My wife and I watched through the 2000’s version of Battlestar Galactica several years ago (her first watch, my second). For those unfamiliar, this iteration of the sci-fi classic involves a resumption of hostilities between the human race and a race of extraterrestrial cyborgs called Cylons that, in the interim since the last war, have discovered how to create versions of themselves that pass for human. Part of the ongoing mystery of the show revolved around the identities of the “final five” Cylon models, who likely were seeded among the main cast like sleeper agents, unaware of their true nature until they are activated.
This meant that anytime anyone in the main ensemble did anything remotely suspicious (or sus, for you younger readers), my wife immediately said with conviction, “Oh, that one’s definitely a Cylon.” When I pressed her on this, she eventually joked, “That’s because they’re all Cylons!” [Ironic spoiler redacted]
When a few of her assertions eventually proved true, she proudly pointed at the TV and said, “See? I totally called that.” When I questioned how many of her othere guesses were actually wrong, she waved my comment away and just repeated with a smile, “I called it.”
The way she saw it, if you make enough accusations of nefarious plotting and hidden agendas, being proven right a few times more than makes up for being proven wrong a great many more times.
To be honest, as I’m writing it, this post seems ill-advised.
After all, putting your opinions out there into the ether on social flash-points like the current worldwide plague is just asking for trouble–at least, if you don’t toe the party line of those holding the levers of power. It’s double-trouble if you don’t fall squarely into one faction or another, because then partisans from both sides are incensed, for opposing reasons.
My best bet is that I’m enough of an internet nobody that this will be just another little bubble blipping through the raging ocean of online content, unremarkable and unworthy of much attention.
Why do it, then?, you may ask. Fair question. To be honest, this is a generally-available post that is written with a few specific people in mind who may be curious/concerned about what this internet nobody thinks on the matter. Rather than simply send an email or make a phone call, I figured this would be a good way to get my thoughts out in a cohesive manner; plus, it might be an interesting bit of reading for someone outside of that small circle. Or perhaps I sub-consciously crave the sturm und drang of rage-comments from angry internet trolls, because my prideful little heart loves those sweet, sweet traffic spikes.
Whatever the motivation, here we are and here we go. (And, as my favorite former blogger and Calvinist gadfly would sometimes say, “pack a lunch.”)
“Before the dark times… before the Empire…”
When the coronavirus pandemic broke bad last February/March, I took it seriously and was rather concerned. After all, so little was known about how the virus spread, but the numbers spiked pretty quickly, it seemed. I checked the Johns Hopkins C19 dashboard at least daily, if not a few times a day, ruefully noting where the increases popped up (and side-eyeing China’s numbers that magically seemed to level off to zero for no explainable reason…). It reached a point where I realized I was checking it multiple times a day and letting those increases in the totals weigh more and more heavily on my heart.
I was also anxious for my own family. As infections began to grow in the US, and we learned that comorbidities like high blood pressure (check) and morbid obesity (double-check) contributed to higher rates of hospitalization and death, I knew that I had unwittingly set myself to be in the danger zone if I ever caught the disease. Add to that the knowledge that several of my loved ones faced the same dangers.
Even though the infection rates and death rates were not as sweeping as past epidemics and pandemics had been, we also didn’t really know where the ceiling was or what if anything could be done. The messaging coming from the medical establishment and national and local governments were inconsistent at best in those early months and downright insane on some days (two words: disinfectant infusions). The common thread (eventually) became pretty clear: keep your distance, wash your hands, wear a mask, limit outside contact.
This seemed sensible to me. While some people immediately started decrying governmental over-reach and questioned the reality of the virus (often with statements like “Do you actually KNOW anyone who has gotten really sick?”), as best as I could tell, these instructions made logical sense. (In fact, I appreciated finding a Martin Luther quote from the Black Plague (?) era in which he advised a friend to do pretty much the same things.) Even if the ultimate usefulness of masking may have been in question, my thought was that even a 10% “buff” on protection from spreading or inhaling viral particles was worth the relatively minor inconvenience and discomfort of masking up.
I heard more and more stories of people who refused to wear masks when they were in public. I didn’t think it made sense to refuse the mask when going into a private business that requested it; after all, as a conservative, I think businesses should have the right to mandate or not mandate such things. If we don’t think bakers should be strong-armed into “baking the cake,” then other businesses shouldn’t be strong-armed into enforcing the mask or not. Thats seemed to me to be the most consistent conservative position on the issue. (Spoiler alert: It still does, I think.)
Thing is, I wasn’t just making these decisions for me or my family.
Shepherding a Divided Flock
I’m an elder at my church, so my understanding of the virus and its implications had ripple effects that extended beyond my household and into my church family.
A big part of our discussions in the “elder room” (okay, it’s just a conference room in the church building but “elder room” sounds cooler, doesn’t it?) was weighing the conflicts between honoring the consciences and concerns of those who were opposed to mask-wearing and those who were in high-risk groups and had serious anxieties about being around unmasked people. We knew there were a lot of conflicting voices outside of our church (from various pastors, bloggers, and parachurch ministries) who were speaking into the lives of our congregants in very dogmatic ways. Even pastors and theologians whom I’ve admired for years were coming out with what I consider to be some really reckless statements over the course of the last year. In other words, we weren’t the only people discipling our flock, so we had to be able to address the questions that other teachers were raising in the minds of our folks.
