Redeeming Social Media During an Election Year

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Redeeming social media. Many would consider that a quixotic endeavor, especially in an election year. The meme above, which has been circulating on Facebook is an example. I posted it yesterday on Facebook and indicated it reflects my own social media philosophy.

Post wisely over the next months. Someone who commented suggested pausing before speaking, especially when in doubt. I’ve reminded people on my Bob on Books Facebook page that we don’t have to say everything we think. Herbert J. Taylor formulated a 4 Way Test for communications in his company, Club Aluminum back in the 1950’s which was eventually adopted by the Rotary.

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Imagine using this test on everything you post on social media.

Contribute to discourse, not division. We have to seriously consider the implications of all our “us versus them” rhetoric, and often how we pigeonhole and caricature “them.” Are we really interested in dialogue? Do we just exchange slogans and gaslighting tropes? Or do we ask questions, explore reasons, and find out if there are common ground concerns? For example, I think both left and right are concerned about where the country is going. What if we accepted that we all love the country and then listened to each other’s concerns?

Check your facts. So many news stories being circulated on social media are based on dubious information. You might check several fact-checking sites, and if there is evidence that they are false, even if they conform to your political ideas, posting is passing along lies. Realize that much of this material may be generated by foreign entities trying to shape the election. I use reputable news media from different perspectives from the Wall Street Journal to the Washington Post. When they agree, there is a pretty good basis for them being accurate. If you see blatant falsehoods, report them to social media admins.

Resist memes and cheap digs. Other than the one above, I rarely post memes, and never cheap ad hominem attacks. I don’t comment on them unless it seems beneath the dignity of a friend posting it because that just draws attention to the meme. Stuff doesn’t stay in a newsfeed if no one likes or comments on it.

Create beautiful content. This is a challenging time to think about beauty with fires, disease, and political discord. On my book page, we just stay away from all that and are reminded of the good, true, and beautiful in literature. I post prayers to give words to spiritual longings, and humor because I think it helps to have a good laugh. Sometimes I post music, looking forward to the day I will be able to join others in song. Remembering beauty is an act of faith expressing the hope that beauty will prevail.

We can transcend the bitterness and be better, even when we disagree. Some would have us believe that those who disagree with us are nasty or deplorable. Our current political climate thrives on creating tribes that believe they are the only real human beings around and the others subhuman at best. If we believe all are created equal, that all are created in the image of God, that every human being, imperfectly to be sure and to various degrees, reflects something of God, then we already have something in common. Indeed, we have the most important of what makes us human in common. We all have dreams, hopes, and struggles, no matter our politics. In truth, our disagreements are often just about politics, which, despite the rhetoric, is only a small part of daily life. Could it be that we give it too much space in our lives, in our heads?

There will be people who use social media to foment discord and spread deceptive stories and malign those who differ. We don’t have to join them. I would suggest we “socially distance” them when they engage in this kind of behavior, and look for ways to build bridges with those who are our friends, when there are chances–an illness, a new baby, a beautiful family picture. Discord and division spread through those who misuse social media to pass toxic material along, in the same way viral infections spread. We can’t eliminate the infection of political discord in social media, but we may “flatten the curve” by consistently pursuing the social hygiene practices in this post.

Where Do Our Books Go When We Die?

Image by Achim Thiemermann from Pixabay 

One of the great “ultimate questions” is what happens to us when we die? It is an important question, and I personally think that we are not able to truly live meaningfully if we have not reckoned with that question. But I’m going to leave that for another time, another post.

A conversation with my son recently raised a question that matters to many book lovers. What will happen to our books when we die? I was telling my son of clearing out ten boxes of stored books and selling them at two of our local Half Price stores and remarked that what motivated me was thinking of him, and how he’d react if he had to clear out this stuff (which also included old notebooks filled with outdated training materials). He said (maybe half-jokingly) that he’d just get a dumpster and haul it away.

That’s probably realistic based on experiences with my own parents. Fortunately, before they passed, we were able to load up our station wagon with books and donate them to a local library’s book sale, and save a few of the most valuable. We certainly couldn’t take all her books–we had too many of our own!

That ten boxes (and others we’ve previously disposed of) still leave us with plenty of books. The other day, I was looking at hundred year old books that were my grandfather’s and then my mom’s. Cared for, they will outlive me, as will many of the books in our home. I think of the hours of enjoyment and the helpful information many have provided. I hate to think of them ending their lives in a dumpster. I would rather they end in the hands of others who would enjoy them.

