Posts tagged ‘Existence’

Processing a Pandemic

“When the pandemic is over…”

I’ve heard these words spoken over and over again by many people. And, I agree with them. I do believe this pandemic will eventually pass. But in my darker moments, I must admit that I also wonder about these words. I want to ask: “You say, ‘When the pandemic is over.’ When, pray tell, might that be?”

I have a feeling I’m not alone in asking this question. Not only am I not alone in asking this question among those around me; I am also not alone in asking this question among those throughout history.

In a really interesting long form piece for New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan takes his reader on a whirlwind tour of plagues throughout history. His descriptions of many historic plagues are gruesome. Take, for instance, the plague that swept through Rome in 536:

Black rats arrived in the Roman port of Alexandria. They carried with them their own parasite, a flea that lived on the rats’ blood and could survive up to six weeks without a host – making it capable of enduring long sea voyages. And as the bacteria spread among the rats, and their population began to collapse, the fleas, desperate for food, sought alternatives. Living very close to the rats, humans were an easy target … For several days after infection, you were asymptomatic, then grotesque black buboes appeared on your body – swollen lymph nodes near where the fleas had bitten. Death often came several days later.

John of Ephesus noted that as people “were looking at each other and talking, they began to totter and fell either in the streets or at home, in harbors, on ships, in churches, and everywhere.” As he traveled in what is now Turkey, he was surrounded by death: “Day by day, we too –  like everybody – knocked at the gate to the tomb … We saw desolate and groaning villages and corpses spread out on the earth, with no one to take up [and bury] them.”

This is not even the worst of Mr. Sullivan’s descriptions. His recounting of the 1918 flu pandemic here in the States is even more jarring:

In her book Pandemic 1918, Catharine Arnold notes that “victims collapsed in the streets, hemorrhaging from lungs and nose. Their skin turned dark blue with the characteristic ‘heliotrope cyanosis’ caused by oxygen failure as the lungs filled with pus, and they gasped for breath from ‘air-hunger’ like landed fish.” The nosebleeds were projectile, covering the surroundings with blood. “When their lungs collapsed,” one witness recounted, “air was trapped beneath their skin. As we rolled the dead in winding sheets, their bodies crackled – an awful crackling noise which sounded like Rice Crispies [sic] when you pour milk over them.”

But as the summer of 1918 began in the U.S., relief spread. Maybe it was over. And then, in the fall, confident that a vaccine was imminent, several cities, notably Philadelphia, hosted war-bond parades, with large crowds thronging the streets … In the coming weeks, the city morgue was piling bodies on top of bodies, stacked three deep in the corridors, with no ice and no embalming. The stench was rank. City authorities were reduced to asking people to put their dead loved ones out on the street for collection.

This is horrifying.

But Mr. Sullivan is not simply content to leave his reader with dreadful descriptions of plagues past. He also invites us to grapple with some hard truths that our being revealed by our present plague, like this one:

We are not in control.

This is most certainly true.

Christians, for millennia now, have known this and proclaimed this. But they have also trusted in and told of One who is in control – One who can, and even does, heal the sick and raise the dead.

Mr. Sullivan notes:

Reminding humans of our mortality, plagues throw up existential questions. 

They do. Whether we take the time to grapple with these existential questions, however, is up to us. Historically, people have answered threats to their existence in one of two ways:

Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die! (Isaiah 22:13)

Or:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

Some are confronted by a time like this and simply resign themselves to revelry, for they believe that this is all there is. Others are confronted by a time like this and hope for a restoration, for they know this is not how things should be – but they also believe that there is One who will make things as they can be. And they believe that this One remains with us to comfort us, even during a pandemic.

Which way will you respond to this present moment? Choose wisely.