In the end, we felt we didn’t have the luxury of being so dogmatic about this issue as those outside voices were (and are). Early on, we only had a few folks who got sick, but by God’s grace, we were able to open up after just a month or two of online-only “services,” with distancing and masking protocols in place. (Add this to the fact that we had literally just merged two churches into one, with our first week “together” having to be cancelled at the start of the pandemic lockdowns.) We recommended masks but tried to make allowances for medical or conscience issues contravening mask usage. We had frequent meetings and phone calls and emails from each side of the debate, informing us how we should act and how we could better serve their needs. There were misunderstandings and mis-statements that caused confusion and hurt feelings. It was a very hard season. (Point of fact, it still is a very hard season.) Through it all, we tried to meet the disparate needs of many folks, not perfectly, but as best as we could. We tried to keep a level head, look at the data available, and make the best decision we could.
Of course, things took an interesting turn when a good portion of our church family got Covid (including me).
Sidebar #1: No, it’s not just the flu.
I got sick just before Christmas. In God’s undeserved mercy, I was not so sick that I needed to be hospitalized, though the risk factors were certainly there. But getting Covid definitely proved the assertion that “it’s just the flu” is a complete lie.
How is Covid-19 different than the flu? 1) It’s slower to reveal itself, which means it’s easier to infect other people before your symptoms become apparent; 2) It hits harder than the flu does; I had both in 2020, and while the flu is nasty, Covid is worse; and 3) It lingers longer than the flu does. My flu experience was a rough 1-2 weeks, all told. My Covid experience? A week-plus of primary symptoms and then a solid 4-6 weeks of greatly diminished lung capacity. That stinker just HUNG ON for weeks. I was starting to get nervous that I was one of those cases where the disease doesn’t get better for months, before finally I started to get my wind back. And who knows, there may still be some long-term health issues that can be traced back to it. My lungs are always sensitive, so this certainly doesn’t help.
Look, if you had a different experience, and Covid was easy for you, I’m very happy for you. Sincerely. Because getting Covid stinks. But I need to emphasize that your mild experience was your. mild. experience. It’s unwise to extrapolate that everyone else is making too much of it because it was no big deal for you (just as it would be unwise for someone with a really bad experience to assume it’s always that way).
Returning to Normal?
Our church suffered a minor outbreak at the end of 2020, and we didn’t freak out. We didn’t roll everything back to how it was at the beginning. We didn’t change our masking policy. We just made the decision to shut down for 2 weeks to give the infections a chance to burn out a bit. We reopened after that, and have been open ever since.
As we have watched the local infection rates go down and vaccine injection rates go up, we’ve gradually made the decision to return our services to more normal settings–not as fast as some would have liked (and faster than others would have preferred). Rather than having the “mask-only” and “mask-recommended” folks meet in different buildings on campus, we now have “masked” sections in our main hall, so that we’re all under one roof. We’ve also changed our stance from mask-recommended to mask-optional (oh, how I have learned the importance of semantics this past year!). We don’t disparage or discourage people from wearing masks if they feel they need to for medical safety, but we don’t require or encourage it anymore. We are also actively pursuing members who are still staying away from the corporate gathering and encouraging them more and more to return to gather with us again. Our hope in the coming year is that we will soon be back to normal, with everyone who is physically able to attend joining with us each Sunday in worship.
It hasn’t always been easy. There are still some difficult conversations to have and some relationships that were bruised by these debates that need to be restored. We’re hopeful that God will heal what’s been wounded in our church family, as he is doing in so many other churches all over the world.
Jab, Jab, Uppercut.
One pain point that still gets discussed has to do with vaccines. So let’s go ahead and go there.
I got the jab. I looked at the available data, tried to filter out the hysteria, and made the best decision I could for myself and my family. A vaccine is not a silver bullet or a promise that I will never get infected (as evidenced by the fact that I still got the flu after getting last year’s flu vaccine). But based on the available data, this was the sensible thing for me to do, and I expect it will be a positive for me from this point forward. And, like masking, I used my best judgment to decide that there was sufficient information about vaccine safety, and I was okay with the level of risk versus level of benefit.
(And if you’ve got a meme or graphic to send me proving that I’m wrong, hang on, because I’m coming to you in a minute.)
I know that vaccines aren’t for everyone. I get that. There are people I know and care about who have made a different decision. That’s fine, as long as it’s being made with clear eyes and isn’t driven by misinformation and half-baked conspiracy theories. I don’t think it should be compulsory for any reason (especially for church participation). I think it’s paramount to uphold individual autonomy in the subject of invasive preventative medical interventions. And I completely reject the notion of “vaccine passports” or some sort of social pressure to force people to violate their consciences on this issue.
I’ve been asked recently how my opinion on vaccine mandates is consistent with my previous adherence to enforced/encouraged masking (with the person asking the question suggesting that masks are themselves a medical intervention)? My response was/is that masks and vaccines are both medical interventions in the same way that EKGs and arterial stents are both medical interventions; one is quite a bit more invasive than the other. You can put on and take off a mask if necessary. You can’t unvaccinate yourself (no matter how much the heavy-handed rhetoric of certain pols almost makes me wish I could). So, I think it’s consistent to say, in certain contexts, it’s reasonable that a private business or an assembly (such as a church) can recommend wearing a mask, but it’s unreasonable that a permanent action like vaccination should be required for the same access.
Again, you may disagree (and you’re free to do so respectfully in the comments). That’s fine. But that’s where I’m at.
Sidebar #2: Live Not By Memes.
