Covid Thoughts: Masks

Recently I started writing down thoughts and events that are happening during the Pandemic. Then I read a story at the NY Times about Why You Should Start a Coronavirus Diary. So, I’m breaking out a little of what I had written into categories and then expanding a bit. I usually write book reviews, or try to have solid content on Theology or Biblical Studies, or even occasionally wade into how I think a Biblical Worldview should influence political thought, but I had never really thought about just writing down in Journal format (with one exception). This is somewhat ironic, as the word blog is a portmanteau of Web and Log (diary).

I’m a putting it all into one word doc and saving maybe for my future grandkids or something, to understand the day to day, from our families view, of what life is like right now. I’m posting it here, in case anyone else finds it interesting or relates. We are also interviewing Sprout in video form, maybe for her grandkids, so she can say in her own words what life is like dealing with the ‘sickness’. I was fixing our neighbors fence about an hour ago and she told me the world is no fun right now. Obviously, I won’t post a video of her here, but I’d recommend if you haven’t heard of that idea yet, to record a few quick thoughts of your kids, or even yourself, you should give it a try.

I shared recently what it was like trying to find rhythm, what Sundays and at home worship looked like, and about spending time with my daughter (there is also a follow up if you want to hear her playlist). Today, I have a few quick thoughts about wearing masks. This wasn’t originally going to be its own post, but just a bullet point in the miscellaneous posts I’ve had ongoing to be published at the (hopefully near) end. I’m writing this May 22, which is the end of Week 9 of quarantine (as I count it). A few weeks ago, the idea of wearing a mask was fairly common place, but now, almost certainly fomented by Russian bots, it is a divisive issue. As unfortunately often happens, Fox News conspiracies spill over into ‘opinion’ within the church, so that, now, masks have become an point of contention in churches returning to in person service. I’ll come back to that, but first my original masks thoughts, why there is(was) legitimate confusion, why I decided to write more (a terrible article I read), and how I think churches should respond.

Masks are terrible. They are incredible annoying to wear, I have way more respect for the healthcare works and others who have to wear them all day. Around Week 2 of everything the CDC was still saying we didn’t need to wear masks. Their reasoning was based on flu research, and the fact that most people wear them incorrectly, and the concern that wearing a masks would cause you to touch your face more. I was actually discussing this with a neighbor the day before they changed their recommendation (she was thinking of wearing one to the grocery store). The few trips I had made to the store, I just wore gloves, as did most people (though a few wore masks), and we cleaned and wiped down everything we brought into the house.

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However, the next week I followed the revised guidelines to go to the store. Interestingly, they have since stated not to wear gloves (not because they are ineffective, but due to the false sense of security and people are now not washing/cleaning their hands; and touching their face/adjusting their masks with the gloved hands). I was slightly early in adopting wearing one (not yet half the people at the store had them). I didn’t actually have a true masks. I had originally planned to wear the particle masks you might wear when painting or when cutting the grass (I don’t have allergies, but when we are in a drought it gets quite dusty), however we didn’t have any more in the garage and I was certain the hardware store would be out, so I wore the next best thing I had, a fishing buff. It is light and fairly comfortable, making it easy to wear. Here is a picture of me heading to get groceries new the end of Week 3 (I’m hold sanitation wipes and a grocery list).

A week or so later, masks became seemingly ubiquitous, almost everyone at the store had on (which made most people stop wearing gloves). Articles about how to wear them popped up on most news site; informing me that the buff wasn’t a good idea. Homemade masks proliferated, and my work even provided most of us with our own masks. Unfortunately, they were all mediums, which fit perfectly, in some sense, and looked kind of cool (gave me a Sub Zero/Mortal Kombat look), except it was so fitted, that I couldn’t talk. That is more or less fine for running to the store, but was problematic for work. Luckily, Mrs. MMT’s mom randomly decided to send us a few masks she made her self.

meeting

This is a picture of me wearing a masks at a public meeting (held virtually, but there were other people in our conference room). It was a formal meeting, so I’m wearing a jacket, but also the masks. It was incredibly annoying. The meeting last almost four hours, with no break, in which I had to interact, talk, and read out loud, all while wearing this thing. On top of that, I need glasses for distance (such as looking at a screen across the room) and talking fogged them, making them almost useless to wear. This was taken Week 7, in which it was normal to wear these. People had homemade one with fun colors, or that matched their clothes, or (of course) your football team.

That all changed some time last week. It started with an article I saw someone post. This was from a respected Christian site, from a good writer, but it really bothered me and I was frustrated by where this was posted. It started off well enough, as brothers/sisters in Christ, we are going to have some differences in going back to in person church. Is it too soon or too late, or about right? How man people to let in at a time? These are serious issues, not just for church but for life in general. It is a true problem of economics versus public health. For instance, my state was the first and most reckless to open. I thought it was a bad idea, and may well still be, but it has been three weeks now and our hospitalizations/deaths (which have at three to four week lag) have been flat.

But then the article goes on to make an idiotic use of false equivalency, whether or not to wear a mask at church. Unlike the balance of health/economy, there is no balance here. The CDC recommends you should (though the WHO doesn’t recommend universal wearing) and has advice on how to wear and even make them, experts think it is important to do what we can, some even think that if 60% of people did we could end this thing. There is obviously a lot of confusion, especially as recommendations change and new data/studies come out. Even what I linked is about a month old, even more recent studies have shown the importance of wearing a mask, though it might no do a whole lot for you, it is about protecting others. Yet, even that leads to the idea that I protect you, you protect me. In the end, it does do more for you, just not directly. So, sure in some sense, the efficacy could be debated, or how it protects is misunderstood.

