Tuesday, June 30, 2020

SARS-CoV-2 and Elite Responders


I have limited time to blog this week and so I will only write a few words about the latest developments in SARS-CoV-2 research. This week's NIH Director’s Blog offers hope for COVID-19 treatments using monoclonal antibodies. A team led by Michel Nussenzweig, Paul Bieniasz, and Charles Rice at The Rockefeller University, New York, and Pamela Bjorkman at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, has identified a subset of antibodies produced by “elite responders” that effectively neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus by binding to “three distinct sites on the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the coronavirus spike protein.”

 

When the human body is challenged by a novel virus in the system, a cascade of biochemical reactions occurs which leads to the production of many different antibody particles. The responsive immune system must generate a large number of possible antibodies because all will have some effect on the virus that has set the system in motion, but only some will be highly effective at binding up the virus particle so that it does not infect cells. What Nuzzenzweig and collaborators have done is identify which of the many antibodies generated are the most effective. This has the potential to inform scientists working on vaccines regarding which vaccines may be most effective in fighting the virus and the potentially deadly disease it causes. It also means that these elite antibodies could be reproduced in the lab and used as a form of treatment for those who have been infected and have a severe case of COVID-19.

 

There is much more to be said about how this research could also be leveraged to create better serological testing that would indicate who has been and who has not been infected with this novel coronavirus. In future blogs we will explore the ramifications further. For now, let’s pause for a moment and consider the hope this research brings as we pray for further developments.

 

 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Racism in My Heart

Dr. Charles Ringma


Two speakers, whom I highly respect, have recently had things to say about racism. In a recent video podcast, Dr. Anthony Campolo speaks of unconscious discrimination and reminds us that we do not see the hurtful things we do and say because we are so embedded in our systems. Tony Campolo goes on to tell the story of a time when Mahatma Gandhi walked into a Church of England (Anglican Church) cathedral in South Africa where Gandhi was raised. As Gandhi, who had been educated as a Hindu, sat down to experience Christian worship, a kind but firm usher told him that he was sorry but coloured people were not allowed to worship in that cathedral. Campolo and Gandhi both recognize that the usher was doing the job he had been given to do and that the usher did not understand the harm he was doing. Gandhi says that the usher thought that he was ushering a coloured man out of a cathedral when in fact he was “ushering India out of the British Empire.”

 

Campolo makes the obvious logical argument that the usher was so imbedded in his church culture that he did not understand what he was doing or saying. Dr. Campolo further states that the same is true of us, “We don’t understand the ramifications of what we are doing. Racism is embedded in our minds. We have to ask God to help us to be cleansed of it.” He quotes 1 John 1:8,9 as 

 “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all injustice[1].”

 

Charles Ringma, a distinguished theologian and Professor Emeritus of Regent College recently spoke at a Summer School Midday Event and said that “We are all racist at some level. We like our privilege and status. Self-confrontation is necessary because we don’t realize how arrogant we are. We need to consider how Christ came to us in humility, poverty, and an emptying of himself.” - Charles Ringma 2020-06-24

 

May Christ have mercy on our souls and cleanse us of all injustice.


Dr. Anthony (Tony) Campolo

 

 



[1] The King James Bible uses the word unrighteousness but Campolo says that it should be translated as injustice.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Of Ents and Hobbits


This week I am taking a summer course at Regent College. I had looked forward to spending time in Vancouver and sitting in a classroom with other students, but it is now a virtual course. I will interact with the professor and fellow classmates via Zoom like so many other meetings and courses. It is a reasonable facsimile, but still second best for a course, especially as I recall the beauty of the UBC campus in late June.

 

One of the textbooks for the course (The Cultivated Life, Susan S. Phillips, InterVarsity Press, 2015) purposely mixes metaphors and refers to spiritual growth as being both rooted like a plant in a garden and a journey in which we continue to progress and get closer to our distant destination. She speaks of needing to stop and put down roots, wait and listen, and to spend time in Sabbath; but she also speaks of needing to progress and take a next step. She uses the image of “a tree that walks” to convey her meaning.

 

One of her illustrations looks to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa in 1995 in which she says the country and the world paused in order to heal and seek forgiveness. The chair of the commission was Bishop Desmond Tutu and he allowed the process to take its full course.

