Tag Archives: pandemic

Brave New World

Storm Shelter (via Pinterest) 2

via Pinterest

The jury is out on whether we are living into a dystopian or utopian novel, but it seems apparent that the future will necessarily be different than the past. The “how” remains TBD.

Like many, I watched the Bill Gates TED Talk on pandemics five years after the fact and was simultaneously fascinated by its prophetic nature and wistful that we as a collective society did not insist that such preparations be a major topic in the 2016 election and since. Had we all been so forward-thinking this great loss of life and livelihood could have been greatly mitigated.

But since we can’t go back, what now? How should we be forward-thinking today? Those of us who live in the American Midwest and American South are familiar with storm shelters, and I am toying with that concept as a public policy metaphor for the future.

For those unfamiliar with storm shelters, in parts of the country where the terror of tornadoes is a constant threat, many homeowners install a storm shelter, an underground safe room for retreat when tornadoes suddenly appear (see the picture from Pinterest above). When the haunting tornado siren cries out, the family (and often neighbors) rush in, secure the door, let the storm pass, and emerge to survey the damage—and if all is well, get back to life as normal.

We may need to consider a similar idea for the entire planet. Let me explain.

It may be a couple of years before a vaccine for this particular coronavirus is confirmed, but regardless, there will be others, and as a result there will inevitably be more opportunities to practice social distancing for weeks at a time. It seems wise that governments, businesses, schools, churches, and families are much more prepared for those times. Like a proverbial storm shelter, we could build plans and budgets so that we can quickly pivot when we face the next biological storm.

I avoid talking politics publicly anymore for a thousand reasons, but I do wish we could understand and agree that our economic system is neither pure command nor pure market. Experience has taught us that both extremes are dangerous and there are times when it is in the best interest of everyone to ensure that certain basic things are provided to everyone—things like electricity, water, and roads, just to name a few. So for example, this brave new world might lead us to consider modifying the list to include things like WiFi and computer access for those occasions when the world needs to shelter in place. (And, despite your political party of choice, surely the pandemic can help us see the need for a better conversation about health care in general.)

I’m not trying to engage a debate. Instead, I am simply trying to imagine the future in the hopes that we are better prepared next time. For there will be a next time.

It is one thing to build a shelter to jump in when a storm rushes through. It is quite another project to consider how the entire world might do that for weeks at a time—but that might be worth considering.

(Ab)Normal

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I have experienced more than my fair share of disasters, but someone opened up a big tent for this one to include a whole lot more people. Thinking back to the first time I encountered an upside-down world, I recall a particular phrase that made me crazy when interacting with someone outside the disaster zone: Are things getting back to normal around there?

I strongly oppose throat-punching in general, but the thought did cross my mind.

While recognizing the innocent ignorance of the question, what made it particularly infuriating was the lack of understanding that “normal” is the first fatality in a major disaster. Normal is gone forever. Coming to terms with that is not easy.

Classes resume at Lipscomb University today, online of course, and my “student life” team is reinventing the ways in which we facilitate the special Lipscomb community while physically separated from one another. But there is nothing about today that indicates life returning to “normal.”

A new normal isn’t necessarily bad. Change is inevitable, and change represents an opportunity to let go of negative habits and routines and embrace positive habits and routines. What is bad about situations like this is that we did not get to choose the destruction of normalcy; thus, we did not get the opportunity for closure. We did not choose the new normal—it chose us.

So here we are in this new world, and from past experience I do not recommend devoting a lot of energy longing for things to return to the way they were before. That’s just not going to happen. Now grieving that loss is more than okay. We owe it that.

But once you are finished grieving, work to create a new kind of normal that is somehow better than ever.

Resilient in Adversity

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I realize there are a few people who still think COVID-19 is a hoax because I have a diverse set of acquaintances and a Facebook account, but it is safe to say that the reality of the global pandemic has hit almost everyone. And hit hard. No one needs me to list the unpredictable disappointments and challenges that have combined to produce predictable emotions like anger, frustration, grief, and fear. Nevertheless, here we are.

And as we sit in this universal timeout, we find ourselves considering our individual purposes on this planet. For many, like grocery store workers, housekeeping staff, truck drivers, and healthcare providers, there is no longer a question whether what they do is important or appreciated. But as the rest of us reconsider how we work, we are forced to drill down to remember what our work is. I have surely been thinking about mine.

