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News programs on TV used to use the phrase “And now this . . .” to toggle between one news story and the next, especially when there was no natural segue between them. News stories are often in a more or less random order once the big story of the day is completed. As I was casting about yesterday what to write today, I did not hit on anything terribly compelling. So since a colleague or two of mine here on The Twelve sometimes post random thoughts, I will do that too. Imagine “And now this . . .” coming between each. I might not be able to get a full blog out of any of these musings but I will muse away anyway.
The Disparity: In a final Psalms and Wisdom Literature class session yesterday the closing prayer was a group prayer in which we were all encouraged to share a praise, a lament, and a thanksgiving, modeling our prayer time after the kinds of prayers in the Psalter. I was struck by the fact that one student shared as a praise the gift of science and the development—far faster than we might have dared hope—of COVID vaccines. Yet when we switched to the sharing of laments, a lament was offered about the millions of people who don’t trust the vaccine, doubt the need for one, actively campaign against anyone’s getting a shot and most of this based on a torrent of misinformation. A praise and a lament for the same thing. That sums up where we are long about now.
The Irony: In an Op-Ed the other day, New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed that had the United States in 1941 been as riven and distrusting as it is in 2021, we never could have pulled together to win World War II. There is little left of a nation-wide sense of the importance of shared sacrifice. Connected to my first observation, Brooks noted this in terms of getting vaccinated so that herd immunity could be reached and we could all get back to pre-COVID levels of normal. But experts now think vaccine hesitancy and resistance will mean we cannot reach herd immunity in the foreseeable future. Brooks’s frustration came out in one line when he said, “No one is being asked to invade Iwo Jima but just walk into a damn CVS.” This reminded me of an irony many of us have noticed before: in one sense the American public has vastly more information at its fingertips than people had in 1941. But the access to more knowledge and information has not made us smarter. In many ways it has made us much, much dumber and more ignorant.
Respect: At Calvin Seminary as at colleges, universities, seminaries, high school, and schools at all levels we are ending now the third semester in a row kinked and twisted by COVID. Spring semester last year knocked the stuffing out of everyone when we had to shift gears overnight when lockdowns and stay-at-home orders came out. But in this past academic year, the Fall and Spring semesters have been only marginally less stressful. I have so much respect for my colleagues and my students—and for teachers and students at all levels—who have worked so hard to make things work under very difficult and ever-shifting circumstances. In my school everyone is tired and there is palpable enthusiasm that the Finish Line is in sight We’re going to make it but only because in this case, we really did all pull together to help one another. And I respect that shared effort in my colleagues and students so very much.
My Fellow Pastors: Actually I have not been an active pastor in a congregation for nearly 16 years already, but I still identify as a pastor. Still, I have been spared the stress and spiritual harm that have come to so many of my friends in ministry. A colleague from Fuller Seminary posted an article link on Facebook the other day. The article noted recent surveys of parish pastors and the very high percentage who have said they seriously considered quitting over the past year. And these are the pastors who have not (yet) called it quits but there is also an alarming number who did quit, left their congregations, and just plain burned out. Seldom in recent church history have the sheep turned on their shepherds as they did during COVID over masks, social distancing, in-person worship practices, and political feuds. But from what I have heard from pastors, as hard as that active carping and in-fighting have been, even more painful has been the retrospective sense that all the Gospel preaching they had done for 5, 10, 15, 20 years so clearly did not sink in for some people. All of us preachers like to think our sermons shape people probably more than is really the case. But to see such a wholesale abandonment of neighbor love and the bearing of the Fruit of the Spirit is, to put it mildly, demoralizing.
Historical Tidbit: My colleague Kathy Smith at the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship shared on a Zoom staff meeting recently that she was reading the memoir of a CRC pastor who ministered in Denver during the Swine Flu pandemic across 1918. At one point he mentioned calling on a parishioner and that as he left this person’s house, he was donning his white surgical mask and then washed his hands in the snow outside. Another church member witnessed this and upbraided the pastor for his mask and handwashing, claiming that faith and not fear must be our posture. The more things change . . . .
