The Answers We Need vs The Answers We Want

This article is going around. Here is my first take. Wright is addressing some important problems in the Christian community. But his answer is anemic in my opinion. It is wholly untrue that “Christianity gives us NO answers.” It would be more accurate to say that Christianity gives us the answers we need, but not all, (and not always) the answers we want. And the answers don’t always remove the pain. If we study lament in the psalms we find the psalmists don’t just say “why” and “how long?” Indeed They do, and we need to be comfortable with that pain and uncertainty. But very often they turn to trusting the character of God and his promises and that is the opposite of saying we have “no answers.”

While trying to avoid rationalism, we shouldn’t ignore the many rational things God’s word says about suffering, and still make room for the mystery and pain of unanswered questions.

 

Source: Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus | Time 

It’s not supposed to

The Ignorant Math of “Saving Just One Life.”

New York governor Cuomo recently spoke and justified his actions in putting the whole state on lock down:  “All this is worth it if saves one life.”  That approach seems laudable and the logic bulletproof. Who wouldn’t want to save a life?  But in reality, this approach is sentimental and displays some ignorance about how the world actually works. Economist Thomas Sowell said, “in the real world there are no solutions, only tradeoffs.”   In the real world, taking major action in one area effects change in other areas. My concern here is not to evaluate the decisions of the governor, but rather this logic, which I believe is dangerous.  Many of his decisions are good and justified. So please don’t hear this as a criticism of the shut down orders. But across the country this kind of thinking is leading some officials to ignore (or justify) the damaging implications of policy decisions as if we are playing a game with a simple scoreboard consisting of coronavirus deaths.

This concept of tradeoffs is fairly obvious in other areas. When the police pursue a deadly criminal in a high speed chase in order to keep the public safe from a dangerous criminal they put the public at risk in other ways (10,000 injuries and 321 fatalities in 2002) Widespread use of mammograms to detect breast cancer has led to an estimated 30% over diagnosis of the cancer, and all the problems that come with that diagnosis.  The real word is not a simple financial ledger with one column measured in coronavirus deaths.  It is more like a teeter totter where moving one side up or down affects the other side. 

As an example, following the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001 many Americans opted to drive instead of fly on commercial airlines. The reason was presumably fear. Airplanes can get hijacked. Driving a car would seem to be safer. But it wasn’t.  Use of air travel by Americans fell 12-20% in the year following the attacks, while automobile deaths increased around 1,595.  That number is about half the number that died in the terror attacks. Americans unknowingly embraced the real danger of automobile accidents to avoid the potential danger of terrorist attacks. The tradeoff was there, but not as obvious as those who died in the twin towers. 

In another example this author attempts to track “indirect deaths” from the Japanese earthquake in 2011. “Following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which left more than 18,000 dead or unaccounted for, roughly 3,700 people have been recognized as victims of indirect death, including 2,250 in Fukushima Prefecture, where large numbers of people were forced to move from one evacuation shelter to another due to the radioactive fallout from the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.” The choice to move out of earthquake damaged buildings into shelters took lives as well. 

These kinds of numbers are the domain of public health and epidemiology. However, panic and widespread fear can distort our perceptions of reality. Fear can make us focus on one danger so intensely that we don’t see the speeding car that is about to hit us.

The massive an unprecedented steps we are taking to save lives from the coronavirus may indeed reduce deaths in this one area (and we should pursue that), but we should not be ignorant or indifferent to the impact of our actions.  It may end up that the response to the coronavirus is the largest and most coordinated disaster in US history.  Bringing entire cultural, political, economic, and healthcare ecosystems to a halt will cost lives as well. 

In my estimation this is an important part of the equation that we are not talking about. After listening to a podcast with Dr Marty Makary a public health expert from Johns Hopkins, I was concerned that the tradeoffs were given very little consideration. To be fair, he admitted that half of Americans have less than $400 cash available. This is far less than a person needs to purchase 3 months worth of food (his recommendation) to allow one to shelter in place.  Experts are asking us to deliberately cause one very certain disaster in order to avoid another very scary potential one based on the projections of experts.   We cannot carefully make these decisions without seeing the cost on both sides.   

