Reasons to Be Positive

Just another run of the mill day. The sun was out for a season tease of warmer weather to come. As I type I can hear my kids jumping on the trampoline in the backyard. Their rambunctious sounds fill me with joy. With so much loss and suffering in the world during this crisis, it is the little things that are giving me delight the last several weeks.

Earlier in the day, I posed a question to my wife and children. What is a positive thing that you’ve learned or experienced during this stay at home lock-down the past 5 weeks?

As I reflected on this myself, a few thoughts came up. The main positive for me has been the quality of time that I have been able to spend with my wife and my children. I mentioned to my wife that I don’t think we have spent this much continuous time together in our seventeen year marriage since we were dating. I also remarked to my children, that this is the most time I’ve been able to spend with each of them since they were born. As tough as this situation has been, I am grateful for that. I never spent a complete month uninterrupted with my mother or father that I can remember, and it has been an unforgettable experience getting to know a little bit more about my wife and children.

I really love hearing about their concerns, dreams, aspirations, goals, anxieties, and just to feel their closeness. I know that not everyone is having the same experience and for some it is an utterly heartbreaking ordeal. That realization makes my time with my family all the more cherished.

Throughout all of this I have also contemplated on just how fragile life is and the indiscriminate nature of this virus. It doesn’t care if you are conservative or liberal, or if you think you’re healthy or not. One minute we can be fine and well, and the next we are gone. Love the people in your life and let them know you love them. Time is short. Time is fleeting. What is a hundred years in eternity? What is hundred years on earth? A speck of time and place in the vastness of the universe. Just enjoy it while you can, at least that is what I keep repeating and reminding myself.

I’ve also learned to better communicate with far away family members. My mother traveled back to a Haiti a few weeks before the coronavirus started in the U.S. and is now stuck there. The horrific news was coming from China and Europe and I advised her not to go during all of this. At first I was upset with her for such a foolish decision, especially since she is high risk due to her age. I’ve come to realize that the same way I let my kids learn from their decisions, I have to do the same with my mother, and respect her decisions, not matter what I think. I’ve been talking to her almost daily through Whatsapp and have really appreciated the in-depth discussions we’re having that probably never would’ve happened with my former busy/hectic schedule. I was always too busy for long phone calls, and now I cherish them and call too frequently. It’s sad that it took a pandemic for me to change.

Lastly, the other wonderful thing that I’ve learned is that I can do things that I always thought I couldn’t. I’ve always liked to write, but always made excuses for not taking the time to do so. Work, family, meetings, responsibilities, and excuse after excuse after excuse. It’s really a cathartic exercise and a way to express how I’m feeling. I think for a lot of people, they’ve looked at this pandemic and subsequent shutdown as an opportunity to reinvent themselves, try something new, or just simply start something that they have planned on doing for a long time. Before this I never had a blog of any sort.

Again, it took a pandemic to get me to do something that I have wanted to do for a long time. Despite the difficulty and the suffering all around us, there are rays of light, and reasons to be positive.

Are We Living In a Simulation?

I read and hear often in articles and podcasts that we might be living in a simulation. Really! Really? A simulation? This sounds like the ideas of someone who has been reading way too many sci-fi novels and watching way too many futuristic Matrix-like movies.

Then I think about it. Ponder it. And Ponder it some more. I go down the rabbit hole. If you think about it we all live in our own individual consciousness (whatever that means) which is basically our own simulation. Not to get too esoteric about this (already did), but this might be our “reality”. Look, what is reality? Who is to say what is stored up in your mind isn’t your reality. You’re collective experience, memory, mixed in with physiological, and genetic brain wiring give you this existence which is different than anyone else’s.

What exactly is a simulation and how is that different than reality for the person in it? Think about an ant in a forest living it’s life. To the ant the daily struggle living with other ants, insects, and animals against the elements is it’s reality. Then one day lets say you find that ant, pick it up, and place it in a jar to take to a lab and examine. Imagine how much that ant’s “reality” will have changed. If looking at it from that perspective, I suppose we could be in a simulation.

Will there one day be an inquisitive scientist picking us up from our habitat of “reality” for examination and experimentation? Full disclaimer, I’m a believer in a higher Deity, and a Christian. So for me the way I look at this is by noting that nothing is out of the realm of God. We are already on a strange rock with billions of other human creatures moving very fast through space. If anything God has a sense of humor and a deep curiosity and concern for our lives.

Life in and of itself is very strange to begin with and so I don’t discount other people’s beliefs or views, and I don’t hide the reality that my knowledge and understanding is lacking. Said otherwise, I know that there is a lot I don’t know.

Could we be in a simulation? Sure. It’s possible. How probable, I have no idea. One thing I do know, the universe never ceases to amaze and surprise me. We might all be in a petri dish one day wondering how we got here, or who knows, maybe we already are.

The Patriot Act and the Coronavirus: Crisis and Privacy, We Have Seen This Before

We are treading in the unfamiliar neck high waters of a novel virus pandemic, yet we are also treading in the murky familiar pattern of sacrificing privacy for urgency. It was not that long ago that our country collectively experienced the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Our leaders needed a rapid solution to counter the terrorists after realizing that our ineffective bureaucracy was impeding intelligence work as well as stifling speed of action. America’s civil liberties changed along with the twin tower attacks and a valid justification for a decrease in privacy. As the immediate threat subsided, the justification of a possible future attack kept those diminished privacy laws in place. Is it difficult to see the same pattern playing itself out now with the COVID-19 pandemic? We have a valid life-threatening reason to give companies like Apple and Google free reign into our personal lives (as if they don’t already). They can help save us from ourselves using their technology. In tech we trust!

It has been said by many a politician that one should never waste a good crisis. Congress could never have passed the laws that followed 9/11 under any other circumstances. The USA Patriot Act grew into an organism with tentacles too long to unwind ourselves from its grasp. Then in 2008 after the housing bubble burst (that no one saw), we decided more legislation was the answer once again! Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act to protect us from further systemic financial threats. I liken these bills that go to extreme measures after the fact to putting in a million-dollar security system after your house has already been robbed. I get it, it makes you feel safe, but the deed’s been done, and probably won’t happen the same way again. Now on the cusp of another crisis we are again looking to enact more sweeping measures, but this time to give broad powers to a few companies to examine everything we do.

September 11th and the Patriot Act

If we look back at the sentiment of the country during the September 11th attacks, it was a time of confusion and fear. Sure, as the years passed on, those sentiments have faded from our collective memories, but the reality is that we were all in a state of shock. The reaction was quick and decisive. The measures subsequently put in place provided refuge and immediate protection.

