M*A*S*H

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
– Ephesians 6:12

This is the second post of thoughts on the responsibility of Christians in what is undoubtedly the roughest year of my life time — if you haven’t already, read part one first. We live in a rural “red” neighborhood, surrounded by Trump signs, and we really have no choice but to try to reconcile the goodness we see in our neighbors, with the man most of them want for President. Its really challenging, because by no objective measure can Trump be called a good person.

Love

Most of those we know who vote for him are not apologists — they acknowledge his faults, but maintain that his party is closest to their values. Whether those party’s values are most like Christ is debatable, but as someone who can’t vote, I can have empathy for the position they’re in. And I guess that’s where I’d like to start off:

Both sides will tell you they’re not being understood; they’ll bemoan the death of nuance in political conversation (even as their chosen leaders shout each other down). Many people from both ends of the political spectrum are capable of reasonable conversation, and of hearing the other’s viewpoint respectfully — but the national discourse obscures that rationality, the two-party system drives people to increasing polarization, and cognitive dissonance forces people to defend their choice rabidly. Mark 12:31 says “Love your neighbor as yourself” — a statement that requires you to feel for someone else; to understand their context, their fears and needs, their ideals and their goals. Empathy starts with acknowledging the validity of another’s viewpoint… even if you don’t agree with it.

Its tough for me to say this, and even tougher to do it, but for me, this means that it is counter-productive to write-off anyone with a Trump flag as an ignorant racist idiot (despite Trump’s gleeful courting of ignorant racist idiots.) Its also means that it is neither true, nor reasonable, for Christians to claim that anyone who votes for Biden is voting to kill babies. Every issue, idea and problem that a country is facing cannot be sorted into one of two buckets. And an earnest voter, forced to stack rank the issues, then choose a candidate that they hope and pray will aggregate to some over all-improvement, deserves respect, empathy and consideration.

If you’re an American and you earnestly believe that a vote for Trump has the most potential for Christ-like outcomes, this Canadian accepts you.
However, if you’re an American, driving in a Trump parade, shouting “Black Lives Don’t Matter”, then even the most enlightened person has grounds to condemn you. And that brings me to my next point.

Humility

If you have arrived at the decision that Trump is the best candidate to represent you on Christian issues, you must realize that you have chosen a man who is nothing like our Savior, that most of his personal positions are not found in the Bible, and that your rational is, at best, a matter of faith: you’re putting your faith in a deeply flawed human being on top of the faith that God’s providence will work good through that man’s sin. If you can get there, and keep your footing on that wobbly ground, then fine — but you don’t get to attack others who don’t share your belief system, haven’t rationalized this dumpster fire the same way as you, and who have legitimate complaints and fears about the outcome.

The issues on which Conservatives Christians are willing to extend themselves beyond science, politics or the general consensus are, by definition, issues of faith. Positions on how the earth was created, when life begins, how to help others find fulfillment and satisfaction in life — they can be looked at with a scientific lens, but for most of us, they’re going to boil down to what we believe. The Bible tells us that some people are not going to believe what we do, and while that sets us apart, it also gives us a responsibility — not to judge, but to love. If an omniscient God can love a sinful human, then what makes us think that we, as sinful humans, are entitled to hate other sinful humans?

Your leap of faith is not a reason to spite your neighbor. Your political party does not represent your Savior.

Reason

And finally, brothers and sisters, while we do believe there is a war going on, it is not a war against elected representatives, or your neighbor who votes for the other political party. The war is a spiritual one, and the lost are not foot soldiers for the devil — they are casualties of that war. When poor black communities cry out for justice, and your response is to condemn their sense of entitlement, you are on the wrong side of the spiritual battle. When women tell us dudes that their needs aren’t being represented in our systems, and your response is to accuse them of murder, then you are not practicing wisdom from above.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the world’s solutions are necessarily the right ones — but to shut down the conversation and brush aside all other perspectives as just being sinful, is to hypocritically claim that your faith automatically makes you right on every issue. Turns out Christians have a history of being wrong on important issues that they thought the Bible spoke to, but actually didn’t. Christians justified racism by saying black people were descended from Ham, and thus cursed — a horribly vile and sinful perspective that has caused more than a few centuries of problems. We put God-fearing but curious scientists in jail because their findings threatened our very human and very flawed understanding of Scripture…

Christianity does not grant us omniscience. It doesn’t even guarantee reason — but our Savior does call us to it.

So What is a Christian’s Role?

When I was young, my parents used to sneak off and watch a show called M*A*S*H. I didn’t know what it was about (although the theme song is permanently implanted in my brain) but my parents sure seemed to love it. As a parent now I understand they probably mostly just needed a few moments of grown-up humor, and a respite from the constant demands of young children. Recently, we started watching it ourselves — mostly for the same reasons.

The main characters in M*A*S*H are in a war — the Korean war, which continues to be a quagmire for the US even to this day. Set in a time of political upheaval, huge clashes between the American left and right, and generational tumult that largely pointed to a younger, more liberal voting block as being responsible for the moral decay of USA, M*A*S*H is interesting not because of the now-very-mild adult humor, but because of the responsibility of the main characters…

Regardless of what was happening in America, or the politics of the war, or the side a particular combatant was aligned with, when a wounded person arrived at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the men and women of the unit dropped what they were doing to fight for the life and dignity of that human being. Personal opinions (or shenanigans) aside, they acted in a way that recognized the Imago Dei of every fallen solider.