Here are some areas where there will be a price to pay in lives. I have posed them as questions:

What is the life/health impact of shutting down all nonemergency medical and dental care for months? I worked in EMS as a paramedic in Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties from 1995 to 2006. We ran emergency calls at doctor’s offices constantly. People come in for routine care only to find out they had a serious problem. What would happen if we shut down the regular non-emergency healthcare of for the whole nation (330 million people)?   And this is exactly what has already happened in California.  The shelter in place order that was issued affected around 23 counties without a confirmed case of the virus at the time of the order. 

What is the health impact of a potential worldwide depression/recession on personal health insurance, stress, and nutrition?  

What is the health impact of millions people losing their jobs, retirement savings & homes? Especially among the lower income poor and self employed?   This can lead to huge amounts of stress and all the poor outcomes that come with it (addiction, PTSD related to disaster, suicide). 

What is the health impact of people staying away or delaying care from the ER for serious illnesses out of fear of infection? (This has been happening in our town) A person with an infected appendix or gall bladder that waits an additional 12 hours to get help can become much worse off. 

What is the impact on pregnancy stress from our response on maternal and newborn health in pregnancy?  It is known that miscarriages, premature births and neonatal deaths all go up in time of national disaster. This can be related to stress and/or women not getting routine preventive care.  This article discusses the effects after hurricane Sandy.

This 2015 article suggests 4.4% loss of male fetuses (which are more sensitive to stress) following the Taiwan earthquake. 

I want our government officials to take action. But let’s not pretend that the only thing that matters is saving lives from Coronavirus. There is much more going on here.  We need leaders that can see and acknowledge the whole situation, including the devastating impact of their own policies.

A Question about "Overreaction" to the Coronavirus


The experts are telling us that massive numbers (25 million in California alone according to governor Newsome) will be infected and a huge percentage (a million and a half according to NIH director) will become critically ill. They are saying that this part is unstoppable. The current measures are not designed to keep you from getting the virus or getting critically ill, but to keep you from getting infected right now so that we don’t run out of ventilators. That is what flattening the curve is all about. Sorry if you didn’t understand that. It is only this level of fear that would make us willing to go along with the actions we are taking that are unprecedented in global human history.

None of us want to under-react. But over reacting is not benign, just wait and see.

Some are saying we won’t be able to tell if we are overreacting. Not true, we just look at what happens in the coming months. Compare what happens with what the experts said will certainly come to pass. We should NOT look at the death rate if it ends up being low, but at the dimensions of the epidemic that the experts say is unstoppable, the elements we can only delay.

A Bad Definition of Racism

Source: How you define racism may stop you from seeing it where it exists | Metro News

In my opinion the ideas in this article are a huge part of the problem in the current conversation about race and racism. “How you define racism may keep you from seeing it” or it may make you see it everywhere. Even when it doesn’t exist. This article reflects a hugely political and ideological perspective. And I don’t concede these concepts or definitions. I think true Justice means we have one standard that applies to everyone, not different standards based on alleged “power dynamics.”

BTW, it’s a cute fallacy to suggest that disagreeing with these concepts is proof of racism.

The approach outlined in this article that defines racism via power dynamics leads to the idea that only whites can be racist, and that the things they do are racist by definition, almost like original sin. As a Christian I disagree with this definition because I think the Bible’s is better and closer to the one they are trying to bury.

Further, this definition inevitably leads to assuming the worst of other people, especially their motives. And it results in something being called racist when a white person does it but not when a minority does it.  That is a double standard by definition.  For instance I have heard that when a white person asks a black person if they work at a store, it is a form of microaggression because it assumes they are servants. That assumption is ridiculous. That MIGHT be true. But it also might be true that someone needs help. Just last month I was at home depot and a black man asked me if I worked there and if I could help him find something. Inside I thought about this concept of power dynamics and laughed at the idea that his question was some kind of insult to me.  I did not consider it a compliment or an insult. It was just a case of someone trying to find something they need. I politely said I didn’t work here but thought the items he was looking for were on such and such an aisle because I had passed by them. We both smiled. He thanked me and we carried on. I guess I was dressed like one of their employees. This kind of thing has happened to me many times in a variety of stores and there is no benefit to trying to impute some sinister motive.