That isn’t what wasn’t the reason stated though, there was a quick thought of ‘living in fear.’ As in some people would think those wearing masks are afraid (despite the fact that you would be loving that person by protecting them from you, while they disrespected you and your family by being careless). Then, Mrs. MMT was talking to an old friend, and while this friend is often a walking Fox News talking point, her husband works at a hospital and a close relative has gone in and out of remission with cancer for over a decade. Her friend dropped the ‘living in fear’ line on her. Despite her husband wear masks and protective clothing all day, coming home, undressing in the garage, putting the clothes straight to the wash, and showering. Or the fact that her relative, and occasionally those around her, wear masks after chemo treatments due to her being immune-compromised.

I hopped on the cesspool that is twitter (which I typically just use for book reviews and sports) and found this talking point everywhere, including protesters comparing masks to slavery, rape, and of course Nazi’s. Apparently it is tyranny to not potentially cause people to die. This is really a fascinating and disturbing trend. I don’t crush a six pack then drive 100 miles an hour without a seatbelt because I ‘live in fear’. I didn’t vaccinate my children (even the anti-vaxx people don’t use ‘fear’ nonsense, they just don’t understand/reject science) because I ‘live in fear’. People don’t go through chemo or take medicine or wash their hands because they ‘live in fear’. These are all just practical, common sense ways of living life and protecting yourself and others. Also known as loving your neighbor. Jesus says, go the extra mile if someone ask you to go on and to give someone your coat also if they ask for a shirt. Are we seriously now saying, as Christians, that we won’t wear a piece of cloth on our face for an hour to protect our brothers and sisters and their families?

I wish that were more rhetorical, but the answer is clearly ‘no’. An issue in America is that both liberal and conservative ideologies continually end up with the ‘self’ (the individual) as the most important thing. As Christians we don’t believe this. We should be serving others, thinking of ourselves last. But right now, on my end in the conservative Christian world, we are saying ‘no’, ‘no, my individual rights and freedom and comfort are far more important than your well-being or the care of others’. As always, I’m too long winded and this is longer than I thought, so I’ll wrap up now. I was happy to hear from a few Catholics that I work with that their churches will be requiring masks when they open (could be a diocese thing) and that even my parents’s conservative SBC is asking for masks. I’m still not sure what my church will do, but I know if these are not part of the guidelines, I will not attend.

 

 

 

 

Lying In Public

I’ve tended to avoid politics recently on this site, especially after Trump’s take over of the Republican Party and a huge portion of American Protestantism. The posts tend to be some of the least read, but take the most time from me. What feedback I do receive is typically negative, people sending me stupid emails like ‘let me rebuke you in love’ then go on to not mention a single thing about what I wrote, or the challenge I received to list one part of the Democratic party’s platform that fits a Christian worldview (despite this person refusing to do the same for the Republican platform). I’m sure I will hear some of those this time (though all feedback is welcome), but I feel compelled to say something about the recent words of a very prominent theologian.

Al Mohler’s recent statement about his decision to vote for Trump in the coming election caught a lot of people by surprise. I was certainly shocked. You can read/watch Mohler’s own thoughts on Trump from 2016, in a piece called Evangelical Support of Trump Destroys Moral Credibility.  In it, he states that Trump is far worse a person than Bill Clinton and that character matters, going as far as saying he would have to pen an apology to Clinton for supporting his impeachment in the 90’s. Well, apparently now something has changed. Many have pointed his son in law now being part of the Trump administration, that would be disheartening, but ‘reasonable’ in some senses, at least. Jonathan Merritt says this is just what Mohler does, follow trends to stay in power. I remain a little skeptical of this, because it doesn’t sound like much that I’ve heard about him. Again, that would at least make a little sense. Mohler goes through a typical list of political items that he says come from his Biblical Worldview, I want to go through each of these, but again the question, has his worldview changed in four years? He says no, it is the Democratic Party platform that changed.  John Fea has some quick thoughts and David French probably has the best articles out there (read it over the rest of this, if you only have time for one).

I’ll give him credit for admitting that Trump is still a terrible person, he hasn’t changed. I do appreciate that honesty. I do find it somewhat ironic that he says he had no problem, no thought given to voting for Reagan in 1980. So, the guy that signed California’s no-fault divorce and legalized abortion. That guy, the first divorced president in U.S. history (Trump is only the second) was the ‘no-thought’ choice over a Sunday School teacher and member of Mohler’s own Southern Baptist Convention, so maybe this shouldn’t be surprising, but I digress. It is only surprising in so far as he was so staunchly against Trump four years ago and his stunning about face, with no real explanation. Except, again, vague notions against the DNC platform and then the infuriating statement that he doesn’t see how anyone with a Christian worldview wouldn’t vote for Trump. So, what are some of the issues.

Abortion 
I’ve written about this multiple times, so I won’t go much into it now, but for 40 years we’ve supposedly tried to overturn Roe, with no success, meanwhile abortions have fallen every year since the 80’s. While I do find it troubling when presidential candidates say that there is no place for pro-life in their party, or when a governor make a bizarre and painfully ironic declaration that elective abortions are ‘life-sustaining‘, I still do not believe Roe is going anywhere, nor do I believe overturning Roe is the most effective way to reduce abortions.