The longer-term repercussions and ramifications, which we did not see then, now bring up questions like how do we unravel these labyrinthine measures in peace time? The greater question is in the future how do we learn from the past and implement policies that both protect us within a crisis, and not impact future generations that might not have been alive during their creation but are suffering under its repercussions. We justify it by saying it is the only world they know. My children know nothing else than a world with social media, too much sharing and an invasion of privacy. They were simply born into and so it is.

When the terrorist threat was imminent, we liked the idea of going after the bad guys that were trying to kill us and going after them as quickly as possible. I get it. I was in that camp. What we did not like was the idea that there was someone somewhere reading all our emails and searching all of our private conversations without legal justification. That seemed like a step over the edge.

In my deep dive (not really), into Wikipedia, I found some startling information I did not previously know about the Patriot Act. It looks like we were surely stepping on fourth and first amendment rights in an obvious way. It states,“…the permission given to law enforcement to search a home or business without the owner’s or the occupant’s consent or knowledge; the expanded use of National Security Letters, which allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to search telephone, email and financial records without a court order…”(Patriot Act, n.d.)

When you look at what Wikipedia calls the most controversial parts of the USA PATRIOT Act and the case of Nicholas Merrill you start to worry that we are exemplifying George Orwell’s 1984 fears to a T. I apologize for the long quote, but I felt it was worth the read.

Wikipedia USA Patriot ACT Title V

“One of the most controversial aspects of the USA PATRIOT Act is in Title V, and relates to National Security Letters (NSLs). An NSL is a form of administrative subpoena used by the FBI, and reportedly by other U.S. government agencies including the CIA and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). It is a demand letter issued to a particular entity or organization to turn over various records and data pertaining to individuals. They require no probable cause or judicial oversight and also contain a gag order, preventing the recipient of the letter from disclosing that the letter was ever issued. Title V allowed the use of NSLs to be made by a Special Agent in charge of a Bureau field office, where previously only the Director or the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI were able to certify such requests.[114] This provision of the Act was challenged by the ACLU on behalf of an unknown party against the U.S. government on the grounds that NSLs violate the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution because there is no way to legally oppose an NSL subpoena in court, and that it was unconstitutional not to allow a client to inform their Attorney as to the order because of the gag provision of the letters. The court’s judgement found in favour of the ACLU’s case, and they declared the law unconstitutional.[115] Later, the USA PATRIOT Act was reauthorized and amendments were made to specify a process of judicial review of NSLs and to allow the recipient of an NSL to disclose receipt of the letter to an attorney or others necessary to comply with or challenge the order.[116] However, in 2007, the U.S. District Court struck down even the reauthorized NSLs because the gag power was unconstitutional as courts could still not engage in a meaningful judicial review of these gags. On August 28, 2015, Judge Victor Marrero of the federal district court in Manhattan ruled the gag order of Nicholas Merrill was unjustified. In his decision, Judge Marrero described the FBI’s position as, “extreme and overly broad,” affirming that “courts cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, simply accept the Government’s assertions that disclosure would implicate and create a risk.” He also found that the FBI’s gag order on Mr. Merrill “implicates serious issues, both with respect to the First Amendment and accountability of the government to the people.” [117] Initially, the ruling was released in redaction by Judge Marrero. The FBI was given 90 days to pursue any other alternative course of action but elected not to do so. Upon release of the unredacted ruling on November 30, 2015, it was revealed for the first time the extent to which the FBI’s NSL accompanied by a gag order sought to collect information. Through the court documents, it was revealed for the first time that through an NSL, the FBI believes it can legally obtain information including an individual’s complete web browsing history, the IP addresses of everyone a person has corresponded with, and all the records of all online purchases within the last 180 days. The FBI also claims via the extension of an NSL, it can obtain cell site location information. In the landmark case of Nicholas Merrill the FBI in specific sought to seek the following information on an account: DSL account information, radius log, subscriber name and related subscriber information, account number, date the account opened or closed, addresses associated with the account, subscriber day/evening telephone numbers, screen names or other on-line names associated with the account, order forms, records relating to merchandise orders/shipping information for the last 180 days, all billing related to the account, internet service provider (ISP), all email addresses associated with the account, internet protocol address assigned to the account, all website information registered to the account, uniform resource locator address assigned to the account, any other information which you consider to be an electronic communication transactional record. This was the first time it was revealed the extent to which an NSL under the Patriot Act could request communication information.[118][119]” (Patriot Act, n.d.)

Corona Tracking

As it stands today, we are allowing tech companies like Apple and Google to track us using the Bluetooth chip that is in your smartphone. The idea is that it will reduce the spread of coronavirus by letting phone users know when they are in proximity to someone who has been infected.

This gives me mixed feelings for several reasons. First, I love technology (Napoleon Dynamite reference), but I also love what technology can do and will do in the future. I love the idea of technology saving us from a pandemic. What better use of human ingenuity and years of collaborations eventually culminating to saving our planet from a deadly disease?

All that being said, it doesn’t come free. It comes at the expense of our personal privacy. To many placing technology and privacy on the scales of lady justice, it seems like a good trade-off. Right now, in the moment it seems like a great idea. Yeah, sure, let’s get it done ASAP and save the world.

It is only in hindsight when we don’t have the pandemic equivalent of looking down the barrel of a gun, that we realize we don’t want that Bluetooth technology tracking us all of the time. It already does, but now it will be deeply tracking everyone we encounter. Does this lead to a 1984 Orwellian future where there are no secrets and there is no privacy from big brother?

In the wrong hands this tracking data could give information to mal-intentioned individuals information about high profile targets, like heads of state, governmental power players, or athletes and celebrities. We have seen increases in cyber-attacks but imagine the havoc that could be wreaked with knowledge of everyone you’ve interacted with, in addition to where you’ve been at all times.

We have already seen the great use of coronavirus tracking software to help us stay informed as to how the virus is spreading. That has been a wonderful tool for local and national leaders to help implement polices to keep citizens safe. That is a prime example of how information sharing technology can bring about positive results.

If history has taught us anything it is that when too much power (today that is information), is concentrated in the hands of too few, that power will be abused. Not always, but most of the time. Take Congress with its spending and legislative power. CEO’s and boards with abilities to set salaries and benefits, including golden parachutes. Think of powerful men and their abusive sexual exploits leading to the Me-Too movement. Lastly think of what we did with the Patriot Act and how to this day we are still unwinding the tentacles of 20 years ago.