Christians, this is us! We are in a war — but we know how it ends! And in this war, we are not called to be soldiers, we are called to be doctors. Our love for the lost does not permit any attack on their position. Our mercy for those in need does not allow us to label someone else as “other” or to treat them un-kindly. We don’t have to agree with them, we don’t have to condone sin, but we must be willing to lay down our opinions, our preferences, our fears, our projections of guilt — because our Savior laid down His life for ours, when we were the foulest of sinners. And even then, He did not condemn us.

There was a time when Christians were famous because of our mercy. There was a time when a hospital was a Christian ministry, when the greatest centers of socialized education were Christian, when caring for the poor was understood to be a Christian vocation. If your interpretation of the Bible is that those things are not the government’s responsibility, then show the world an alternative! Show the world that Christian love puts others first.

Maybe the world would be more interested in our ideas if we took the Trump signs off our lawns, and became known in our communities as people who love and serve others again.

A Hot Mess Inside a Dumpster Fire Inside a Train Wreck

The biggest question I’ve been wrestling with for this whole crazy 2020 is: what is a Christian’s responsibility right now?

We’re supposed to be salt and light. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. We’re supposed to care for the “least of these.” We’re supposed to take care of orphans and widows. All that would suggest we should be pretty broken hearted about a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands. White Christians should be pretty upset when we hear our black neighbors telling us they feel disenfranchised and abused by our systems. We should feel sorrow for immigrant children taken from their parents and locked in cages. All of these reactions seem to me to reflect the heart of a Savior who laid down his life for people who rejected Him.

And if all that seems obvious to you, then can you explain why Donald Trump is the man chosen to represent the “Christian right” in this “Christian” nation? Cause I can’t…

But we live here, and I have no choice but to try, because if a horrible man like Trump represents me, then there must be some justification for it – and believe me, people are working hard at it. Every time I post something about what a dumpster fire Trump’s America is becoming, some helpful Conservative pops up to explain to me why either A) Trump is really a good person, and its just the media making him out to be horrible, or B) Trump is a bad person, but God is using him for His own good purposes, so we need to support the President anyway.

Never mind that I can’t vote, and have no say in what happens in November, some Republicans feel really, really obligated to convince others that Trump isn’t the worst human being to ever make a mockery of a Presidential debate. So let me try to read it back to you – and then, for the sake of my own sanity, and despite being totally impotent on the matter, I’ll follow up with a second post on what I think we should be doing…

Argument #1 – Morality is the Only Thing We Can Legislate

Christians are called to work toward God’s Justice (which is different than “social justice.”) In this theory, we have an obligation to engage in secular government in order to bring about outcomes that are more like how God would want a nation to run. We recognize that this is a fallen world and that any outcome will be imperfect, so we often have to choose the “lesser of two evils” and continue to work toward gradual improvement. Issues like abortion, Israel and the Middle East, the definition of marriage, and for some reason, the right to carry a gun, all need to be protected, to keep secular society from slipping away from being Godly.

This argument is problematic, because:

A new game show for 2020 where American’s get to choose the Best Awful!

This doesn’t mean advocates of this argument are wrong. Certainly any life created in the image of God should be considered sacred – although the Bible isn’t clear on when the image-imparting event occurs during gestation. Certainly we should desire an end to strife in the Middle East. Certainly a family unit is an important part of society and clearly special to God. And certainly there’s some Biblical justification for defending, or providing for, yourself and your family. But there’s no real evidence that Trump cares much about these things – we’ll give him points for some progress in the Middle East, but its laughable to consider a man who hires prostitutes to pee on him, has been married 3 times, and courts violent hate groups as his base, is God’s chosen representative for these “Christian” issues.

Argument #2 – Onward Christian Soldier

The second argument is blatantly evident in Fox News, and other conservative media bylines: we’re in a war. There’s a “war on Christmas”, it’s “time to stand up for our rights” and we’re “fighting for our lives!” Any move toward socialism is an outright attack not just on democracy, but also on our faith, and it’s our job to fight back. Masks during a pandemic are really just the first wave in a new assault on Christianity that seeks to close our churches forever, and if we don’t fight now, our children are doomed to live in a Godless communist society. And this argument drives me nuts for a bunch of reasons:

  • First of all, Jesus was not a warrior, nor did He ask His disciples or followers to become warriors. Jesus chose to be born into government oppression, the early church met in secret, and when the apostles “stood up” for their faith, it wasn’t by demanding that fellow believers fight for them – it was by patiently enduring hardship, devotedly writing letters from prison, and dying for their faith (not killing for it!)
  • Second, Jesus actually promised that we would be persecuted, and that such persecution would get worse – but at no time did He tell us that we could change that! In fact, not only did He tell us not to fight back, He proclaimed that the battle was already won, and that as believers all we need to do is wait it out – and his followers counted it all joy!
  • Third, there are many countries that are more socialist than America – many of them rank higher on the freedom index than the US of A, and God isn’t dead in a single one of them. Canada is a great country, with lots of government services, lots of freedom, and a vibrant Christian community, that has launched some truly impactful missionaries and ministries into the world. There’s no evidence that God is afraid of a progressive President – why are we?

Argument #3 – The Constitution is God’s Other Scripture

OK, Americans who are more invested in the Constitution and the history of this great nation than I am have made some progress with me here. The founding principles of these United States are really good ones, the founding fathers were mostly pretty good dudes, and while they left some stuff out (like that whole slavery thing, and that part about women being people too), they did include a mechanism to address their blind spots, and historically, this country has been a pretty great one. We should absolutely not rush into changing those original intents just for the sake of change. A run-away left-wing would probably do some damage eventually, so if the three branches of government are balanced with a variety of viewpoints, and its leaders are committed to due process, legal understanding, and a diligent interpretation and application of the Constitution, then this country would be functioning a lot better.

