Archives For Covid

To Pray or Not to Pray

January 29, 2022 — 14 Comments

I’m in the midst of a health issue, and it has sharpened some thoughts I have long held about prayer.

I welcome prayer. From anyone, pretty much.

That’s because I believe despite the pray-ers beliefs’, it could possibly help, definitely can’t harm, and may simply possess a positive sociological element, even when the prayers are not efficacious. More on that in a moment.

The Current Concern

I think I’m coming off of a bad cold. Early in the week I experienced a cough, a moderate temp, and a couple other symptoms (minus the scratchy throat) I’ve associated with the Rhinovirus for decades.

I’m vaxxed and boosted against the Coronavirus, but being a super-conscientious pastor (who counts a fair number of seniors in his congregation) I decided it would be best to know whether or not these few sickly days have been caused by omicron, I got tested yesterday. Results are due in today or tomorrow.

Testing is never so easy, of course, as we would like it to be. In my case, my primary medical care provider was referring people like me to other facilities. The one which was the least inconvenient proved to still involve major time and effort.

The hassle came from having to fill out a fistful of forms to verify everything from my insurance providers to my current gender identification. One sheet was an extensive questionnaire about who they could speak to in regard to my health. It was more thorough than ones I’d encountered in the past, and raised an existential question at its end.

It began by asking if they could talk to my spouse (I think they called her a “partner”). I checked “yes” and wrote in her name. Next it asked about other family members. Triple check; I inscribed the names of my three children. After that it asked about sharing information with my other medical providers. Fine (although getting different medical caregivers to communicate on my behalf in the past has proven quite challenging).

I was surprised the form didn’t ask whether I wanted the results made available to the People’s Republic of China, but immediately realized that was a moot question since they have access to every American’s most personal data. And due to their earlier breaches of Department of Defense systems they probably already have my DNA code.

The final question on the form was not surprising. Still, in the (literal) Friday morning fog, I considered responding rather than simply passing on to the next sheet. “Is there anyone else we can speak to about your condition?”

I had an answer to that, and even I doubt anyone will ever read it once the paper is filed, I decided to write it down. “You have my permission to speak to God on my behalf.”

The Theological Ramifications of My Invitation

Being a Lutheran, especially a theologically trained one, means you can never take something simply at face value. You have to critically analyze it to the point where each of the statement’s innate flaws is stripped bare. I’m sure some readers are doing that right now with my words.

The question boils down to whether or not it is a “good” thing to have people from alien worldviews or faiths pray for you. I’ve met people in the past who were quite clear about not wanting Christians, for example, to pray for them.

A few of these were atheists. In such cases I tried to give them the benefit of not desiring to be seen as a hypocrite by “welcoming” such prayers during a crisis – but I sometimes thought they were actually afraid of the turbulence that would result from God showing his divine hand in the pristine secularity of their lives.

Returning to my case, I have never consciously rejected anyone’s offer to silently pray for me. The following ideas guide my thinking on the subject.

1. It could well mean absolutely nothing. The offer to pray is frequently just a reflex. Many people say “I’ll pray for you” the moment they hear about a need, and I think we’d all be disappointed to discover how many actually follow through. While this sort of thinking is not healthy for those who manifest it, it causes no harm to the intended recipient of the prayer.

2. Non-Christians who might be called “spiritual” want to wish others well, and I don’t see any benefit in preventing them. This sort of person may use prayer terminology, but some are more self-aware and say things like “I’m sending you positive thoughts.” To be gracious, they are attempting to communicate their empathy. To be accurate, they are wasting their time. I know I don’t have telepathy, so any thoughts they may be able to transmit in my direct won’t be received at this end. Likewise for the new age trope “positive energy.” That’s the immaterial stuff that gurus have supposedly been harnessing for centuries to make our world a more peaceful place. Since I’m pretty sure it’s 100% sentiment, it doesn’t hurt me, so I don’t mind having it launched toward my vector.

3. Adherents of other religions will sometimes offer to pray for each other. In this too, I find no problem. Those who know me, understand without a shadow of doubt, that I believe Jesus Christ’s declaration that he is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him.

But if they wish to offer me the sincere expression of their friendship by offering to pray for me, I regard that as an honor. Not something that will result in a positive intervention by a deity which does not actually exist.

(By the same token, when I offer to pray on their behalf, I do not expect them to believe in the faith I profess, or even the existence of God himself.)

So, this sort of prayer does me no harm, does not compromise my Christian witness, and can strengthen bonds of friendship and shared humanity with other individuals for whom Jesus died.