Love means you don’t assume the worst possible motive for a person’s actions, especially when they aren’t overtly evil. And that is what this approach does. It assumes that all white people are unconsciously trying to exert their power over minorities.  I believe that this assumption itself is actually an unloving and inaccurate stereotype that is guilty of doing the exact thing it is claims to remedy. By the way, some white people are trying to intimidate or impose their will on minorities. And some minorities are trying to do the same thing to white folks. And prideful acts, malice, or oppression are wrong no matter who is doing it.

I do agree that some of the things mentioned in this article can be hurtful or abusive and are worth discussing. But there is one standard for people from minority and majority cultures.  And that standard is love and humility.

 

 

 

The Not-so-secret Secret to Job Success

I am recently reminded of a growing work ethic problem. There are a number of workers (and unemployed people) that don’t understand basic issues of responsibility and reliability. It seems that simply showing up is becoming  a problem.. I have had several recent conversations with employers that have highlighted this.
A friend who is a director of a non-profit that works with children is trying to hire an entry level worker, and he pays several dollars an hour more than comparable jobs.  9 people submitted resumes, but none of them have returned his requests for interviews, or showed up for the interview once it was scheduled.
A friend who runs a large dental practice said it is very difficult to find reliable office help. He said he routinely has to hire 10 people in order to find 2 that will be able to maintain employment. The “no call/no show” is a common problem. People just don’t come to work, and they don’t call with warning or explanation.
Many years ago I was a training officer at an ambulance company and worked with new hires.  The majority of people (most of them younger) who were fired, lost their job because of chronic attendance/tardiness (NOT family or medical issues) and other simple issues like wearing the proper uniform. (And the uniforms were provided by a laundry service)   These were NOT entry level employees, but folks with years of education and licenses.
I also worked as an externship coordinator at a vocational school. Same story. The major complaints from potential employers (clinics, doctor’s office managers, etc) had little to do with technical skills and everything to do with attendance, attitude, staying off your cell phone at work, avoiding drama, etc. Almost all these problems involved attitude and life skills that don’t cost anything in terms of education or accomplishments.
If you want to bypass 80% of the competition in the workforce… if you want to keep a steady job… if you want to promote and be given more responsibility the first steps are simple: Show up on time, be ready to work, and do your job without having a babysitter.  Hard work covers a multitude of sins in the work place.

A Few Observations About The Immigration Conversation

How does the US stack up against other countries when it comes to welcoming immigrants? The answer might surprise you.

“The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world. Today, more than 40 million people living in the U.S. were born in another country, accounting for about one-fifth of the world’s migrants in 2017. The population of immigrants is also very diverse, with just about every country in the world represented among U.S. immigrants.” (Source Pew, see below) The total number From the center for immigration studies is 46.5 million.

About 77% of all immigrants living in the US have been welcomed here legally.

“Since 1965, when U.S. immigration laws replaced a national quota system, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. has more than quadrupled.”

Here are some of my thoughts:

I think this reality is important for the conversation about immigration, if we can even use the word conversation. it seems to be dominated by those on both fringes that are shouting the loudest. It is important because The US has been more inviting to immigrants than any other country on earth, and to suggest otherwise is to ignore the facts. And it is also important because too often this conversation is used as a political tool with little consideration for real people. I am really thankful that our country has been so inviting to so many people all over the world.

I think these numbers also mean it is reasonable (and necessary) to talk about ways that immigration affects infrastructure, economy, the legal system, etc. It does little good to immigrants (new or old) to live in a broken system.

Think of this, more folks have immigrated to the US in recent decades than the entire population of the state of California. These new people depend on the presence of adequate roads, schools, available housing (California is already estimated to be 3 million homes short by 2025), hospitals, etc. I don’t have all the answers, I actually have far more questions than answers. But I am suspicious of anyone who doesn’t address these kinds of issues in the discussion about immigration. I also have a number of great friends who are not here legally, many brought here as children and they are great, productive, law abiding citizens, exactly the kind of people we want to build our society upon. I want there to be a better pathway for them to stay here legally. But I also know that some criminals try to leverage the system and that is frustrating for all. I don’t want people to be needlessly turned away who are seeking to immigrate, but I also don’t want immigrants exploited by people who will take advantage of them. All of this makes me feel that folks who offer simplistic solutions are out of touch.