But then things start to get a little crazy. “I’ve got my Bible in one pocket, and the Constitution in the other” is the kind of idolatry I’m talking about. In the Old Testament, God gave real specific instructions to the nation of Israel on how it should be run – based on laws, and frankly, some accommodation for the historical reality in which they found themselves. Then He took the nation of Israel apart, because they couldn’t get it right, sent His Son to fulfill the law, and left us with instructions on how to live our lives and care for our families and communities. In effect, He said, my people are now the Church – and this country you call home doesn’t figure much into the plan. We are sojourners in a foreign land, and as such, the two key commandments for us to live by are: love God, and love your neighbor. The United States doesn’t appear in the Bible, there will be no “Americans” in heaven, and God didn’t actually write, or inspire, the Constitution. It’s a human document, modified plenty of times, and while a decent human creation, its not actually Scripture.

Citizens should vote. There are some believers who are called to serve in government – He’s gifted us all in different ways, and we honor Him by doing those jobs well, and applying Biblical principles to our decisions within those roles. This is admirable — and I get that its pretty difficult right now. But we aren’t supposed to be building or fighting for a Christian nation, we’re supposed to be loving our neighbors. Donald Trump doesn’t love his neighbor – he mostly just loves Donald Trump.

Within a democracy, there will be different interpretations of what policies are most loving; rational debate can be had. Is job creation more important than social programs for helping the down trodden? Does reducing taxes create more opportunities for people to live happy lives, or do social safety nets give people a better sense of security? Should an armed police department respond to every incident? These are great questions! Let’s have those debates, do some studies, and try to figure it out! But claiming the Bible always sides with your political party is not only wrong, it is putting something else before God.

So if God isn’t a Republican, Trump isn’t a Christian, and voting for him isn’t going to make this nation more Christ-like, then what is a believer supposed to do? Well, I have some thoughts, but I guess those will have to wait for part two

One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear

One of the president’s more ridiculous statements in February — one that looked even stupider a few weeks later as we began locking down — has become something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Not, of course, because we’ve beat the coronavirus, but because as a nation we decided it wasn’t a thing any more. Unable to follow the pattern of other countries that have done a good job of managing the pandemic, Americans quickly decided the bigger threat was to their individual rights, and that anyone with the education or authority (elected or otherwise) to give them guidance during a pandemic was actually the enemy.

In the battle to protect their rights, the collateral damage comes in the form of over 100,000 of their neighbors who died as a direct, or indirect, result of the dangerous spread of Covid-19. So be it, we’ve decided: I’ll do what’s right for me, that’s what being an American means!

I have a whole other draft post of some of the astoundingly ridiculous parts of being in America right now, but I’ve decided those won’t help. While the country that voted for the border wall guy is effectively locked out of visiting most other countries (including our home country that has no interest in seeing more Americans right now) life actually does go on. And the reality we’re in is one we just have to live with. The US is uninterested in participating in global efforts to manage the virus, because no one tells Americans what to do — not other Americans, and especially not the World Health Organization. And so we have to figure out how to live with this virus as a daily reality. A reality that will continue at least until we have a vaccine, but maybe longer, since we don’t trust vaccines either

Of course, opinions on the actual risk fall fairly precisely on political lines. And since its an election year, all data made available to us is filtered through one of two lenses. If you’re on the left, the pandemic must be the worst thing that ever happened because Trump’s mismanagement of it should impact his re-election chances. If you’re on the right, the pandemic has to be overblown, because if it really was a problem, obviously Trump would be doing a better job. Now, go ahead and apply this logic to everything else going on:

Masks Pose a Risk to My Health

If you’re on the left, you wear a mask while you’re alone in your car, because the virus is everywhere and we should all live in fear.
If you’re on the right, you wear a sign like this around your neck, because masks are a form of government oppression.

If you’re on the left, the peaceful protests against systemic racism only turn violent when jack-booted storm troopers appear and start shooting gentle hippies that were singing Kumbaya before they got attacked.
If you’re on the right, Antifa terrorists were burning American cities to the ground before Trump’s heroic defenders of Christian values arrived to save the day.

But what if I told you that you could be anti-racist, without looting local businesses? Or that you could support your local police department, but still want bad cops to go to jail?
What if I told you that practicing basic precautions like wearing a mask, or being thoughtful about interactions with those around you that might be more vulnerable, would allow your society to resume with a reasonable degree of normalcy?

Well, I could tell you those things… but since they don’t align with one of the two available political positions, you probably wouldn’t listen. It is an election year, after all, and any information that doesn’t affirm your worldview is irrelevant. You can hardly blame Americans — its hard to remember a time where politicians didn’t use fear of the “other” to win elections.

It turns out, in talking to individuals from both sides of the Covid debate (because somehow reality is up for debate), one thing we can all agree on is that we’re not getting good information. I’ve been tracking stats for our county, and the neighboring, more populous county, all summer. The raw data is extremely limited — and all other information comes with a political spin. The CDC has failed — not because its not a rigorous scientific organization, but because it doesn’t know how to disseminate information to the American public. Opinion wins hearts because that’s all we’re offered on the news. Most people I’ve talked to, regardless of political viewpoint, are actually hungry for good data, and willing to talk reasonably about what little we have.