4. People who worship real entities. Now, this is really “out there,” as they say, and so uncommon as to be something none of us are likely to ever experience. But let’s discuss it theoretically, since it falls under the umbrella of having “anyone” pray for you. In this scenario, we have a person who worships an actual supernatural entity. Let’s ignore the lower echelons of the “principalities and powers” and skip right to their boss, the broken-winged Lucifer. Let’s also ignore the fact no true Satanist would be inclined to intercede for a Christian who ridicules their Master. But, let’s assume someone did mention my name in their conversations with Screwtape’s “Our Father Below.” It would mean, and accomplish, nothing. Christians, you see, have nothing to fear from Satan. He is powerless against the Holy Spirit of God himself who lives within us.

Update

So, as it turns out, I just got a call from a nurse at the clinic and . . . yes, I do have a case of covid. It was mercifully short, with no temp now and decreasing nasal congestion. Basically back to “normal,” with a future “natural immunity” added to my “vaccine-induced immunity.”

Adding new T cells to my body’s arsenal will be a beneficial consequence of this week’s sickness.

The dangers of covid for people (like myself) possessing so-called comorbidities, are real. I pray regularly for medical breakthroughs in battling the viruses, bacteria and cellular aberrations that plague human life.

But I recognize all too well that life is fleeting, as the Scriptures say, like “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

As Larry Norman used to sing, we’re “only visiting this planet,” on our way to a new and unfallen world like the one the Lord first created for us.

This pilgrimage entails many challenges. And, although I know my Savior will see me safely through everything I face, you have my permission to pray for me.

Have you severed ties with a friend or relative because you view the question of vaccination policies differently?

Apparently this tragedy is growing in frequency. Just last week, a person very, very dear to me declared that we had “come to a parting of the ways.” I pray for a restoration of the relationship when emotions cool, but for the moment, it seems I am “dead” to my sister.

She is one of the people who find themselves at one end of the vaccination spectrum. There are, of course, some who believe those who receive vaccinations are dupes, endangering their health with possibly unnecessary medicine that may have lasting side effects. At the opposite end, stand those who consider anyone unwilling to be vaccinated as tantamount to being a heartless murderer.

Sadly, those of us who lie midway along said spectrum—who understand precisely how others might arrive at those extreme positions, and call for reasonable, respectful conversation—are typically regarded with contempt by each extreme.

Ironically, my wife and I eagerly received our injections at the first possible opportunity. Yet, because our adult children (intelligent and mature, one and all) have made a different decision, we have suffered this separation from some of our extended family.

A report published this week revealed 14% of vaccinated respondents said “they ended things with friends who refused to get vaccinated.” That suggests that approximately one out of seven people are unwilling to place friendships on pause; they apparently prefer to terminate them.

“Stress from the Pandemic Can Destroy Relationships with Friends—Even Families” describes the tragedy in the following way.

The pandemic’s toll on friendships goes deeper than mere political polarization — the confusion of a mask with support for “big government.” It’s more about discovering personality differences between you and your relatives and friends, including different levels of risk-tolerance and what might seem like irrational optimism on one side vs. hysterical alarmism on the other.

At a time when many of us are losing sleep, picturing ourselves or someone we love gasping for air in a crowded emergency room, these differences are painfully relevant.

Taking these words to heart should help us all be more tolerant of our varying responses to the strain of living during this pandemic.

I hope that you have not experienced the pain of ruined relationships. And, I beg you, if you are inclined to write off friends who disagree with you on this controversial subject, please reconsider. After all, as C.S. Lewis wisely said to those who claim to be followers of Jesus, “to be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you” (The Weight of Glory).

You Should Read This

I just finished the best article I’ve read on this subject, and commend it to you. Pastor Peter Leithart authored the provocatively titled “Why I Didn’t Get the Covid Vaccine.”

The title is a little misleading, since Leithart’s rationale is that as a covid survivor he currently has the resulting “natural immunity.”

The article is quite enlightening, however, because it is not an argument for or against the treatment per se. Rather, it is a very brief historical reminder of a perhaps more perilous ailment. He approaches the subject through the work of an Italian philosopher.

As Roberto Esposito put it in Biopolitics, political authority was traditionally the authority to kill. Under the reign of biopolitics, rulers care for and manage life. Once upon a time, the ruler bore a sword; now, a syringe.

“Body politic” is an ancient metaphor, but in biopolitical regimes the body becomes the real place “where the exercise of power [is] concentrated.” Public health takes center stage in a “limitless process of medicalization” as health care is “superimposed” on politics. It’s now the government’s job—its primary job—to keep us safe and healthy.

