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From Our Director archives

From Missy: The intent of these short weekly articles is to provoke thoughtfulness, courage, hope and wisdom. Any errors in grammar or thinking are entirely my own. Responses welcome to my email at missyd57@gmail.com.  

Living in Fear vs. Walking in Wisdom   March 25, 2020

We live in interesting times. Things are changing at head spinning rapidity and it is hard to keep abreast of the latest recommendations, how our friends and family are doing, and if we have enough coffee on hand to last a month.

One thing that we as Christians must weigh is the tension between the admonition in Scripture not to live in fear (something too many people were doing even before this virus-thing started) and walking in wisdom, which we are also commanded.

I have noticed several people seeming to undervalue the recommendations of the experts with the Biblically sounding idea that they were not going to give in to fear, and therefore go ahead and go about their normal lives, coming and going as they wished. On the other hand, I also saw someone going to Walmart fully armed, packing a pistol, presumably to protect his stash of toilet paper from the other toilet paper consumers.

How then should we think about this?

Of course, sometimes in scripture, God brought about an illness as a punishment for a specific sin, usually pride, and afflicted those guilty. But the gist of the treatment of diseases tells us something different.

The Old Testament has quite a bit to say about disease prevention mentioned in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. While it doesn’t address every condition known to man, we can take away from these verses the following:
1) God doesn’t want you to get a disease (with the exception above)
2) You can do certain things to prevent the spread of disease
3) He wants us, and indeed commanded the Israelites to do those things that prevent disease.

No where in these verses is the idea of fatalism, that you will get the disease no matter what, or exceptionalism, that you will be exempt no matter what. Especially of concern in these verses are the diseases that are communicable, or those that we can pass on to others.

Wisdom is the ability to take the information that we already have and apply it to new areas. The Coronavirus is not one of the diseases listed in scripture but we do have the ability to think well about it. It is not living in fear but in walking in wisdom to take steps to not be the person who spreads this virus, especially to more vulnerable members of our communities. We think here of protecting the least of these, which in this case, is our older folks and those with existing health issues. In this case, this means the counter-intuitive idea of “social distancing.”

While we believe that God can heal and we can pray for God to curtail this disease, we too are given a part to play in faithfulness. Pay attention to the guidelines by the CDC and pay less attention to outliers who are undervaluing the advice of the experts. Also ignore those that emphasize pure selfishness. Think about your neighbors, your friends and the poor.

Prayer in hindsight was never meant to replace wisdom in the present.

Finally, we must put health concerns above financial worries. I feel for the many small businesses whose livelihood may be grinding to a halt. But for now, we need to slow the spread and ask God to provide for our financial needs.

How we can we support each other without spreading the virus? I think God will show us some unique ways to hold each other up, and am looking forward to hearing about the many ways we can be faithful at this moment in history, even while most of us are remaining in our homes.



Shall We Then Netflix and Die?   March 15, 2020

The medieval theologian Thomas à Kempis made the wry observation that most people seemed more concerned with living long lives, but showed little interest in living good lives. Living long, which at that time meant living beyond the average age of about 40, was no small feat in the fourteenth century. The black plague was only just beginning to slow down and the concept of a terrifyingly swift and painful death was very much in the the public consciousness. It wasn’t old enough to be in the collective memory; it was in the collective present reality.

But what is also interesting about à Kempis’ writing is that in the middle of this turmoil, he confronts not just the well-founded fear of death but the niggling daily concerns of everyday life and its challenges that are common to the human experience everywhere. He speaks about trying to be self-disciplined. “Fight like a man,” he said. “Habit is overcome by habit.” He urges patience with the faults of others: “We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves.” He regrets gossip, especially his own, where he has been so easily “captivated by vanity.”

Similarly, our own response to the tumult of our day may reveal who we are, but it is also reflected in the banality or beauty of the ordinary in the midst of this big story. Emblematic of this phenomenon, my own short-handed mental diary of the last month might look like the following:

  • There seems to be something happening in China. Will it affect markets? What’s that funny noise in my car?
  • This thing seems to be spreading. Hope it won’t come here. My democratic favorite just dropped out. What a shame.
  • First cases in the US. Are we over-reacting? Doesn’t the flu kill 60,000 people a year just in the US? I think there are squirrels in the attic. I should call someone.
  • I fly out to see my parents in their lovely assisted living facility in another state.  Two days after I return home, they are not allowed visitors. I’m so glad I got to see them. The Seattle retirement home situation is terrible. People dying. Others having to talk to their families though closed windows.
  • Here at home, meetings are being cancelled. Too bad. There will be a lot to be made up later.
  • More meetings are being cancelled. Three cheers. My schedule opens up. I might work on the house.
  • As it is my frequent habit to freak out in advance — an inclination that for the most part has served me well in life — I was an early Walmart responder and made it to to the store while there was still a square of toilet paper to be had in Farmville. Wish now that I had bought an extra package. Quick, before the other bathroom users buy them. Feeling smart, I bought enough food to feed a cruise ship.
  • Later, I chat with a few friends who ask, doesn’t the flu kill more people? Aren’t we over-reacting? I feel a small sense of knowing superiority in correcting them gently of how this really is more serious than the flu.

I begin to see that a period of sequestration might be looming on the near horizon. I start a mental list of Things I Should Get Done.

  1. Fix that crack in the bedroom wall that has been there for six years.
  2. Clean this “dump until it shines like the top of the Chrysler building” (from the musical Annie.) I bought, along with said cruise ship food, lots of cleaning supplies.
  3. Paint the bathroom.
  4. Call relatives. Pray.
  5. Lose 10 pounds.
  6. Read books.
  7. Memorize Psalms 91.
  8. Learn Sanskrit. Well, not really; but try to do something elevating intellectually. Read David Brooks, perhaps. Come out smarter.
  9. Learn some healthy recipes.
  10. Go for walks.

What is very possible, however, is that natural inclinations and the baser habits of a lifetime will encroach and take their place even in the space of a completely new and unforeseen schedule. Without effort, “catching up on reading” could easily mutate into Netflixing in week-old pajamas. “Healthy recipes” could turn into eating peanut butter from the jar mixed in with semi-sweet morsels from the bag that expired in 2015. Praying devolves into worrying and checking the NYT infection maps every few hours. If sequestered long enough, I might even start Caring about the Kardashians or being Influenced by “Influencers.” (I’m not quite sure I understand the concept of “influencers,” but I think it is something we used to call friends.)

On the eve of Something Different is Happening, all of us have decisions to make. We can make our worlds smaller yet and try to entertain our way to the finish line and be proud to have cleaned out a sock drawer. Or we can make our worlds bigger: we can check on our neighbors (by phone probably) and turn the screens off for a while each day. Play with the kids. Tend a house plant. Call your mother. Say you’re sorry to someone you have offended.

à Kempis reminds us that although “the measure of every man’s virtue is best revealed in time of adversity” it is also in the every day in which our iron is tested. Most of us will not likely be called upon for front page heroics but for the little daily gifts of patience, fortitude, kindness and joy.  Perhaps, in the eye of the Coronavirus storm,  we can even share some toilet paper.

Faith, hope and love.  Missy