 

“He brought people to a holy stop, lending compassion to the process and marking it with awe. He was the walking tree of Scripture, planted by streams of living water and walking the way of truth. He cooperated with the divine Logos that shelters and gathers as well as speaks…. Any morally or spiritually significant conversation must be preceded and followed by listening.”[1]

 

These words of being rooted, listening, conversing, and walking the way of truth are exceptionally valuable for me at this point in my life. Presently, I have wrapped up one job and have not yet settled into a next role. My usual tendency to “hurry” and “do,” is getting in the way, when I know that what is needed right now is to “slow down” and “be.” I am reminded of one of Tolkein’s tales (told within the Lord of the Rings Trilogy) in which two Hobbits, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, enlist the help of the Ents, (the Ents are themselves walking trees). The Ents convene an Entmoot, or meeting of the Ents, and Merry and Pippin are anxious for a response; but the Ents, known for their slow deliberations in which they may take several months to come to a decision, test the patience of the Hobbits who sense that a quick decision is necessary. The interplay between impatient Hobbits and deliberating Ents must be much like my own impatient pleading before God. In a time when I have been given space to rest and Sabbath, without worry of food on the table or roof over my head, I find my anxious mind whining about what the future holds, what my next role will be, and how I will survive. God, the ever patient, deliberate provider, hears my pleas and knows that there is yet time and encourages me to have patience and to use this time to be better rooted knowing that there will be plenty of time for moving on to the next thing.

 

Am I alone in this? I think not. This time in our culture has trained us to move with frenetic pace, as we are always on, always working, always responding, always seeking to enhance our image, and always looking for more. The deliberate, intentional, cultivated life is a necessity that is easily crowded out by the “tyranny of the urgent.”[2] As with most of the writing on this blog, this is first a call to myself to live an intentional life, and then secondly to you my reader to consider this need in your own life as well. Today can be a day for listening, waiting, and rooting in the deliberate, cultivated life. Let us commit to it together.



[1] The Cultivated Life, Susan S. Phillips, InterVarsity Press, 2015, chapter 4.

[2] Charles E. Hummel phrase.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Life is Fragile


Perhaps now is the time to remind ourselves that life is fragile. We have all experienced a greater measure of our own bodily fragility ever since our world declared a world-wide pandemic. We realized that there are viruses that not only make us sick but can even kill us. And the virus has killed young, old, and in between; healthy, sick, fit, and weak. We have all had to come to grips with mortality, sickness, and possible long-term health effects. We have also realized that civilization is fragile. This first showed up in the economy of the world but soon became obvious in our political systems, the way we interact with each other in our communities, and our divisions along many lines. 2 Corinthians 4:7 (New Living Translation, NLT) makes it clear that each of us has life within us and yet we carry this life around in a fragile vessel.

 

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

 

The distinction between life and not-life is significant, and yet it is a fine line. At one level, we see life in humans, animals, and plants and debate whether or not a virus contains life. Is a coronavirus truly life or is it just a biological machine that can take over our human biochemistry? We search to see if life exists on any other planet or moon in the universe, while recognizing how fragile all life is on this blue-green fragile planet.

 

Second Corinthians 5:1-5 (NLT) has some helpful teaching on how to live with the fragility of life here on earth.

 

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

 

The concepts this passage teaches are not readily brought to mind in our current predicament in the world and so we need to remind ourselves of them once again.

·       This fragile body in which we live is not our permanent residence; one day, our life essence will be housed in a new eternal body.

·       It is normal to grow weary of life on this earth and long for the eternal realms.

·       We are caught in the mystery of wanting to stay here in this body and this world, while also longing to put on our new eternal bodies.

·       God has prepared us for this longing and wants us to be ready to transition to a new realm.

·       To some, he has already given the guarantee of his Holy Spirit.

 

As we look at this fragile planet, these fragile systems, and our bodies as fragile entities like clay pots, we are reminded that God has a plan that begins now and continues into eternity. The purpose of this article is to remind us of the life we have beyond these fragile bodies, and yet it also reminds us that as we thirst for righteousness in this world, we need not fear what might happen to our earthly bodies. For Jesus said,


“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

 (Matthew 16:25 NLT)


As we remind one another of a better life beyond this world, and as we prepare ourselves to breathe - with fresh lungs - the air of heaven, we will simultaneously seek to make this world a better place. May God show us his hope for the future and may it begin now on this fragile earth.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Of Science and Theology


J.B. Stump recently published an article in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. The article is entitled “Did God Guide Our Evolution?”[1] Since many readers will not have ready access to this journal, allow me to give a summary. As he says, at one point in the paper, it might have been a very short paper if he simply answered ‘yes.’ Of course, the answer is much more nuanced than that because if one says yes, that person would open themselves to the criticism that neo-Darwinism is not the kind of process that could be guided. The person who says no, sounds like a deist who believes that God simply got the ball rolling at the Big Bang and left everything to chance and survival of the fittest.

