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Thoughts on COVID-19, Pandemic, and How We Can Move Beyond Being Angry All the Time


I am a pastor. I’m also a biologist. I graduated with a bachelor’s in biology from the University of Illinois-Chicago in 1993, focusing on molecular biology and genetics. Five years later, I was called into ministry and attended seminary at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky, for three years before being called to Illiopolis, IL, to serve as the pastor of the Illiopolis Christian Church. In 2012, I became pastor of both Illiopolis and Niantic Christian Churches. In my time here, we have experienced the 9/11 attacks, the Formosa explosion, and now the pandemic brought about by COVID-19.

My experience as a biologist has influenced my experience in ministry. I have never felt that I had to deny one to embrace the other. It is my experience that one informs the other. When I was a biologist, I was a Christian. I cannot recall a time in my life when I did not know and embrace the love of God in Christ. I found nothing that gave me pause or called me to question my faith. Even in studying evolution, I understood it as getting a glimpse of how God was at work in the world, calling out to creation to grow and live, and creation growing and living in response. As this process repeats over and over throughout the ages, creation grows and evolves. (I can have conversations with you if you’d like to discuss this further.)

As a pastor, I continue to follow scientific studies that interest me, and those studies lend further insights into my understanding of spiritual growth and health. (I can talk to you for days about how the spiritual skill of forgiveness has direct and measurable effects on our bodies and our physical health. I can even use charts and graphs if that’s your thing.)

My point in telling you this is that often when things might seem opposed and fiercely perpetuated as such, there’s a broader, unifying perspective that’s revealed. Another example might be that even Cub fans and Cardinal fans can come together in their love of baseball and what it means to be a fan. Estranged siblings can share the depth of love and loss for a parent. Warring armies can share views of faith (google the WWI Christmas truce). Often in heated disagreements, there is a broader view that unites and moves us forward.

We have lived through heated and even violently and fatally defended points of view these past years. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a laser-like focus to our differences while simultaneously magnifying them to the point where we are all frustrated and angry a great deal of the time. Each side thinks it is right and righteous in what it thinks and believes and that the other side is clueless and causing harm to our collective whole as a society and as Americans.

That’s one uniting principle, I guess. I want to offer another: we are all seeking to live this glorious gift of life the best way we can, to experience joy, and find our purpose fulfilled. We are wonderfully and diversely created, and we have diverse needs, aims, and priorities. If we continue to prioritize like-thinking, we will not have the capacity to grow and evolve. In our varying priorities and viewpoints, we can emerge as more robust and more complex creatures. Albert Einstein once said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” What he meant by that is that when we overcome obstacles and solve problems, we grow into a person we have not yet been before. Our capacity for understanding is different. Our physical body is different. Our mindset is different.

In my twenties, I was not a person who could speak publicly. I was not a person who could navigate the joys and challenges of being a spouse. I was not a person who knew how to overcome the grief of a miscarriage or the death of a parent. In my twenties, I did not know how to do 90% of the things I now do and have overcome. We live, and we face challenges, and we grow our way through and beyond them. We continually build the airplanes as we are flying them.

Growth is difficult and frustrating. There are some things in life I wish I didn’t know how to do. (See above.) Yet, we have this force hardwired within us that propels us forward. We seek to live this life the best way we can, experience joy, and find our ever-growing purpose fulfilled. We can grow through this time in our history and emerge stronger for having done the hard work of growing. Some will. Alternately, we can dig our heels in and stay stuck in our current reality.

I land squarely on the side of learning and growing. As my family has come through a time of COVID infection, I have evolved in my understanding. On the one hand, I feel like I am less clear on many things than before. There’s so much conflicting information, and what seemed clear to me before is less so now. On the other hand, I am humbled and encouraged. I am humbled in that my assumptions are brought to the fore and shown to be lacking. Once again, life has shown me it is beautifully complex and unpredictable.

As a pastor, when someone comes to me with a problem, it is not my place to question the integrity of their perceived problem but to acknowledge that the person is experiencing the given situation as a problem. For example, if someone comes to me and says that God has abandoned them, my instinct would be to argue that perception. However, a more helpful strategy is to listen as the person describes what brings them to that conclusion and to ask open-ended questions about how they view, understand, and communicate with God. The latter response allows for growth and understanding.

My plea to you is to acknowledge your instincts when it comes to vaccination, politics, and the issues of the day AND seek to understand what the other person’s thoughts and feelings mean to them. Many people are so angry that others aren’t getting vaccinated. The numbers clearly show that hospitals are filled past capacity with critically ill people who are not vaccinated, which makes resources scarce for the rest of us. Many people are so angry that powers and principalities are forcing us to put something into our bodies. History clearly shows that once a society yields to this type of action, others of increasing gravitas quickly follow, making freedoms scarce for the rest of us. Parents at home with kids waiting out a quarantine are mad as Hell that others are going and doing whatever they want to do without thought or care. Other parents are mad as Hell that people are taking away the childhood experiences of their kids over what will more than likely be a regular childhood sickness. (I am painting with a broad brush here. Exceptions and extremes certainly exist.)

The mindset that has brought us this far is to be commended for getting us to this day. But today’s mindset isn’t going to see us through to a better tomorrow. Make the time and effort to understand someone whose views are different from yours. Be humble and open to learning and growing. We need each other and our differences to propel us forward in life. COVID isn’t the only threat we face. Heart disease, cancer, depression, unhealthy relationships with food, lack of physical activity, isolation, anger, lack of forgiveness, powers, and principalities, and so many other things are genuine threats to our well-being. Let’s encourage one another in our journeys, not make them more difficult.

My plea to you and my prayer is that we would stop demonizing others and sanctifying ourselves. There is truth in all these things. Our distinct experiences will prioritize some things over others. Let’s give ourselves the grace to acknowledge this and extend the same to others. Seek to understand and to be understood. Perhaps we can grow through this time and emerge with a broader understanding of community, health, and freedom, and a commitment to achieve these for all.

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