Recently, I’ve been reading Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books. It’s a fascinating account of bibliophiles who legitimately, and sometimes illegitimately, accumulated huge collections of books, sometimes of great value. Some literally died surrounded by stacks of books. Others made plans to donate collections to libraries, sometimes treasure troves to researchers. Some even donated funds to maintain the collections.

What’s plain to me is that now is the time to accelerate my efforts to find good homes for my books if they are to avoid a dumpster destiny (unless that is what they truly deserve, which might be where mass market paperbacks that are on cheap paper and falling apart should go). Here’s some of the ways I’m approaching it.

  1. With any book I read, it has to be outstanding for me to keep it. If it is new, now is the time to re-sell it, when it will likely command the best price.
  2. I need to cull my shelves, where books are stacked atop of books, sometimes two or three deep. Step one would be to get rid of all the stacks. Step two would be no hidden books. Step three would be to eliminate the books stored in boxes or in other stacks in my office or by the bed.
  3. For my theological books, I’ve been able to pass some along to people building their libraries and to the seminary library where I was a student. If they can’t take them, there are some overseas libraries in developing countries that may take them. I do want to think about what will be useful, which includes thinking about the cultural bias in those books. [A comment for this post from James mentions the Theological Book Network in Grand Rapids, Michigan which has shipped over 2 million theological books to 90 countries.]
  4. I’m still working in collegiate ministry and some books relate to that work. When that work ends, my “higher ed” shelf, and other related books should go.
  5. At some time, it probably makes sense to identify the hundred or so books that are “best friends,” preferably before we may be in a situation where that’s all there may be room for, and start culling out everything else.

Of course, none of us never knows how life will unfold. But being in my sixties and still healthy, it seems that this is a good time to pass along my books where they can be useful for others. They deserve better than the dumpster.

A Thank You To Librarians

Wikidata education for librarians group at WikiCite 2018 by LiAnna (Wiki Ed) licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Libraries in many places are just starting to open up. But librarians have been hard at work all along, even though they miss having patrons in their buildings. I asked people on the Bob on Books Facebook page what they would want to say to librarians.

A word that kept coming up was “lifeline.” Whether it was help getting e-books or gathering their book requests for the curbside pickups many of you provided, people were so grateful for the effort you invested in getting books to us safely.

People didn’t merely see librarians as helping them, but the whole community, just as they always do. But in a time of isolation and strain, your service sustained that sense of knitting together a community and serving that community.

Several mentioned some of your challenges, from the time it took to get book requests to your need to take our temperatures. We just wanted to say “we understand, and appreciate all the things you are doing to keep us safe. We want to keep you safe as well.” And we won’t microwave the books!

You are so creative. Some of you provided craft kits in your communities or special online programs.

We think of you as essential! We want you to be safe and we will wear our masks (over our noses!) when we can come back to the library. We don’t know what we would have done without you during the pandemic.

We appreciate all those library skills and research skills you taught us. We’ve had all kinds of professional and personal reasons to use those during the pandemic.

In some cases, infection rates are still too high to open up. We want you to know how much we miss you!

Your service moves some of us to song: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; You make me happy when skies are grey.

One person wrote, “You are important, loved, necessary, and valued!” Some pray for you, others bless you, and what everyone wants to say is:

Why Returning to University Campuses Now is a Bad Idea

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I write as someone who has worked around universities all my adult life. In the last week some high profile campuses like the University of North Carolina and Notre Dame have suspended in-person classes after welcoming students back to campus. Last spring and early summer, administrations on these and other campuses made plans to open up. Many spent the summer creating elaborate testing, social distancing, living, dining, and classroom protocols to lessen the risk of infections. It seemed to me then, and now, that these were plans with holes in them.

