As we have just turned the corner into May, I am recalling where life was two years ago. Like most people in early May of 2020, I had just come off what felt like the longest, loneliest, most disorienting month of my life. In that time of COVID lockdown, most days I saw only my son and wife. At most back then we were all making quick dashes to the grocery store to grab essentials and check the toilet paper aisle. Meanwhile the one constant was a steady deleting of dates from my calendar: preaching gigs, meetings, seminars, vacations. Like millions of others I felt increasingly at sea and not a little depressed.
But why bring this up even as we seem headed toward better days? Granted, COVID is not gone and in my county the test positivity rate has risen from around 4% a month ago to back over 13% at the end of last week (and those numbers are no doubt the tip of the iceberg since most tests are now home tests not reported to the folks compile COVID-19 dashboards). Still those who predict we may officially move from pandemic to endemic may soon be correct. Even in my work with pastors, we are slowly shifting from crisis mode to rebuilding mode.
Still, I have been pondering the time we have been through for just over 2 years now. Part of this stems from a speech I heard Dr. Francis Collins give at the BioLogos “Faith & Science” conference just over four weeks ago. Collins told the story of the pandemic from the vantage point of his former perch as Director of the National Institutes of Health. It was moving to hear this deeply Christian man tell of the fear and the uncertainty that even trained professionals like Dr. Anthony Fauci and he himself felt as the pandemic took hold. Particularly poignant was his narration of the period when the first Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were being field tested across some months in mid- to late-2020.
Collins said he prayed fervently across that time for success, which he said he had hoped at best would mean vaccines with a 60-65% efficacy rate. When the day came for the results to be unsealed for the first time to a small team of people including Collins and Fauci, Collins said he did not get much sleep the night before but spent the waking time in prayer. So when both Pfizer and Moderna reported results of around 95% efficacy, Collins freely admitted that he cried like a baby. He gave praise to God for this miracle. But then he also confessed his growing disappointment when after the first 4 months of rolling out these vaccines in 2021, the vaccination rate leveled off and then fell as millions refused to get even a single dose.
Photo: Francis Collins and me at the conference
In any event, re-living all of that from the perspective of one of the world’s most respected doctors and researchers was gripping and emotional. The dark side to it all, however, was also hearing Collins testify to the hate mail and threats to his own person that he regularly received (and to some degree still receives).
In previous blogs I have suggested that if and when we do enter a time that can accurately be termed “post pandemic,” we in the church will have much to repent of and then to rebuild. As we look back, among the saddest realities I see is how little trust we extended to one another or to our leaders. So many people did not give anyone a wide berth as we all attempted to navigate the unprecedented. A generosity of spirit was sorely lacking in many quarters of society and also in many parts of the church.
Except for those few among us well over 100 years of age, no one had ever lived through such a global pandemic before and since each era is unique in a multitude of ways, it can safely be alleged that no human being had ever in history had to navigate a pandemic like COVID-19. It only stands to reason that many times leaders had to make judgment calls as to what was best. Even the brightest scientists and doctors were crunching new data on a rolling basis and as a result had to revise previous ideas and advice and policy on a semi-regular basis.
Other political and church leaders were trying to take into account staggering amounts of information, most of which was not the kind of data they had ever before had to think about. If mistakes were made, if some leaders were guilty now and again of overreach or of being stricter about certain things than in hindsight might have been helpful, then this should have only stood to reason. They were doing their best in uncharted waters.
But instead of cheering them on, forgiving their lapses, trying to understand changes or reversals, too many of us called them incompetent, power crazy, morons, and worst of all we accused them of being part of a conspiratorial cabal that aimed at everything from mind control to the elimination of every freedom that exists. Some accused also pastors of all this as well as being in league with those forces bent on eliminating religion and worship altogether.
In the church at least, what would the pandemic have looked like had we tended the Fruit of the Spirit instead of trampling them underfoot? In the face of pastors who had to make hard calls on in-person worship, social distancing, mask policies, and later stances on vaccines, what role might the following characteristics have played in leading to a different outcome:
Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control.
During the Q&A time at the BioLogos conference, Francis Collins shared a bright spot as a foil to the dark and angry emails he has gotten. On the plane trip to the conference and just before the passengers got off the plane, a flight attendant quietly slipped Collins a note. It said that she had recognized him and just wanted to say Thank You for all he had done and had tried to do.
There now. Love. Kindness. Goodness. Gentleness. All wrapped up in one note. I wish I could say that post-pandemic the Fruit of the Spirit will make a comeback all on their own in those places in the church that saw those Fruit in active retreat. But unless we make an overt effort to “keep step with the Spirit” (as Paul told the Galatians right after listing these Fruit), I wonder if these Fruit won’t stay under active assault. May the Spirit of God give us the wisdom to not let that happen.
Note: In an effort to be transparent, I want to acknowledge that in my blog two weeks ago, I talked about the recent shooting in my city of Patrick Lyoya. In the blog I raised numerous questions still unanswered and on a few of them I expressed an expectation of what I thought the facts might turn out to be. I was incorrect on a few of those musings, complicating the overall picture. The best summary article I have seen appeared last week in the New York Times and if you are curious, you can read the article here.