With everyone’s life disrupted, I find I am having many conversations with worried colleagues, friends, and family. One friend even got me to do a video interview with her to share with her coworkers and friends. She said she felt selfish having access to a SARS virologist amid a full-blown pandemic.
I want to share some reflections that I hope will encourage you and that you’ll pass on to your friends and coworkers, too.
Here’s my COVID-19 advice for daily life: Love boldly. Serve wisely. Think clearly. Pray always. Let’s work our way through these, backwards.
It’s always good to start with prayer, which includes gratitude. I have heard and read many good things for which I’m thankful: many health care professionals, reporters, scientists, and civic and religious leaders are focused on our current public health needs and are taking positive action. Join me in giving thanks for these women and men, and let’s pray daily for those who:
- Serve others
- Treat the sick, and
- Work to mitigate the risk
Let’s also pray for God’s healing for the sick, comfort for the fearful, strength for caregivers and pastors, and mercy for the dying. Let’s pray that the pandemic would be abated as quickly as possible, even miraculously so, and that all of us will do what we can.
We can all be proactive, adding to our prayers, actions in compliance with public health guidelines at local, state, and national levels. Precautionary behavior will help mitigate the risk and spread. It will alleviate burden on the health care system and stress on health care workers. We must think of how our choices impact the lives of our health care workers.
We can also choose to fight a culture of fear, uncertainty, selfishness, and any temptation to assign blame. All of these are easy to find in the public dialogue. As Christians, we can bring a message of compassion, hope, and mercy that will resonate deeply in contrast to the negative voices. We can look to Scripture and the lives of other Christians who have faced great adversity to find comfort as this disease crosses our homelands. Such a tact will help alleviate fear, especially when the disease is fueled by endless COVID-19 information and misinformation.
As I face a constant cascade of COVID-19 information, I’m posting frequently to Facebook and Twitter. (It’s faster and easier than blogging.) In one of my own favorite tweets, I addressed prayer and action, tweeting: “Let’s all be Lutherans this year,” and included a link to my former professor’s blog. He shared Martin Luther’s advice, made during the time of the bubonic plague:
I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.1
Other helpful advice comes from a Christian pastor, advisor, and friend. He and his wife sent a letter to each of their neighbors offering to help if they found they couldn’t get out for trips to the grocery store or to pick up prescriptions. They offered to be available for outdoor, physically distanced conversations, especially if their respective experiences in pastoral care and as a nurse practitioner could be helpful. They also extended an invitation to neighbors by offering the trails on their country property for leisurely walks anytime someone found themselves going stir crazy. These are simple, practical gestures that demonstrate care and open up possibilities for future relationships. This couple provided their email and physical addresses along with contact phone numbers. They’ve already seen some neighbors respond!
We can also serve by doing particularly practical things. Consider these three:
- Contribute to food banks which may be depleted due to scarcity of goods in some stores.
- Contribute to blood banks which are always in need of donations, and even more so when many who are sick can’t donate.
- Don’t spread misinformation.
I would strongly encourage us to make the most of the days ahead for the sake of the kingdom and our neighbors’ and friends’ deepest welfare. As I’ve encouraged others to listen to and follow public health policy guidelines, I’m sometimes left with the unexpressed impression that others are thinking, “Okay, maybe . . . but I’ve never had to follow public health advice before. Maybe others should. I’ve been fine.” Well, maybe we have been fine even when disregarding public health advice before, but none of us has ever been in a pandemic before. And we all are now. We’re all in this together.
Maybe you’ve heard (or repeated) some things that aren’t true or won’t work at this point in time:
- We know who’s most vulnerable; just isolate them and we’ll all be fine.
- The very young and young, healthy adults are not at risk.
- I don’t feel sick, so I’m good to go.
We know now that none of these are true. We can’t always tell if someone falls into the vulnerable category of comorbidity (having underlying disease). Many young people have become seriously ill, required ventilation, and have even died. A handful of infants have died too. Estimates of asymptomatic cases range from 50–80% and are one reason widespread serological testing is needed and should be welcomed when available. We can’t rely on misinformation to guide our actions and choices.
One other item of misinformation that I tackled on social media and in private messaging this past week involves the conspiracy theories that unfortunately always arise. One rumor claims that SARS-CoV-2 is a human construct or a lab accident gone awry. It’s not true. Others have published data to discount these theories. I couldn’t agree more with one fellow virologist, Tom Gallagher's comment:
Suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 is a purposely manipulated laboratory virus or a product of an accidental laboratory release would be utterly defenseless, truly unhelpful, and extremely inappropriate.2
Last week I finished watching Picard, the new CBS Star Trek series. It is quintessential storytelling with a strong transhumanist message in the final episode. Part of that message includes Picard’s ultimate wisdom that he shares with Soji, an advanced synthetic life-form (a la Data, the famous, self-aware android from Star Trek’s Next Generation series). Picard says that life’s purpose is that we are to save one another. It’s a deeply human message in the midst of the current pandemic, even if it reflects bad theology when left to itself. Nevertheless, your actions can save others’ lives, physically, in the days ahead. And your actions, prayers, and witness can also point others to the ultimate meaning and purpose in life: reconciliation with God, redemption and new life in Jesus, and eternal life—a transhumanist spin with flair!
A favorite meme making the rounds on social media shows an empty church and these words, “The church is not empty. The church is deployed.” In light of that, may I echo the words of one preacher from First Baptist Church in Dallas, interviewed on the news this past week. Now’s the time for Christians to act; to the church deployed: “be fearless, not stupid.”
#LoveBoldy #ServeWisely #ThinkClearly #PrayAlways