I find neither the leftist fear-based view of the pandemic, nor the right’s determination to pretend it isn’t real, to be satisfying. I’d much rather take a data-driven approach to evaluating risk — for myself, my family and my neighbors. And actually, most people I talk to individually are similarly reasonable. Its just that the political discourse in this country drives groups to extremes…

Here’s what I’m fairly confident in for our family, given the data we’ve collected recently:

First, it is possible to get home to Canada. Nic and the kids spent a little under three weeks there, and although it was challenging, there isn’t an actual border wall — just an abundance of caution. Canada requires two-full weeks of complete isolation for anyone entering the country, but allows travel for essential purposes — which includes “reuniting with family”. Because they would be staying in a camper on Nic’s parent’s property, and complete isolation would be challenging, we all self-isolated at home in the States for a week prior to their trip. We then planned a route home with emergency bathroom spots identified where they wouldn’t encounter other people (trails, parks and cemeteries with lots of trees). Fortunately the stops weren’t needed. The border crossing was facilitated by an App-based form they filled out before they left home, that identified where they would be isolating, how they would get groceries, and what numbers they could be contacted at by the government to confirm their conformity to the plan. The camper was spacious and modern, and they had access to the pool and the Internet during their quarantine.
I remained in the US as the “anchor” — and because we couldn’t risk being refused re-entry to the States and losing my job. On the way back they were “reuniting” with me, and had no issues.

Thank you to Nicole’s family for providing a comfortable quarantine spot!

Second, we live in a county where the risk is low. Although compliance with the mask mandate probably hovers around 50% (we have lots of those “don’t tread on me” Americans near us), the population is not dense, and there are few large gathering areas. Since data was made available in March, only 0.7% of the county has been impacted, and less than 50 people have died with Covid. Add to that the new information we’ve just gotten about co-morbidity (and factor in common co-morbidities, like obesity) and its less than 0.05% of our population that has died from this since it arrived. I update my spreadsheet daily, and its been 15 days since I had to update the “deaths” column — I’m sad when I do have to change that value, and I pray for those families, but the data-based reality is that 46 deaths since March is not much.

From my own spreadsheet, tracking cases in our county using raw data

That said, the next county over, which includes the city of Cleveland, has very different numbers. 4% of their (much larger) population has been impacted, there are about 140 news cases a day on average, and they’ve only recently started to get that under control. What this means to me, as someone who spends a lot of time trying to interpret data in my day job, is that risk varies — and therefore, so should precautions. We will, of course, practice reasonable precaution any time we’re outside our home. But we will increase those precautions if we have to go into the city. And for every destination between picking up groceries at the corner store and going to the city, there’s an appropriate scale of precaution that should be applied.

Cleveland area cases, from raw data

Unfortunately, with a polarized, politicized view of the pandemic, there’s little room for this sort of risk-based evaluation. Either you believe you have the right to sneeze in anyone’s face that you want, or you believe that people shouldn’t leave their home. And the truly unfortunate thing is that this has begun to split the Church. God’s people, who should be united in showing mercy, practicing justice, and walking with humility — those of us who are called to love self-sacrificially — are fighting about our rights and our fears.

I am much more concerned about the ability of the church to function lovingly in the world as a beacon of hope, than I am about seeing mega-church pastors fight for their rights to put 3000 people in a room. I am much more concerned with seeing God’s people united in the Great Commission, than I am about exactly how each congregation decides to apply the Biblical mandate to gather (which should be determined based on risk factors, as outlined above.) And while I’m happy that my kids can participate in hybrid schooling and outdoor youth group right now, I recognize that just one county over, things are different — and its not a political spin that should be dictating our reaction to events in the world; it should be Christ’s love, and where available, good data.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

– Micah 6:8

To act justly means that Black lives definitely matter, but that neither violence nor Marxism will fix the problems that need to be addressed.

To love mercy means that I should wear a mask: it is an act of mercy to others who may be at risk.

And to walk humbly with my God, means that my rights aren’t important — a servant heart, and a love for God and others, should rule my life. (It also means a recognition that my political candidate/party of choice might not actually speak for God…)

The Golden Thread

Somehow the math still works. Things may be a dumpster fire here, but the economic situation is strangely detached from reality: the US dollar still has $0.34 on the Canadian equivalent, real estate in Ohio remains significantly cheaper than any Toronto-area bedroom community, and my salary is almost impossible to find on the Ontario job market — and trust me, I’ve checked!

While Covid-19 shows no signs of slowing down within US borders, and our home country shows no signs of being interested in having their unruly neighbors come over to visit, a few things have improved a little since my last post.

Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star: Canada-US border

First of all, there are signs of cognitive activity in the President: he called masks “patriotic” and admitted the virus is getting worse. I’m not sure if this is the result of polls showing that the other bigoted old white dude is real competition for November, or if this is just how long it takes for someone like Trump to learn anything new — but we welcome this rational thinking. Hopefully the red hats will follow his lead.

Second, my employer was able to file a correction to our entry stamps. Apparently its not a cheap legal maneuver, but they undertook it on our behalf. Our entry records now show the correct expiry in 2022 — aligned with my work Visa. The correction means we can travel home if/when we need to, and not worry about getting back. The virus related travel challenges remain, but at least 50% of the problem is solved.

We’re 40 this month, and this may prove to be one of the most unusual years of our lives. The debate rages on about a return to school in the fall, and I have a persistent, although minor, medical issue, that may require a follow-up surgery. We don’t really know what the rest of the year will look like, but we’re provided for, safe and mostly healthy, so we’re grateful — despite grumbling to the contrary.

A Tale of Two Countries

I remember the day we heard that Trump had been elected. I was at a trade show with my boss, and we met up that morning in the long hallway leading to the show floor. I said to him, “What has your country done?” and he just shook his head sadly.