Again, I am not against the idea of tracking individuals that have the virus and spreading it. I think it is a brilliant idea and we are fortunate to live in a time when we can do it. It is still many times better to be alive today in a world in the throes of a pandemic than it is to be alive in the centuries before. We just need to make sure that we have a well thought out exit strategy that will see us through the other side. Think of all of this like a prenup. We need a pandemic technology prenup. The right to split up amicably and quickly and we want it all in a writing beforehand. There will come a day when we are not worried about the pandemic and fear of losing our loved ones. And on that day our minds will shift from fear of pandemic death to the realization that we killed our civil liberties.

Curious Lives

When I was younger, adults used to tell me all the time, don’t ever talk about politics, religion and money. It’s not polite. You’ll offend people. Now it’s all I ever read, talk, and think about.

Is it really impolite, or is the problem that those topics get to the deep roots of someone’s values? No one wants to go deep. We like to keep our conversations on the surface. Cool, calm, and not making waves. Besides, it takes more work to go deep. You might really get to know someone and actually have strong feelings of attachment or sympathy. Or you might end up despising them, and never look at them the same way again.

It’s hard to get to know people in a nuanced and intimate way. It’s easier to lump them into a cold group of faceless boxes.

I get it, I’ve done it before. Who has time to know everyone you meet at a deep level. It’s impossible, at least that’s what we tell each other. It makes life easier and you don’t have to let emotions get in the way. But I do remember as a child adults talking about politics and yelling over and at each other while breaking down what’s wrong with our world and how they would fix it.

I was never really interested in the large philosophical debates, but I was always interested at the root of the problem. I’ve never enjoyed the surface, I’ve always wanted to dig deeper and get into the why?

I didn’t believe he was just an evil person, I wanted to know the why. For years I had heard that my neighbor, Mr. Sigsbee, was a dangerous man. Someone you didn’t want to get close to. He lived at the end of our street. His home was four houses away from my mine. His was the last house on a dead end street. Behind the home was a wooded area that continued on for miles, I suppose, but I had no real idea.

I never spoke to Mr. Sigsbee, always saw him from a distance. He was the type of person who made an effort to be unseen and unspoken to. I could never tell if it was his shyness or if it was guilt, shame, or just an awareness of what everyone thought of him and so he kept his distance. It’s nothing short of miraculous to me that you can live around someone for years and yet never really know them.

From what I heard though, there was good reason to not know Mr. Sigsbee. The story of how he killed a man in Oklahoma many years ago and got out of a prison sentence because of some loophole in the system or a crooked judge. The rumors about how his wife died mysteriously and how his family had distanced themselves from him. Whatever it is, even I can tell as a sixteen year old that none of that is even probable.

He’s probably just a lonely man who has nothing to hide and lives a normal boring life. I made it my mission to find out for myself and to disprove all that I had heard about him. One day after school I decided to continue walking past my house and to continue on to his house at the end of the street. I passed the Robinson’s, and I passed the Sorenson’s house hoping that no one would recognize me or look out their windows to see me going towards Mr. Sigbees home.

As I continued walking down my street I eventually made it his house. From my house I never really noticed it’s details. Actually I had never been this close. I was still about two feet from his driveway and standing in front of his home on the tarmac. I realized that as I stood there someone was bound to see me. It could be the Smith’s directly behind me, or the Miller’s next to them. For some reason, in that instant, I didn’t care. I felt like I was about to commit some act of bravery reserved for only a few. I placed my right foot on his driveway and as I took each step I started to notice that his home, although similar in size and dimensions to all of the other homes in my neighborhood had some unusual characteristics.

As I drew closer, I could tell that the home wasn’t normal. Some of the wood paneling on the home seemed to have intricate patterns, texts, or what appeared to be hieroglyphic designs. I couldn’t really tell, but it was peculiar and unusual. The wood boards seemed normal at a distance but from about 10 feet away I started to realize that they were anything but what you would see on most houses. My heart started beating through my throat and I could already feel that this was a bad idea.

I wanted to get to know Mr. Sigsbee and prove to my parents and neighbors on our street that he was a good person, but now I was starting to doubt. Something about the eeriness of the panels, made me feel that something was askew. I paused and squinted to look at some of the outer woodwork on his home. I realized that everything on the exterior had these intricate designs not just the wood boards. I never noticed the designs when I was over at the Robinson’s house playing with Sam and Chris, but now at this distance, it was clear, something was weird.

Okay turn around, and go home. This is not something you want to see. This was a bad idea, you made a mistake. Let’s go home.

I tried to turn around but my curiosity got the better of me. The intricate designs were pulling me in while my gut was telling me to leave. I’ve never been one to do what most would do. I continued forward, taking small deliberate steps on the small walkway that lead from the driveway to the front porch. As I stepped closer and closer it became even more apparent than before that something was different. Not only were the characters even visible on the brick portion of the home but now there was a palpable force, something talking to me and through me. I couldn’t tell if it was in my mind or if it was something in my nervous system or what it was. Just this internal strange sound and feeling that I had to get closer to the front door.

As I took smaller and smaller steps, my legs seemed to be subconsciously moving without any effort. I didn’t like the fact that I felt like I was no longer in control. What ever was happening, it was happening to me and not because of me. I was about five feet from the front door when it appeared to open on it’s own. At this point I wanted the game or whatever this was to end. I was still curious but equally or more so afraid. The door was now gone, or at least not visible, and all I could make out inside the house was what appeared to be a wooden staircase to the left and a hallway table.

I continued on and it was all becoming very apparent that I was not in my normal frame of mind or perhaps I was literally in another world of some sort. As my legs were about to cross the threshold into the home, I took one quick glance back to see if I could see the Robinson house and to see if anyone was looking at me. It was gone, there was no home, there was no street, there was nothing but grass. An empty field. It was at that very instant that I knew wholeheartedly, I had made a grave mistake.

The next thing I knew I was sitting at a small round table in a completely bare room with beautiful dark wood paneling all around. I was looking down at beautiful silverware and what looked like an equally beautiful and expensive plate and tablecloth. The confusion that I felt was immediately added to when I looked up and saw across the table from me a pale thin man in a dark suit and tie. His hair was jet black and impeccably coiffed tight to his head. His eyes were dull and droopy with a tinge of eagerness. Eagerness for what, I couldn’t tell.

“Would you fancy something to drink?”, he said in a slow and dreary voice.