Transgender Revolution
This perhaps includes a few other LGBT issues, perhaps even a reference to gay marriage. I think the gay marriage issue is even more gone than abortion. Much like overturning Roe won’t end abortions, ending gay marriage won’t end, what, homosexual activity, I guess. As it is, less and less people are getting married and the divorce rate remains higher than other countries. I’d rather see us explain the importance and value of marriage than argue about who can or can’t. Lowering the cohabitation and divorce rates seem far more important. I haven’t written much about the Transgender issues, mostly because I struggle to understand them. Mohler talks about them somewhat frequently on his Podcast. I do think there are problems there, but I do not think this is as common or as supported as people seem to believe. I also think some of the ‘movement’ will collapse under the weight of their own logical inconsistency and/or fracture into other identity issues. Maybe, I’m too naive.

Religious Liberty
Granted, this one I do have some concern about, but I don’t actually believe it is split as nicely as ‘R’ for and ‘D’ against. Warren showed her ignorance of church membership make up and Beto took a last ditch effort as his campaign by supporting the end of tax benefits for Biblical based churches. Warren was quickly reminded that minorities, a huge constituency for Democrats, have higher church attendance or more Biblically based (conservative) views than whites. Even Buttigieg said Beto’s idea was dumb, and his campaign was over. It is essentially required that Democrats go to pander at black churches (just as Republicans are required to pander to white celebrity pastors). This alone makes me feel safe against any attacks on religious liberty (of actual religious institutions, I don’t care about bakeries).

Here’s the thing, even if I was scarred, is tying myself to Trump the answer? I don’t remember Paul or Peter ever giving money or using the pulpit to support the Roman emperor in hopes of ending persecution. To be clear, when you go all Karen on the kid at Target because he is required to say ‘Happy Holidays’ and no one supports you, it is because you are a dick, not because you are persecuted. Maybe I’ll write more on this later, but the Bible is filled verses about standing strong in the face of persecution, or rejoicing, or growing, but as far as I know, there is nothing about seeking political power through moral corruption to end your suffering. So, even if we end up with actual issues in my lifetime (which I do not believe will happen), our first call is to persevere, not worship the emperor.

Similarly to our focus on the importance of marriage, maybe if we were known for things like care for the sick, widowed, orphan, and those in prison, or maybe if we did a better job of loving our neighbor, our standing would be higher in society and we’d have the moral esteem to speak on issues. I’m not saying we should abandon the whole gospel for the truncated social gospel as the ‘mainline’ churches did 100 years ago, but it is important to remember that Roman emperors used to be annoyed because they wanted to get rid of us, but the people supported us due to our care for ‘even those not among them’.

Constitutional Interpretation 
He uses the seminary word, hermeneutics, but if you listen to his Podcast, you know he means ‘strict constructionist’ and is/was a big fan of Scalia. I would say this is an idiotic statement, but I believe Molher is quite intelligent, so he must just be disingenuous here. Strict interpretation is fine, tearing it up and starting again is fine, a more reasonable approach (say…amendments) is also fine. What none of them has is a singular Biblical basis. If anything, I’d say his view is the worst as it is dangerous for the president of the flagship seminary of America’s largest denomination to equate the Constitution with something that is perfect and immutable. It is almost blasphemous to me.

 

I think that is generally a summary of his main problems. I don’t really agree with him, as the past thousand words should show. I do think the DNC has a lot of problems, perhaps foremost is their staunch abortion support. It is unfortunate that this has become a litmus tests for their candidates and the main reason I’ll never be a Democrat. However, let’s not pretend the Republican platform is perfect.

I believe in fiscal discipline, something that has far more Biblical support than any of Mohler’s concerns for ‘liberty’ or constitutional issues. St. Ronnie gave us the first peacetime deficit, all so he could give the rich tax breaks (this also required new taxes on social security). Bush tried to tighten things and lost support because of it. Clinton gave us the only surplus in my lifetime. Bush pissed it away. Obama shrunk the deficit for seven years. Trump added a Trillion to it in just two years. (This was all before the very necessary spending to fight Covid that has added to the deficit). I’m alright with minor deficits, maybe 1% of GDP max, but that is outside the scope of this post. I think the reason for them matters as well. The reason for Trump’s Trillions was a tax cut for the rich, during a time of economic expansion, partly paid for through increases on families with children (don’t tell me you gave me a tax break by increasing the standard deduction, which I don’t use, by $12,000 and then removing $25,000 in personal exemptions). Unfortunately, most people struggle with math or are unaware of how taxes work. I tried not to be happy when lower middle and middle income Trump supporters ended up with a huge tax bill after the ‘cut’.

Likewise, the Republican platform just does not care about people or families. They oppose things like sick leave or maternity leave (we are one of about five countries depending on how you count it that does not have this), they have no interest in fixing the fact that we have the most expensive childcare, medical care, and education in the world. That is not a platform I support either. Senate leader McConnell recently fought for no oversight for 7/8 figure bonuses for CEOs of companies getting taxpayer money, but he is opposed to supporting states/cities getting money because some of that money may go to help retired firefighter, teachers, and nurses who worked their whole lives for it.