Most of Trump’s presidency has had minimal impact on our family. Shortly after he announced his intent to terminate NAFTA, the agreement which provided my work Visa at the time, we finally (after 7 years) won the H1B lottery. This simplified crossing the border, and granted Nicole recognized personhood for the first time in the US — her immigration status still depends on mine, but she has some legal rights now. In the end, the changes to the NAFTA agreement were minor, but we felt safer with our improved status.

So it has been that we’ve been able to ride out the Presidency of a morally repugnant, but mostly politically innocuous, Donald Trump. Since we don’t belong to any minorities, his policies haven’t impacted us significantly. And some of what our Republican-voting friends were hoping for has actually come true — the Supreme Court has tipped toward Conservative leadership (not that it has done them much good), and the economy has performed reasonably well. He’s not a likable person, and some of his fan group is pretty reprehensible, but an argument could have been made that he served his base.

That is until Covid-19 hit. Beginning with denial, following-up with attacks on his own scientific advisers and State leaders, and continuing with threats to de-fund sources of research, Trump led his country into one of the worst possible outcomes. America is exceptional only in its horrifically poor handling of the pandemic. And while other nations are in careful recovery, the US is in resurgence in many densely populated areas.

From the US Embassy in Canada website – the strength of partnership

Its no surprise then, that our home country doesn’t want us back right now. The date of re-opening for the usually friendly border has been moved back at least twice, as Canada (and other parts of the world) watch in horror while our frequently inept State and federal governments scramble to spin the irrefutable, and currently unstoppable, facts of viral transmission in line with their political positions — as if an interpretation of the Constitution will somehow change the behavior of a virus — all while many Americans are indifferent to what’s happening.

But that’s not all. Trump has also put a hold on green cards and H1B stamps through to November, claiming that it will help protect American jobs. Since most H1B Visas (which make up a tiny percentage of the US population) are issued for tech workers, the tech community responded by pointing out the obvious: skilled work forces, regardless of origin, improve American output and create American jobs. But Trump benefits from less educated voters, so he’s not listening. (Not listening is apparently his default state.)

Can I nominate one of these dumb chickens to be the next President?

We are still lucky, though. Ohio’s Republican government has performed well during this pandemic, our mostly conservative community has generally behaved thoughtfully, and our county is fairly safe. I don’t always agree with the political signs I see on people’s lawns, but I haven’t observed any ignorance or hate — “love your neighbor” (or at least “live and let live”) seems to win around here most of the time. Plus, I have a job that allows me to work from home, and the kids have enough space to enjoy the warm weather — we even got chickens for them to raise this summer. So while we’re grateful, the one-two punch of Trump’s leadership in 2020 has a big impact on us…

Nicole and Eli’s Visa stamps expire in September. Normally this isn’t a big deal — when this happens, we take a trip home to Canada, show our work authorization paperwork on the way back to the States, and get a new stamp. But stamps aren’t being issued until at least November (who knows what happens if Trump gets re-elected), and non-essential travel is restricted until July 21. If the border re-opens as planned, that gives us a window of one month to visit home, of which we’ll likely spend two weeks under a mandatory isolation order. If they delay the re-opening by another month (which is likely), that gives us a window of 10 days to visit home, of which 14 will likely be under an isolation order. That’s negative 4 days to visit family and friends…

Biden has said he would lift the Visa holds if he’s elected in November. If that was the only reason to root for his election, I’d feel selfish. But there’s basically unlimited reasons to hope we never have to see Trump in the Oval Office again. He’s turned this great country that we love into an international embarrassment, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can only hope that our American friends have had enough of this strange timeline, and will vote for the other bigoted old white dude

Ignorance with Piety

I’ve written a few flaming posts lately — I’ll admit, there’s a level of emotion in my blog that I haven’t mustered in awhile. Unusual circumstances and all. I’ll admit too, its nice to see some engagement and responses to those posts. Of course, such engagement will come with differing opinions, but my post on conspiracy theories seemed to have provoked a significant reaction — and one I’d like to partially address. I won’t post the reply in its entirety, because I know the person, and I’m embarrassed for them (you can read their full thoughts in the comments, if you’d like). But I will engage, in part, to clarify and continue the admonition:

Last month I read a piece that someone had written and people had shared. After I read it, Holy Spirit said to me, “Well, that was the most anti-Christ thing I’VE ever read.”

…I wanted to share this with you because I never saw the anti-Christ agenda so clear before. It really is just anti Christ (opposite of Christ). I used to think that the spirit of the anti-Christ meant that someone would come in shouting, “Down with Jesus!” But, God has shown me that it is a lot more subtle than that. We need to be on the look out for what is exactly opposite of Jesus. We need to be on guard against the devil’s schemes.

My first rebuttal then, is a very important clarification: I am not anti Christ, or a part of the anti-Christ agenda. For absolute clarity, I am a Christian, a believer in Jesus, the Son of God, who died and rose again in propitiation for my sins. His Word, the Bible, and His guidance of the early church that sometimes took the form of signs and miracles, provide Holy instruction for life. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Aside from 10 years of education in a Christian school, and 2 years of my childhood on the missions field, I also have a Certificate of Theological Studies from a conservative Christian seminary. All that said, more often than I would like to admit, I find myself ashamed of those who claim a similar background.

Then, God showed me about this need to believe in science. He said, “So, people are going to put their faith in science, the same science that tried to tell the children about darwinism in schools? That is anti Christ.”