A High Note: But lest I end on such a downbeat, I was cheered to see all the Facebook postings on Sunday of fully vaccinated families being able safely to gather for Mothers Day. After a year of no contact or only virtual contact or glimpses only through glass windows, the joy of being able to embrace, share a meal, take multi-generational photos was refreshing to see. We can only pray that the day when we will be even more fully back to that kind of “normal” will not be too far off. It is within our power and will to get there. I hope and pray we do.
Actually, your post today is not composed of random, disjointed thoughts at all. There is a common thread in each musing:
Get vaccinated. Trust the government. Don’t question “science”. Listen to the Good People, and have disdain for the Bad People.
And get vaccinated.
As an aside: I’d like to see the research behind Kathy Smith’s story. It sounds fishy…
Since you have impugned the integrity of 2 people in one snarky comment, I will tell you that the book from which Kathy Smith read the quote in question was a memoir called “In God’s Crucible” by Rev. Idzerd van Dellen (1871-1965). Didn’t sound very fishy to me.
I certainly don’t mean to impugn your integrity, but the story sounded too perfect. I was stuck on the surgical mask part of the story, so I googled it, and found that surgical masks were invented in the 1960’s. But I’m sure the guy could have worn some kind of mask as he walked out of the house, and someone here I’m sure will cite that passage and I will be proven completely incorrect.
Please don’t confuse snark for brevity; I realize no one wants a 1500 word essay in the comments. Especially from me.
I hesitate to engage with your posts because I do realize somehow I always offend you in some way, and I don’t like hurting people’s feelings. But, using today’s writing as an example, you leave little moral ground for people who don’t see things like you do. It would be good, for example, to have just a little empathy for people who may have concerns about the long-term effects of these various vaccines. Is everyone here comfortable with vaccinating young girls? Is it acceptable to have reservations or even refuse?
Thanks Scott. After reading Mr. Wondaal’s response, I’m reminded of the line from “The Boxer.” “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” Reporting on a disparity and an irony, offering respect, reporting on what fellow pastors are experiencing, citing an incident from history, and ending on a high note, turn into a pro government screed. I guess the meaning of the text is before the text after all. /s
Please. Call me Marty.
The lightness of your musings today evoked a serious remembrance from God’s dealings with another “blessed nation” …
“ … had the United States in 1941 been as riven and distrusting as it is in 2021, we never could have pulled together to win World War II.”
“ … the sheep turned on their shepherds as they did during COVID over masks, social distancing, in-person worship practices, and political feuds.”
“20 The Lord will send calamity, confusion, and frustration on you no matter what work you are doing until you are wiped out and until you disappear—it’ll be quick!—because of the evil acts by which you have abandoned him. 21 The Lord will make a plague stick to you until he has totally wiped you off the fertile land you are entering to possess.” (Deuteronomy 28)
I suppose all of us have apocryphal minister-stories, many of which get told from the pulpit as “illustrations” or sermon-warmups; the Denver minister story I have heard before —was it from Schaap?—perhaps not even from a CRC source. It does, however, illustrate the times in the nation during the 1918 epidemic, Denver especially hit hard by both the disease and resistance by the populace to quarantine efforts and masking. From the Colorado Sun 7/11/2020, the results of frustrated govt and health officials who relented to a largely uncooperative public : “Denver’s epidemic continued for several months. It was unchecked by any public health orders, save for isolation and quarantine for those with the illness. The result: a second spike of deaths higher than the first, and one of the nation’s largest per capita death tolls.”
The book in question was “In God’s Crucible” and it is a spiritual and personal memoir by Rev. Idzard van Dellen (1871-1965). Van Dellen also wrote one of the earliest Church Order commentaries, which is why my friend Kathy Smith–our resident Church Order expert–knew of him and found her way to also his memoir.
