Not My First Pandemic

A recent story in USA Today opened with the following,

For many Americans, the novel coronavirus pandemic has generated illness-related fears that have little precedent in our lifetimes.

But 60 million Americans over the age of 70 have seen this horror show before: the polio scourge that ravaged the world’s young from roughly 1916 until Jonas Salk’s vaccination arrived in 1955.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/03/21/coronavirus-quarantine-haunts-polio-epidemic-survivors/2868771001/

Epidemics and pandemics are nothing new. The first recorded pandemic occurred prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. What’s the difference between an epidemic and pandemic, you may ask.  The answer is reach. If the disease is localized it is referred to as an epidemic. If a medical catastrophe crosses multiple borders it may be designated a pandemic.  The Greek prefix pan…means all.

The deadliest pandemic in history is the flu outbreak of 1918. Not only did it kill millions worldwide, but much like today, people around the globe were “social distancing” and wearing masks, although they were more pleased with the mask situation than many today (https://www.history.com/news/1918-spanish-flu-mask-wearing-resistance).

Fast forward to the 1950s and ‘60s.Americans were recovering from WWII. They were sure that the world was now in good shape.  Then polio hit. The disease had been around for decades, but brought its full force in the 1950s. In 1952 alone more than 50,000 children were infected. Also known as “Infantile Paralysis,” children were the hardest hit demographic. 

Polio struck fear in the hearts of people worldwide. Having lived through this, I can affirm that the fear was palpable. Businesses and recreation areas were closed to the public. For me the greatest loss was the public swimming pool. A city kid whose family did not own a vehicle, this was a meeting place as well as our “swimming hole.” Schools were closed. Some churches closed, others were open but did not allow children to attend. No internet services were available. Kids couldn’t go to summer camps. As today, quarantines and lock-downs were part of life.

Parents worried that, having survived a world war, their family might not live through this viral plague. They had reason to be worried. The numbers of the afflicted rose, leaving many children paralyzed – or dead. We talked about it at school (I don’t recall my school being shut down) and gossiped about those we knew were affected. Fear stalked us. People we knew were being confined to iron lungs, steel cylinders in which the patient would be placed to help overcome paralysis of the respiratory system. They were that generation’s respirators. None of us wanted to end up in the lung.

In the late 1950s, help arrived in the form of a new vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk. All over the US inoculation stations were set up in schools hospitals and commercial spaces. I remember waiting in a long line, extending down Weybosset Street in Providence, for my polio shot being administered at the Outlet Company, the largest retail store in Rhode Island (now gone).

I graduated from high school in 1962. The fear was still there. Many young men who were enlisting in the armed forces worried that they might not pass the physical. Later that year, on a flight home to Providence, I actually ran into a guy who had been a year ahead of me at Central High School. I didn’t know Skip well and was surprised to see him.  He had been a polio victim. He had been in an iron lung for a while and I think he still had to spend some time in one. He was weakened. He was never going to regain his former health. But he was a drummer in a band and was able to travel and play.

It was not an easy period in our history. Panic, fear, resistance to imposed authority were all part of life – as is also the case today. We, as a nation, got through it. If God wills, we will also get through this one. But we will be damaged. 

NOTE: The History Channel has a number of episodes on epidemics and pandemics.

Of the making of many books…

While completing an online application recently I came across the following question, “What is our favorite book? Why?

Naturally I assumed they were not interested in hearing that it’s the Bible. I can even come up with the “why” for that one.

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our heart.[i]

It wasn’t that easy, however. There ae so many favorite books. They didn’t even specify a genre. And I enjoy books from a number of different categories. I didn’t even know how deep my reading diversity ran until I was sitting in the living room of friends in Vilnius, Lithuania and, having run out of reading material, picked up a slim volume from their bookshelves. Not exactly my kind of book, I thought, but started reading and was quickly hooked. The book was At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon.[ii] I have since read the entire series.

Not only do I read widely, but I read regularly. My grandson James asked me recently ”If you had to give up one, which would it be, coffee  or books?” Did I mention that he’s mean? I’m a coffee snob, but chose to give it up and continue reading. Fortunately, the exercise was hypothetical.

It took me some time, but I finally settled upon a title as my provisional favorite, knowing that were many others which could just as easily fit the description. I hope the readers enjoyed my answer. I wonder if they realized what a challenge they had presented me. I also wonder what they would have selected.

I this time time of quarantine for some, I wonder what book you, my readers, might have chosen, and why. Feel free to give more than one response.

ENJOY.

[i] Westminster Confession of Faith I,5.

[ii] First in a series of whimsical mysteries involving an unassuming Episcopal priest.

Think on These Things

I’m old. I’m also in that now fashionable category called immuno-compromised. These facts determine to a large extent my reactions to Covid-19.

Throughout my adult life, I have been involved in research and analysis. As a journalist and as a pastor, these were important skills. In today’s environment, with regard to coming to an understanding of what’s true and what’s propaganda, these skills are, for the most part, useless.