Finally, as a government employee, I am sick of the years and years I’ve seen Republicans attack, defund, undermine, and destroy public infrastructure, then turn around and say it doesn’t work. They are the proverbial kid on a bike that puts a stick through the spokes of the front wheel while riding, then complains the bike doesn’t work. That is also not a platform I support. I’m not even going to get started on Trump, the man who disbanded the Pandemic Response team, decided not to open enrollment in the ACA so that people who have lost their jobs can get healthcare, and who suggested maybe we could inject bleach (with our doctors) to fight Covid-19. Neither parties have platforms I can support, so I focus on people and if you were trying to make up someone, I’m not sure you could some up with someone as bad as Trump (who has also stated that he has never done anything wrong, so he’s never needed to ask God for forgiveness, and received 81% of the white Evangelical vote).

I could go on with his issues, but I won’t. I just want a competent president, one that understands basic math, science, history, or politics. I’d like one that was at least somewhat moral, a ‘decent’ person by society standards (as a Christian, I don’t believe anybody is ‘good’). We just could not be further than this with Trump. Mohler disagrees, I still don’t buy what he is saying. None of the issues have changed much recently. He is a smart man, so I do not believe he has been tricked, nor do I believe his views have changed. I fear he is more concerned with political power and to state that his view is the only Biblical worldview is him just lying in public.

Edit – I spent the majority of my Christian life in SBC churches, taking classes at SBC seminaries, and even had hopes of one day attending Mohler’s own Southern Seminary for PhD work. I do not currently attend an SBC church, but when the topic of our church joining a denomination comes up, I push for SBC. I am subscribed to Mohler’s podcast and have read many of his articles. However, this is just too much, and if he somehow becomes president of the SBC next year, I think it will permanently damage them. I certainly could not support them the same way.

 

Covid Thoughts: Sundays and At Home Worship

Recently I started writing down thoughts and events that are happening during the Pandemic. Then I read a story at the NY Times about Why You Should Start a Coronavirus Diary. So, I’m breaking out a little of what I had written into categories and then expanding a bit. I usually write book reviews, or try to have solid content on Theology or Biblical Studies, or even occasionally wade into how I think a Biblical Worldview should influence political thought, but I had never really thought about just writing down in Journal format (with one exception). This is somewhat ironic, as the word blog is a portmanteau of Web and Log (diary).

I’m a putting it all into one word doc and saving maybe for my future grandkids or something, to understand the day to day, from our families view, of what life is like right now. I’m posting it here, in case anyone else finds it interesting or relates. We are also interviewing Sprout in video form, maybe for her grandkids, so she can say in her own words what life is like dealing with the ‘sickness’. I was fixing our neighbors fence about an hour ago and she told me the world is no fun right now. Obviously, I won’t post a video of her here, but I’d recommend if you haven’t heard of that idea yet, to record a few quick thoughts of your kids, or even yourself, you should give it a try.

I shared recently what it was like trying to find rhythm, which was excluded what Sundays and at home worship looked like, so I’ll do that today.

Before the quarantine, we typically left for church around 9:15 and returned home around noon, ate lunch, then had community group at 1:00, which usually lasted to 3-3:30 depending on how things went. We do a rotation of group, then just the girls, then group, then guys, with the fifth Sunday either being off or a party.

We were one Sunday into Meaning of Marriage, so when our church made the decision to go online for service on March 15, it worked out well, because it was going to be the girls meeting. So, we switched to a video call for the girls, figuring we’d do guys the next week, and then maybe we’d be meeting again in person. That obviously hasn’t happened, as I write this on April 25, tomorrow will be the seventh straight week of not meeting in person. Our new rhythm is rotating girl/guys video call, as I didn’t think we’d be able to really have a discussion as a group over video. This also means the ‘meetings’ have been shorter, usually only about an hour.

So now our days look something like this: sleep as late as the Nuggets will allow us (usually 6:30-7:00), have breakfast and hang out as a family: 9ish Nuggets go down for a nap (though tomorrow we’ll try to push them a little so they will sleep through service), Mrs. MMT and Sprout clean the house while I read or do some other chore; Service is at 10:00 more on that below; 11:00 Nuggets are usually up and service is over, go for a Bottle Walk (in which we’ve run into our pastor a few times, because he wishes he could live in this neighborhood) and then eat lunch before the call at 1:00; Glorious Quiet Time from 2:00 to 3:30, then another Bottle Walk, then just hang out before dinner, family devotional and bedtime.

We have much more time with our immediate family, but no time with our community group or church family (except those that live in this neighborhood).

At home worship has been…interesting. The first Sunday (March 15) did not go as planned. Our church decided to do a Zoom Webinar where the lead pastor would make announcements from his home, our adjunct preacher would give a short message from his home, the Chair of the Elder Board would give the (previously scheduled) update from his home, and then Mrs. MMT was tapped to sing a few songs and play the piano. As we had announcements and the service was only going to be an hour, she was going to sing two songs between announcements and the sermon, and then one at the end while people took communion at home.

We spent almost two hours the day before doing a run through, testing lighting and testing a microphone to see what would pick up the best, and how people could hear both her and the piano well. Then Sunday came. She starts the first song, and about a minute into it, Zoom drops us. We wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t had my phone also running as a participant. Our pastor comes back on to say we’ve been dropped and gets ready to move us to the sermon, but then we are back on. Obviously, just some glitch, so she starts the song again. Then, about a minute into it, Zoom drops us again. Both of our phones are blowing up with texts. Hers was from her friends with words of encouragement such as ‘so sorry, I know how hard you prepped’ or ‘sounded beautiful while it lasted.’ I just had texts from jackasses with things like ‘get it together’ or people who apparently thought we didn’t have internet. Guys versus girls, right?

