Friday, May 22, 2020

More Good News from the NIH

I am now in the habit of regularly reading Dr. Francis Collins’ blog at 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,

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.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Of Bees and Workers

Canadian and American culture tends toward “doing” on the “doing/being continuum.” When things get tough, the tough get going. When a crisis comes along and we need to pivot, we take it in stride and work a little harder to accomplish the things that must be done, and the objectives we want to accomplish. On the surface there is nothing wrong with this and it has served our culture well over the last many years.

Of course, there is another side to this, and we have all become aware of what happens when the Lord “makes us lie down in green pastures.” In those times when we are forced to isolate, forced to stop the busy commute, forced to work and play in the same location, some of us have amped up the frenetic pace. I know many who must rise to the challenge of working a full-time job from home, learn the new platforms that allow this work, learn how to use the tools sent home by teachers to help the children learn and then communicate with the teacher, find new ways to keep in touch with family and friends, say yes or no to another drive-by birthday celebration, figure out how to keep a three-year-old occupied all day so that both parents can work from two make-shift home offices, keep the wi-fi network working at its peak to support two Zoom calls, a Disney movie, and two smart-phones so that the bandwidth doesn't freeze up one of the apps and make us look like an idiot on the Zoom call with the boss. (I mean literally looking like an idiot with our features frozen in some odd expression and our hair sticking out from our slouch cap.) 

But back to the Lord “making us lie down in green pastures,” there are days when we must rest. There are days when we cannot be as productive as we want to be. There are days when we fear that we will fall behind the flock of sheep and be left lying in yesterday’s green pastures. There are days when we are anxious that others might see us as not pulling our weight and that we might just miss that promotion or, in fact, be one of the first to be laid-off. There are days when we are forced to lie down in the green pasture of our home while the three-year-old bounces on our chest.

In a recent blog, Carson Pue relates a story of a bee in a greenhouse that frenetically bashes against the glass ceiling trying to find a way out. The bee is a worker bee. The bee works hard at getting out of the situation in which it finds itself. Despite the open door and vent, the poor little thing just keeps smashing against the glass until it is too exhausted to fly and must crawl along the frame of the vent. It is a revealing picture of our own levels of fatigue. Carson Pue goes on to speak of what we can do in these times of stress and the entire article is very helpful. Yet, I could not help but think that sometimes I just need to be the bee. There is a time for simply being rather than doing. It was not until the bee reached a point of simply being on the greenhouse frame that the solution to its plight arose. Then it was able to crawl beyond the inner frame, to the third dimension of the greenhouse, and find its way beyond the glass.

Where am I today? Am I being or doing? Am I seeking to be all I can be? Am I seeking to do all I can do? There is a time for both being and doing. Where am I, where are you, in the tension?