  1. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, they don’t control infections in the towns students were living in over summer, or the behavior of students in those places. This is different from primary and secondary schools, where everyone is local and decisions can be shaped by local infection rates. Some students from areas with high rates of infections, or who engaged in higher risk behaviors may bring infection to campus. These students come from all over. Some campuses test students before they move in, but all tests are a “moment in time” measure.
  2. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, they don’t control infection rates and policies in the city, town, or state where they are located. The city where our flagship state university is located currently has a high, though falling, infection rate. Students have returned amid this. They are in bars, restaurants, coffee shops, businesses all over our city.
  3. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, they don’t control student behavior off campus. Students are just like the rest of us in this pandemic. What have adults been doing all summer? Having large, non-socially distanced, non-masked parties. And students are already following suit as reports from many campuses are bearing out. Just like the general population, most students are trying follow safety protocols. But enough are putting themselves at risk of infection, and in turn risk infecting others.
  4. Even if campus plans control infection risk on-campus, not all students live on campus. In fact, more students may be living off-campus because of reduced density resident housing. The number of students in apartments, the ventilation of buildings, what steps are taken in social distancing, masking, and in gatherings likely will be left to students. And these students will be mixing with students living on campus.
  5. Finally, I question the premise that campus protocols will minimize infection risk making in-person classes feasible. At this time rapid-tests have higher false-negative and false positive rates. The better tests often take two days to a week. Students without symptoms could spread infection to others throughout that time. Even with reduced class sizes and masking, I wonder if these will be sufficient to prevent infections when people share this space for an hour or longer. Will residence halls be safe when senior facilities, which are basically dorms for seniors, have had significant outbreaks?

Students are at an age where many may be asymptomatic, though contagious, or contract mild illnesses and recover (although we are continuing to learn about long-term effects on even some healthy young adults. And some will get very sick. What is more concerning are other university personnel, some with more significant risk factors. Where these are known, some have been able to work out remote work arrangements. But those who provide food, sanitation, and maintenance services and many support staff cannot work remotely.

What drove these decisions as in so many of our “open-up” decisions were two things: economic realities and the difficulty all of us have had sheltering in home. The former raises questions about our economics. The latter raises questions about the health of our souls. Yet I cannot help but wonder if this decision will result in greater losses with all the extra costs of starting up only to suspend classes and send students home. What will this do to student morale? It will be interesting to see how campuses that planned for remote learning in the fall from the start do in comparison to those who tried to open up.

The situation on universities is dependent on what is happening in our larger society. John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza, says that if we do not get the virus under control now, colder weather will likely make things worse, with up to 150,000 new cases daily nationally. We cannot reasonably hope either to bring back the national economy, nor students to our campuses without rigorous control measures. Given our apparent lack of will, consensus, and leadership, I think universities need to start planning now to extend remote instruction through the spring. Either that, or plan for a lot of sick students and campus personnel.

Writing as Naming

fashion woman notebook pen

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I came across a statement this morning that captured why I write. It is from one of my favorite writers, Tish Harrison Warren, in a new book co-edited by Tim Keller and John Inazu, Uncommon GroundShe writes:

When we write, we participate in Adam and Eve’s vocation in the garden: the vocation of naming. We give words to reality, and through our words, we help shape reality” (p. 73).

Both my outer and inner worlds often feel inchoate. Whether it is making sense of what I am thinking and feeling, describing the gist of a discussion among colleagues, or trying to discern some thread of meaning in the chaos of modern existence, I find myself turning to writing.

I write to know what I think. Sometimes I write to figure out what I think. When I review, I write to crystallize in a few words the thousands of words I’ve read in a book. Sometimes writing is the way I sort out my own sense of how I should live in pandemic times. I give words to reality, and at least shape how I will engage that reality, if not the reality itself.

Writing as naming is communal as well. It certainly is in a medium like that which on which you read my words, or in magazine articles, newspapers, and books. Our writing gives shape to reality not only for ourselves but for others. One of the tests of good writing for me is whether others recognize the reality I’ve tried to name as their own. I love it when someone writes back and says, “you found words to describe what is was like for me.”

More than that, writing as naming, when done well clarifies how we will work together. Lawyer friends of mine tell me that this is at the heart of a good contract. I’ve learned a great deal about getting the words right from my attorney friends. It is equally important on a work team as we discern and decide what we will work on together, and what we each agree to contribute to that work.

I’ve never been a writer of fiction, but I suspect this is part of what drives these writers. They are not just telling a story. They are creating a world. I think of J.R.R. Tolkien, who created Middle-earth, fashioned languages, and a whole mythology of origins and cosmology. That is some serious naming!