Anyway, we were on the phone with our lead pastor while the sermon was going on and decided that we’d try again, but with no video, in case it was bandwidth. So, she was still able to sing during communion, and it worked out pretty well. A few people took video and sent it to us. The next week, they decided to stream from our church building, but it was all at once, and the bandwidth couldn’t hold and many people either had a lag or the video dropped. Finally, the follow week (March 29), they split it into to streams at different times and there were no issues.

We’ve not had Sprout in service yet, so our at home worship was the first time she has been with us to sing songs or listen to the sermon. She sings as much as she can, and actually knows some of the hymns. Even if she doesn’t know the song, she tries to sing along because she enjoys it and considers herself a good singer. I find it difficult to sing, one because her cuteness make me laugh, but also Mrs. MMT is a trained singer and can sing out like normal, but be able to lower her volume. I cannot do that, so it is either me singing loudly, over the two of them, or me trying to turn the volume down, but that devolves to something like quite talking (somewhat) in tune. She also likes to sing the harmony, but unfortunately, I often don’t know the melody.

Sprout can’t quite make it through the sermon, despite it being shorted to the 15-20 minute range. So, we’ve given in and allow to her play on a tablet during the sermon, before the last few songs. I actually wish the sermons would be longer, if not back to the full length, but I understand trying to keep the whole service to an hour, plus I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to try to preach to an empty room (or one with four or five people). We don’t even make it through a whole service before we have to get the Nuggets, so I’d miss it either way. We take communion before a final song and the benediction. I know the in home communion is controversial (or even not allowed in some denominations), but our church does it every Sunday, so I appreciate attempting to keep that rhythm. (It feels a little weird opening a bottle of wine before 10:00 A.M., but if the pastor says so…) That is not to say that it is the same. It isn’t, and I miss going to place to worship with other people. I’ve already about worship during separation, while lacking, it is our only option.

Our church has also posted some kids worship videos. It is really geared for just over Sprout’s age, so it doesn’t work very well for us, but I have heard great things from people who have kids that age, that know the songs and movements with most of them. We’ll try them anyway, especially on rainy days when we can’t walk after service. This usually ends up with us watching other songs, typically Wolves at the gate.

              

That is Sprout dancing to one of the songs, in the other picture, we can just barely make out her Ukelele, while she plays along with the song, and, yes, those are maracas she brought so that the Nuggets can also join in the fun.

Sadly, Easter was spent at home. We did have a successful Zoom call with Mrs. MMT’s sister and family, her parents, and grandma. We had a fairly diasterious video call with our community group, which includes 14 adults and seven kids (all under five, with four less than a year old). Then a nice video chat with my parents before watching that opera guy sing from a church in Italy and having a huge Easter lunch.

So, that is about it. Sundays feel empty, compared to how we used to spend them. Worship is falling into place, but also lacking and a reminder of our call to be together, but we continue on and remember the anticipation our coming reunion with our brothers and sisters, and our future hope of worship with all Christians together with Christ, forever.

 

Easter 2020

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Luke 24:1-12 (ESV)

The Resurrection

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

Good Friday 2020

It is Good Friday today, just as a reminder to anyone out there, like me, who is struggling to keep up with which day it is. It doesn’t feel like Good Friday, mostly because nothing feels the way it should right now. Hopefully, your church is finding a way to record or broadcast something. If not, feel free to check out mine – Roswell Church (a bonus is, you’ll get to hear Mrs. MMT sing). More specifically, nothing feels right because of the quarantine (I guess it is officially shelter in place), and the pain that comes from that is the separation; separation from friends, family, activities, some of us are even missing work. I’ve been thinking a good bit about separation as it relates to Good Friday, and wanted to offer a few thoughts. It is a sad, lonely, frustrating, and hard time, but with apologies to John Piper – don’t waste your separation.

Remember that the Son was separated from the Father. For all of eternity, before the creation of time, and before the universe as we know it existed, there was the Triune communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This was the perfect existence of God, lacking nothing. However, the Son would empty Himself (not of his Divinity, but of His willingness to exercise authority) and take the form of a man, the man Jesus. At the end of His ministry, He was crucified, which is what we remember on Good Friday. While on the cross, He took our sin on to Himself, and in the eyes of the Father replaced our sin with His righteousness. However, the Father could not look upon the Son with this sin, and the Son experienced separation from the Trinity and the wrath of God. Separation from God is the definition of Hell. So the Son, who had spent an infinite amount of time with the Father, gave that up to bear our sins, to take our punishment, to experience Hell, so that we would not. Think about that separation today.

Remember that we are now no longer separated from the presence God. There was even more that happened on the cross. We are told that the veil in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. In the temple, which already had requirements to enter, that was a veil that separated an area called the Holy of Holies, that only the High Priest could enter, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement to office a sacrifice. But now, the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus, was made. The veil (our separation from the presence) was taken away. We no longer need a High Priest, but through Christ, our Great High Priest, we can go directly to the Father. This is why we now have the opportunity to pray every day to God and ask forgiveness for our sins. We no longer need some intermediary, but can go directly to God. Think about the removal of that separation today.

Remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Thematically, you aren’t supposed to talk about the happy ending on Good Friday, that is supposed to wait until Easter (spoiler alert: Christ conquered death, rose again, that one day we shall do likewise), but I’m only pretend writer, so it is alright. But in remembering our current situation, our state of separation from society, it is important to remember that in some way it doesn’t matter. It is awful, but it is temporary. Thinking eternally,  we will be reunited with friends and family, and be in the perfect presence of God. For now, even as we wait, nothing can separate us from God’s love. Think about that today, and be reassured by these words from Romans 8:

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is Still Lent

Believe it or not, it is still Lent. Everything seems to have gone to the wayside, due to Pandemic, but it is important to remember. Not necessarily Lent, as most people know it, but Good Friday next Friday and, of course, Easter Sunday. I’ve written some thoughts on Lent before, because it has always been a little odd to me. Some people hate it and don’t do it because the Bible doesn’t say we have to, others do it, because their Church says they have to. I don’t always participate, because I feel as if I am not ‘doing it right’. But it should at least be a reflective time. I time to think about our own brokenness and remember of what Christ experienced our punishment for us.

This included being separated from God. Right now, while we are all separated from most everyone and everything, and we are all too aware of the brokenness of the world, it is just that much more important to focus on the Cross and especially the Resurrection. It should point us to our future hope, when there will be no more pain and suffering, no more death, and no more separation. This is a good Lenten practice anyway, but with so much going on right on, I pray everyone is remembering where we can find hope and that that can bring come level of comfort during this time.

Thoughts on Covid-19, Quarantine, and Community

I suppose it was inevitable that I would write something about all that is going on. I wanted to get back to posting my reviews and some other thoughts, but it seems impossible to get Covid-19 off your mind, especially after having remote church service again yesterday.

Providentially, perhaps, I was reading part of Psalm 42 yesterday. Psalm 42 & 43 were likely originally one but were broken up at some point for an unknown reason. The psalm is a pretty well-known one, it is where we get the song ‘as the deer pant(eth) for the water.’ It is not written by David, but by the Sons of Korah (or Korathites), yet it is often attributed to David as a prayer and during a when he is away from the temple, possibly when he was hiding from Absalom. Some modern critics, of course, give no attribution to David, but what is not in dispute is we have a man who is not in Jerusalem, and is longing to be back so that he can worship God.

Because of the work of Christ on the cross, we no longer need a temple or priest or anything else to worship God. We can go directly to God with our prayers, songs, praise and lemants. However, when we are seperated from our community of worship, as we have been the past few weeks, there is a sense of loss. The psalm is in three stanzas, each ending with –

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

It struck me how I do long to praise him again, in community, with other believers and friends at our church home. Again, we can all sing and praise God on our own, in our homes, as we have been doing. But I think it is important to remember that it is still lacking, something is missing, it just isn’t the same. Pastors can ask their congregants to post pictures of their families singing and taking communion together, and that helps, but we must acknowledge the longing. We miss some aspects of God that He reveals to us in and through community and taking communion together. So, I feel that deeply right now, that as a deer longs for streams of water, I long to worship again in community.

This time of longing should also remind us of future hope. That one day in the new Earth we will have perfect communion, all believers worship together, before God himself. We need to remember, always, that one day perfection will come and all the feelings of missing and lacking will be no more.

While it isn’t as enjoyable, please remember we are all ‘social distancing’ for the good of others. This is loving your neighbor. It is important to remember that no matter how inconvenient it is to be stuck in your house, it is far less of a pain than being hospitalized or seeing a loved one on a ventilator. It is a sacrifice for us, but Christians should not be scared to love others in this way. Another thing to remember is that while you may be able to work from home (which, again, is quite inconvenient) others may have no work at all.

Ask your pastors or community group leaders if they know of someone in your community in need, someone who has not received a paycheck in a week or who may not receive one in the next few weeks. I’d challenge everyone to personally decide if the need all (or any) of the stimulus money they are receiving in a few weeks. Maybe you need to shore up your own emergency fund first, but if you are still receiving your regular paycheck, consider giving most or all of it to your Church to be distributed to those who really need it. This wouldn’t be the first time Christians did this (see Acts, Galatians, etc. in the New Testament) and is unlikely it will be the last.

Also, keep in touch with your community and your actual neighbors. Maybe some are old or immunocompromised and cannot go out to the grocery store or to the pharmacy. This should be a time of Christians being once again known for charity in the community.

Remember, too, that while it is annoying, staying at home will help. In a month or so when rates are (hopefully) dropping, let’s remember not to look back and see it was all for nothing, that not that many people were impacted. It will be because of the actions we took to slow the spread, that the rates will decline. As a population, it is hard to see counterfactuals, something that cannot be proven. It is easy to see rates drop and be flippant, but it is because they are actually effective measures that are taken. It is a good reminder that the original vaccine was for Cow Pox (vaccine roughly means ‘no cow’ in Latin) and it took only a single generation before we have the original anti-vaxxers, people who questions the use of vaccines (and this was over 300 years ago). Of course, we still have these problem today, such as the measles outbreak last fall, a disease that was eradicated in the US 20 years ago.

Finally, look for the good where you can. Sure, maybe your babies are crying during communion, but maybe you also have the opportunity to talk with your other children about the significance of communion or what it means to be baptised. Our daughter is too young to attend service at our church regularly, but now she watches it with us. And she loves to sing, whether she knows the words or not. If she doesn’t, sometimes we laugh as she pretends she does. Or yesterday, there was a song she did know – It is Well – which is quite significant to us and so she sings and you wish you had closed the windows because no the pollen is getting to you and making your eyes water. Maybe like us, you have tried to keep your community group going by video conference. It isn’t always the best, and soon all men will have only two hairstyle – buzz cut and hat – but it is good to see everyone and at least check in on each other.

