Two weeks. Based on the President’s press conference yesterday, it seems that we can count on at least four more. I hope he’s right. People are already stir crazy. As the weather gets nicer across the country, it is going to be harder and harder to convince people to stay at home. Also, one of the best ways to convince people to not quarantine is to keep telling them how awful and hopeless everything is. Eventually human nature will kick in (especially in a person who is young and relatively “safe”) where he will say, “If things are so bleak, I might as well live my life.” There’s a sweet spot between hopelessness and foolishness that can sufficiently motivate people.
On a related note, I saw a conversation on Facebook over the weekend where a friend was wondering about the safety of exercising outside in his driveway. One of his friends commented that this sounded like a bad idea because she heard that you could get the disease from squirrels(!) and besides she heard the virus was likely travelling in the air outside anyway. People. Please. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t set foot outside of your house. Going on a long walk – keeping a safe distance from others – might be one of the best things for your health right now.
This is my last day blogging for a little while. I’ve really enjoyed writing these posts over the last couple of weeks, but I need to hit the pause button so that I can turn my attention to some other things. Notably, I have to re-engage my dissertation this week which I have neglected ever since this madness began. My dissertation, ironically, is about digital technology and its relationship to discipleship and ministry. I can see a rather large appendix being added to the end entitled “Spring 2020: How we went from flirting with digital technology to getting married, settling down, and starting a family with digital technology over the span of two of the longest months in history.”
For this last post, I wanted to answer some specific questions from people who were interested. A lot of people liked the idea, but I didn’t get as many questions as I was hoping for. Teachers never do. But I did get a handful of questions that I’ll address briefly.
My friend Andrew asked why COVID-19 hates the Atlanta Braves. David, another friend who lives in LA wondered why it actually hates the Dodgers. Both teams had/have so much promise this year, promise that seems like it might get completely derailed before the season even starts. My son asked a similar question when the NCAA tournament was cancelled. He was inconsolable for several days. We are massive fans of the University of Illinois. They had such a fun team this year. They had shattered expectations and were on their way to the tournament for the first time in several years. Then, all of a sudden, it’s over. We are all struggling with the subjunctive mood this spring.
The subjunctive mood is the verbal mood of possibility. It describes what could be or what might be. It is also the mood of regret, of what could have been. We see it dramatically in sports. Seasons without endings. High school and college careers without the proper “send off.” As heartbreaking as it is, senior seasons should end with tear being shed on the court. In the case of Olympic athletes, years of training are not going to be punctuated with the glory and agony of competition. Instead, their training ends with the subjunctive “what might have been.” Stories without endings.
And it isn’t just athletes of course. High school and college seniors without commencement. Couples unable to have the wedding they dreamed of. Vacations saved up for, then canceled. Never mind the lives that have been suddenly paused or ended because of illness. Stories without proper endings. It’s like the song that doesn’t end with that resolving chord. We are just left hanging.
I wish I had something more optimistic to offer. The best thing that I can say is that some day the music will start again. Someday, sports will return, classes will resume, weddings will commence. In the meantime we must make different kinds of memories – not the kind of memories we planned or wanted – but memories that will make the future “might have beens” a little sweeter.
My friend Andy asked me what I thought is the worst thing about sin. The simplest answer that I can give is alienation. Sin has alienated us; it has made us misfit creations. We are alienated first from God, then from each other, also from the world around us, and finally, we are alienated even from ourselves. It’s controversial to talk about sin in some circles of people, but sin is the Christian belief most easily proven to be true. It is impossible to look at the world around us and within us and not see mountains of evidence that we have been alienated.
We are witnessing the alienation of sin with this virus. David French made this point in a recent piece. We should be hesitant to offer conclusions of certainty when answering the question “why do bad things happen.” Is a pandemic punishment from God? The biblical testimony obliges me to say, “it’s possible.” But I would never be so arrogant as to answer with certainty. Is a pandemic a sign that we are in the end times? Well, yes. But of course that has been the case with every pandemic. Jesus promised that plagues were “signs of the times,” (Luke 21:11) but what he meant is that these things will always happen throughout history before the final Day. In other words, don’t be surprised or overwhelmed by things like pandemics and plagues. Here’s what we can be certain of in regards to understanding the pandemic theologically. Viruses are evidence of a world that has been broken and is in need to healing. They are what some theologians call a “natural evil.” We also can be confident that what will finally heal the world is not a vaccine – although it would certainly be welcome and received with thanksgiving – but the healing hands of Christ.
My friend Atlas asked me about the strengths and weaknesses I see in Millennials and Gen Z. That could be a whole series of posts. First let me say that generational observations are always fraught with difficulties because generational characteristics are not nearly as predictive or consistent as other demographic characteristics. You can’t really know as much about a person as you think simply by looking at their birthday. With that said, most demographers divide generations based on key historical/cultural events that were big enough that they rewired the way that young people live and think. Gen Z, for instance was marked by three events – one before they were born and two as they were reaching adolescence. Many say that Gen Z (or iGen) began around the year 1995 because that was the year where the internet became ubiquitous with Windows 95. If you were born after 1995, you don’t have any living memory of life without being plugged in. The two events that happened as this generation was entering adulthood was the release of the iPhone and the Great Recession. These two events significantly shaped the way that Gen Z (and the parents who were still raising them) engaged the world. I say all of this because the 2020 pandemic is going to have generational reverberations. My 10 year old is now a part of a new generation shaped by the civilizational trauma of the coronavirus. Ten years from now, we are going to be commenting on how this generation is different because of this experience.
I think that Millennials and Gen Z are (generally!) having different experiences in this pandemic. Millennials are coming of age. I’m noticing an encouraging number of Millennials taking the lead in this moment. I’m a little worried about Gen Z. They were already the anxious generation, struggling with mental health in unprecedented ways. I’m very concerned that this pandemic has pushed them further into a virtual world designed to heighten banality and anxiety. Some younger Gen Z are resisting calls to self-quarantine. Should we really be surprised by this? Did we collectively forget what life was like as a 22-year old? What I’m really concerned about however are those members of Gen Z who never learned good coping habits. Now many of those people are more isolated and anxious than ever as they retreat into a dark, virtual world.
My friend Josh was wondering if I would wear a toupee if he bought it. Josh, if you buy it, I’ll wear it. How long I’m allowed to wear it with my wife around is a different question.
God bless you, friends. Take care of each other.