“No, I’m fine” I said while trying to figure out who he was, where I was, and how did I end up here.

Was I in Mr. Sigsbees house? How did I arrive at this point? I remember crossing the doorway and the next moment I’m in this strange predicament having breakfast, or dinner, I don’t even know, with a man I didn’t recognize.

Did I fall and hit my head and this man helped me? How long was I unconscious? I asked the stranger, “Who are you, and where am I?”

He gave me a faint smile and took a bite of what looked like a large pastry of some sort. He kept his eyes fixated on mine while he chewed and smiled at the same time. I began to feel uneasy at the whole situation and just wanted to get back home.

“Well”, I said as I abruptly stood up. “This was fun, but I must back home now. Thank you for your company, but I’ve got to get going. My parents are probably wondering where I am.”

The stranger kept his gaze on me and again kept smiling. As I started walking away from the table I realized that there were no doors on any of the walls. A room with no entrance and no exits? What is this? I looked up to see if there was a way out and there was nothing more than intricate wood panels on the ceiling. Now I was confused and angry, “What is this? What are you trying to do to me?” I said to the man as I raised my voice.

He simply laughed in response with the sort of laugh that is deep from within but also to let me know how amusing and nonthreatening I was. I began to feel helpless and defenseless. I thought about threatening to call the police, but I knew that was an empty threat and he would know it too. I just wanted to get out of this strange room.

I noticed that behind me and off to the left there was daylight coming through and illuminating the room. I turned to look up and left towards the source of light and there was a single small window about 11 feet above the ground. It looked like it was about three feet wide and two feet high. The ceiling appeared to be 20 feet high or more. I turned back to look at the stranger and he was still amused by me and my newfound observation. He seemed to know what I was thinking and calmly said, “there is no use in trying. Just relax and enjoy my company and some of these desserts.”

He was right, this whole thing was hopeless. I sat back down at the table and started crying. I realized that I was trapped in a strange room with a strange man and this was probably going to end horribly. As I was crying with my head bowed down I had a fleeting thought. There was a knife at the table. For some reason I had the thought, grab the knife. The next thing I knew I lunged towards the man with my knife in hand pointed toward his chest. As I was about to pierce his white shirt I heard an alarm go off. My eyes were shut. I opened them up slowly to and saw my mother worried looking down at me.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah why?”

“Well for starters, you missed your first two alarms and you’re not one to sleep in. Is everything OK?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, I just had this crazy dream about Mr. Bigsbee’s house and going over there and this weird man in a room with no doors..and”

“Whoa slow down, Mr. Bigsbee that moved away two years ago? You mean the Moore’s house?

“The Moores? What are you talking about? I’m talking about the creepy guy that everyone thinks killed his wife! He didn’t move. Mom, have you lost your mind?”

“Okay, I can’t tell if you’re joking around or if you’re being serious, either way, you need to get up and get to your job.”

“My job? What are you talking about? I’m still in high school and have to get ready for my first class. Mom you’re hilarious”

My mom looked at me as if she was genuinely concerned that there might be something wrong with me. I grabbed her arm, “Wait, what day is this? I mean what day, month, and year?”

She looked at me as if perplexed, “ It’s January 23rd, 2022.”

“What did you just say…2022? How is that even possible? You’re trying to tell me somehow during my strange dream two years have passed! What the hell are you talking about?”

My mother obviously frightened and concerned by my words and my tone started to backtrack towards my door and ran out.

I sat on the side of the bed trying to collect my thoughts and trying to replay the events of the night before. Everything was hazy and I couldn’t remember how I got there, and I couldn’t comprehend in any way what was happening to me. Was I losing my mind ?

I looked at the dark brown carpet of my bedroom, I saw something shiny by my foot partially sticking out from underneath my bed. I reached down to pick it up. It was the knife from the table in the dark wood paneled room. It was heavy and I held it up to my face. There was in inscription on the handle.
It read, he who never questions never lives. He who is curious lives many lives.

Stray News Bullets

Is this twenty-four-seven pandemic news cycle weighing heavy on your psyche too? There are almost too many stray bullets of information hitting me from every angle. Too much information to process and it often feels overwhelming.

Is anyone else drowning in too much negative news? It was hard enough as it was pre-pandemic just trying to stay positive and keeping my family safe. Now I’m watching a deluge of conflicting information from pundits, leaders, healthcare professionals, and a slew of armchair pandemic experts.

I hadn’t had a panic attack in a long time and then suddenly, while reading a news article the other day, and while feeling some chest pain, I went into full blown panic mode. I honestly thought I was having shortness of breath related Covid-19 symptoms. I told myself I would go to sleep that night and if the shortness of breath was present in the morning, I would call my physician. I woke up the next day and felt completely fine.

I was able to see and experience firsthand just how easy it is to let the barrage of news all around me influence my mental and physical well-being.

In addition, it seems like every time I read about the suffering of others, I internalize it. A trait I inherited from my mother. Some might say, that’s part of being empathetic, it’s a good thing. I agree to some degree, but it can also be debilitating if you let other people’s stories and pain become your own. I think we can be empathetic and not internalize the worst of other’s suffering. I think.

What’s the best approach? I have no idea. I’m a news junkie, and I’m an unrepentant book junkie, heck I’m just a read anything-I-can-get-my-hands-on junkie. I never met a book I didn’t like. That doesn’t bode well for my chances of success in managing my anxiety. A lot more meditation, prayer, and Joe Rogan podcast.

Another thing weighing heavy on my mind. The irony in all of this is that we have more information than ever before, but we can’t figure out how to entirely process it, and we have to spend a great deal of our time deciphering what is real and what is fake news. I hate the term fake news, but it was fitting.

What’s confusing is the number of journalists and comments I read in the Wall Street Journal and in the New York Times that state our President and his administration are dispensing inaccurate information. If we can’t trust them, where do we turn? There is also a growing chorus of people that disagree with advice and counsel from Dr. Anthony, Fauci, who is supposedly one of this country’s foremost experts on infectious diseases. If we can’t believe him, who do we believe?

The reality is I can’t decipher what is accurate and what is unbiased news anymore. It used to be that if you got your news from a “credible” source that was good enough because there was at least some semblance of journalistic integrity. In this age of blogs (I understand the irony as I write), everyone has a megaphone, which makes information evaluation more complicated. In addition to this when I read news being reported on social media, especially on apps like Twitter, there is no fact checking because everyone wants to get information out first, and the platform character constraints not only force a lack of context, but even worse the intention is for views and not information accuracy first.