For babies to receive a name, a mother must give birth. Many writers describe the labor of giving birth to words that name as akin to the birthing experience. Finding the right words and phrases, the right composition of paragraphs is hard. There is such a difference between “almost right” and “just right.” I think any of us who write feel we rarely totally achieve that end. Sometimes, it feels that the beautiful or pithy thing we want to say is out there, just beyond our grasp. One thing for sure: for writers, words matter.

Why then do we do it? I think it comes back to what it means to be human. We are naming creatures, gifted with amazing language powers far exceeding any other creature. While not all of us are drawn to writing, all of us use words to describe our world. Writing simply allows us to deliberate our words (hopefully) and to extend them in space and time, extending them beyond the circle who can hear our voice, and the ephemeral moment of our utterances.

This helps me understand a bit more why I write.

How Now Shall I Live?

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Sunset over Western Hills. Bob Trube, 2020

I’ve gone through a range of feelings as the pandemic has moved into a new spike in infections in Ohio and elsewhere. From conversations with friends, it seems like all of us are going through similar fluctuations. I share about my own journey not to say how others should respond, because your situation is not mine.

I find myself really frustrated with reports of coronavirus parties and others engaging in high risk activities voluntarily and then getting sick. You know the feeling when a couple kids who were acting up and keeping the rest of the class from going out for recess?

I struggle with feelings of futility. I’m enough of a data geek to see that our state’s infection trends are following those of states like Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California. I’ve tried to warn others. Our governor has said the same thing. It feels to me that all this falls on deaf ears.

I grieve for many businesses who have tried to do the right things but with rising infections are going to take a hit whether or not there are stay-at-home orders.

I sense the desperation in all the social media posts that tout treatments and cures and vaccine progress. We are desperate for things to go back to the way they were.

I’m saddened by what seems to me magical thinking that for months has been saying this will go away. It will go away when it does. Likewise for those who are saying it really isn’t so bad, or they don’t need a vaccine. It seems to me a “choose your own reality” effort, and I hope this doesn’t result in a serious infection or super-spreading event.

I’m dismayed by all the self-appointed experts who think they know more than people who have dedicated their lives to studying epidemiology and public health to prepare for pandemics like the one we are facing. I watched our own state health director driven to resign her office after vicious, racist statements, attacks on her character, and threats on her and her family’s lives. I was especially angered because she came from my home town, overcoming an incredibly rough childhood.

I marvel at the inconsistency of many companies preferring to have their staff work at home while we seem determined to send children to school. At the same time, I am saddened by spouses (often women) resigning jobs to oversee at-home education. I realize there are no easy answers for all this, which frustrates me as well.

I could go on, but you get the idea…probably because you’ve been there, or are there.

All this was swirling around in my mind recently when I went for an evening walk. I’ve done this often to clear my head after a day’s work, and the news of the day. My thoughts turned to Matthew 6: 25-27:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

It reminded me that my fretting about all these things, real though it was, was needless. I was fretting about things largely out of my control. I needed to acknowledge it, and let it go. My worrying was very unlikely to change anything. It wouldn’t add to my life. It wouldn’t change others. God alone can do that.

It reminded me to live in the moment of God’s care. I was breathing, walking, taking in a gorgeous sunset. We’ve made it through four months of basically shelter at home. I’m blessed to share it with my wife of 42 years. We’ve enjoyed socially distanced visits with family and friends outdoors. We’ve gone out painting together. I have meaningful work I can do at home. I’ve enjoyed so many good books, and written about them. We’ve done drive-by birthday celebrations and stayed connected with church, choral, and artist friends on Zoom. There is so much good for which I’m grateful, and life is better when I remember this and live there.

I don’t know how many more months of this we have to go through. I am realizing this one is out of my control. I’m probably better for realizing that what others do, intelligent or irrational, is also out of my control. Perhaps the only thing I can do is extend a kind word and listening ear when this whole thing is getting someone else down, and to enjoy with others what is still good in this life, in this day. Given that we are in an “at risk” population by age, we will continue to choose low risk activities, social distance and wear masks, while continuing to learn to be creative with those. It’s really OK. Each day has its riches–a conversation, times when a painting actually works, a passage in a book, flowers in the garden, a sunset, a cloud formation, or even working up a sweat pruning trees and weeding flower beds. Perhaps I still have much to learn from the birds.