There’s few things that make me doubt a message is from the Holy Spirit more than the person claiming God spoke it to them directly. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I am saying its rare. God doesn’t really need to breathe blog comments into the average person — He breathed His Word, and He guides through the Holy Spirit, but WordPress isn’t usually where He physically interacts with His people.

In fact, maybe the only thing that makes me more wary about a message that claims to be from God is if the content of that message is opposed to the laws of nature He established. And here again, I’ll grant you our imperfect understanding of how He works, but Biblically, suspension of His ordered universe is a relatively rare occurrence. I certainly am not a proponent of Darwinism (but I’ll do the man the respect of capitalizing his name), although I understand the human need to make sense of what appears to have been a miraculous creation event, but I do expect that in most cases, science is a use of our Imago Dei to learn about, and exert dominion over, that creation. We first practiced the God-given gift of science when we gave names to the animals. (Shortly afterward we were compelled to develop the study of crop science!)

When a repeatably observable behavior in the physical universe is established, then behavior outside that documentable “law” is reserved for the Creator and Orderer of that universe. If the behavior of radio waves transmitted from a radio tower is known, then a dramatic and heretofore impossible change in that behavior, such that it can suddenly cause or activate a virus, is either a) the assumption of a lunatic or b) the miraculous intervention of the Creator of that behavior. Unless God is miraculously causing 5G cell phone towers to give people a virus, then it is not happening. And unless you can show me how a secret change to the behavior of radio waves is a part of His Gospel of reconciliation and salvation, then you are sowing fear.

Second, it was suggested that a person needed to have 3-5 years of schooling in order to have a valid opinion on something. God said, mirror that to the theology that is given. This writer would then believe that no one can tell another person about the Good News of Jesus until they have 3-5 years of schooling. Then, Holy Spirit said to me, “Is that how Jesus got the Good News out? Did He only use learned people? “No,” I said, “He used fishermen, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc

Herein you might be more correct than you think: the best historical estimates are that Jesus spent 3 to 3.5 years with His lay-person disciples, walking with them in earthly ministry. During that time He instructed them, corrected them, and even rebuked them. He educated them until they were ready to lead the church without His physical presence. James, most probably the brother of Jesus, specifically wrote: Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly – James 3:1.

Nonetheless, none of that was my premise. My premise was that people on Facebook who have zero knowledge on the science of viral transmission or radio signal capabilities are irresponsible if they share misinformation on those topics as if it were fact.

First, Jesus never called the common, every day people names. He called names to the Elites of his time, the Pharisees (Matt 12:34), but he never called the common people names.

You’re right, my post was a little harsh. But I wrote it in response to a former church leader with no education on the topics I mentioned, using his leadership position to sow discontent with the government on Facebook. I did not say that Christians shouldn’t share the Good News unless they have three years of education — but since you brought it up, a minimum of three years does seem like a reasonable defense against bad theology.

Then, this morning God asked me to ask you, “What side are you going to be on?”

Skipping over the fact that God probably didn’t ask you to ask me that, I am on the side of reasoned faith. I am on the side of a Creator of the universe who loved us enough that He didn’t thrust us into a random, frighteningly unpredictable world so that we could live in fear of things we don’t understand. He placed us lovingly in an ordered world, instructed us to care for it and then, when we made a mess with our sin, He sent his Son to provide a way for things to be good again. He then called us to share His message of hope with those who need Him (Matt 28:19) — and He specifically told us not to sow fear (1 Tim 1:7, 1 John 4:18, Romans 8:15) or rebellion (John 19:11).

I’ll close this one with another admonition from Scripture:
When I am with people whose faith is weak, I live as they do to win them. I do everything I can to win everyone I possibly can – 1 Corinthians 9:22

I’ll start with myself: I get that I could be more gentle. Many are genuinely afraid right now — and for good reason. A lot is happening in the world, and most of it can be hard to understand. Aside from just dealing with a virus, people have lost jobs, security, and access to loved ones. Events have triggered the exploration of deep sin within our systems. It sucks, and it leaves us all feeling uncertain. I’m probably not winning anyone to my view of the world by yelling at them.

But fellow Christians, as gently as I know how, I have to tell you: you are no friend of the Gospel if you espouse dangerous, hateful, or fringe viewpoints on public forums. When you are unreasonable and uninformed on topics like vaccinations or viruses or the experiences of minorities, it is too easy for the unchurched to extrapolate that you are also unreasonable and uninformed on other topics — like Jesus. Exegeted logically, the Bible, the ministry of Jesus, and His gospel are compelling (or condemning) to anyone who would approach them earnestly. But when you mix your faith in with your fears, and your superstitions in with your beliefs, or your religion with a political party, you present to the world an unattractive, and unjustifiable testimony, and you will win no one. You are not pointing to a loving Father whose hand of providence is active through this tough time; you are not becoming weak for the sake of winning others… you are showing your faith to be too weak to be any good.

Second System Syndrome

In software development, there’s a common error that occurs as a system evolves. The first version is lean and focused on a small initial set of capabilities. Lessons are learned during development, features are added, and bugs are found. At some point, the development team begins to feel that their first version contained too many compromises, and that it would be better just to start over from scratch with new ideas. Competent at managing the existing system, but forgetting some of the challenges of its implementation, the team determines that they’re equipped to start again — armed with the lessons of the past and newer technology and skills.

Invariably, this second system proves way more difficult than the first. While its true that the first system had some real issues, its users are unable to sacrifice features they use at the alter of a clean slate. The relatively short history of software is full of the fall-out: The new version is less capable, users complain. The new version has new and different bugs to work around, customers get frustrated. “The new versions sucks — why couldn’t you just improve the old one?!”