I’ve seen a LOT of Covid-related memes online. A LOT of them. And I’m gonna be honest, y’all: most of them are flat-out ignorant, but are still passed around by some very smart, very thoughtful people as if they were gospel truth.
Can I ask you, exhort you, plead with you to do just this one thing, whenever you see a crazy infographic revealing the TRUTH about COVID or VACCINES or whatever else? Here’s the one thing: Do more research than a single Google search result. Look at multiple sites. Look at the arguments for and against. Seek out primary sources. Do something more than just simply hitting “share.” If you see an infographic on Facebook that delivers a DEVASTATING blow to the other side of the argument, stop and dig into who made the graphic and who they represent. Yes, that would make it a lot slower and more time-consuming for you to share the thing you want to share; that’s the point and it’s a good thing.
Over this last year, I’ve seen a lot of folks suddenly turn into full-fledged epidemiologists and geneticists practically overnight. (It’s amazing how efficient med schools are these days at turning out medical experts.) At least, you’d think that, the way folks sling around their “insider” information.
Maybe, just maybe, it would be good to season your argumentation and meme-sharing with some caution and humility. Otherwise, you not only make yourself look foolish, but you run the risk of lying to your neighbor by sharing a half-truth you haven’t verified.
Oh, one more thing: If you use the derogatory slur “face diaper” in reference to masks, you’re being a jerk. Stop it. The implication is gross and demeaning. You’re not being clever; you’re being base. Cut it out. (By the way, any comments on my post using that phrase intentionally will be deleted, with no apologies. Fair warning.)
Breaking The Old Law.
As the “two weeks to flatten the curve” became an ongoing succession of months, with the infection charts showing a run of peaks and valleys, I wondered if we’d ever turn the corner. I began listening to more of the opposing voices, questioning some of the statements and decisions of those in power. I started to wonder if maybe there was more going on than an imperfect but well-intended response to a challenging public health crisis. (If you’re hoping or dreading that I’m about to go full conspiracy theorist at this point, you will be slightly disappointed.)
While I firmly believe that Covid-19 is a real virus, different than a typical flu, that has killed hundreds of thousands in the US and millions abroad, I find myself agreeing with the critics that some of the responses from governmental authorities have been heavy-handed, opportunistic, and based in fear or psychology instead of epidemiology. Early on, we didn’t know what we didn’t know, and caution was warranted. As more information and experience was gained, it became clear that the decision-making of many state and national (and international) leaders was too heavily influenced by political pressures and the desire for greater social control than by consistent, evidence-based reasoning. (No, I’m not even going to engage in the Gr**t R*s*t discussion. Stop that.) As is often the case, the more power a government has, the more it wants to retain that power. It’s just human nature.
So, as the pandemic approached its first anniversary, I was becoming more and more restless about the restrictions in place. Thankfully, we live in a state that is more predisposed to freedom and personal responsibility, with a state government that stays out of the way of church functions and encourages businesses to flourish. (Some call this “neanderthal thinking”; all we have to say to that is, “Scoreboard.”)
Once the vaccine data started being released this spring and certain medical “experts” and politicians were still saying that, despite the actual data on protection, masking should still be encouraged, it became clearer that a certain degree of this cultural push was, if not theatrical, at least more symbolic than interventional. Finally, the CDC announced what the data had already clearly established: vaccination gives you virtual (not perfect, but pretty close) immunity, so masking is now unnecessary. (Crazy–that almost sounds like a certain governor from Florida…weird!)
What’s funny is how that doesn’t seem to make much difference to some folks. I was struck by this last Sunday. I had to run some errands after church, including going to 2 different grocery stores. I had my mask in my pocket, but wasn’t going to put it on unless completely necessary. I checked the front doors of each business, looking for a corporate mask policy, but saw only that masking was recommended, not required, per the recent CDC update.
I walked in, beard-faced (as God intended), and I noticed something that shouldn’t have been shocking but was: almost everyone was still wearing a mask. It was a bit unnerving, to be honest. I mean, statistically, almost half of the folks in the stores have been vaccinated. Why are they still doing this? I was half-tempted to start asking people why they were still masking. Instead, I just tried to smile in a friendly way at every single person I made eye contact with, as if to say, “C’mon, it’s okay, you can take the mask off.” I even made sure to have a few brief conversations with the masked employees there, thanking them for their assistance.
At this point, I suspect some of you reading are smiling and nodding, because this is what you’ve been saying all along: the masking was all about Controlling the Population!!! This was all a SCAM! Etc. Etc. Etc.
I’m not going to go there with you. I still think masking and distancing provide some limited benefits (this is one reason why I think it’s totally understandable that the influenza rates have plummetted this year–not because they’re being miscategorized as Covid, but because we’ve added a certain set of behaviors that drastically minimizes the spread of droplet-borne illnesses!). But I think this kind of anecdotal evidence does point to something true about human behavior: We hang onto what’s familiar, even if it doesn’t make sense, because breaking a habit is hard.
When I walked into a store without a mask, for the first time in over a year, my heart was racing a little bit, because I had internalized the idea that doing so was somehow wrong, that it was some kind of social sin. It makes me wonder if this is a little bit like how Jewish converts to Christianity in the first century felt when they realized that the things formerly “unclean” for them were now acceptable. (It’s probably a terrible analogy, but just go with me.) There was that little bit of trepidation and uncertainty there, along with that unspoken expectation and hesitancy as if you’re waiting for someone to swoop down and smite you for breaking the rules. It makes me appreciate Paul’s sensitivity in encouraging the church to bear with those with weak consciences who were still processing their exit from the old system of rule-keeping.