 

Stump speaks of those of us who believe in both God and science and speaks of the tension many of us feel regarding the question of God’s guidance of the natural process.

 

“There is an often-unresolved tension for many of us who have these twin intuitions:

·       As science-minded people, the more we examine the development of life, the more we are persuaded of the efficacy and integrity of natural mechanisms.

·       As Christians, the more we learn of God and his ways, the more we are persuaded that God loves us and has partnered with us to achieve God’s purposes for the world.

The first of these intuitions leads us to think that science, while not infallible, has shown itself to be a reliable, truth-discovering enterprise, and that, therefore, the science describing our evolution is at least largely correct. The second leads us to believe that God had (and has) a plan for us as image bearers, and therefore God did all that was necessary to provide for our appearance on Earth.”[2]

He says that these two intuitions can be formalised into the following two claims:

“C1. Evolution is the best scientific explanation for the origin of Homo sapiens.

C2. God intentionally created human beings in God’s image.”[3]

 

For the rest of the paper Stump goes on to speak of the various ways in which scholars have created strategies to hold these two claims together in such a way that they can both be true. He summarises three views and the criticisms of those views before giving us his own conclusion on how this can be done. He speaks of the Semantic Strategy, the Nomological Strategy, and the Causal Joint Strategy, before giving us his Epistemological Strategy. I won’t go into all the details, those who wish to can find and read the full article. Let me skip to the final strategy and conclusion.

 

The basic idea of the Epistemological Strategy is that science and theology are different ways of knowing. Both are true and both make truth claims about the world around us. The two truth claims, C1 and C2 tell the same story in different ways and “neither tells the whole story.”[4] Stump then makes an important point when he says that,

“It has been the tendency to treat the scientific discourse as the real description of things and to treat whatever does not fit within that discourse (e.g., free will, morality, meaning) as folk psychology and fictions. But that is to succumb to scientism.”

Although Stump does not say it specifically, we might also say that treating whatever does not fit the theological discourse as ‘not real’ is to succumb to ‘theologicism.’ We cannot think that the Bible has the answer to every question (e.g., how long it took to make the universe, or does a hare chew a cud?[5]) for God has also communicated to us through his creation and encourages us to use our minds.

 

Stump distinguishes his Epistemological Strategy from Stephen Jay Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria approach (NOMA) and its inherent flaws. He notes that in the NOMA explanation, science deals with fact and theory while religion deals with feelings and values; in his own epistemological explanation, both science and theology are “making factual truth claims.”[6]

 

Stump reminds the reader that we need a both/and approach to understanding our universe (as in previous blogs, I again refer my reader to the Two-book Theory of God’s revelation[7]) and that without both ways of knowing “we are going to get an incomplete answer.”[8] Furthermore, he points to two examples of how we must get used to both/and thinking when observing our universe. One of these comes from scientific discourse and one from theological discourse. In science, when we describe light, we must keep in mind that it is both a wave and a particle (not easy to conceptualise but we must think in both/and) and in theology, when we describe God, we must keep in mind that he is both three and one (again, not easy to conceptualise). So, both the scientific and theological means of knowing have their place. J.B. Stump has done a great service in helping to explain why both are necessary.

 

 



[1] “Did God Guide Our Evolution?”, J.B. Stump, Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Vol. 72, No. 1; March 2020. 

[2] Stump, p. 16.

[3] Stump, p. 16.

[4] Stump, p. 20.

[5] There is a whole theological conversation around the words of Lev. 11:3-6 and Deut. 14:7 about whether or not it is accurate to describe a hare as chewing a cud. The conversation can get rather pointed and borders on irrational when people expect the whole answer to be found in the Bible.

[6] Stump, p. 22.