The student affairs profession in higher education exists to complement the academic work of faculty in educating the leaders of tomorrow. We complement by teaching outside the classroom and focusing on “life” competencies. In my new role and with my new team, we identified nine things we are trying to teach—our “mission”—and it is not difficult to understand how each is valuable during this time of crisis. We want every student to be:

* Spiritually disciplined
* Professionally prepared
* Resilient in adversity
* Intellectually curious
* Socially skilled
* Culturally competent
* Physically fit
* Financially literate
* Environmentally aware

Every single one of those matters now more than ever. But today, I am particularly interested in the one that says—resilient in adversity.

Adversity: A state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune.

Resilience: An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

Well, here we are. Practice is over, and it is game time for RESILIENCE. Even if ESPN is busy showing reruns.

But if any of us needs a little in-game coaching, I offer once again the famed quote from neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, who said: “Everything can be taken from a [human being] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Resilience begins with the choice of attitude—the one freedom that, regardless of any virus, cannot be taken away.

Social Distancing as an Act of Love — A Sermon in Absentia

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PC: Lipscomb University (Kristi Jones)

I spent a significant number of years delivering Sunday morning sermons, but that is no longer part of my life. Even if it was, our local churches are canceling services due to the pandemic, so where would I deliver a sermon anyway? But a sermon came to me nonetheless, so I will just deliver it right here. I have titled it: Social Distancing as an Act of Love—A Sermon in Absentia.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 (NRSV)

Good morning, and welcome to Virtual Church. Members and guests, please fill out an attendance card and place it in the comment box below.

The Incarnation serves as the foundation of the Gospel. God came and “lived among us”—or as Eugene Peterson put it, “moved into the neighborhood.” God’s love is such that God simply could not stand to be at a distance. God came near.

GOD with us. God WITH us.  God with US.

God did this in the humanity of Jesus, and in Jesus we see “the image of the invisible God.” We see what a walking-talking-breathing God looks like, and in Jesus we encounter one who notices the unnoticeable, one who touches the untouchable.

So we aren’t even surprised when we hear Jesus tell a story in Luke 15 about a shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine safe sheep and goes traipsing all over the countryside to find the goofy one who wandered off. And how he is giddy with joy as he carries it home draped across his shoulders. Of course he does. That’s God. So we are even less surprised at the follow-up story about a woman who still has nine coins but turns the house upside down looking for the one that is MIA. And how she throws a party like she won the lottery when she found that crazy coin of hers. Of course she did. That’s God.

But Jesus can be a little hard to figure at times.

That same Jesus, the one who moved into the neighborhood, that God-image who chases after lost folks and embraces them in bear hugs says nutty stuff like, “It’s better for you that I leave.” Um, what? He was apparently serious. (If you don’t believe me, check out John 16:7, MSG.) And back in Luke 15, right after those stories that picture God on a search and rescue, Jesus offers a third story where God is a dad who loses a son—and just lets him walk away. Doesn’t even follow him down the driveway.

That’s what has me thinking today. Love typically seeks people out, brings people close with hugs and high fives and holy smooches. But maybe sometimes love allows for distance.

In this time of pandemic, we are advised that the way to love your neighbor is to keep them at a distance. That feels so counterintuitive because, well, it typically is. But maybe not always.

My wife and I live in Nashville, Tennessee. Our oldest daughter lives in Los Angeles. Our youngest daughter lives in San Antonio. Our family practices social distancing all the time now. How did we let all that happen? Every once in a while it dawns on me how wrong that seems, and every once in a while it really hits me hard how much better it would be to be in close proximity to both of our sweet daughters. But more often I remember that it isn’t always right or better simply to be in the same zip code.

Love might can be gauged, but I don’t recommend a tape measure. Sometimes love draws near. Sometime love stands at a distance.

The last official event before spring break at Lipscomb University as announcements were made about an extended break and online classes was the Welcome to Our World Fashion Show, hosted by our Office of Intercultural Development. It was as beautiful as I anticipated. In a time of global pandemic, it felt so appropriate to recognize that our world is bound together in important ways. The closing line of the show reminded us that there is UNITY in DIVERSITY. That there can be a oneness in our many-ness.

I guess what I am saying is that from time to time there can also be a knitting together of hearts in a period of social distancing, as strange as that may seem.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always ‘me first,’
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
 – 1st Corinthians 13: 4-7 (MSG)