All this to say, I think it’s going to be a little while before we as a society actually do get back to normal behavior, if it’s ever going to happen. Part of that process is going to require gentle encouragement of the fearful that it’s okay to step out into the sun and breathe a little freer. I think we can get there. I hope we can.
There’s more to say, I’m sure, but I feel like I’ve said enough for now.
Okay, maybe one more thing: One big takeaway from all of this is that I’ve frustrated a lot of people this past year, and I feel okay about that. I’ve tried to avoid mere tribalism when it came to all of these issues. I’ve tried to learn what I could, listen carefully and critically to people on both sides, and lead my family and my church in a way that was consistent, careful, and wise. I didn’t always do it perfectly, but I sought to do my best in that regard, and that made more than a few people frustrated.
I joke with my wife that I feel like I’m a bit too liberal for my really conservative friends and much too conservative for my really liberal friends. This pandemic year has been no different. (I wonder if one or two of you reading have thought this very thing–what can I say, I like to keep you on your toes.)
If anything, this experience is helping me learn not to be afraid of other people’s opinions. It would do me good to grow a thicker skin. Still more work to do on that front, but, hey, that’s what blog comments are for.
This week, I learned the term “cheugy” and immediately hated myself for it.
Apparently, I’m even now hopelessly behind the curve, but, to wit: my understanding of “cheugy” is that it’s a term used by Gen-Z to describe their predecessors as trying and failing to keep up with current style/trends. This term, usually applied to Millenials but equally effective at describing earlier generational tiers, is in the same descriptive wheelhouse as “basic” but describing someone who’s juuuust out of step with the trend, in a cringe-inducing sort of way.
[No, I’m not going to get into the internet conversation about whether or not the term is misogynistic and/or classist, because a) all of this is stupid, and b) I don’t care.]
The reason I bring this up is just to make one brief point: It’s really okay to be considered uncool, because it’s going to happen to all of us eventually.
Yes, yes, I know it doesn’t mean much coming from the south side of the coolness Mendoza line. I just find it funny when I see people online (often Millenials) who suddenly become dismayed at the realization that the wave of haute internet couture has passed them by, leaving them dabbing and yeeting along like so much pop culture flotsam and jetsam.
And before you “OK Boomer” me, my Millenial friend, I hasten to add (somewhat painfully) that by some definitions, I’m considered one of you. (I prefer to identify squarely as an Xennial, because I think that classification best describes me, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Here’s the bitter truth: Time comes for all of us, and there is an ephemeral window in which we each may be in step with the “cool crowd.” Most of the time, we barely realize we’re even in that window before it closes to us forever. Gather ye dank memes while ye may, children.
It’s exhausting and pointless to try to keep up with online trends. Ben Folds was right–there’s always someone cooler than you. Even if you claw your way up to “influencer” or “tastemaker” status, you’re standing on the most unsteady of perches, and all it takes is a tiny change in the cultural winds for you to come tumbling down. Frankly, your precious, limited time on this planet is better spent pursuing something of lasting (or better, eternal) value, rather than chasing the fickle feedback of your peers.
My suggestion, based on personal experience: Stop chasing the cutting edge of cool. Embrace the cheug. Enjoy what you enjoy, even if it hasn’t been popular in months (or, gasp, decades!).
Or better yet, if you’re in my particular age group, go for that “big dad energy” or something like it. It’s inevitable; might as well roll with it. Have some fun even if “fun” isn’t cool. At the end of the day, the delighted laughter of my daughters is worth infinitely more than all the likes and shares that social media can offer me.
I mean, what’s your alternative–being this guy? Don’t be this guy.
I wasn’t planning on writing about this so soon–perhaps I was afraid I’d jinx myself or something (not that I believe in such things). More likely, it’s that I don’t feel I deserve any kudos for doing this yet.
When I start to make some positive change in my life, my wife will sometimes tell me she’s proud of me. My knee-jerk response is, “Be proud of me later.” Maybe that’s the wrong response to give, but I know myself. I know how often I’ve begun new projects or habits or “life changes” and how quickly I’ve faded out, lost steam, and fallen away. I’d much rather that she’s proud of me for being faithful at something for a long time than for merely starting it.
I have some friends who are part of a fitness group called F3 (which stands for “Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith”). They have been encouraging me to take part in their early morning workouts for a year or two, but I’ve rebuffed their suggestions with various lame excuses about timing and schedule and energy levels.
The fact of the matter is I didn’t want to join for two very important reasons: 1) Most of the workouts are at 5:30 a.m. and I hate waking up early; and 2) I’m fat and lazy and don’t like to be uncomfortable.
I needed something to jolt me out of those excuses.
Embracing My Why
In conversations and coaching about lifestyle changes like weight loss and fitness, a common refrain is “find your why”–the bottom-line driving reason for you to make a change. The logic of this is that you have to want a certain outcome more than you want the bad-for-you momentary choices. If you can hold on to your “why,” you can say “no” to yourself enough to build a better habit.
Obviously, a big “why” for me is my family. I’m 40 years old, and I know (at least on some level) that I am shortening my lifespan by living at a very unhealthy weight. Nevertheless, I still struggle to break some of the habits that keep me at this weight. (We don’t need to get too deep into the psychology of why that is, at this point. But suffice it to say, unless something changes, I’m not doing myself or my family any favors.)