I first learned of the “de-fund the police” movement in a Facebook discussion a couple days before it started trending — and I was alarmed. In the wake of almost continuous police brutality hitting the news, I understand the reflex, but the position that police departments should go away seemed extreme to me. Upon probing the post, I found there’s a little more nuance to the position. Depending on who you’re talking to, “de-fund” might mean “reduce funding” or “fund alternate community supports.” But it might also mean “get rid of all police.”

I have just two thoughts in response:

When bad people make it into the police force, we should have mechanisms to deal with them — but we shouldn’t be surprised: the human race is made up entirely of broken people who will be involved in any system we build! Humanism’s only hope is that we can muster enough good behavior from the human condition to out-weight our flawed natures.

Of course, I don’t believe that humanism is the answer. I believe that part of the situation we’re in is that truth has become relative. We tolerate an extreme right and an extreme left because we’ve all agreed that people can have their “own” truth. We reject absolute truth, but acquiesce to extreme relative truths. There is an Absolute Truth that is not subject to the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights, or to your opinion, or to mine. And without that Absolute, any human system will fail.

I despair though, that the Christian Church — the hands and feet of Jesus who are supposed to be carrying that Truth — has become so focused on advocating a political viewpoint, or an immoral President, or some imagined prophecy, that no one is really interested in what we have to say any more. Others are doing a better job of being salt and light, and we are not hearing the pain that our systems are causing.

I saw a viewpoint on Twitter the other day that makes some sense to me. It suggested that as Christians, who should be in a posture of humbly listening right now, maybe we need a different set of leaders. Maybe those who have been last among us for so long should be first for awhile, so we can hear of Jesus work through the cross that they have been carrying. Let’s not throw out the systems we built. Let us with humility, and repentance for where we have failed to excise the sin in our camp, ask the people who are most impacted by the problems to lead us in fixing them.

Update: obviously my viewpoint on this amounts to an opinion. I don’t have first-hand experience with either policing, or being a victim of white-on-black racism. This article, from someone with both experiences, is well worth reading.

Ignorance with Impudence

It seems like people think a pandemic gives them license to let all their worst characteristics out on display. Here in the States, we went from fear of the virus, to frustration of being stuck inside, to angry protests about rights, to finally just pretending its not a thing any more — all at break-neck speeds. And the few voices that spoke out about the irresponsibility of it all were shouted down awfully fast. Turns out you’re within your rights to show up en-masse armed for battle at a government building — as long as you’re white. If you so much as jog through the wrong neighborhood, or pass a bad check while black, you can be killed on the spot.

I’m aware that somehow this position is a political one. Generally, as a guest in this country, I try to remain politically neutral. I don’t believe that either of the two available extremes are completely right (or completely wrong), and I empathize with those who have to try to vote from their conscience in a two-party system. In Canada, I’d probably be a Conservative, but here in the States, where we have fewer and less nuanced options to choose from, I can’t really align myself with the country’s conservative party, the Republicans. Donald Trump is a reprehensible, vile human being, and that party is increasingly aligned with reprehensible, vile human behavior.

Edit: adding that time the President of the Unites States of America threatened to have American citizens shot by the miltary… via Twitter. Feel free to contrast the statement from that liberal, non-Christian former President.

And this is a source of real despair for me: of the two positions, one claims Christian ideals and Conservative morals, the other does not. But people spewing hate, spouting ignorance, or acting horribly when asked to wear a mask often identify as Republicans. While the rational folks, listening to the guidance from experts, acting in ways that protect others, and decrying the senseless death of people of color… those often claim the non-Christian Democrat party?!

Let’s call these things what they are:

Reprehensible human beings gather their weapons and Trump signs to demand the right to share a virus with the nation’s vulnerable

If you have a position on economic policy or the role of the government, then choosing to align with a particular party might make sense. But if your alignment with that position requires you to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the black community, or block hospitals with your protests, or share an article that suggests that people should die until we develop herd immunity, rather than take a vaccine… If your politics support the kind of behavior we’ve seen over the past couple months, then damn you to hell.

You look nothing like Christ.

On Protests and Conspiracy Theories

This virus has drawn some truly amazing behavior out of us as a society, hasn’t it? We’ve seen leaders step up and take decisive action to protect people. We’ve seen science and medical professionals rise to the challenge of treating patients and finding cures. We’ve seen people learn new ways to connect and stay in touch with their loved ones. There’s been a lot to commend us.

But we’ve also seen a lot of really spiteful behavior. We have a president desperately deflecting responsibility for failures, while smirkingly taking credit for small victories that he had nothing to do with. We’ve seen people putting the lives of others at risk to impotently protest the actions designed to keep them safe. And we’ve seen a whole new wave of virulent misinformation and loathsome deception spread across the internet.

I want to give those who act on, and share, these absurd ideas some grace. Most of those doing the sharing are squarely in Dunning-Kruger territory — possessing a false confidence that comes from knowing a little bit about a subject, but not enough to understand how much information they’re missing. I also realize that fear drives people to lash out, and that things they don’t fully understand (like how cell phone towers or viruses work) make prime targets for irrational reactions.

I want to give them some grace, but when you see pictures of nurses calmly blocking an intersection in front of a hospital, literally using their bodies to protect the sick from the misguided protestors who think their rights are being impinged… I just haven’t got any grace left to offer.