A Few of My Pre-Pandemic Favorite Things

Huntington Park

Huntington Park, one of my favorite things. © Robert C Trube

I suspect most of us have had wistful memories of all the things we didn’t give a second thought of doing pre-pandemic. Perhaps this helps explain the urgency with which some people have tried to resume life as if nothing happened, as if there is not still a risk of infection. Being at an age of being at increased risk, and some health history in our household that further enhances that risk, we’ve resigned ourselves to what looks like six to twelve more months much like the last three. We are utilizing warm weather for some visits with friends outdoors at social distances, plein air painting, walks, and visits with neighbors.

These are a few of the favorite pre-pandemic things I miss:

  • Hugging family who don’t live in our house.
  • The Asian buffet near our home.
  • Leisurely browsing in my local bookstore.
  • Going to the grocery store together.
  • Going to a grocery store at any time, not “senior hours.”
  • Singing with Capriccio in rehearsals and concerts. It is not only the music but the friends and the laughter.
  • Coffee with a friend in a crowded Starbucks.
  • An adult beverage with a work team.
  • Actually meeting with a work team without a computer screen between us.
  • Celebrating a special occasion with a dinner out.
  • Selling the books I’ve read at Half Price books (the stack is growing).
  • Going to a Columbus Clippers game at Huntington Park.
  • Singing with Paul, Jeff, Jayne, Diane, and Tracy in our small acapella ensemble at church.
  • Going to concerts or lectures or any event with a lot of other people.
  • Seeing another’s smile and being glad I do.

I’ve not missed travel–congested roads, airports, crowded planes. I don’t look forward to going back to these. A number of the things I’ve listed above we technically could do. But from what we know, we can’t afford to get sick if we can avoid it. So we won’t do these things until infection rates are very low or there is a vaccine that works. As much as I miss these favorite things, we still have a life we love. We still have fellowship with friends and family. I can brew a pretty good cup of coffee. I can walk in my neighborhood. We can go out painting together. We talk to more neighbors than ever. I think the teams I work with have done amazing things during this time. I’ve enjoyed many good books, listened to some great music on vinyl and CD. We’ve made some good meals together and enjoyed good take out. We treasure our church’s worship times, even if online.

I’m not willing to exchange our lives for a favorite thing. I realize there are no sure things. While I do not fear death, I won’t throw away life needlessly. But I still have favorite things I miss. What are yours?

Pandemic Musings

people taking group picture

When will we be together like this again? Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

A number of friends have been keeping pandemic journals. I have not but have been reflecting on this time. It is so often the case that we move out of one season of our lives into another without thinking of how we have been formed by that time. We don’t ask what the time has asked of us. We want to move on, to get back to normal.

Only I don’t think “normal” will be what we knew before February-March of 2020 when the pandemic hit. Here are the things I’ve been musing about. There are some conclusions and a lot of questions.

One conclusion: hug the ones you love whenever you see them because, if they don’t live in your house, you may not know when you’ll get to hug them again.

I recognize that many have gone through great hardship of lost jobs, or braving exposure to the disease as first responders, health care workers, or “essential workers,” or those who are trying to work two jobs and care for and educate children all in the same living space. I’ve been quite fortunate and have no grounds to complain. I can work at home and have been quite occupied, we’ve had enough food (perhaps more than enough), and had many opportunities to stay connected with family and friends. Given my age, my chief job has been to stay healthy and out of the hospital, saving the beds and equipment for others. It has challenged me to think afresh of how we use the blessings we enjoy for the sake of others, whether favorite bookstores or struggling charities or those experiencing greater isolation than we are. That is something well worth carrying out of this time. Such situations won’t go away.

I’ve watched the war between “we’re in this together” and “you can’t take away my rights.” It strikes me that we do best when we determine to protect each other’s rights, which guards rights and seeks the common good. I find myself far more drawn to the people who are looking out for the rights of others, to health, to safety, to productive work, than those “fighting for their rights.” I think I want to be more like the former than the latter. Now and later.

I’ve noticed how on edge and brittle we all are. Maybe its too much time looking at all the back and forth on social media and in the news, all the sifting of fake posts from accurate reporting. Add to that the gruesome stories of ICU’s full of sick patients. Add video of violence against the body of a black man where millions can witness his life ebbing away, and more back and forth about protests. Actually, we’ve been like that for a while. The past months have only intensified our condition. I can’t help but wonder if the screens through which so much of this is mediated has us all on collective overload. I sometimes set my phone aside for hours, which usually are the best hours of the day. Maybe this is the season to really work on the media hygiene that allows me to have a life, and some sanity, and perspective.