I’m not going to stop reading the news, but I probably should cut back. Either that, or just continue to let the stray news bullets keep coming.


They’re all idiots! I live in a house full of whiny idiots.  They’re all savages! I literally live in a house full of savage animals. They’re all idiots, and they don’t even know it.   

It was her mental way of dealing with all the stress at home. This constant stream of self talk.

Crap, I’m driving too fast. I can’t get a ticket right now. Come on Jen, get it together. I don’t want to get sick.  I don’t want to get this freaking virus.  Not with my diabetic husband and crazy mother living with me.  Geez, imagine the crap I’ll get if one of them dies because of me.  I’ll never hear the end of it.

She had to be the tough one now.  She always had to be the cooler head, the caretaker.  She was the caretaker of her kids, the caretaker of her elderly mother, and now begrudgingly the caretaker of an incompetent husband.  She had to be the strong one on the outside, despite her feelings of inadequacy and anxiety on the inside.  The stress of all this pandemic caretaking was taking its toll on her.  

Just keep your foot on the gas. Just keep going. 

She was driving 65 miles per hour on a 25 miles per hour road.

 I’m losing control. No, I’m in control.  This is me in control.  Jen, just chill out. I never have time for myself.  All day long I’m just taking care of my husband and my mother.  How did this become my lot in life? Seriously God, how did this happen to me?  I am so tired. I can’t do this anymore.  I’m the freaking sacrificial lamb that has to go to the grocery store, make dinner, risk my life every time I go out, and no one cares about me.  These roads are so dreary.  Why can’t I live in Hawaii right now?

But there is something about the rain on her windshield that she likes, and she can even appreciate it.  Somehow, she feels as if the rain and the weather understand her and are reflecting her mood.  

Times are tough, but I’m tougher. Times are tough, but I’m tougher. I’m tougher.  Jen you’re tough.   Twenty-three years of marriage to the same unappreciative husband, and I’m tougher for it.  I’m like Job.  I’ve endured it all.  Matt doesn’t’ realize how much I do for him.  If it wasn’t for me, he’d be dead by now.  I put him through business school, and I took care of the kids.   

Jennifer Clark was used to being pushed around.  She really is tough in a lot of ways, but she is also a people pleaser, against her own wishes, she usually caves in.  What her family lovingly refer to as softy.  She had always been the leader of the household and has usually displayed a certain warmth, but the stress has been accumulating since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, and her love and patience is starting to fade.  In her marriage she is the martyr who sacrificed her career and she reminded Matt about that on a weekly if not daily basis.  She let her mother and her kids walk all over her.  It wasn’t her fault.  She had a mother and brothers that treated her like a doormat at a young age.  The only one who never manipulated or took advantage of her was her father.  And he was gone.  Killed in a tragic car accident way too early in his life.  Leaving behind a family that struggled to retain a sense of normalcy.

But things were going to change.  She was sick of all the years of emotional abuse from her husband and kids.  She was sick of her mother taking advantage of their generosity and living with them.  She was doing things her own way going forward. 

She saw the gas convenience store up ahead on the right through all the rain coming down.  She knew the place well.  She had been there exactly 2045 times in her lifetime, but she didn’t know that.  It was her daily ritual for years.  She was never one to get out of her routine.  She was the structured and disciplined matriarch of the family.  She was the Sargent, well, in some ways.

She was attractive and for a 45-year-old mother of two kids, she looked about 10 years younger than her age.  She was grateful for the compliments that strangers gave her that made her feel better about herself and helped her realize that she still had it.  It wasn’t that she was needy and seeking compliments, but she liked the reassurance.  Her husband rarely gave her compliments anymore. 

She was going into the store to get a 32-ounce diet coke from the fountain.  That was part of her routine.  It was her daily reward for her daily five-mile runs.  She prided herself in staying fit.  Running everyday was her escape from her husband and the kids during this pandemic.  Having her husband around at home all day was tougher than she thought it would be.  She loved Matt but he was getting to be a burden.  He was 50 pounds overweight, and never felt that he got a fair break in life.  He had type two diabetes, he was considered high risk in this environment.  It was wearing on her and their marriage.  Even the kids couldn’t take the constant complaining between them.  

Jennifer knew that if it kept up their marriage wouldn’t last.   She had been spoiled the first few years, but as the demands of kids and life and her own dreams and goals were placed on hold, she could no longer continue the charade.  Either Matt had to change, or she would leave him.  She wasn’t the problem. It was him.  He was the savage.  He was the one who was always yelling and complaining, and she had had enough. 

Unbelievable, this store is always busy.  Even during a mother freaking pandemic. Seriously people, stay home. 

She parked her beautiful white German engineered car and quickly ran in through the glass front doors of the store. 

Just getting my drink and getting out of here.  Look at this guy.  He looks like a mess.

She had just made eye contact with a tall awkward looking thirty something year old man.  He started laughing and smiling at the same time while looking at her.  She couldn’t understand why he was laughing, but she was used to getting creepy stares, from creepy men, and had even had some horrific encounters with men like him in the past.  She quickly assumed he was laughing because she had on her face mask, sunglasses, and a hoody from her run earlier in the day. Whatever his reason she wanted nothing to do with him.  She had the mask and sunglasses on because of the pandemic.  She had a high-risk husband an elderly mother at home.  In addition, she had two kids and if she got sick herself the whole household would be a mess.  She was a little bit annoyed that he didn’t have a mask on and seemed like the type to not take anything in life seriously.  A terrible thought popped into her head, quit laughing, loser

He wasn’t attractive, not the type that she would ever have interest in or give the time of day to.  And now he was laughing at her? The whole interaction was less than 2 seconds but enough time for her to look, assess, and make her judgement call.  She knew what kind of guy this was.  He’s the kind of guy that lives in his mother’s basement, is unemployed, and looking at women like her as a fantasy.  She threw him back a slightly disgusted don’t look at me face.  He couldn’t see it at all beneath her mask and sunglasses. 

She beelined it towards the fountain machine for her diet coke.  At this point in her life, she had better things to do than to worry about what some creepy guy thought of her.  She was looking for the foam soda fountain cups but had forgotten that in the midst of the pandemic the store now sold cups that were individually wrapped in plastic to avoid employee contamination.  She glanced to her right and left, up and down and couldn’t see the cups.  She looked behind her and there they were stacked on the counter, next to the creepy guy with his back to her. 