I have no problem admitting that I am not a scientist (neither is Bill Nye, by the way). But, who are these experts popping up all over the place to explain to us what our situation is? And why do they all contradict one another? Are these people seeing the same data?

Some tell us we need masks. Others say they’re actually harmful. It’s no more harmful than seasonal flu. Oh, but it may wipe out a large portion of the earth’s population. It’s Trump’s fault. Actually a lot of these experts and politicians seem to agree with that one.

Last week I asked the same question as Pontius Pilate: “What is Truth?” It seems that most of these experts wouldn’t recognize it if they tripped over it. The Bible has a lot to say about Truth. I’ll mention only one verse: Philippians 4:8.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Obviously, I have been thinking about these things. I’m still not clear on what’s fact and what’s fiction. OK, I’ll mention another verse. Joshua 1:9, 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
That’s the Truth that can sustain me.

If all these experts are looking at the same, or at least similar, data, why the confusion? How many people have died? Did they all die FROM Covid-19?
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but this could convert me. It’s easy to see Orwellian double-speak here.

Now the nation is divided over the proper response. Crowds are showing up at State Houses and beaches to protest the closures. Some of these folk are armed. Today many states are allowing businesses to reopen. In others they are extending the “stay-at-home” orders. Where do they get the right to do this?

Sooner or later, I expect, this will end. What then? A lot of folks will rush to their favorite restaurant to dine and mingle. That’s assuming their eating establishment didn’t go out of business. The last one I ate at actually closed permanently last week.

I don’t know what to believe (regarding the pandemic. I know what to believe about God). Early on, before the quarantine orders started spewing from the microphones at City Halls and State Houses, I decided that for me it would be best if I stayed at home. In my situation I think that’s the right thing for me to do. That does not mean that it’s right for you. When the economy tries to restart, I will not be joining the happy throngs rushing to get back to whatever counts as normal. I’m old. I’m also in that now-fashionable category called immuno-compromised.


What’s Happening?

For several reasons, this blog has been dormant for some time. Posting this entry does not guarantee that I will be blogging regularly again, but there are several issues going on in my country (USA) and around the globe, that I have addressed in past posts and on other blogs. The one below has been on my mind for a while. It’s somewhat dated with regard to the current events mentioned, but I have not edited it. You can mentally update it by thinking: North Korea, Putin and Russia, Wars all over the middle east and Africa, School shootings (and stabbings), general political unrest. Of course, many of the issues mentioned in the post remain today. Read any newspaper and the headlines will emphasize the thoughts below.

This post was published in 2010 on the (now defunct) blog “Coffee with Curt.” Comments are welcome.

 

Something is, Indeed, Happening Here

In an online forum in which I participate, the question was asked, recently, “What is the music in you head right now?” Strangely enough it was an easy question for me, since one song has been running through my head for some time. It’s “For What It’s Worth,” by Buffalo-Springfield

The group itself was only together for two or three years, although all its members went on to great musical careers. This song, which came out in 1967, was their big hit. Not only that, but it became the rock anthem of the 60s and 70s.  

The year 1967 was a tumultuous year in this country. Protest against the war in Vietnam was at its height. Demonstrations; rallies; even violence over the unpopular war was widespread. Priest Daniel Berrigan, with several others, went into a draft office and splattered red liquid – made up partly of their own blood – over draft records. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that the US gov’t is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.  Part of the lyrics for the song read like this:

What a field-day for the heat A thousand people in the streetSinging songs and they carrying signsMostly say, hooray for our side. It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.

(Of course, I can hear the music in my head).

Paranoia and fear were all around. 

I propose this song as the Rock Anthem of today,  for an indefinite period.

We’re out of Bush’s unpopular war (for the most part) and we’re entrenched in Obama’s unpopular war. The economy is in bad shape (don’t ever accuse me of understatement!). Election campaigns are dirtier than ever. Race relations are in the toilet. Winter’s coming and we’re still dependent on foreign oil. Immigration politics and policies are dividing the nation. Fear of socialism – in our own country  – is rampant.

Anybody who is a member of any patriotic organization is labeled a domestic terrorist suspect. Our names are on several lists gathered and disseminated by our own government. Mistrust of the government is probably at its highest since the 60s (if not higher).

Paranoia and fear are all around.

There’s somethin’ happenin’ here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there A-tellin’ me I’ve got to beware.

I think it’s time we stop. Children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s goin’ down.
There’s battle lines bein’ drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong. Young people speakin’ their minds A-gettin’ so much resistance from behind.

The song is only 2 minutes and 39 seconds long. Its worth a listen. And maybe we should “stop. Children, what’s that sound?”

Everybody look what’s goin’ down.

 

Preparing for That Iceberg

I have often remarked that with the way health care is being managed in the US, I half expect to be put on an iceberg and allowed to float away and perish. This thought is based upon a tradition among some Eskimo peoples to do exactly that when people got to old to contribute to the general welfare of the society. Note the past tense. I believe this practice may be out of vogue today. But, maybe it will be revived in America.

Consider the story of Barbara Wagner, an elderly woman in Oregon.

She was a lung cancer patient who was presented with the “choice” to end her life.