On top of that, at my current weight, I can only get a limited amount of life insurance, so if anything were to happen to me, my family would struggle financially for a while before they could get their feet under them. That’s not at all what I want for them.
In the past, thinking about my “why” has usually triggered at least some sort of short-term change that quickly burned out as I reverted to old patterns. Then something happened about 2 weeks ago that flipped the first switch.
One night at around 1:30 a.m., our newborn woke up crying–piercing screams rather than her usual slow build-up cries. She was totally fine–she had a gas bubble, which in her 6 weeks of life experience would fairly be called an emergency–but I realized that I was not fine. For some reason, her cries triggered a physiological panic reaction in me: heart racing, chest tightness, jaw tightness, arm/shoulder pain, difficulty breathing, headache. Even as my wife tended to our daughter and I laid myself back down to sleep, I still felt amped up. My mind buzzed.
What if this was it? What if this was actually the heart attack I’ve been warned of but pretended wouldn’t catch up to me?What would happen to my wife and daughters if I died right now?
I’ve had those types of thoughts before. And while I can always rest in the reality that ultimately God will watch over my family, it’s still my responsibility to provide for and protect them–which I can’t do if I’m not alive.
For some reason, this early-morning shock hit me differently, and it was enough to make me decide to take a leap I’d been putting off for months.
I was going to go work out with other people.
Friendly New Guy
There is a third reason I put off going to those early-morning workouts with my friends: I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I didn’t want to be the one really fat guy who couldn’t keep up and who spent the whole time sucking wind and sweating like a wounded buffalo, while all these other athletes were completing exercises I couldn’t get close to finishing. (Seriously, the “burpee” is a cruel, sadistic exercise that has no right having such a cutesy name.)
But I went anyway, willing to risk embarrassment to try it out. I didn’t think I’d like exercising with other people. I didn’t think I’d finish the workout. I didn’t know if I’d ever go back. But I wanted to give it a try. But here’s what I found.
The guys were really welcoming. I was greeted warmly and welcomed by several of the group that morning. Between very challenging sets of exercises, some of them took turns hanging back in the back of the pack with me to talk. I was a little surprised by how cool everyone was. I was obviously in the worst shape of anyone there (by orders of magnitude) but they were all working hard and encouraging each other and me. That was refereshing.
I did better than I thought. I had to modify most exercises (and was encouraged to do so), and I’m most definitely the last man to finish every set. But I didn’t quit and I didn’t puke. That’s a small victory. The group’s repeated encouragement was that I wasn’t competing against anyone out there except myself, and my goal should just be to get better. And that is definitely my goal. I want to get better each time.
I became part of the group, not just a tag-along. One of the cool things about F3 and the culture they build is that they give each person a nickname or call-sign. You show up as a “Friendly New Guy,” but by the end, the group gives you a nickname and you are invited back. This sounds corny, but I think this may be part of the secret sauce of the whole thing. The feeling I was dreading most of all, going into this, was of being seen as a poser, as not really belonging there. The way these F3 groups welcome new guys and build rapport is something special.
I felt way better than I expected. I was totally gassed, and my muscles were unbelievably sore the next day. But I came home after that first workout with a smile on my face, and even told my wife it was “fun.” I committed to myself to show up for 3 workouts a week (at least at first) and have only missed one in the last 2 weeks. Obviously, it’s still really early in the process, but no matter how hard the workout is each time, I’m always glad after I finish and looking forward to going back.
This really wasn’t supposed to be an infomercial post for the F3 program (#NotSpon), but this is just a cool development in my life and I wanted to share a little bit about it.
If you’re a man in the US and you need some motivation to get healthier or get stronger or just get moving, check out their site and look for a group near you. It’s all free to participate and volunteer-led. If you think you’re too old/fat/slow/shy to join any kind of workout group, I’d say just give it a try. Do your best. Swallow your pride. Get after it.
And depending on the day, if you’re in a certain part of the Houston area, I’ll see you out there in the early-morning gloom. Because I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon.
I have to admit: I miss playing video games regularly.
I used to play video games for hours, back in my youth and even well into my 20’s. I had buddies who did the same; it’s just what lots of single guys do.
It’s not surprising: there is an allure to video games for young men. (Note, I’m not saying this is *exclusive* to young men; but I can only speak authoritatively on that particular demographic for obvious reasons.) Video games can provide clear quests to complete, goals to accomplish (often with a “roadmap” or skill-tree providing logical next-steps), and small-scale challenges to overcome that teach skills and techniques to completing larger or more complicated challenges. Video games, especially current generation games that play like interactive novels or feature films, wrap the player up in an involving drama or thrilling adventure. If your life feels a little on the dull side, or you feel like you’re in a rut and can’t get traction, video games provide escapism and the opportunity for excitement and even personal fulfillment. If you don’t have a lot of influence or accomplishment in your real day-to-day life, it can be tempting to lose yourself in another life with a different set of circumstances in which you feel more in control.
On top of that, successes or accomplishments are easy. Not to say that there isn’t skill in the pattern recognition, strategic approach, or quick-twitch hand-eye coordination involved in melee battles or speed run completions. But you’re typically not breaking a sweat, challenging your physical limits, or risking anything tangible. Your successes and dangers exist only within the plastic or metal box that contains the world of the game. It’s a taste of adventure within a controlled environment where nothing is truly lost.