She abruptly said, “excuse me”, and even surprised herself when she realized her tone.  She thought for a brief moment, that was harsh.  He moved a foot to the left not even looking back, doing whatever creepy guys do in gas station convenience stores. 

She tore open the plastic wrapping and filled up her foam cup.  She was proud of herself now.  She had just run her daily 5 miles, and this was her treat, her cheat for the day.

Ugh. This machine takes forever, and I just want to get out of this place before I catch something from this guy and all these other people.

She put the plastic lid on and got in line.  She was behind an older woman who was counting change to pay for her gas and was taking her time counting.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

The lady finally got done after what felt like an hour due to Jennifer’s increasing anxiousness to just get out of there.  The lady hobbled slowly out of the way and Jennifer put her drink on the counter and mustered a quick, “Hi” to the cashier.

The lady at the register replied, “is that everything?”, with a slow southern drawl, which Jennifer always thought was so out of place for this suburban part of Virginia.

Even though Jennifer had been in that store many times she never made an effort to know the names of those at the register.  She wasn’t into small talk and with the pandemic she definitely didn’t want to talk to the cashier with no mask on.  She kept her head down and looked at the card display screen on the counter.

“Yup, that’s it”

“That’ll be $1.06 honey.”

Jennifer subconsciously reached her right hand into her jacket pocket as she had several thousand times before, but nothing was there.  An instant shot of adrenaline shot though her body.  It was a sense of panic added to her already high anxiety. 

Son of a…

She frantically placed her left hand into her left jacket pocket.  Nothing.  She frantically put both hands on her running tights, forgetting that they don’t have pockets.

“Crap, I can’t find my wallet. I’m so sorry”, while still not looking at the cashier but looking down and retracing her steps in her mind. 

“Let the next person go, I’m going to look for my wallet.”

“Okay dear, no worries, let me know what I can do to help.”

Jennifer stepped slowly back to the fountain machine while still looking at the ground searching for the wallet.  Her thoughts are drowning in possible scenarios. 

Did it fall while I was getting out of the car? I had three hundred dollars in cash in there. My drivers license, my credit cards, crap.  Crap, Jen, keep it together. What the hell Jen.  You’re so stupid.  Think, think, think. Where did I go? What was I doing?  Did someone steal it?  I need to call my bank and my credit card companies. I need to call the DMV and get a new license.  What the hell. Why me?  This is not my day.  This is such bad timing. 

As if there was ever a good time to lose your wallet.

She traces her steps back to the front doors while still looking down to make sure that she isn’t missing a spot in the convenience store. 

As she is about to go through the front door she hears, “I found this all on the floor, there was all this cash on the floor by it too.”

Then the familiar voice of the cashier lady, “Hun, hey lady, … I’ve got your wallet.”

Jennifer turns around and manages to blurt out, “Oh thank you. I was starting to panic.  Oh my gosh, you’re a lifesaver”

“I didn’t find it, he did”, says the cashier as she points in front of her.  Jennifer turns to look at the hero in front of her who found her wallet and had the decency to report it to the cashier.  It was the creepy guy, and he was paying for his stuff with a young girl holding onto his hand.  She was beautiful and Jennifer assumed it was his daughter. 

“Thank you so much.  Thank you for finding my wallet.”

“No problem mam, it was just on the floor with a couple hundred dollar bills next to it, and I thought to myself, I would be all messed up if I lost my wallet.  So, I turned it in.”

His daughter looked at Jennifer with loving eyes while she now held to her father’s leg with two hands. 

Jennifer noticed he was giving her the same creepy grin again and he even chuckled somehow while he was explaining all this to her. 

She gave him a smile, but he couldn’t see it through the mask and sunglasses.  All he could decipher from her was her body language. 

Jennifer got into her car and called her husband to recount the whole story.  Matt could only let out, “Jen, you really need to be careful with your wallet. That’s the second time in the last couple months you’ve lost your wallet. Listen Jen…”  She was so upset from the whole situation that she just wanted to punch Matt’s unsympathetic face through the phone.  She hung up on him midsentence. 

She started the push button keyless ignition in her car.  The engine purred.  She just wanted to get home and relax, what a stressful morning.  

She was speeding again on her way home. This time fifty miles per hour in a thirty zone.  She could see up ahead through the rain that the traffic light had just turned yellow.   She performed her split-second mental gymnastics and realized that she could make it the light. 

Her foot pushes on the gas and as she is getting closer, she can see some bozo trying to cross the crosswalk when he shouldn’t, especially in the rain.   She realizes that she can go through the intersection without hitting him.  He’s closer to the sidewalk.  As she gets close to the intersection she slows down and honks her horn to let him know that was dumb. 

Jennifer turns to look at him and in a split second through her wet rainy driver side window, she makes eye contact.  The eyes looking back appear heartbroken.  It’s the creepy guy walking in the rain with his daughter in hand.  In that instant, he recognizes her, she recognizes him.  The cruelness of her actions hit her.

I’m the savage.

Nazis Hated Foerster and How His Writings Can Change Your Life

Nazis during World War II burned his books. They viewed the man and his ideas as a threat to their ideology. They revoked his German citizenship. He was one of them by blood, but he was a subversive because he felt differently in his heart and mind. He was among them, saw their bigoted and nationalistic politics. He vocally opposed them, and was persecuted by them. Friedrich Wilhem Foerster forewarned of the German’s increasing militarism well before others realized what was happening. He was a pacifist before it was trendy. He was a man firm and brave in his principles. He left us some of the greatest writing for self improvement that still apply today.

It’s not very often we are impressed. We have humanity’s collective knowledge at our fingertips, and can order anything we want to our doorsteps like an Emperor of old. It’s hard for us to be impressed anymore.

Then I read the writings of a man whose words resonate just as powerfully today as when he wrote them over 100 years ago. I’m genuinely impressed by the truths he speaks and I’m also impressed at his open defiance in his own life to a regime which was unforgiving to infidels.

In his book Marriage and The Sex Problem he has a whole chapter devoted to asceticism. In this chapter he discusses the benefits of asceticism, and why the world needs men of spiritual example to guide us forward. I agree that we want men, and women, of sound moral principles, and self-discipline as our leaders. We want them to lead families, communities, and our governments.

The Indispensability of the Ascetic Ideal

“The ascetic principle, in particular, is to-day in danger of being undervalued. Asceticism should be regarded, not as a negation of nature nor as an attempt to extirpate natural forces, but as practice in the art of self-discipline.”

Marriage & The Sex Problem, Dr. F.W. Foerster, pg 61.