“Life becomes government business,” Esposito writes, and “government becomes first and foremost the governance of life.” To manage life, governments have to exercise social control, keep populations under surveillance, maintain constantly-updated databases, and, as necessary, isolate and separate sectors deemed dangerous to the corporate body.

In an article written more than a year ago, entitled “Biopolitics in the Time of Coronavirus,” the writer describes the evolution of the concept of biopolitics since the 1970s. He warned then, “Instead of worrying about the increase of surveillance mechanisms and indiscriminate control under a new state of exception, I therefore tend to worry about the fact that we already are docile, obedient biopolitical subjects.” One can only imagine what he might say today.

Back to Relationships

I am no philosopher, and it is not the purpose of this post to answer the big questions. What I believe is simple. The vaccine is good for some, but not all. And disease is terrifying, especially when it can be terminal.

Oh, and I believe one other thing. We should discuss such matters civilly. Graciously, even. Because differences of honest opinion about debatable matters are insufficient grounds for destroying lifelong relationships. After all, true friendships are precious . . . and rare.

C.S. Lewis discerned a little-known truth about the importance of friendships. One that reminds us they should not be discarded in the passion of a moment. Lewis describes here how there are eternal repercussions related to our actions. Refer to salvation, the resurrection and heaven as the “glory” God desires for all people, Lewis writes:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. . . .

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations [heaven or hell].

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours (The Weight of Glory).

Pubs & Pandemics

June 1, 2020 — 5 Comments

How would the Inklings have conducted their meetings during a pandemic? Would they have continued secret rendezvous at the Eagle and Child?

Of course not. They were a law-abiding group of thinkers, and would never have thought to visit a pub if the Queen or Prime Minister told them to remain at home. After all, even the University of Oxford is following government directives: “All non-essential staff members must work from home. . . . Students have been asked to leave the University unless they have a compelling reason to stay.”

My guess is that C.S. Lewis would have relished the opportunity to settle in at home to work on his correspondence and perhaps a new essay. He would, of course, still want to enjoy a good walk during the day—although Lewis would doubtless wear a mask and maintain safe distances.

Pubs are on my mind due to a recent article entitled “How the Black Death Gave Rise to British Pub Culture: For centuries-old bars, a pandemic is nothing new.”

The piece featured two ancient public houses that lay “claim to the contentious title of Britain’s oldest pub and [are] no stranger[s] to pandemics.” While we lived in the U.K., I don’t recall ever visiting Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in Saint Albans.* However, we did enjoy visiting Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham.

In times of tribulation, such as war, pubs provide a warm respite for many. An alcoholic can drink happily in solitude at home.⁑ But one express purpose of a pub is to foster a casual and comfortable social environment.

C.S. Lewis and his fellow Inklings enjoyed pubs in Oxford. When Lewis moved to the environs of Cambridge, he naturally sought out a similar setting in which to relax and entertain. In 1954, he wrote the following to a friend.

There are excellent pubs at Cambridge; and I speak from first-hand knowledge, having just returned from a week of spying out the land there. I’m afraid one must admit that, architecturally, Cambridge beats Oxford; there is so much more variety in Cambridge.

Here in the United States, only “essential” functions have remained accessible during the various restrictions imposed by “stay-at-home orders.” It’s sobering to ponder what our culture values most important, weigh those deemed necessary (e.g. marijuana dispensaries) against those deemed nonessential (e.g. churches).

Gradually now they intend to transition toward a restoration of some of our Constitutional rights. The New York Times is updating the state-by-state status on a regular basis.

It will be interesting to see if this progresses forward gradually, or if unanticipated events cause any locales to reverse their course.

Hopefully, life will return to “normalcy” sooner rather than later. The scars will last though, whatever happens. Lives lost. Businesses closed, with hopes shattered and dreams dispelled. In the aftermath of this global tragedy, it may well be that cordial, familiar gathering places, will once again play a role in reestablishing balance.

The previously cited article about the Black Plague says, “For Brits, a pub has always been more than just a place that sells beer . . .” That sentiment is true in many other cultures, as well. We humans are, by our very nature, social beings. Being deprived of these social settings has caused some people to experience a sort of shell shock. It may well take some time—and perhaps even a pint or two—to begin the healing.   


* Our family did visit the spectacular Roman ruins of Verulamium. One of the Romans’ largest cities, it was destroyed by Boudicca during the rebellion she led. It was later renamed in honor of Alban, one of the first British martyrs.

⁑ Some alcoholics do prefer to get plastered in bars. Examples include Ernest Hemingway and Dylan Thomas. The latter had his final drink at New York City’s White Horse Tavern. “After downing 18 shots, Thomas collapsed outside the tavern and later died at St. Vincent’s Hospital.”