(I’m half-tempted to compare the level of “accomplishment” achieved in video games to what I do every day in my knowledge-worker-based field, but the prospect is entirely too depressing.)
I’m dangerously close to slipping over into “old man yells at cloud” territory, so let me be clear: I’m not critiquing gamers or gaming. If I get a spare half-hour, I’ll pop on my SNES classic and play a few Mario levels until my kids get antsy that their cartoons aren’t on. I even enjoy watching certain Youtubers stream “let’s play” videos where they work through a video game campaign for hours and hours, chatting and joking the whole time. The experience reminds me of middle- and high-school sleepovers with buddies in which we played games until the wee hours, buzzed on soda and pizza rolls.
But the subconscious danger of video games may be that they can condition us to seek out low-effort wins that don’t cost us anything real.
Building vs. Button-mashing
I spent hours last year watching a gamer on Youtube play through Minecraft, an immensely popular “sandbox” game with no set level path that invites players to explore, build, create, and just have fun in the retro-looking, blocky digital environment. As I watched this guy explore, dig, and build, I thought, That looks like so much fun. I should get this game. But as I thought about playing that game, I realized that I could actually do some of the things I was seeing on screen already, no download required.
The player was crafting shelves, gathering resources, building a house, exploring the woods. I could learn to do all of those things in real space and time, if I really wanted to. But I don’t really want to do those things, because they’re hard. I like easy. But easy doesn’t create anything worth having.
I’m reminded of my old friend Trevor. He’s put together an adventurous and unique life for himself that seems perfectly suited to him: he plays bass guitar in a rock band, he works hard as a contractor/builder, he hikes mountains, he travels to other continents, and he has a great dog. He’s a bit of a nomad, but he’s worked hard to fashion a real life in the real world. (If you’re on Instagram, you should give him a look. Tell him Dave says hi!)
And point-of-fact, my own life is richly blessed. I have a beautiful family, a great church, a steady job that I’m actually pretty good at, and outlets like this one to write and interact with others.
Perhaps what I need from time to time is an “analog project” (as Cal Newport might describes it) to challenge me to create or accomplish something in actual space and time, away from the digital world.
So I raked leaves.
So. Many. Leaves.
There are these big live-oak trees in our neighborhood that have been here for decades. After the recent freeze, the one that shades over most of my yard finally dropped a massive number of leaves. There were drifts of leaves in my yard and driveway, the way some northern cities would accumulate snow.
The grass in my front yard was also becoming overgrown. I don’t own a lawnmower yet (never needed one before moving into this house), and with the baby coming about a month after move-in, buying a lawnmower just wasn’t a priority. But last Friday, I looked at the sad state of my yard and said, “Enough is enough.”
I spent hours raking leaves and cutting my grass with a battery-powered trimmer/weed-eater, sweeping my arms back and forth, stopping to change battery packs and then charge the spent ones. I filled 9 contractor-sized bags with leaves. Every time the wind gusted, a cascade of several dozen leaves would fall from the branches above onto the places I had just raked. I had to keep telling myself it wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better. I was making more order where there used to be chaos.
Finally, the task was “done.” There are still leaves in the yard and the driveway, but the front of my house looks cared-for again. I was wiped out and sore, with scratched and blistered hands, but I actually accomplished something tangible. I can look out the window and see my work and say, “good.”
I may not have a list of amazing accomplishments or an instagram-worthy life. But I have sore muscles and a clean yard, with a house full of babies and a wife that I adore. I don’t need a video game to tell me that I just tallied a personal-best high score.
If you’re in a bit of a rut, and you need to score a “win,” let me challenge you: don’t pick up the video game controller or computer headset just yet. Go outside and rake some leaves. Shovel some snow. Clean up that room or closet that you’ve been shoving random stuff in for months.
Step into “chaos” and create a little bit of order. Make a small difference somewhere. It’ll do you good.
Sorry for the radio silence, gang. We’ve had some stuff going on.
The big good news was that Daughter #3 has joined the party! She was born on March 1st and is much adored by everyone in the house, including her 2 sisters. Going from 2 children to 3 has been a bit of a bump in level difficulty (as one dad joked, it’s like switching from man-to-man to zone coverage), but we’re getting the hang of it. The biggest challenge is just fatigue, because it seems like everyone is on different schedules and all need increased attention. Plus, my two older girls have decided to start getting up earlier in the morning, which means I’m on AM duty. All the more reason to get consistent sleep and choose a better diet, because we need all the energy we can to keep up with these three.
The other big event of the last month was an ongoing plumbing issue at our house finally got resolved. Our rental (built in the 1950’s) had an old concrete sewer line connected to the city water. The passage of time, the strain of the recent freezes, and just the strain of a bigger family living here caused the line finally to give out, meaning our outgoing water (and whatever was in it) ended up seeping into our backyard. Fun. Because of the heavy workload for plumbers in my metro area (with so many folks still needing repair from freeze damage), it took a while to get the crew here to fix the issue. Let’s just say we had to pick our spots for bathroom breaks during the day, just to make sure everything kept moving.
Thankfully, the home owner and property manager were on top of things and ready to get the issue addressed. The crew dug up our backyard and replaced the line, and we stayed in a hotel for a couple days while the work was being done. I’m happy to report that we’re back in our house and everything seems to be good to go (so to speak).