On p. 118 of his autobiography, “In God’s Crucible,” Rev. Idzerd van Dellen recounts his ministry among those who in the fall of 1918 were suffering from the Spanish Influenza. He writes: “….In some homes every one was down with the flu. I went from one house to the other bringing the Word of God and praying with the afflicted. There was snow on the ground, and when I came outside the place where I had been in close contact with this contagious disease I would wash my hands in the snow. A brother criticized me for this.
He claimed that I should have more confidence in the Lord, who could protect me, and that I should not fear the contagion. I told him that we should use the God given means, trusting that the Lord would bless them.
I was grateful that I could keep up my work, and that our home was not visited by the plague.”
I know it feels like people are only getting dumber, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I have that thought, but alas, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
I’m not sure if this is hopeful, despairing or a bit of both. As for apocryphal (or true) stories of ministers facing criticism. Given the article above, it sure doesn’t seem out of place or frankly that hard to believe. I know I’ve heard this criticism a few times, and I serve in a church that gave little push back on our mitigating efforts.
Stay safe and be well …
No mention of a mask in the original source? At least it made for a good “fish” story.
In an earlier passage Rev. Van Dellen mentioned the odd spectacle of seeing his congregants all wearing white masks, as did he. If you look at pictures from the era, those white masks were pretty common if not the most common mask you see (not too many Batman masks back then!). And although what we now know as a surgical isolation mask (the blue or yellow ones you see today) was not invented until later, doctors and surgeons and nurses also donned those white medical masks as that was the best available then.
Just an aside but still related, there is probably no one in the United States that has had more “anti-vaxxer” influence than environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He deserves a strong mention here, and elsewhere, when bemoaning the resistance to getting a COVID vaccine. He does get some push-back but far less than he would if he was, say, a Trump supporter or even just toward the right side of the political spectrum.
Kennedy Jr. certainly has a “vast” amount of information at his “fingertips.” He claims science to be on his side. And he is a fervent environmentalist. So what accounts for him? And what accounts for the reluctance to counter him and his substantial influence for all of these many years?
I’ve heard a LOT of folks who push back on Kennedy’s anti-vaxxer” position. Mostly from progressive radio listeners. He gets no support for being a Kennedy. Is he supported on conservative radio/TV? I generally don’t tune in to those stations.
There is no one in the United States that has had more “anti-vaxxer” influence than Tucker Carlson. He deserves strong mention here for his constant polemics on Fox News. He gets no push-back from the right side of the political spectrum or even his own network for disseminating flagrantly false information. Carlson certainly has a :vast amount of information at his fingertips, So what accounts for him?
[And yes, like Kathy, I have seen plenty of criticism of Kennedy, Jr. And what does his “environmentalism” or lack thereof have to do with this?]
Of interest — Kathy and Tom — Tucker Carlson did have Robert Kennedy Jr. on his show, seemingly to support the anti-vax narrative. Tucker Carlson is indeed a seeming “anti-vaxer” (to the consternation of many at Fox no less), but he’s a johnnie-come-lately on the subject. Kennedy is a broad based anti-vaxxer with 15 years or so under his belt.
Perhaps we can be pleased (or dismayed) that someone on the right and someone on the left finally agree on something. 🙂
Letting both of them “speak for themselves” (Carlson and Kennedy), here’s a link to the on-Fox (Carlson) interview of Kennedy.
My own perspective as to a possible “explanation” for the right/left convergence is that Carlson is highly suspicious of government, Kennedy of big industry (particularly pharmaceuticals); thus the common ground. There may be cause to be highly suspicious of both, the trick being when to be that and when not to be that.
Very true. Also, who would have thought Tucker Carlson would be interviewing (and agreeing with) Glenn Greenwald. Their convergence, I believe, is a result of the convergence of government, media, and big business.
Thanks, Scott. You gave a “report” on the state of things. Loved the pix of Monty Python, btw. That’s what it was, no?