Asceticism is not simply about negating or removing, as much as it is about doing with greater purpose and intention. It is about getting to the meat of things with no attention at all for trivial appetizers. Sort of like today’s movement towards minimalism. It’s not just the art of getting rid of but really asking do I really need this? Does it serve a purpose? Question everything.

Asceticism in our day is definitely undervalued. People want lives of excess. We show in our stuff-filled homes and our consumerism that we want lives that are more complicated and piled high with more materialism. We want nicer cars. We want larger homes. We want fancier vacations, and to let people know where we’ve been and how great we are. Before you think I’m a monk in cave. I need to give my disclaimer, that I love all of the above, maybe more than most. I recognize that all of the things I mentioned above have not brought me happiness, and actually sometimes add to my misery.

Over 20 years ago as a nineteen year old kid, I was really rough around the edges. What am I talking about? I still am. I can still see myself in my mind’s eye, sitting on a sand covered mattress (actually like a thin piece of foam), in a third world country in Africa. I was in a place with very little clean water, extreme poverty, and much need all around me. I was a missionary, and I had taken a vow of complete commitment to my God and Savior, to teach their message. Now, if you had seen me in the midst of those conditions you would have thought, that poor soul, what a difficult task. Yet, I remember vividly, in that time period having many miraculous and truly joy-filled moments that words can’t describe and explanations will never do justice. Yet that was a time in my life when I had the least material possessions. I had to live out of a suitcase for two years. There was no dating, and definitely no sex. I was not consuming any media. No television, no newspapers, no internet. No communication with anyone from home other than in handwritten letters, and occasional emails that were printed and given to me. I didn’t even have a cell phone. Yet, I was the happiest I had ever been up to that point.

In that experience, I really understood that the key to happiness is not found in more, more, more (how quickly I forgot). It’s found in service to God and his children. The Ascetic life is really undervalued but it is the key to our happiness.

“Its object should be to show humanity what the human will is capable of performing, to serve as an encouraging example of the conquest of the spirit over the animal self. The contempt which has been poured upon the idea of asceticism in recent times has contributed more than anything else towards effeminacy. Nothing could be more effective in bringing humanity back to the best traditions of manhood than a respect for the spiritual strength and conquest which is symbolised in ascetic lives.”

Marriage & The Sex Problem, Dr. F.W. Foerster, pg 61.

As technology advances and makes our lives better in some senses, and degenerative in others, we can see that mastering our will is more important than ever. Let me give you a personal example.

I am a highly distracted individual, probably more than most. I think it’s tied to my anxious disposition. Yesterday I logged into my computer to do work, and also to finish a list of about 5 tasks that I had created. I sat at my white desk, staring at my handwritten tasklist in my leather planner. Nothing complicated. I had a few simple tasks, .e.g., I had to contact a few people by phone, write some emails, and study a couple of topics related to problems I was trying to solve for a client. As I logged into my computer to work, I was distracted by my non-important emails, notification alerts, several unwanted phone calls, and internet surfing distractions, to the point that I didn’t finish even the simplest task on my list.

It’s easy to see in my example that technology, although a blessing, in many ways can also be a curse to our sense of discipline and productivity. Self-discipline, or discipline over the body, mind and spirit is what Foerster refers to. He wrote this over 100 years ago and so there is a little bit of the stereotypical gender vocabulary of his time, but the message applies to both men and women. A real man, or a real woman is one who can exert and display self discipline in life.

Asceticism is not to be confused with some type of extremism or self torture for the sake of torture. It is about controlling our bodies, appetites, and selfish desires for the betterment of our own lives and the lives of those around us. Think of practitioners of asceticism as Olympic athletes who train and prepare years for an event which might only last a few seconds or minutes in the future. They practice self-discipline in mind and body with the end result of showing us what humans are capable of doing through hard work and self-control. They give us a model, something to aspire to, but also subconsciously something new to believe in.

In that same sense, Foerester is helping us to understand we need to be Olympic models of virtuous principles to inspire ourselves and others around us. We tend to model others behaviors, primarily those around us, but how admirable is the man or woman who despite being in the world can model the behavior of virtue they want to emulate.

“Neither should the occasional excesses of individuals, or even the degenerate condition of whole epochs, prevent us from appreciating the educational value of the ascetic principle and the inspiration and encouragement which come from contemplating the lives of the great saints.”

Marriage & The Sex Problem, Dr. F.W. Foerster, pg 61.

I’m an optimist through and through. I think as a whole, civilization is getting better all the time. This is by far the best time to be alive in humanity’s history. Let me explain. There are more opportunities for upward mobility than ever before. You don’t have to be someones peasant in a feudal society. You can get an education and improve your skills. You also have more free time than ever before due to technological innovation. You are not spending all of your day tilling land by hand or washing clothes with your bare knuckles (although I acknowledge that both still happen). You have more leisure time than ever before to use as you please. We can indulge in every show and form of entertainment we want. In the past the best shows and theater were enjoyed only by the wealthy. Today anyone can watch anything in Bollywood, Hollywood, and in between. You can stream shows, movies, documentaries, and amateur videos from anywhere in the world. There is more entertainment at your fingertips than you can possibly watch in two lifetimes!

Now with all of the excess of time and ease of life come the excesses of immorality. It is better in some ways than the past, but worst in other ways. You are less likely to be raped today than say a thousand years ago, but there is a proliferation of pornography. You are less likely to be killed in a murderous act, but there is an increase in hateful speech because everyone has a loudspeaker on social media. You are less likely to die than ever before from polio, smallpox, measles, or malaria. Granted we are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but that being said it is still better to be alive now than one hundred or one thousand years ago. We have modern medicines, painkillers, and communication technology to find vaccines, ease your suffering, and let you know of updates and how and where coronavirus is spreading. Could you imagine this same pandemic a few hundred years ago? The devastation would have been much worse.

Despite all of the negativities of previous periods and our current,the principles of asceticism can help improve our lives. They are timeless and never go out of fashion. Eternal truths have no style. Man might bring them in and out of vogue, but they are in reality eternal. No beginning and no end. The truth is the same today, as it was yesterday, and as it will be until the end of time.

In the last few centuries mankind has increasingly occupied itself with the question of external freedom, and the personalities of the saints have largely passed into oblivion; but they will again come into the forefront of our consciousness when the most important of all the problems of freedom has again become a central question: “How shall I become free from myself?” This question may from time to time be drowned through the clash of outward interests, but just as the great pyramid of Cheops always majestically reappears, even if it be temporarily veiled by the sandstorms of the desert, so, too, this great question of inner freedom will ever again raise its head above the dust and storm of daily existence, leading man back from all external things to the great problems of his own nature.