Further, the US isn’t the savior of the world. Some voices in the conversation act like the US is the only hope for immigrants and refugees. Not so. I love my country but it is only one of many great places to live in the world.
Please no mean-spiritedness in the discussion.

Source: Key findings about U.S. immigrants | Pew Research Center

How To Be A Super Guest

This is a guest post from my wife, or “April’s pathetic rant on the other side of hospitality.”

It’s not pathetic, but we just joke around like that:

wreath from etsy

Did you know that hospitality is a two-way street? We are often encouraged to open our homes and hearts to others and rightly so. We recently had a large group of friends over and I’d love to share what they did that made me want to be hospitable every day to people like these:

 

How to be a Super Guest? It’s EASY!

Verbalize your gratitude to your host. Be specific and sincere, but not syrupy.

Offer to help (prep, serving, cleaning up). You’ll often be refused but it’s worth a shot!

BE INTERESTED and INTERESTING. Your hosts want to engage you, not entertain you.

ASK your hosts about what you see around you. Our homes are our inner sanctuaries and you can tell a lot about your hosts by their homes. Look around and take interest in what you see: Their cool photo collection, cooking skills, their obvious Ikea addiction, antique rocker, half-done remodel, their kids, HAM radio, track trophies, goldfish, Deer heads, gourmet coffee station, Raiders Shrine, Congressional Medal of Honor, WHATEVER. Ask your host about them (Our mammoth metal tuna fish tends to be a conversation starter)…

Be COMPLIMENTARY not CRITICAL: Yes, this is for all you stereotypical Mothers-In-Law! Ignore the laundry pile, they already know about it. (better yet, joke about it being smaller than yours) and focus on the houseplants or the new nursery, or the pretty sunlight in their apartment.

Bring your kids, but keep an eye on them, and allow them to explore in limited ways. This is a great time for kids to learn how to be guests too. (I seriously love kids, but our place is a House Of Horrors for them; leaning mirrors everywhere). They can learn that closed doors stay closed. That when they break something they can say ‘sorry’ and move on (this is inevitable so hosts, don’t be so attached to your stuff!). And can I just mention here that there’s nothing so sweet as little kids all saying goodbye with sweet words or waves or hugs? THE BEST.

Return the Favor: Let people into your world too 🙂

 

*************

Check out the cool wreath on Etsy.

 

 

 

“I Don’t Believe In God But I Miss Him”

This morning during my sermon I quoted this line by Julian Barnes, the author who wrote a book about living and dying as an atheist.

The whole interview is worth reading, but I pasted several questions that I felt were the most insightful. The only thing I know about him is from this interview, but based on this he appears to be the kind of thinking atheist that engages me as a  respectful, honest about his own struggles, and without venom that dismisses and insults anyone who disagrees with him.

Note his beautiful description of the value of a Christian belief in the after life, the nature of saints and martyrs, and his criticism of America. Ideas to chew on.

“Q: Your first line is, “I don’t believe in God but I miss him.”

A: That’s right, yes. I just found myself saying that when I was on some public stage and someone said, “Do you believe in God?” and that was my instant response, and it was one that on reflection I thought was true. I grew up in a family where, probably from the point when my grandmother lost her Methodist faith and became a Communist—or socialist—nearly, oh, 90 years ago, there hasn’t been anything that you would call faith in the family, let alone church attendance. But, you know, when a great story ends I think we all miss it, and it was a great story. There were aspects of it that leave a sense of want. One is that if life is a mere prelude or preparation for something else, then life becomes both more trivial and more important, and if not then we can grow to our full height but that height is comparatively dwarfish. If this is all there is and this is all we are then it’s a bit disappointing.

Q: You do talk about various writers and friends contemplating death and contemplating heaven, and I can’t recall one depiction of heaven being the least appealing.