So, keep connected, everyone, we will be together eventually. Admit that longing to be together again. Remember that we are in a fallen broken world, but will live on day perfectly, together. Hope in God.

Book Review: Faith for This Moment

Faith for This Moment

My Rating – Must read

Level – Quick, easy read

Summary
The premise of the book is that the US has changed, we are now a post-Christian nation, and so the question that we currently face is, what do we do about it? He points to a turning point (this moment) in his life, and one he thinks had a larger effect on the nation. To him, things changed after the Pulse nightclub shooting back in 2016. He specifically mentions an NPR interview with a local Orlando pastor, who has asked ‘how do Evangelicals respond to his crisis when it is clear politically that Evangelicals are anti-gay and pro-gun.’ Apparently the pastor had no answer. I suppose you could quibble with the anti-gay statement, but perception can become reality, a notion only made stronger with the 81% support of (self identified) Evangelicals for President Trump.

After the Intro, where he points out how proudly nonreligious Portland is, McKinley spends his first chapter discussing this moment as well as other broader trends in US culture. The following 12 chapters answer his question of what to do now. He compares modern Christians in America to ancient Jews in Babylon. That is to saw, we are exiles, which means that we will not fit nicely in to current norms of society. He challenges us to embrace this notion and spends a few chapters each on things like giving, Sabbath, vocation, and hospitality which on the one hand will will differentiate us even further, but on the other, are all commands from God for us to follow.

My Thoughts
I was originally going to rate this book a little lower, but as I wrote the summary, it made me realize how potentially important this book could be; if for nothing else than an intro into thinking about ourselves differently. In the age of political Christianity, where a large number of self described conservatives look solely to government for their source of comfort and strength, McKinley challenges the efficacy of these practices. On page 24 he states, ‘from gay marriage to gun control, these efforts have backfired.’ He goes on to point out the ways in which this is true as well as the lasting impact of the ‘Culture Wars.’ He comes back to this in a later chapter and discusses the fact that our efforts have gone here instead of teaching people the Bible and for this reason, ‘people have put down the Bible, and picked up self-help books.’ He doesn’t discuss this idea too much further but the sad fact is that this has had a double impact as self-help and inward, selfish focus have come back around and are now effecting the church more than the Bible.

A final thought I liked as he challenges political Christianity is in his chapter titled ‘Babylon.’ He discusses empires and the power of nations and reminds us that in the Bible the might nations (Babylon, Assyria, Egypt), where never the good guys. Instead, they were used, by God, to punish his people. This should make every Christian, especially those of us who pursue political power for the sake of Christ, to stop and think for a few moments. I think his challenge to Christian norms of political power might alone be worth reading the book, but if not (or if you are already there) the remainder of the book serves as a valuable intro practices that will help us live out our life in exile.

Many Christians haven’t even heard of some of the practices he touches (mentioned above), and certainly only a few really follow them well. Vocation might be the trickiest topic, especially for a generation who’s idea of career has become so converted. There are many other books to dive deeper into this topic if your interest was piqued. His strongest chapters were on hospitality, some Christians probably fail at most, and Sabbath. Really focusing in on Sabbath and rest and separation is cultural norms is an idea regaining prominence recently; I’ve seen few different books dive a little into it.

My only critique, really, is that the intro was too short. As someone born and raised in the South, I would’ve liked to hear a little more about the life of a Christian on the other end of the spectrum, the Pacific Northwest. Overall, I think it is an interesting, if short, book that hits on some big topics, from our interaction with our current moment, the concept of exile, and reforming some of the ancient practices of God’s people. The breadth of ideas and challenge of this book make it a must read.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: Practicing the King’s Economy

Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give

My Rating- Must Read

Level – Easy read, medium length

Summary
The book basically tries to answer the question of what would it look like if we worked, ran businesses, spent money/time, and gave money/time in a way that was entirely shaped by a Biblical World View. After the intro the book is broken into 12 chapters that are based on the six ‘keys’ to practicing ‘the King’s Economy’. One chapter will introduce the key and the next is a shorter chapter that gives examples of how that key works in the real life, with examples of people/organizations that the authors know.

The six keys are – Worship, this is about who we worship. Is it God or money and how does that look in the way that we give. Community, the focus here is about having a broad community of all types of people, particularly those from different economic classes. Work, why do we work and what is the point of work? Also, what does the Old Testament concept of ‘gleaning’ look like in a modern world? Equity, based on the command that their be no poor among us, this isn’t necessarily just about making sure everyone has money, but that every one has a job and kind provide for themselves (or help to give to others), even further, it is about making sure that those jobs are enough. Creation Care, this is about environmental stewardship. Finally, Rest, and this is a call to bring back the practice of Sabbath.

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book. It was probably the most thought provoking and in some way challenging book I’ve read in a long time. Sadly, it isn’t often you read a book targeted at a popular Christian audience that makes you think, even rarely does one challenge the way you should live.