[7] “Two Books Theology means understanding how Christian theologians from the very beginnings of the Church have understood God’s self-revelation, as well as the relationship between Scripture and Creation.” “The Church Fathers and Two Books Theology” Biologos, Mark H. Mann, 2012.

[8] Stump, p. 22.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Yeast, Patience, and a Shutdown World


Patience is not my strong suit. I know that it is hard for many of us and particularly in a time of instant messaging, instant media, instant news, instant meals, instant coffee – well, maybe strike that last one – compared to previous eras, none of us can stand to be patient. Then, I read the words of Jesus: The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, the Kingdom of God is like a field of wheat with weeds growing along-side the harvest, the Kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field, the Kingdom of God is like a land-owner who invests in his servants and goes away on a long trip, and the Kingdom of God is like yeast that works its way through bread. Every one of these descriptions emphasises long time periods and a large degree of patience.

I took this video as I waited for my bread dough to rise. The video represents approximately 40 minutes of rising compressed into 20 seconds. 



 Yeast is slow. If you want to make bread you must be patient.

But I want speed. I love speed. I ride rollercoasters and go-carts to give myself a sense of speed. I have to work hard to stay within speed limits when I am on a scenic tour of the Rocky Mountains. The two and a half minutes it takes to heat up a cup and a half of water in the microwave seems too long; the two minutes I brush my teeth with an electric toothbrush are the longest two minutes of my day. I want change and I want it now. We have been waiting 12 weeks for our cities, our restaurants, our churches, our playgrounds, our libraries, our recreation centres, our borders, … to open up. We want change and we want it now. We want a vaccine, and we want it yesterday. When it comes to re-opening churches, when it has to do with the life of our church congregations, we especially want quick fixes. Some are already pressuring politicians and health authorities to let people back into church buildings. Is that wise?

The Kingdom of God is like yeast … The Kingdom of God is like a field of wheat … The Kingdom of God is like an investment …

Again, I remind myself, these illustrations call for time and patience. Can I slow down and let God work in my life? Can I wait for him to provide for my needs or must I run around frantically adding to my portfolio and my bank account while my heart is a wreckage of tension and fury?

Do we actually see the irony in our prayers? "Lord, I want patience - give it to me now." Maybe I should take one more look at that video of bread rising.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Solzhenitsyn on Evil


As I consider the state of Canada, America, the Church, the Body Politic, and my own heart, I am reminded of these words by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn't change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

Socrates taught us: 'Know thyself!”

― Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

These words come from a man who spent approximately eight years in prison, and many more in exile, for speaking out against evil.

When I consider myself, I see that my own racism is simply another form of “me-ism.” I readily forgive myself for me-ism by saying that I need to look out for myself and my family. But should I? Did not Jesus tell me to “love my neighbor as I love myself”? Loving myself more than all others is no better than loving myself more than some others. Recognizing it is a first step, yet only a first step. The line dividing good and evil indeed runs through my heart, my body, my dreams, my bank accounts, and every aspect of my life. Lord Jesus, forgive me of every form of me-ism and give me the grace and power to root it out of myself.

DC Talk wrote a song and created a video that expressed their plea to end racism. Check it out with the link below.

We're colored people, and we live in a tainted place
We're colored people, and they call us the human race
We've got a history so full of mistakes
And we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace

https://youtu.be/iM17qeIIIE4 


Friday, June 5, 2020

Of Romans and Adam


John R. W. Stott (1921-2011) was a theologian, writer, Anglican Priest, and preacher. His thoughtful commentary on the book of Romans, The Message of Romans (The Bible Speaks Today series; IVP Academic, 1994), has been an important resource for my understanding of the theology of the Apostle Paul. Today, I would like to focus on Stott’s brilliant words regarding Paul’s theological understanding of Adam: the first man of creation.

Stott peers back through the primordial mist to the time of Adam and seeks to understand the nature Stott observes, in the ancient fossils of the day, and the words of the Bible in Genesis, Romans, and other parts of sacred scripture. He is well-aware that aspects of Genesis 1-3 can only be interpreted symbolically (p. 163) and explains how Paul uses his knowledge of creation and The Fall to build a theological argument for the righteousness bestowed by Jesus.