Side note: Let me make a quick plug here for the Drury Inn and Suites (#NotSponsored). The beds were really comfortable, and even the sleeper-sofa bed wasn't half-bad. But the thing that stuck with me was that the stay felt almost "normal." Our local Drury Inn not only was the only hotel I found in the area that still served hot breakfast (in a very Covid-safe way, with a server in a plexiglass cage), but also a hot dinner buffet! Plus, the pool was open at limited capacity. I don't know about y'all, but staying in a hotel with functional amenities felt a little bit like pre-Covid normal life. Don't get me wrong; all the Covid-era accoutrements were there (mask requirements in public spaces, distanced tables, little dots on the floor to stand on). But this is the first time I've stayed in a hotel in the past year in which it actually felt closer to life before we even knew the word "coronavirus." And that's a HUGE thing. So suffice it to say, Drury is going to be my first choice for all hotel stays in the near future. If you're looking for a hotel or planning a getaway, I think you need to give them a good look.
All in all, it’s been a busy month, but I’m excited to get back to posting more consistently. Thanks for sticking around, and I’ll look forward to sharing more with you soon. Later!
It’s always a bit challenging and emotional to pull up stakes and move to a new place, even within the same city. There are so many lists: things to remember to pack, things to remember to clean, addresses to change, contracts to sign, utilities to transfer. We did our best to prepare our oldest child for the move, like talking about how exciting the new place will be and how we much she’ll like our new neighborhood. We made the extremely wise decision to hire movers to do most of the hauling and unloading (worth every penny!). But in all that flurry of lists and boxes and late nights and phone calls, there was little time to reflect.
We were in this house for over 5 years, and a lot of life has happened within its walls.
We brought 2 daughters home from the hospital to this house, and found out that we were expecting a third.
We lost a baby by miscarriage in this house.
We had to have our beloved dog put to sleep after many good years.
My wife finished her Master’s degree and started an online business.
We joined a new church (my first “new church” in 25 years!), and I later became one of the elders/pastors at that church.
I began earning a little bit of side-hustle income from writing/editing for the first time.
Last March, I made the transition to full-time remote work, and have reaped the many benefits of working from home (not least of which, having a commute of about 5 seconds).
We made countless little memories and habits that formed within the walls of that house.
Yet, even though you think of it as your “home,” in some ways, a rental house is just a stop-over. It’s not meant to be permanent, so you make do with its imperfections. This house was pretty rough around the edges in places, and it wasn’t well-constructed. It had cracks and scratches, places where more care should have been taken. (But so do we, I suppose.)
All in all, despite the problems with the house–the loud neighbors, the scratched up doors and walls, the creaky floor and leaky tub–I can look back with thankfulness on being in this place, at this time in my life and marriage. We had good years there. It was a very fine house.
Closing the Chapter
Here’s why I bring this up today, aside from my own selfish desire to reflect:
It’s now 4 weeks into the new year, but you may still be standing in the shadow of the last one. Perhaps you still blame “2020” (as if it were a sentient being) for things going wrong right now or lingering worries you still can’t shake.
Let me encourage you again today to take a few moments and rejoice in the year God made. Reflect on the good memories. Say goodbye to that year and end the chapter well. Then get ready for what’s next.
My family and I are fully moved in at the new (to us) house now (“fully moved in,” meaning not everything is unpacked, but it’s all under one roof!). It’s another rental, so we won’t be here long-term either. And this house has plenty of…quirks that we’ll need to get used to or overlook. But we’re looking forward to welcoming Daughter #3 into it and creating a whole new collection of memories here. We’re hopeful for the future, because we know that God is good and faithful and kind, so we can rest in His promises and enjoy His goodness.
Since some of you were curious, I wanted to provide a quick update on how we’re doing.
We Joined the ‘Rona Club.
By way of background: In the days leading up to Christmas, I was infected with C-19 and, in the spirit of holiday generosity, shared it with my household. At first, I thought I was dealing with the onset of sinus or respiratory infection (something I’m typically prone to in winter). Then I started hearing about friends from church who were testing positive for the ‘Rona.
I went ahead and got tested a few days later (delayed due to the holiday weekend). It was unpleasant but of course bearable. In the converted trailer that was used as the testing site, they took my vitals before the test, and the nurse said, “Your blood pressure’s up a bit–are you okay?” I thought, Ma’am, I’ve been sick for 4 days, I’m about to have a swab shoved a few inches up my nose, and you’re dressed like an extra from the movie Outbreak. So I may be a little tense, yes.
After the first day of feeling mildly crummy, the symptoms hit hard and heavy on Day 2. Chest tightness and discomfort, sinus congestion, cough, sneezing, and body-crushing fatigue (the kind where you feel like every inch of your body is encased in lead, and just standing up and taking a step feels like a fall risk). A few days later, my senses of taste and smell became significantly muted, though I didn’t realize it at first. I picked up some basic flavors (sweet, spicy, salty), but anything subtle was lost on me (mint chocolate was not minty, pecan- or caramel-flavored coffee tasted like…coffee). Symptoms went up and down a bit early on–better one day, worse the next.
Funny side-note: My family took a quick roadtrip down to one of the small coastal towns nearby where we could enjoy the surf without interacting with people. On our way out, we grabbed some seafood (nothing like fried shrimp and catfish after a day at the beach), but I noticed that it was perhaps the blandest meal I’d ever had. This restaurant received rave reviews online and a rating of 4-point-something out of five! What a bummer! Almost sixty bucks for the family to eat disappointing food! Welp, while we were waiting for the food to be brought out, I got the call that my C-19 test was positive. In retrospect, we may have been too harsh on the restaurant. I didn’t realize until later that it was around that day that my tastebuds took a vacation!