I’ll get the two nit-picky things I didn’t like out of the way first. I didn’t really like the intro, and this was due to their misuse of stats that is a pet peeve of mine. In the intro, they are trying to show that we are richer now than ever, but more unhappy. Unfortunately, they use GDP per capita, which is a useless statistic, because it ignores income inequality and the fact that middle classes wages have been stagnant for decades. It also ignores cost like tuition and healthcare that have risen more rapidly than anything else. However, I don’t disagree with their premise, if nothing else, we are at least more materialistic than ever and constantly surround ourselves with distraction. Second, and I think this is more on the editors or publisher, they only ever refer to Jesus as King Jesus, and this is done to reiterate the title, and it is just awkward and I wish authors/editors wouldn’t do that.

No back to the good part, if you are modern American Christian, especially on the conservative or Republican side, this book will be a challenge. I’d suspect many hardcore Republican’s won’t finish this book as it challenge the assumption that making money is the most important thing in life. It also encourages people to pay living wages, which Republicans generally oppose vehemently. Of course, there are aspects that all sides of the political spectrum will like and dislike, which is a great reminder that neither political party works from a Biblical worldview and we ought not act like they do.

The first chapter, about putting God first and showing that by how we give should challenge the way we all handle money. American’s like to think of ourselves as generous, but in reality we give about 2.5% of income. The Community, Equity, and Rest were interesting chapters that should make you think, and if you take take it seriously, will affect your life. And of course, it should right? The Bible calls us to be different, and especially the chapters on Community and Rest are reminders of just how different we should look. The Creation Care chapter was good and I agree with all of it, I’m a big advocate of environmental stewardship. However, it was probably the weakest on a Biblical basis, and I’m not entirely sure it fit well with the rest of the book.

The best chapter, and worth the price of the book alone, is the Work chapter. For one, many of us, especially white-collar workers who have a lot of options, struggle with what work should look like in out lives, but the crazy part is gleaning. In the Old Testament, the Jews were not allowed to fully harvest their own fields. God required that they leave the edges unpicked so that the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners would have something that they could eat. Obviously, we are not a majority subsistence agricultural community anymore. So the authors dive into what it could look like and the ideas are fascinating and in some ways pretty radical to the way we view life in America.

I don’t necessarily agree with some of their options, or at least the way that they would work out in most places, but they are thought provoking nonetheless. It is certainly something I’ve never thought about before, but it has been on my mind sense I finished the book a few weeks ago. If you really want to be challenged and forced to think and try to rethink the way we view the economy today, and how we should view it as as Christians, this is a book for you. It is probably my favorite so far of 2018, and is definitely a  must read book.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Top post of the first half of 2018

I noticed many other bloggers do something like top post/most read of X year or the more prolific ones do a top of the month, or even week. I always kind of wondered how they knew, and that’s when I discovered the depth of the stats pages blogging platforms provide. I brought this up to Mrs. MMT and she thought it was stupid…that I didn’t know this was a thing. To be fair, she is an accredited PR professional, and my desire in life is to be a monk, but with sex, and fishing, and college football. Wait, where was I?

So I dug into my stats, and up until a few months ago, my most viewed overall (and winning by far and away for most views the day it was posted) was the time almost two years ago that I hosted the 2016 August Biblical Studies Carnival. That has since been passed by what is also my most read post of 2018 so far. My top five most read of 2018:

  1. Book Review: Sapiens
  2. Book Review: The Imperfect Disciple
  3. Book Review: Disciplines of a Godly Man
  4. Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life
  5. Tie – 10 Year Anniversary; Book Review: Four Views on Hell; Book Review: Darkness is My Only Companion

Why these posts? I have a few ideas, we’ll start from the bottom. Interestingly, Darkness is the only book review to make the list that I actually posted this year, so it’s probably there just due to recency. Similarly, Anniversary was post two weeks ago, and probably brought more of my Twits than book reviews due to the pictures of me and the Monday Morning Wife. Not sure about Four Views, other than Hell is weird and people have questions about it. Feels pretty cool that people found me from that.

My guess is that Imperfect, and the two disciplines books were popular searches due to Lent. I’ve already stated, I don’t know how to do Lent, but I do have two thoughts to help. First, you are probably looking up Lent because of fasting. I’ve heard nothing better than this Theocast podcast on fasting. Their idea that it isn’t necessarily about giving up food (Protestant view), but more about reclaiming time is fascinating. Second, if you are deciding which book to read, I can help. Imperfect is not about spiritual disciplines, but is still awesome and you should read it, and I’ve already written a post about why you should read Godly Man over Christian Life (though, if you are a woman, it’s still a better book).

So, this brings us to Sapiens. Why? Well, my stats pages tell me the terms searched that led people here, and basically, it was people searching for a ‘Christian review’ of the book. I was shocked/proud to find out that if you google this, I’ll be one of the top 5 or so (it changes) links shown. That’s really cool, but people were probably disappointed in what they found. I didn’t write a ‘Christian’ review in the sense people were probably searching. I mean, I am a Christian and I did review the book, but I think what people were look for was a Christian response. So, as a man of the people, I plan to write a Christian response to this book based solely on my guess what people were actually questioning (off the top of my head, it’s evolution).

Two final thoughts – I do Advanced Review Copy book reviews for a few publishers, but of the six book reviews that have brought the most readers this year, only one (Imperfect, from Baker Books), was one of these. Second, the May 2018 Biblical Studies Carnival is up over at 5 Minute Bible.

That’s it, those are my top five as of June 1, 2018. I plan to do an end of the year post for the most read of 2018, so stay tuned I guess. Thanks everyone who reads or follows me and I apologize in advance to anyone who found my by accident. I’ll try to do better next time.