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A Year of STUPID COVID

That is what we call it in the office here at church. Stupid COVID.

Today (March 11) seems to be the day we as a nation are marking the one year awareness of C-19. As a caveat, I would like to say I distinctly remember being aware of it by late January and all through February. I think what we are remembering is when people recognized how serious it was with the cancellation of NBA games and the public announcement that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive for COVID-19.

I know when I took it seriously — it was March 4 when Sony MGM announced they were postponing the release of No Time To Die, the newest James Bond film and probably Daniel Craig’s last turn as 007. I remember my thought process very clearly — studios are designed to make money, and if they see the risk of releasing it in April then this must be quite the problem. The second real stand-up moment for me was March 13 when the NCAA announced it was cancelling the annual basketball tournament. March Madness is a huge money maker for these colleges. Cancelling it was serious. The best way to judge what people really think and feel is to follow the money. These two cancellations were demonstrable that people were afraid enough to throw money away.

At present, a year down the line, I am very optimistic about the future. It seems like the vaccines are working. Case numbers are down. People are rolling up their sleeves. I am very hopeful that by May or June we can be back to something like normal.

Since everyone else is dong it, let me make some observations about the past year.

  1. I am very impressed with the vast majority of Americans in general, people in my community in specific, and our church in the extreme. Most of us have gone above and beyond to help others, to take precautions, and to support the decisions that needed to be made.
  2. At the same time, the number of people who flippantly put other people’s health in jeopardy and show no concern for their neighbor disgusts me. COVID-19 has showed us who people really are and what they value.
  3. The pandemic has already changed us and how we interact. I’m pretty sure for the rest of my life when I fly or am in a crowded space, I will put on a mask. I know it has changed government and our expectations of it. It has also changed church. I don’t know if we will ever be completely comfortable in a potluck or really crowded classrooms ever again.
  4. Let me speak about that government business for a second. For a variety of reasons, the pandemic demonstrated we were not ready for it. It was humbling for our nation, which is okay. Pride is a sin, and recognizing weaknesses is an important part of growth. My fear is there will be an overreaction in the other direction which will be too much reliance upon government to solve every personal issue. Wisdom will find that sweet spot of competency and preparedness.
  5. Still on the government bit — I fully support the COVID relief bill which just passed through Congress. However, we need to start thinking right now of how we are going to pay for it. My recommendation is we tax hard and fast the tech industry, particularly digital communications. These were the platforms that made a killing during COVID-19 because we all had to use their products. While restaurants and airlines and cruise ships and cinemas and concerts were closed Amazon was making mad bank. We should tax them specifically for recovery. After that, something like a 1% added income tax for everyone until the national debt is paid. That’s my big idea.
  6. The most valuable workers in our nation are medical workers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, childcare/education workers, and of course police officers. When the pandemic hit, these were the people we needed the most to keep us fed, supplied, and safe. How many parents now realize the work their school does for their children? All of us, I bet. I would like for our pay structures to reflect this. I’m not against athletes, entertainers, and CEO’s making as much money as they can negotiate for, but I am against the pathetic salary structure of people we so desperately need. We will have the money to do this, because pent up demand is going to set the worldwide economy on soaring heights. Soaring.
  7. Our church faired very well through this and I adamantly believe our church is the greatest church in the world. We took a super-cautious approach from the beginning. Nevertheless, I will freely admit it has been the hardest year of ministry I have ever experienced. It has taken a toll on my soul. Some of it is the amount of work we had to do to reinvent almost everything we did in order to maintain ministry, but most of it is the very negative, hateful, and personal attacks people have made. The number of people who have hurt me is very small, but the cuts are deep because they are relational.
  8. As to church in general, I think the church in American, at least, coming out of this will be smaller, poorer, but stronger. Some people who got out of the habit or who have filled the gap with other things, will never come back. Some folks who are angry at cautious protocols will stop giving. That’s okay, but the Lord is always using the ebb and flow of life to separate the wheat and the chaff.
  9. I am thankful for Zoom and Facebook Live because it has helped us stay in touch and connected. However, we have learned in the pandemic that remote learning and digital classrooms are a poor substitute for in-person instruction. This is true of schools and churches where learning is key. My perception is these technologies will be helpful in the business world because transformation and learning is not the goal, but information exchanges.
  10. Many people who learned to work from home will never return full-time to an office environment. Many people who used to travel for work will see their travel diminished as they’ve learned to do it from home via conference call. This will change the workplace and our culture, particularly parenting. What we have to do is remember that until the modern world, this was normal. Everyone worked from home before the Industrial Revolution.
  11. We are not out of this yet. In Texas, 202 people died yesterday from COVID-19 and 1,477 in the United States. We need to keep vigilance until we have the necessary 70-80% of the population vaccinated. That means masks, distance, hand sanitizer, and caution until at least mid-April. The weather here is getting better, so we are moving our worship services outside again in two weeks. Why? Because it is safer. Ignore the politicians and instead remember the words of Jesus and love your neighbor. Don’t be selfish and don’t give into the fatigue. Now is the time to stay vigilant. Don’t be afraid, but exercise love and self-control.

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Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Saturday, 12 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18


The Text

6. And we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Messiah, avoid any brother or sister walking without discipline and not in accordance with the traditions you received from us.

7. For you yourselves know how necessary it is to imitate us, because we were not undisciplined among you. 

8. We ate no one’s free bread. Instead, we worked in labor and toil night and day to not be a burden to you.

9. Not that we do not have the right, but we gifted you an example in how to imitate us. 

10. Indeed, when we were with you, we commanded this to you; if anyone doesn’t want to work, neither shall he eat.

11. We hear about some among you who walk around idly working at nothing and bothering those who are working. 

12. To those doing these things, we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Messiah that they work quietly and eat their own bread.