We are a “teaching church” and I always tell student ministers never to underestimate the faith of the church members. When we dig deep, their faith is humbling. The Holy Spirit is active.
In a time when open churches, striving to show God’s love in Christ are condemned by the right wing of the church and ignored as suppositious, or weak, or are misunderstood by the unchurched public the faith and support of the church by our members can be regarded as heroic.
Regarding treatment of pastors, I have witnessed the agony in the past. But I must say that in my church and some neighboring RCA churches support for the pastor in the midst of COVID is enough to bring you to tears. The folk here have a genuine care for me and my welfare. The need an emotionally and spiritually healthy pastor so they get fed. I think that in some cases their pastoral care for me exceeds my own for them. We are blessedly free of the strife about the pandemic, but still…
Thanks, Fred: This makes me happy to hear of support many pastors have gotten. I think my two pastors would testify to the same. And it is no doubt true in many places so I did not mean to overstate the situation. However, there have also been far, far too many congregations where the situation has been otherwise, and from what I can tell, in not a few of them, no one could have guessed the factions that would so (seemingly) suddenly appear. Or that had existed on a subterranean level for a while but COVID and the politicization of everything these days broke things out into the open.
The several sentences directly preceding the ones quoted earlier from Rev. van Dellen:
“…..the [Spanish Influenza] epidemic was so serious that schools were closed, and people were prohibited from meeting in their places of worship. One Sunday we therefore met in the open air near the church. On another Lord’s Day were were permitted to gather in the church but everyone had to wear a mask to prevent the spreading of the contagion. Looking at my audience with their white masks over nose and mouth made me feel as if I was standing before a congregation of lepers…..”
Golly, what a lot of kerfuffle over an “And now this….” post. Just shows how easily folks will strain at a gnat to catch a flea these days.
Ya think so, Paul? Just wait till the essay on the Ministry of Silly Walks”!
Yeah, it’s like the episode of “The West Wing” titled “Slow News Day.” If you are familiar with it, the slow news day ended up being epic after all!
Oh. Well. You watch The West Wing. That explains it. (LOL)
Thanks for these reflections. Interestingly, I have been reading parts of “In God’s Crucible” as well. I have doing research on my great-great grandparents and Rev. I. van Dellen was their pastor in Orange City, IA, and was instrumental in establishing the Orange City Christian school there in 1904.
If you had to live your whole life with the first name of Idzerd, at least it’s good to know the good man is remembered!
Scott, thank you for you writings. I always enjoy them. A couple of comments on “the irony”. WWII is probably not the best analogy here because our nation was attacked at Pearl Harbor by a determined enemy. I think if we experienced such an attack today, there would still be a united response. The Viet Nam War is probably a far better analogy. We were led into a war by dubious arguments (the domino theory) and promises of rapid victory. Information was parceled out by the military and the Defense Department and read dutifully on the evening news. It wasn’t until Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon papers that cracks started to appear that eventually led to the abandonment of South Viet Nam and the end of the war.
I don’t think that we have information has made us “more ignorant.” I think it has just made it easier to find items that corroborate our existing biases. As a teacher, I found it imperative to make my students challenge the “authority” of the web sites that they wanted to cite in their reports. Before “internet”, we had various people or institutions that provided critical thought for us, like Uncle Walter on the evening news. As I noted above, this was not always a good thing, but was mostly so. What we have now, to paraphrase Judges, is that every person reads what is right in their own eyes and ignores the rest.
Thank you Reverend Hoezee. I am always inspired by your writing. I am deeply concerned about the mental state of our Pastors. Some of them are so exhausted from trying to keep the parts of the body of Christ from hurting each other that they don’t know where to turn. Why must we stab each other with our words? If a person’s faith is enough to keep them from Covid, why isn’t their faith enough to keep them from word-stabbing each other? God is love and it is difficult to find Him in some conversations.
Peace be with you. Not the world’s peace but the Peace of Christ.