be exposed, was terrifying.  Also, like most folks, we didn't have funds in reserve that would carry us through two weeks, four weeks, or a couple months into some unknown future.  It was a very frightening time.  I switched back and forth from supporting one government mandate to thinking this was all an overreaction.  I mean, how could we expect to survive if we completely shut down the country?  It's a legitimate concern, and unfortunately, one that we could be facing again.  Then, earlier this year, the numbers did start dropping, slowly.  Hospitalizations were down.  It seemed like we were beginning to turn the corner, so the country started opening up, and restrictions were relaxed. 

Then, like many viruses do, this one found yet another chink in our armor, mutated, and tried again.  The new variant is more infectious, seems to be more easily transmitted, and is affecting the younger among us.  Yet, even with 18 months of COVID restrictions, infections, and loss of life behind us there is still a growing amount of resistance to methods that might slow the spread.  

See, I'm not a doctor, so my approach to this whole ordeal has not been from any type of medical background.  I do have a degree in biology, with a basic understanding of genetics, mutations, etc, etc, etc, but I'm not a doctor.  I didn't even sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night, nor do I play a doctor on television.  

I'm not an economist, so I have very little understanding of the long-term effects of last year's shut down, but I am a business owner, and I've seen how it has impacted my business.  

I'm not a historian, so I haven't studied in depth the long term effects of events like the 1918 Flu epidemic and can't liken that to our current situation with any amount of authority.  

What I am, though, is a theologian.  My response to this current global threat has, from the very beginning, been rooted in my study of scriptures.  I'm not talking about Revelation kind of stuff, like some folk who are claiming this is some end-time, apocalyptic, get right or get left behind, wrath of God event.  That's not what it is.  I'm likening it more to the leprosy that is mentioned so often in our New Testament.  I don't mean we shun folk, like they did with those who had leprosy, or send them out of the city, or cross the street to prevent even the chance of coming into contact with them.  I'm talking about how quickly this can spread, and what our response as Jesus followers should be.

Leprosy was a horrible disease.   Do a quick google search this afternoon if you'd like to see some pretty horrific pictures.  I can't imagine what it must have been like to contract that disease, and know what that was probably going to mean.  No one touched a leper.  Well, except one person.  They were no longer able to work, and had to depend on the charity of others for their survival.  Isolation would become their new normal.  Then along comes this guy, Jesus, who treated them as the humans they still were.  

Then, this morning, I'm sipping my coffee and scrolling through social media when one post after another starts popping up from folk I know to be Jesus followers, about "my rights," "resist the mandates,"  and "my kid isn't doing that."  I wanted to weep.  Not because I'm a huge supporter of emergency approved FDA vaccines, and certainly not because I enjoy wearing a face mask in a grocery store (because I'm not, and I hate wearing a mask,) but because I'm a theologian, and the first thought I had was, where has the church gone wrong in her teaching?  What have we missed?  What aspect of life as a Jesus follower did we not present often enough?   All of that led me to a reflection on one little question: 

What if?

What if they're right, and masks don't work?  What if the emergency approval of the FDA was premature?  Then, if that's the case, I probably looked the fool for wearing one into every store I entered last year, and there may be some long term side effects from the vaccine I took that I may not realize for years.  But...

What if? 

What if they aren't right?  What if masks actually are at least somewhat helpful in preventing the transmission of this virus?  What if the vaccine is safe and we just may not know for sure for a while?  Is it worth the risk?

As a theologian, as a father, husband, son, friend, and member of society, all I can say in answer to that is this, "To me, it was worth the risk."  You may ask me why, if you'd like, and I'll say this.  In all of the study I've done of the New Testament, the stories we have about the physical life of Christ as he walked among us, I can't find anywhere that says that I'm to look out only for myself.  It may be there and I've missed it, but I haven't found it yet.  Over and over we hear Jesus talk about loving others as we love ourselves, and how the first shall be last while the last are first, and how we're to care for the weaker among us.  We see examples of Jesus putting his own health and safety aside to reach out and care for those society had discarded.  I don't know why he did that.  Maybe he knew that, as the Second Person of the Trinity, it wasn't something he needed to worry about.  I don't know.  I do know, though, that for me (and I can only speak for me) deciding to follow Christ as I walk this world means that I have to, at the very least, consider the other's welfare as I do my own.    For me, and again, I can only speak for me, that meant two things; wearing a mask when I was around others, and getting the vaccine when it became available.  One was mildly frustrating, the other terrified me, but in the end, it was worth the risk to me.  

Back to the question, though.  What if?  What if we all who claim to follow Christ took it upon ourselves to do all we can do to stop this virus simply because the examples we have of the life Christ led compelled us to?  What if, we put our trust in our faith and not the opinions of those on social media?  What if we approached this virus through a New Testament lens?  And to narrow the field a bit, what if those of us with Wesleyan roots actually began living into the three rules?  Do no harm.  Do Good.  Stay in love with God.  Would that have any impact on the way we approach day to day life in a COVID world?  I certainly hope so.  

The reality is that we live in a country where we have taken our rights to be sacred, and they are.  It's one of the beautiful things about our nation.  But, we who follow Christ are not citizens of this nation alone.  Our ultimate citizenship resides in the Kingdom of God.  So, as a theologian, not a doctor, not a economist, not a historian, but as a theologian, I implore you to consider the examples of Christ in your wrestlings with the decisions we face as a society, for the greater good.  

I fully expect some push back from this, but even that was worth the risk.  I'll stand by my convictions that I have done what I could to follow the example of Christ in looking out for my fellow human.  What if I'm wrong?  That's always a possibility.  Will I be seen as self-righteous?  Hopefully not, and this will, instead, be taken as intended, written out of a concern for the other.  What the cost may be to myself down the road, I don't know, but whatever it is, I'm ok with that.  I've had a good run.