My poor, pregnant wife started showing symptoms a few days after I did, and we were thankfully out-of-sync symptomatically, so I started feeling better as she was getting worse (providentially allowing us to take care of each other!). I think she had a worse time overall, as her divinely-designed body was working primarily to protect the baby, so she didn’t kick the virus as quickly as I did.
Now, a few weeks out, I’m only dealing with some lingering chest tightness related to Covid (along with the typical winter-allergy blaaaahhhs). My household has fully recovered. We are supremely thankful to God for what turned out to be a relatively minor bout–no ER trips, no hospital stays, no major complications. For us (and I emphasize *for us*), it was about equivalent with our round of influenza last February, at least in terms of short-term effects. I suspect this shortness of breath and chest pressure may stick around for a while, if the reports I’m hearing are indicative of the normal long-term effects of the virus.
But at least I can smell my coffee now. And it smells goooood.
So that’s the personal update, for all of you who may have been concerned.
Extrapolating My Experience to Make Public Health Policy Recommendations.
Just kidding. I’m not going to do that. That’d be idiotic.
Having been tangentially-connected to the medical industry for as long as I have, I know enough to know that while you can make some very broad generalizations with enough experience/data, any single person’s experience is still a unique combination of personal history and contributing or confounding factors. It’s unwise to try to make broad applications from a single data point.
In other words, if you and anyone in your immediate circle have gotten the ‘Rona, you’re (at best) an expert on that particular medical experience, but not much beyond it. It would be an overreach to say, “It was no big deal for me, so it’s no big deal for anyone.” It’s also an overreach to say, “It was a really big deal for me, so it’s gonna be a really big deal for everyone.”
With those caveats in place: the big difference in my experience between the flu and C-19 is that ‘Rona is slower to reveal itself and has longer-lasting effects. I’m sure there will be longitudinal studies published years from now looking at the long-term impacts of this disease. But describing it as “basically the flu,” as far as I can tell, is reductive and unwise.
That’s not to say that the total shutdowns of whole segments of society were warranted, much less effective. But just like a person’s individual C-19 experience, the confounding factors are myriad when it comes to the effectiveness of the social lockdown efforts.
Truth be told, I suspect the lockdowns may have done more long-term harm than good, but I also recognize that Covid-19 is just a different disease that influenza, and the slow emergence of symptoms makes it harder to rely on the “just self-quarantine if you feel sick” approach. (I know there are recent “studies” about whether or not asymptomatic transmission is a thing, but the research is REALLY early, so maybe don’t jump right on that yet.)
(And I’m not going to get into the quagmire of dissecting the political and sociological complexities of lockdowns, the outright hypocrisy of political leaders who violate their own mandates, or the decisions made after months of anecdotal data that still seem to be fear-based or power-based instead of evidence-based. That’s a whole ‘nother headache for another day.)
In other words, I don’t know what the answer is for how best to prevent Covid-19. Odds are, unless you’re an epidemiologist or virologist, you probably don’t either. (Frankly, I’m not sure any one member of those lauded professions knows “the answer.”) We’re all trying to figure out the best way to approach how to stay healthy, how to keep our loved ones healthy, and how to keep our communities healthy (medically, financially, and sociologically).
My Actual Recommendation.
What I can recommend, as a bit of generally-applied common sense: Be kind.And I don’t say that in the blithe, kumbayah way that corporate social media brand managers and Insta-influencers do.
When I say, “Be kind,” what I really mean is, “Don’t be a jerk.”
Don’t be a jerk to people who disagree with you. Don’t be dismissive and sarcastic to people who may not have done as much research as you have. Don’t be aggressive and caustic toward people who *have* thought through these issues and have come to a different conclusion than you did. And when you encounter people who have decided to be a jerk about any of the issues surrounding Covid-19, make the decision not to be a jerk back.
If you’re a disciple of Jesus, there’s no wiggle-room on this issue. From our brother Paul:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:25-32 (ESV)
Each of us should examine the facts (as best as we can ascertain them) about the disease and treatments, make decisions for ourselves and our families based on those facts, and then hold those positions with peaceable and gentle confidence until and unless we find compelling evidence and true arguments to change them. But in all of that calculus, it doesn’t benefit any of us to act like an obnoxious jerk to the people around us.
Because jerkiness is even more virulent and contagious than the ‘Rona. And it can hang around a LOT longer than a few weeks.
Feel free to discuss and react, but know that my “don’t be a jerk” policy extends to the comment box. For real. I’m not in the mood to countenance foolishness today. Thanks.
But the way my day has turned out, that just isn’t going to happen.
Tomorrow is the U.S. Presidential election. Blah, blah, etc. etc.
Here’s the bottom line of it: God has already ordained who will come out on top, and when we’ll all get to find that out. But ultimately, it’s God who raises and lowers princes. So whatever good or ill the victorious candidate can accomplish in the next 4 years is fully and completely hemmed in by the hand of Almighty God.
So rest easy, you anxious hearts.
If you are a U.S. citizen and eligible to vote but have not done so, consider doing so tomorrow. If you have already voted, or can’t do so this time, then just join me in praying that God will be merciful to this nation, no matter who is elected. Pray that the results may be determined quickly, and that there will be a peaceful response. Pray that this nation will recover from a really challenging year. Pray for hope restored and strength refreshed.