Stott then states that he believes “Scripture clearly intends us to accept their [Adam and Eve’s] historicity as the original human pair” (p. 163), and that Adam and Eve were Neolithic farmers in the New Stone Age which ran from 10,000 to 6,000 BC (p. 163). He is aware of, and comfortable with, the human fossil and skeletal records which show that modern homo sapiens can be traced back to 100,000 years ago and homo sapiens (archaic) to about 500,000 years ago. He also knows that the record shows that there are other species of hominids who lived before homo sapiensHomo erectus dates back to 1.8 million years ago and homo habilis from 2.3 to 1.65 million years ago. Some of these species and sub-species (Neanderthal man is an example of a subspecies which could interbreed with homo sapiens) showed signs of the beginnings of culture such as painting, carving, care for the sick, and burial of the dead (p.164). Even as Stott knows all of this, he also emphasises that this does not contradict with the scriptural understanding of Adam and Eve (p. 163). 

Then Stott makes this interesting statement: “Adam, then, was a special creation of God, whether God formed him literally ‘from the dust of the ground’ and then ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’, or whether this is the biblical way of saying that he was created out of an already existing hominid. The vital truth we cannot surrender is that, though our bodies are related to the primates, we ourselves in our fundamental identity are related to God” (p. 164). The first half of this interesting statement has to do with how, in Stott’s opinion, God may have gone about forming Adam. Stott is suggesting that God has been creating galaxies, planets, plants, animals, and pre-Adamic hominids, but now God pauses to stoop down in a special creative process to create Adam (and Eve). He envisions a time when many creatures have been walking about on a newly created earth and then God starts fresh with some dust of the ground to create his most precious creation. This is Stott’s first vision of the creation of Adam. But then he says, it might have been that God created Adam “out of an already existing hominid.” John Stott is being gracious toward the varying opinions of “how” Adam came to be (since we cannot see back through time to know precisely what God was doing then we must, to some degree, speculate on the process) but is resolute in the “vital truth we cannot surrender.” That truth, says Stott, is that “though our bodies are related to the primates, we ourselves in our fundamental identity are related to God” (p. 164).

Stott goes so far as to invent his own name for Adam’s species and calls him homo divinus (p. 164) before going on to quote Derek Kidner who suggests "that once it became clear that there was ‘no natural bridge from animal to man, God may have now conferred his image on Adam’s collaterals, to bring them into the same realm of being. Adam’s “federal” headship of humanity extended, if that was the case, outwards to his contemporaries as well as onwards to his offspring, and his disobedience disinherited both alike’"(p. 165). “Federal,” in this context refers to God’s act of entering into a covenant (or federation) with humanity through the first human, Adam. Kidner and Stott are saying that God entered into a covenant with humanity and then when the federal head of humanity disobeyed, the disobedience, consequences, and the curse of breaking the covenant, extended to Adam’s contemporaries and his offspring.

Having discussed Adam’s creation, “federal” headship, and disobedience, Stott next speaks of Adam’s death. Stott knows that death existed before Adam’s fall. He can see that there was death in both God’s plant and animal life-cycles. Stott sees plant death in the cycle of blossom, fruit, seed, and death as described in Genesis 1:11. He sees animal death in the fossil record of predators with prey in their stomach (p.165). It is interesting to note Stott’s logic and see that he comprehends that God speaks to him as a theologian through both scripture and nature (the two-book theory of God’s revelation[1]).

When it comes to Adam, Stott wants to suggest that it is possible that when God created homo divinus, he created beings with the potential for eternal life without earthly death. In Genesis 3:19, Stott sees God’s word as pointing to a physical death as part of the curse of The Fall. Many see spiritual death as a curse of The Fall, but Stott holds on to the idea of Adam being made of dust and returning to dust as part of the curse as well. This leads him to propose that perhaps God’s original intention was to make the image-bearers of God immortal, a rather shocking statement for a theologian of his stature. We must consider his theory. Stott states that “Perhaps he would have ‘translated’ them [here he means Adam, Eve, and the rest of unfallen humanity] like Enoch and Elijah, without the necessity of death. Perhaps he would have ‘changed’ them ‘in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye’, like those believers who will be alive when Jesus comes.”

It is an interesting proposal. Was God’s original plan one in which plants and animals lived and died but homo divinus lived on for a set time before being taken into the presence of God? The elves of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King who live for thousands of years and then sail West to the immortal land of Valinor, readily come to my mind. It is speculative, but who can say that this might not have been God’s original plan? After all, God has made angels as his immortal messengers? It is conceivable that God could have made humans immortal like the elves of Valinor. However, personally, I don’t think we need to create this myth-like possibility to understand the distinctiveness of humanity. Stott has already recognized a good deal of symbolism in Genesis. Could not the words, “Dust you are, and to the dust you will return” be inclusive of both a physical and a spiritual death where the spiritual death is the new consequence of The Fall?