I’ve wondered about an economy that in retrospect appears to be a house of cards that tumbles when we have to stay at home except for groceries…and hardware…and essential services…and restaurant take out…and online vendors. I realize that there is a discussion to be had (not here, please) about whether we needed lockdowns to address the pandemic. I prefer not to add my voice to all the online experts who know best what we should have done. I worry about those who live paycheck to paycheck who often are “essential” and yet among those most exposed and vulnerable. I’m troubled by the inequities this season has exposed, inequities that have been there the whole time. State-controlled economies seem another form of tyranny. But growing extremities of wealth and poverty, if not voluntarily addressed could lead to the disruptive forces that end with that kind of tyranny. At very least, it seems that we could figure out how to recognize all the “essential” jobs in our normal economy and ask whether they are being adequately paid.

I’ve also been musing on the data that has shown that our CO2 emissions have been lowered to the levels needed, at least for a few months, to prevent further warming of the planet. I’ve also been struck by the images of cities with clear blue skies above instead of a constant haze. It has been brought home to me what a drastic change is involved to meet our emission goals. We’ve basically had to shut down the planet. What does that tell us about the kind of economy we have built that must redline the planet’s operating limits to flourish? What if we set ourselves to thinking about what we’ve done in these months and ask if there is a way to develop an economy where people can work without pushing the planet’s operating limits? Rather than thinking either/or, might we start looking for both/and solutions?

Through most of history, much of economic life revolved around the home. It did not involve all the commuting, the huge office complexes, the relentless global travel of modern life, nor the kind of entertainment complex of large scale gatherings that are perhaps the hardest to resume in a time of pandemic. I can’t help wondering what could emerge from this messy, stressful, and yet strangely creative time. I, at least want to begin asking if there might be different ways of conceiving of the good life.

At very least, when disease is past, could it mean a renewed community life–and many hugs?

Musings on “Thinking Christianly”

woman looking at sunset

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Yesterday I reviewed a bookTo Think Christianly. In some ways, it is a peculiar phrase, and someone asked about the origins of this language. The question prompted me to muse on the phrase, and the significance it has had for me. At the outset, I need to offer the caveat that I write these reflections as a committed follower of Christ, which you probably already guessed.

  1. The phrase seems most associated with Harry Blamires, author of The Christian Mind: How Should A Christian Think? Blamires was a mentee of C. S. Lewis, once headed an English department, and wrote literary criticism (including a book on James Joyce’s Ulysses), theology, and novels.
  2. When I hear the phrase “thinking Christianly,” it suggests to me the bringing of Christian belief and practice to bear on whatever I am thinking about.
  3. The idea that undergirds “thinking Christianly” was probably best articulated by Abraham Kuyper when he said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
  4. Christ is central both as sovereign and servant. Christian thinking both strives to think and act in all things as Christ would, and yet does so humbly, conscious from whom we learn, and how much we’ve yet to learn.
  5. Thinking Christianly is done in light of the great story we find ourselves a part of–the story of creation and what it means to be human as part of a larger world entrusted to our care, how human rebellion has changed everything and explains “what’s wrong with the world?,” how Christ’s incarnate saving work addresses the human dilemma, and toward what end history is moving.
  6. Thinking Christianly recognizes no difference between sacred and secular, and touches every human endeavor from food production to waste management systems, from microbiology to cosmology.
  7. Thinking Christianly is dynamic rather than static. It is not “Christian thought” etched in stone. It moves forward with ever new questions rather than once and for answers.
  8. Contrary to the popular image of the solitary scholar, thinking Christianly is both individual and communal. Great ideas may emerge in the wilderness but are tested and refined in diverse communities.
  9. Thinking Christianly is thinking. “Thinking” is probably a topic unto itself. At very least, can we agree that thinking is a process of reasoning, moving from premises to conclusions, assessing the arguments that support a proposal, using logic and intuition to understand our world and our place in it? It is not just turning a feeling into an assertion that cannot be questioned, but must be accepted.
  10. It takes work to think Christianly. From ongoing reading of the scriptures, our sourcebook for the great story, to building up a base of understanding about the questions we are considering, to wrestling through the relation between the two, this is not either instant nor easy.