13. Brothers and sisters, do not grow tired of doing what is right. 

14. If anyone does not obey our word in this letter, you must take note not to associate with him so that he may be ashamed.

15. You must not consider him an enemy but as a brother. 

16. Now may the Lord of peace give you his peace through all time and in all places. The Lord be with you.

17. This greeting is in my hand – Paul – it is the signature in every letter I write.

18. The grace of our Lord Jesus Messiah be with all of you.  


Commentary

The Thessalonian correspondences end with a shocking turn. Way back in the beginning of 1 Thessalonians (1:3), Paul commended their hard work ethos. It was one of the attributes he was thankful for and that helped the Thessalonians become so famous. But now, things have changed. Reading the text it becomes clear that A) Some people are not working. Paul calls this ‘undisciplined’ behavior. B) These people are begging for food (and money) from others who are working. C) The people who are not working are disturbing the labor of others. D) This behavior is contrary to what Paul taught and demonstrated when he was with them and it has made him angry they are using his words to justify their laziness. To show this frustration, verse 8 has two words that both mean work and taken together kind of mean something like “we worked our tails off” I modern vernacular. I used ‘labor’ and ‘toil’, but you get the drift.

The question for Bible students is, “What happened at Thessalonica?” The answer seems to be theological in nature. It appears that people had come to the conclusion that since Jesus was returning very soon then there was no sense or need at all to work and prepare for the future. It is the, “If I knew I was going to die next month, I’m going to quit my job and spend as much money as fast as I can” kind of thing. This is the plot to more than one book or movie.

Paul calls them out on this and tells them, in no uncertain terms, to knock it off. One of my favorite lines in all the Bible is found in verse 10: “If anyone does not want to work, neither shall he eat.” Within the community of faith there is zero tolerance for freeloaders. This is a different from helping the poor or needy. We are not talking about that situation or benevolent needs. What we are talking about are brothers and sisters who can work, should work, but instead choose not to and rely instead on others hard work.

I see two very practical applications here. The first is the obvious economic incentive that teaches us labor and work is good. Work is not bad, and we were made for meaningful productivity. The second, though, is a little more nuanced to get at. Dare I even say, it takes a little work. Just as a person who is lazy and uses theology to justify it is wrong, so too is it an abrogation of our commitments to not take work and care for things because we think the end is near. I’d like to point out the general feeling among most Christians in the 1970s and 80s was that Jesus would soon return and therefore, things like saving money for the future, environmental care, and debt spending were ignored. What did it matter if Jesus was coming soon?

Well, Jesus didn’t come.

To be sure, he will someday, but the result was ill prepared people, a decimated environment, and debt as a way of life.

Oh, you want another example? How about this one: Since God will take care of me and protect me (a theological excuse) it doesn’t matte whether I wear a face covering to protect others from COVID-19. After all, I don’t have a spirit of fear (theological excuse). Meanwhile, people are dying and hospitals are full. You see the connection here? A person’s lazy theological excuse which justifies their inaction has caused a great deal of labor and strife (even death) for someone else. This is the opposite of loving your neighbor as yourself.


Questions For Application

  1. Can you think of someone who has used theological justifications to not do something difficult?
  2. Would you work if your livelihood (food on the table paying bills) didn’t depend on it? If yes, what kind of work would yo want to do?
  3. Paul writes, ‘Do not grow tired of doing what is right.’ This pandemic has worn me down and worn me out — I find myself weary. If you are like me, what we do to maintain our spiritual stamina?

The Meteor Shower Is Free, The Lobotomy Will Cost You!

I wish I had the words to describe Joseph Courtemanche’s free Halloween themed short story, but I just don’t. There is a lot of science fiction to it with definite homage to H. G. Wells. There is also a kind of biting critique of bureaucracy that reminds me of Orwell to some extent. If this were movie, Mel Brooks would have to direct it.

All I can tell you for sure is that it is fun! Joseph takes the Fondue Writers Club back to its COVID roots with this one.

Click the Hubble Space Telescope to read “Little Ambassadors”. But I will warning you, don’t be frightened by the pistol on top of the Bible when you go to his page. Joe is one of the kindest people you could ever meet, and he moonlights as a Santa Claus.

If you click on one of the clouds instead of the telescope you’ll be
transported to a secret meeting of the Flat Earth Society

A Prayer For President Trump In His Sickness

Dear Lord, our leadership is in crisis. COVID-19 has shown no one is immune and that its reach is deep. I am heartbroken that our President and his wife have been diagnosed with C19. This poses a significant national security crisis as well as a threat to governmental continuity.

Please heal President Trump and Melania. Let their symptoms be mild and may their recovery be swift. May there be none of the long term health problems which many have suffered from. Protect Barron from infection and calm whatever worries or fears he may have regarding his parents.

Even as I make this prayer, I recognize there are White House personnel, staff, chefs, clerks and so many others who are at risk and do not receive the same quality of care or concern as significant personalities. I pray for them as well, that they would be secure and whole and free from the virus.

Give all off our leadership — elected, appointed, federal, and local — the wisdom to lead us through these days with caution and care. For reasons that are beyond me, it has been divisive. Heal our hearts as you heal our land, and let us see reason and grant us the courage to practice love toward one another. With your mighty hand, guide our scientists, doctors, and researchers in the development of effective vaccines as well as treatments. Protect all of our frontline workers such as ER nurses and doctors and many others who every day face the danger and crisis of C19. This disease afflicts the most vulnerable among us; please protect them and show us how to protect them.

In this prayer, I ask for healing. I also affirm, Lord, submission to your divine plan. Do with us that which brings you ultimate and most glory.

I ask these things in the power, authority, and name of Jesus Christ our Lord and King. Amen.