August 17, 2020 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Explaining Our Existence

Creation HandsI recently came across two articles – both dealing with gender concerns – that caught my attention.  The first article is by Lisa Wade of Salon and addresses the deep friendships – or the lack thereof – between men.  Wade opens her article:

Of all people in America, adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than other types of friendships. When men get together, they’re more likely to do stuff than have a conversation …

When I first began researching this topic I thought, surely this is too stereotypical to be true. Or, if it is true, I wondered, perhaps the research is biased in favor of female-type friendships. In other words, maybe we’re measuring male friendships with a female yardstick. It’s possible that men don’t want as many or the same kinds of friendships as women.

But they do. When asked about what they desire from their friendships, men are just as likely as women to say that they want intimacy. And, just like women, their satisfaction with their friendships is strongly correlated with the level of self-disclosure.[1]

Men want friends, Wade contends – real friends, with whom they can share real cares, concerns, and fears.  But most do not have these kinds of friends.  Why is this?  Wade chalks it up to society’s assertions concerning what it means to be a “real man.”  She explains:

[Real men] are supposed to be self-interested, competitive, non-emotional, strong (with no insecurities at all), and able to deal with their emotional problems without help. Being a good friend, then, as well as needing a good friend, is the equivalent of being girly.

Real men, our society says, keep their emotions hermetically sealed.  This is why so many men eschew forming deep and abiding friendships.  But as many men seek to be really masculine through sensitivity sequestration, they only wind up being really isolated.

The second article I found interesting is by Sarah Elizabeth Richards of the New York Times. Richards tells the story of Andy Inkster – a woman who underwent surgery and took testosterone to become a man, but has now stopped taking testosterone because she wants to get pregnant.  As it turns out, Andy had trouble getting pregnant and sought fertility treatments from Baystate Reproductive Medicine.  Baystate denied her request.  She received help from another clinic and got pregnant, but sued Baystate for discrimination.

Such a desire of transgendered people to have children is not unique to Andy:

One study published last year in the journal Human Reproduction of 90 transgender men in Belgium found that 54 percent wished to have children … Other research, published in 2002, by Belgian fertility doctors with Western European transgender women found that 40 percent wanted to have children, and 77 percent felt they should have the option to preserve their sperm before hormone treatment. As fertility technology improves and becomes more widely available, transgender people are realizing that they will have more options in the future.[2]

Transgendered people apparently have a strong desire to have children in biologically traditional ways despite their deep reservations with their biologically assigned genders.

At first glance, these two articles seem to address phenomena on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum.  The first has to do with entrenched machismo while the second has to do with blurred gender identity.  But for all their differences, there exists a common theological root:  the divorce of human existence from divine creation.

Foundational to the Christian conception of the cosmos is the belief that everything came from somewhere.  Or, to put it more precisely, Christians believe that everything came from someone.  We do not just exist.  We were created.

It is from the Scriptural story of creation that we learn not just that we are, but who we are.  We are creatures and not the Creator (cf. Genesis 3:5).  We are fashioned in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:27).  We are fearfully and wonderfully made (cf. Psalm 139:14), which is to say that God intentionally and lovingly fashioned us to be a certain kind of person, the corruption of sin notwithstanding.  In the old “nature versus nurture” debate, the story of creation tells us that nature does indeed shape us, but not by naturalistic means.  Rather, we are shaped through nature by the One who made nature.

Both of the articles above exemplify with a convicting candor what happens when people forget this story.  Men who try to play the role of the sturdy and strong lone ranger forget the part of the story where God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  People who undergo surgeries and treatments in an effort to change their gender forget the part of the story where God revels in how He has created us “male and female” (Genesis 1:27).

The apostle Peter warns there will come a time when people will “deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed” (2 Peter 3:5).  They will forget their existence is a product of God’s creative word.  And they will forget their existence is to be guided by God’s sacred Word.  May it never be so of us.  May we always be able to say:  “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth…and of me.”


[1] Lisa Wade, “American men’s hidden crisis: They need more friends!Salon (12.7.2013).

[2] Sarah Elizabeth Richards, “The Next Frontier in Fertility Treatment,” New York Times (1.12.2014).

January 27, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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