In 2009 the FCC ended the broadcast of analog television content, freeing up radio spectrum that had been reserved for this kind of broadcast since at least 1949. 5G is the result of this, and other moves, to re-purpose existing radio frequencies for advanced wireless services. What this means is that the very signals people are afraid of right now have been around for over 70 years! Instead of carrying TV content, those radio waves are carrying Internet data packets, but its still just modulated data. Modulated data cannot be used to transmit or activate a biological virus. It can, however, be used to spread fear and misinformation.

In 2000, one of the world’s most successful business leaders redirected his considerable brain power and money from selling software to solving problems with sewage treatment and medical infrastructure in third world countries. Bill and Melinda Gates could do literally anything they wanted, and they chose to invest their time in helping people deal with poop. In 2015, after fighting the spread of disease for 15 years, Bill warned everyone that we were unprepared for a global pandemic, and that we were heading for trouble. 4 years later, we got trouble, and within weeks people are blaming the person who predicted it would happen, and insisting on their right to be reckless with other people’s lives.

These things are frustrating, because obviously they’re stupid. Obviously no rational person would believe that Bill Gates is using 5G radio signals to cause a pandemic so he can lock people in their houses and take over the world… Except that rational people are actually sharing these ideas like they’re truth. And I can’t escape the correlation that its the people who are most impacted economically, and who have the least formal education, that are the ones spreading these poisonous ideas. I know it sounds arrogant, but it shouldn’t be wrong to point out when someone is doing something stupid out of ignorance and fear. As much as I have been a proponent of, and participant in, a free and open Internet, I am opposed to the distribution and glorification of ignorance.

Conspiracy theories are fun intellectual exercises — they’re a “what if” exploration, that in better times make for good entertainment (I mean, who didn’t love the X-Files in the 90s?) But they are not news, they are not supportable with science and research, and they should not be shared with the same weight or given the same attention as actual information. If you see something on the Internet that sounds like it explains a part of the world you don’t understand, you owe it to yourself, to your social media connections, and to civilization as a whole, to respond responsibly. You can either:

A) Pursue a degree in the topic from an accredited higher education institution, or seek out 3-5 years of equivalent on-the-job experience. Because yes, its hard work to develop actual expertise.

B) Shut up, admit to yourself you are not competent on the matter, and acknowledge that your opinion is not worth the bytes of memory it gets stored on.

I have more to say on professional sources of opinion (so called “news”) but I’ll save that for another post — suffice it to say, yes, there is an alternative to the “main stream” media that doesn’t foment conspiracy theories. But instead of going into that right now, I’m going to close this with an additional admonishment to those who follow Jesus. As Christians, the standard for Godly wisdom is clearly provided for us in the book of James:

Wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peace-loving, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.

If what you’re reading is not reasonable, not impartial, and not peace-loving, don’t share it. You damage your testimony by embracing hateful opinions. You malign your Savior by spreading fear. And worst of all, your gullibility makes your faith look foolish.

M-m-m-my Corona

It was a strange progression, from something sort of abstract happening elsewhere in the world, to some minor inconveniences here at home, and finally, suddenly a “stay at home” order from the State government. Nowhere was it stranger than in the White House, where it changed almost overnight from “totally under control” to a full on disaster. It was like a watching a car accident in slow motion, only the whole continent was about to get hit, and there was nothing we could do but wait for the impact.

To be self-centered and honest, though, it hasn’t really impacted us that much. There’s been some cancelled events — Ben’s big class trip to Chicago, Eli’s girl scout camping trip, Abi’s birthday, and numerous work trips. But those are inconveniences at worst. Unlike some of those around us, I’m at no risk of getting laid off, nor do either of us have to go into a job where we might get exposed to someone who is sick. Our little cul-de-sac in the country is pretty well isolated on a normal day, with a couple acres between each house, so crowded situations aren’t something we have to worry about. And the common complaint of boredom certainly doesn’t apply to us — we’ve got even more to do than usual!

That’s not to say this situation is ideal. Like everyone else, we’ll have to ration toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes. Grocery shopping is a pain due to the panic buying that has swept the nation. And one of our two cars is stuck in the shop for the duration. But overall, there’s more opportunity for us in a situation like this — which isn’t fair, I know, but its true. The Fed’s questionable decision to continually drop interest rates until they had nowhere left to go allowed us to lock in a mortgage re-finance at a historically low rate shortly before banks started closing. And our income tax return left us with spare funds to invest while the stock market is the lowest its been in over a decade.

Its hard to extrapolate from here where things will go. China seems to be on the mend, and if those numbers are true and directionally analogous, then the US and Canada will recover in a similar fashion eventually too. Its unlikely that the economy will ever be quite the same after this, but its equally unlikely that it will completely fail. There’s a sort of twisted fascination with imagining a worst case scenario that looks like a zombie movie or Mad Max situation that I’ve observed others entertaining, but in my estimation, things are not heading in that direction — this time.

Still, the vegetable garden in the backyard has taken on a new level of importance, and I regret that I never got around to the project where I augment our electric well with a manual back-up, in case of emergencies. It really does seem like as individuals, and as a nation (and I’ll include our home country of Canada in this generalization) we are pretty ill-prepared for these kinds of scenarios. The rapid and stealthy spread of this pandemic is tempered by its relatively low mortality rate — should this happen again (and it probably will) with a flavor of disease that is a less discriminate killer, I’m not sure we could really handle it.

The kids are taking it all in stride — they don’t have enough run-time on the planet to understand just how unusual this situation is. Some day they’ll tell their own kids about this period as a generation-shaping event. Hopefully there’s only this one in their lifetime, but if not, hopefully we’re all better prepared — and better people — from having coming through this one.