John R.W. Stott passed away in 2011, so I will not have an opportunity to ask him if he would still hold to all of these views. I suspect that he would recognise the speculative nature of some of his ideas and tell us that he was working through various scenarios to seek to understand creation better. A commentary on Romans is not primarily about the methodologies used by the creator, even though they do have a bearing on the discussion. I have not found all of the places Stott may have written about such theories of creation, but I am relatively confident that he never put them down in a succinct book or paper regarding creation. In this context, let us simply honour a great preacher and theologian who spoke and wrote with grace, leaving room for speculation about methods, and giving us definitive statements on God’s purposes. Let us continue to meditate upon and seek to practise the implications of the important fact that “though our bodies are related to the primates, we ourselves in our fundamental identity are related to God.”


[1] “Two Books Theology means understanding how Christian theologians from the very beginnings of the Church have understood God’s self-revelation, as well as the relationship between Scripture and Creation.” “The Church Fathers and Two Books Theology” Biologos, Mark H. Mann, 2012.

Friday, May 22, 2020

More Good News from the NIH


I am now in the habit of regularly reading Dr. Francis Collins’ blog at https://directorsblog.nih.gov/. Most of the latest information about potential vaccines, clinical trials, and COVID-19 therapies can be found here before they reach mainstream media. Dr. Collins (author of The Language of God) is a brilliant scientific mind, the director of the National Institute of Health, and a humble follower of Jesus Christ. His latest blog gives us more great news about potential therapies for COVID-19. You can read the blog yourself (as it is not overly technical) and I will also provide a summary here.

The good news is there in the first paragraph: we now know that nearly everyone who recovers from COVID-19 produces antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. This is the virus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. This suggests that, at least for a period of time – perhaps six months to several years, people exposed to SARS-CoV-2 will be protected from getting COVID-19 again. It is also quite possible that this protection, or immunity, could be transferred to other individuals who have not yet been exposed to the virus. Canadian Blood Services may already be storing tubes of blood for testing to see who has these antibodies in their blood.[1] Such blood samples would be valuable in identifying plasma that could be transferred to others to effectively block the replication of the virus in the cells of those exposed to the virus. As Collins' blog also suggests, the antibodies in this plasma may also be an effective therapy for those in an active COVID-19 disease state.

The article goes into some technical details about the various forms which these antibodies take and gives credit to those involved in this important work. The researchers come from all over the world including Beijing, Europe, and the United States. It is a good example of a unified research and development process. I really appreciate good news about actual potential therapies rather than speculation on drugs that may or may not work against the virus. I also really appreciate that these scientists put aside political quarrelling for the sake of all humanity. I encourage us all to stay informed, continue to use our intellects, and stay positive in the search for a conclusion to this pandemic.


[1] Personal communication from an un-named source at my local blood donor clinic.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How Does One Say Welcome Through a Mask?


Most of us are getting used to smiling really hard to enhance the mirth or joy in our eyes. Without this, will anyone out in the public know that we are smiling behind our mask? You know the feeling: you have just stepped into the wrong aisle, from the wrong lane, heading in the wrong direction, down a supermarket throughway and you want to give that sheepish smile that says, “Oops, I will do better next time but right now I just need to reach that jar of bread yeast. Heh, heh, heh, smiley, smiley, smile.” We wish an emoji would pop up over our head to express our emotion. Alas, that only happens in cartoons and virtual reality. But here in the real world, we are not so fortunate. 