Why does it matter? Thinking Christianly will not lead to a utopian society. We can frame elegant and eloquent ways of thinking about everything from gardening to politics and fail to love God or neighbor. But we will love neither God nor neighbor well without thinking Christianly. If we do not think Christianly, either we will substitute reactions and emotions for thought, or we will allow ways of thinking alien to our deepest commitments to shape our lives. Frankly, it seems that there are a lot of examples of this kind of thing. What saddens me is that none of it honors God or seeks the flourishing of others that is neighbor love. It saddens me that we miss the joy of pursuing the love of God in every human endeavor and settle for so much less. But the flip side is that to think Christianly means that everything we do, and how and why we do it, matters.

We Were Not Ready For This

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We were not ready for this. Literally. None of our bodies were ready for Covid-19, a novel coronavirus to which none of us are immune.

We could discuss whether our respective countries were ready for this. Frankly, that’s a quagmire I’d prefer to avoid. I wonder, given the infectiousness of the virus, its ability to spread before people are symptomatic, and how easily we travel from one point on the globe to another whether this would have been possible to prevent. Don’t want to get in an argument on that one though…

It’s plain that many of us were not ready economically. This exposes the vulnerabilities and inequities in our economic systems in many countries. Many live paycheck to paycheck, or even day to day. Few have the six months of savings financial advisors recommend.

Our supply chains were not ready for the hoarding of toilet paper, or infections to run through a key sector of business, like meat-packing facilities.

We weren’t ready with our health. Some of the vulnerabilities to this disease reflect poor habits of self-care: diet, exercise, tobacco use that make lungs, hearts, and kidneys more vulnerable.

What has struck me most profoundly is that we weren’t ready spiritually.

We have a hard time being home-bound, if we are blessed to have homes or apartments. Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” When stay at home orders or recommendations extend beyond a few weeks, I’ve noticed the increased restlessness, even though people can get out to walk, buy groceries and necessities, take walks or drives, and go to work if required. Why our restlessness of heart, and what does this say of us?

We weren’t ready for a problem that didn’t yield to a quick human solution. We are anxious at what we cannot control. We are impatient at what cannot be set to rights in a manner of weeks. We are frustrated that those in authority have no solution that can restart our economy and keep all of us safe from infection. Many of us avoid thinking that it might take a year or more for this pandemic to be done with us, before we can truly go back to life the way it was, if we ever can go back. What does our anger and rancor reveal when the truth is that we all are faced with something not faced in our lifetimes, something for which we don’t have a roadmap?

We weren’t ready, and I speak particularly as an American, for a world where the “big ME” has to take a back seat to “we’re in this together.” Some are doing some amazing things from the medical personnel and first responders who risk their lives to care for others, to the many people who have stepped up to provide for people in desperate need. But it troubles me in a situation where any of us could be infected without knowing it, that people would refuse to wear a mask to protect others, including those who stock the shelves of their grocery, who fill their prescriptions, or for the elderly who have ventured out to buy their groceries. What is missing in our lives when my personal comfort and convenience ranks above the protection of others who may be vulnerable?

Our online behavior of recent years hasn’t prepared us for this, and I’ve become aware of my own bent inclinations in this regard. I find myself spending far too much time following the back and forth of “exposés” and rebuttals, of debates about where blame is to be placed, of protecting lives, and protecting livelihoods. I find myself angered more than I’d like to admit and depressed, and in my worst moments caught up in this stuff. A wake up call came for me a few days ago when I learned that a former colleague, a dear friend, was seriously ill with Covid-19. I realized how none of this had anything to offer my friend, or me. I was reduced to prayer, to going to “the rock that is higher” to find help for my friend, and to still the anxious concern I had for him. Thanks be to God that as I write it appears that he has turned a corner.

I wasn’t ready for this. These months have laid bare the unseemly and the shallow and the poorly formed in my life. And I suspect this process is not yet finished. The question is will I just give way to such things, or pretend they are not there, even though I catch them lurking in my life in those moments of insight? Will I justify such things, clothing them in talk of my rights or freedoms, or will I confess the ugliness, the unhealthy habits of mind and body, and find help in community with others who share my faith? Will I allow the stillness and solitude to lay bare my heart and heal it? Will I surrender the illusion of control that has been shattered by these events and listen with hope for the bidding of what is within my reach?

None of us were ready for this. I’m not sure there was a way we could have been. Perhaps instead of trying to figure out what we will make of this, the question we might ask is, what will we allow all this to make of us?