Wagner said: “I got a letter in the mail that basically said if you want to take the pills, we will help you get that from the doctor and we will stand there and watch you die. But we won’t give you the medication to live.” See the whole story here.

th-2There are numerous stories like this all over the nation. It’s variously called senicide or senilicide. One supposedly civil or dignified manner of doing this is called “doctor-assisted suicide.” Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and California have all passed legislation which call for “compassionate aid in dying.” More states are expected to follow suit. After all, it will see money and reduce the old person’s drag in the community.

Daniel Callahan, an influential bioethicist and co-founder of the prestigious Hastings Center, a nonpartisan bioethics research institute in New York  argues for a cease-fire in America’s “war against death,” calling on us to surrender gracefully; Americans thus “may die earlier than [is now common], but they will die better deaths.”  Read more here.

th-2Now I am very aware that there are some complex ethical questions involved regarding stewardship of our God-given resources. Sometimes “heroic measures,” or extraordinary life-sustaining treatment may be vain attempts to ward off the inevitability of death. These are decisions which must be made on a case-by-case basis, with the understanding that we do not lean toward the taking of a life because it’s easier than living.

I offer two good reads, one from a very practical perspective written by a woman who went through the death of her husband and position paper from a conservative denomination.

I am rapidly approaching the age at which the metaphorical iceerg may become a reality for me. What will that look like? It may be refusal of medical care.It may be the offer of pills to end it all.

God’s Word is not silent in this matter. It teaches that we are made in God’s image. It also teaches that he is in control of our lives and our deaths. We are not to try to usurp the authority which is His alone. It also teaches that we are to live and learn through suffering, not to give in and quit, though we may desperately desire to do so. Peter wrote tht suffering is part f the Christian life.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9, ESV).

Listen to the Apostle Paul who struggled with the decision of whether to live or die.

Yes, and I will rejoice, or I know that brought your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ  will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me  to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is  to depart and  be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.    Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,  so that in me  you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Do not, my friends, buy into the spirit of the age which devalues human life. We already, as a society, kill millions on the birth end of the life journey. Let us work against that scourge which is abortion and be vigilant in protecting the elderly as well.

 

What is Really Responsible for Orlando?

The cause of the shooting in Orlando is SIN. The cause of all the mass shootings – and not so massive shootings – is SIN.

Taking guns away from law-abiding citizens will not erase anybody’s sin nature. If ALL guns are gone, then man in his ingenuity will find other ways to kill. He already has quite a track record in that regard.

God made man with the ability to think and create. Mankind has used these gifts in deplorable manners.

Let’s pray for those who were injured in Orlando and the families who lost loved ones.

Let’s pray for revival.

Let’s pray for the police, medical personnel, chaplains, and others reaching out to help in this heinous situation.

Church Culture III

We’ve been looking at an overall picture of general culture. There is a lot to be learned about popular culture by looking at the signs and the bumper stickers that people display

There are academic studies on bumper sticker culture. For some they just let us know where they recently vacationed. For others they describe a worldview. Of course we have the whole “I (heart)…” series. Here are some more:

  • 38Eat Well, Stay Fit, Die Anyway.
  • No Matter Where You Go, There You Are.
  • My Child Can Beat Up Your Honor Student.
  • Don’t Laugh – Your Daughter Might Be In Here. (On Old Truck)
  • Stamp Out Crime – Abolish the IRS
  • Dare to keep the CIA off Drugs.
  • Just say no to sexist Pro-Lifers.
  • My Other Car is a Broom.
  • Quit Sniveling.
  • Have You Flogged Your Crew Today?
  • Husbands Are Proof That Women Have a Sense of Humor.
  • Forget the Whales, Save the Cowboy.
  • Eat American Lamb. Ten Million Coyotes Can’t be Wrong.
  • “If You Call Some Animals Pets, How Can You Call Other Animals Dinner?”
  • Old Skiers Never Die. They Just go Downhill.
  • Money Isn’t Everything, But it Sure Keeps the Kids In Touch.
  • Happiness is the Ball in the Fairway.
  • Have You Hugged Your Stockbroker Today?
  • My Karma just ran over your Dogma.
  • My Mother was a Travel Agent for Guilt Trips
  • Hug Your Kids at Home and Belt Them in the Car.
  • I brake for Hallucinations.
  • Illiterate? Call This Number for Help…
  • Welcome to Colorado – Now Go Home
  • If You Love Jesus Tithe – Any Fool Can Honk
  • I’m OK. You’re So-So.
  • Will Rogers Never Met Howard Cosell.
  • Use Caution in Passing – Driver Chewing Tobacco
  • If Men Could Have Abortions, It Would Be a Sacrament
  • Your Mother’s Choice was Pro-Life.
  • Don’t Honk – I’m Pedaling as Fast as I Can
  • If You Can Read This Bumper Sticker, You’re In Range

And Finally, “Help Stamp Out Bumper Stickers.”

That’s an overview on culture. It’s an interesting and rich subject. We’ve only scratched the surface. Next time we start looking at what this has to do with the church.