I thought about this as I read the news today and saw pictures of restaurants and retailers with signs that read, “Welcome Back – We Are Open” with owners standing at their doors smiling over masks. Yes, we know we are welcome, but we would be much more at ease if there was now no need for that black “bandit” mask that we have all been wearing for the last while (or should I wear the camo mask today?). Which brings me to a point about the re-opening of church buildings. Larry Osborne at North Coast Training Centre has some great insights into what will be necessary for the successful re-opening of our worship services. Most leaders, to this point, have focussed on the physical necessities of masks, hand sanitizers, touchless services, no consumables, and the challenge of children’s ministries. Osborne emphasises what it will take to have a quality worship service that meets or exceeds the quality of online services without totally exhausting pastors, tech-teams, and volunteers. In my mind, it created some questions worth considering. What does it mean to have a quality worship service? Is singing through a mask, while socially distanced necessarily a better worship experience than an online worship service? How many people will we be able to invite into our auditoriums? What about families with small children? Who will be comfortable returning to an enclosed space with central heating and many touch-points? Will my welcoming smile be noticed at the door or will I need to wear a t-shirt that says, “I am smiling under this mask”?

I think Larry Osborne is asking the right questions and perhaps foreseeing the appropriate responses. He suggests churches consider returning to large indoor spaces at a time similar to when people start to return to large outdoor sports arenas. The science of infection relies upon the concept of “Exposure to virus” X “Time” = “Infection”[1] So, indoor facilities pose greater risk than outdoor (because in the outdoors, wind will disperse viral particles in biological droplets faster and make them more dilute than in indoor spaces - even this may not hold up to some of the most recent research). But, time together in a church service may be shorter and less active than time spent cheering for your favourite sports team with a much larger crowd. These are the considerations which must go into decisions about when to open zoos, sports facilities, gyms, and places of worship. Do we really want to get ourselves into a situation where we book a time when we are allowed to go to a worship service in a building, after donning mask and gloves, and carrying around a bottle of spray disinfectant? It may be suitable to limit attendance and booking times at the Zoo, but what would such limitations say to the general public wishing to attend a church service? Would we create member only services? Visitor only services? Services with singing and services without singing? Services where seniors can attend and non-seniors services? Children-welcome and children-not-welcome services? Larry Osborne has reminded us that there are some big questions yet to ask. Most of them have no credible answer in the present context. 

Francis Collins (Head of the NIH in the USA) has said that we might possibly have a vaccine by the end of the year. He and Timothy Keller have also commented on the disparities that are present in our medical systems that create have and have-not cultures.[2] Any re-openings and access to vital medications and vaccines must take into consideration Jesus’ words about “the least of these.” All will need equal access.

So, “to [open] or not to [open]. That is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to” remain closed or to re-open. That is one of the questions of the Kingdom of God in which we live and to which we look forward. Until we answer this question, keep smiling. The smile lines increasing with age will only serve to emphasise your smiling eyes.


[1] Erin Bromage, “The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them,” Dr. Bromage joined the Faculty of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2007 where he teaches courses in Immunology and Infectious disease, including a course this semester on the Ecology of Infectious Disease which focused on the emerging SARS-CoV2 outbreak in China, https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them.
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2h3VEoL0d8

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Collins and Keller: Where is God in a Pandemic?


I am happy to have this blog where I can direct our attention to some of the valuable resources available to us at this time. One such resource is a recent conversation between Dr. Timothy Keller and Dr. Francis Collins moderated by Jim Stump from the BioLogos organization. I can give you a couple of hints regarding the way to watch this video. First, the main content begins at approximately 9:00 minutes into the YouTube recording and secondly, I have listed a few topics within the video. That way, as a question is asked, you will have an opportunity to take greater notice of the wisdom shared by these two phenomenal leaders. Some of the topics covered include:

·       Disparity in online learning
·       Spiritual depletion in busy times and the need to take time for spiritual refreshment
·       Adventures in rapid scientific development
·       The Church’s response to the pandemic
·       Innovation in the church – the replanting of local churches
·       Vaccines – when will we have one and who will accept it?
·       Medicine as God working rationally in his creation
·       Jesus recommending and using medicine
·       Theology of suffering
·       Disparity in healthcare resources
·       Affluent churches helping immigrant communities
·       Image of God and compassion toward all who are made in the image of God – the value of every human life
·       Hard utilitarianism does not hold sway in the Kingdom of God – the calculus of saving lives
·       Prayer and the work of God through those who are made in the image of God
·       How to use our time on earth to the greatest benefit
·       Asking for wisdom from God

That is a long list of relevant topics for each of us. I pray that you might find the time to be spiritually refreshed by these two leaders in God’s Kingdom. Jim Stump is great at asking the right questions and drawing out the best from each of his guests. May we be praying for the work of all who serve God in pandemic times. May God refresh his spiritual leaders in the work of the Kingdom of God.