A: Well, you sound a bit like my brother. I regard myself as a rationalist, but my brother—who’s spent his life teaching ancient philosophy—is a super-rationalist and makes me seem sloppy and barely reasonable, and so part of the book is a friendly fraternal argument with my brother. He says, “I’d hate to have to spend eternity in the presence of saints and martyrs,” and I say, “Well, actually, saints weren’t just pious, boring fellows. They were often at the cutting edge of social change and they had often very interesting deaths, as well. And in medieval times they’re probably some of the most intelligent, sophisticated people on the earth. After all, Dom Pérignon—after whom the champagne is named—was a monk.” I don’t see why you should think that heaven must be infinitely boring.

Q: You write elsewhere that we have replaced our traditional ideas of heaven with a secular, modern heaven of self-ful?llment, where it all comes down to development of the personality and having a high-status job and pursuing material goods, which sounds, relative to what you’ve described, rather grim.

A: I think as modern society has become more secular we sell ourselves a sort of junior version of paradise. We too often need someone else to define what it is that we want, and in the old days religion did that for us, and nowadays it’s multinational corporations trying to sell us stuff, or tone our bodies, or make us forget about death, so I don’t think it’s a substantial improvement.”

Source: Maclean’s Interview: Julian Barnes – Macleans.ca

Personality Profiles

I think that personality profiles like the Myers – Briggs inventory can be very helpful.

They have helped me to understand myself and others better and grow in thoughtfulness.

But they can also be abused.

Please don’t use your personality label as permission to see yourself as a victim, to complain that no one understands you, as an excuse for moral failures, to make this the unattainable standard for what it means to love you, or to blame the world for not treating you as your particular label requires.

Frustrated By The Fringes On the 4th

flag in the clowds

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July this year, I have some anxiety about the polarized conversations that are coming, especially on social media. I feel like the last few years have seen two groups shouting at each other on account of this holiday. These groups may have been the fringe in the past, but they seem to be gaining ground. And the message of both sides leave me frustrated.

There are those with an irrational love of America that keeps them from acknowledging her faults, both past and present. These folks are offended by any suggestion that America has blood on her hands or mud on her face.  These folks are often very patriotic, and tend to whitewash history. Many of them confuse Christianity with America. They view any criticism of the U.S. and her history as a stab at all the brave soldiers who defended our country.  It is sometimes hard to take this group seriously, but they should not be ignored, as our last election revealed.

On the other hand there are a growing number with an irrational hatred of America that can only see her faults. They are so focused on fighting the nationalist zeal of the first group that they can only see her failings.  They simmer in the sins of the past (and their effects in the present) to such an extent that it blinds them to her virtues. They don’t see bad groups of people doing bad things contrary to our written values, as happens in every country in history.  They consider the worst elements of our country to be her essence.  This group can’t appreciate that the principles of our republic, while imperfectly applied (an understatement), have at least provided the possibility of excising her cancer. After all, history tells us that without freedom of speech you can’t criticize such a powerful government without bloodshed. Many in this group would like to see America as we know it destroyed and replaced.

I believe there is another position, and I would like to strive to attain to it.  I am probably too idealistic.  It is a position as a Christian where my highest loyalty is NOT to my country. Only Jesus is Lord. I think this allows me to be a true patriot, one that can love my country and yet honestly point out her failings. And one that allows me to condemn her sins precisely because I love the virtues of freedom and equality under the law. I would also like to be one that can see her faults and failures in full color, and yet avoid hating her people and her principles.  We don’t have to choose between ignoring America’s vices and loving her virtues. We don’t have to choose between being proud of our country and ashamed (often at the same time) of the many times she has missed the mark.

I love America, not because she is flawless or even the greatest country ever, but because she is my home. I do love the American experiment of democracy and freedom. I love her with all her faults, but I don’t love her supremely.  I ache for a day when she will shed the rest of her sins and trade them for something better.  I am heartbroken that the dreams of America have been elusive to so many, and I long for better days.

So I offer this for your consideration: The only way to love your country and not be corrupted by that love, is to have a higher and better love.

Happy 4th of July.