Marriage & The Sex Problem, Dr. F.W. Foerster, pg 64.

I am constantly in a battle with myself. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t care so much about how I am perceived by others, but I care about how I perceive myself. Most days I get along fine with myself. But there are also days where I can’t live another minute with the man in the mirror. I’m disappointed by my weaknesses. Did I really need to eat that pizza? Why didn’t I go for a run first thing in the morning like I planned? Why can’t I do the things I need to get done in the time frame I plan on getting them done? My battles are probably similar to yours. We battle with our own lack of self discipline, our own lack of personal integrity, and accountability more than anything else. The answer doesn’t lie outwardly. It’s not going to be solved by new running shoes, or an app to help you meditate. It all begins internally.

This reminds me of a beautiful quote from Ezra Taft Benson.

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums.
The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”

Asceticism is a focus on improving the internal by ridding ourselves of the external distraction. It is a way to get rid of the superficial and shiny objects in our lives that deviate us from our true course. I’ve noticed in the last few years a greater societal interest in self-awareness, mindfulness, and leading an intentional, or purposeful life. They are all good things, but there is usually an external solution sought after even in these. For example, pay for my retreat and we will “solve” your (insert problem). Buy our app and we will help you meditate, sleep, and be more productive. The answer already lies within you. The solution is not in purchasing anything or having an external tool. We must learn to discipline or minds and bodies not through externals but though internal self control.

In the midst of our apparently healthy and productive development of economical and technical energy who cannot perceive on every hand the symptoms of hidden disease? Consider, for example, the increasing brutality with which we pursue an aimless and meaningless struggle for life, the disintegration of will-power through the ever-increasing multiplication of the demands upon it, the disturbance of nervous equilibrium as a result of the creation of artificial needs, and the stimulus of more and more urgent claims, the deadening of spiritual power caused by the breathless pace of our machine-like system of life, in which all the inner needs of man are reckoned as no more than sand in the bearings! One day we shall come to ourselves and ask: What is the object of all this perpetual strain, all this restless activity; what is the ultimate aim of this soul-destroying haste and competition? Is it so important that men should travel more and more rapidly from St. Petersburg to Paris, or that one nation should outdo another in the manufacture of the best motor-cars? All deeper life, all sacred peace and solemnity, all humanity’s higher goods, all quiet love, are sacrificed to the insatiable demands of our ever-increasing material needs. Every section of society is compelled to join in this acceleration of life and this restless multiplication of needs. Is it absolutely indispensable that the cultivation of the earth and the technical mastery of nature should be accompanied by this destruction of the deeper life of humanity?

Marriage & The Sex Problem, Dr. F.W. Foerster, pg 74.

This last quote gets to the point. What is the benefit of all of the technological advancements, and the ability to live longer and get from point A to point B faster, if it we are more miserable and destroying our souls?

This reminds me of Jesus Christ’s words in Mark chapter 8, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

We are running around in circles. There are days where I fly through a 12 hour work day, then to my kids sports in the evening, then sometimes to night time meetings, only to be back at my desk the next morning. Everything in my life becomes a blur. I hardly see my wife and kids and then ask myself what I am doing all of this for? Are all of the advancements worth the expense of sacrificing a simple and meaningful life?

The reality is that the more I do this, the less happy I am, and the more distant I am from my family, neighbors, and God. Only when I pray, read from spiritual texts in seeking truth, serve others, and practice stillness, do I find peace.

Jesus served multitudes during his ministry. He also would have periods of isolation where he would go off to the mountains to pray. He was always seeking guidance through prayer and fasting in order to commune with his father. It would’ve been easier for lesser men to get caught up in the fame from the multitudes, do tours, and get busier and busier. Jesus shunned the fame and found pleasure in a life of simplicity and modesty. He wasn’t a ruler of men, or owner of properties. He was a lowly carpenter who through sacrificing his life for others showed us what real asceticism looks like. It is not a scarcity mentality it is a mentality of great abundance, love and focusing on what is most important.

May we all learn from the words of Friedrich Wilhem Foerster written for us over 100 years ago. They are words of profound wisdom and timelessness. They are from a man who could identify trouble brewing in his nation’s morality long before most. He knew what was important in life and could see past the smoke and mirrors. A life of simplicity, practicing virtues and principles that are true and eternal, and that will stand the test of time. He believed in asceticism and practiced it himself, leaving us an example and legacy of a veritable ascetic to follow.

Gratitude In Isolation With 5 Young Kids

As I read the headlines about the Coronavirus death toll in New York and all over the world, I say a silent prayer. Language can’t describe, and others can’t comprehend the agony of loved ones left in a wake of despair and grief. So many words not said, and so many lights dimmed too soon. It is a challenging time for our relatively young species, and we are all being tested in many ways. It contrast, it is beautiful to see many people rising to the challenge as they become the heroes they never knew they were.

As I contemplate on the many stories I read, I feel a profound sense of gratitude for my young, beautiful, bright, children, and my kind and loving wife. I thought it would be difficult to be in isolation all day, every day, with five young kids, and no ability for them to leave to play with friends. It has truly been a special experience, as I’m usually gone at work for many hours, and rarely see them during the day. I get to enjoy my time with them in a way I don’t normally get to. There are many discussions had where I teach, uplift, but most importantly I listen. Surprisingly as we discuss the severity of what is happening all around us, each child, even my youngest, understands and recognizes how fortunate we are.

If we are able to live and breathe for another day, it is a blessing. If we can see the sun and the faces of those we love, it is a blessing. If we can hear the sounds of nature, and the voices of those close to us, it is a blessing. Even if we are alone, but recognize that with God, we are never alone, it is a blessing.

As tough as it is around the world right now we have much to be thankful for. When I was nineteen and serving as a missionary in Africa I lost a close friend to a senseless murder. Even in that time of pain and darkness, I still recognized there was still much to be thankful for including the time I had with my deceased friend.

In everything we go through, we can decide how we react. As Viktor Frankl taught in Man’s Search For Meaning, between stimuli and reaction there is always a space. In that space we can choose how we react. We can choose to be bitter and spiteful, or we can choose to be grateful and hopeful. In a world with enough pain, suffering and anguish for many lifetimes, I choose the latter.

Can a Corona Crisis Clear a Path to Christ?

Is it possible that a severe biological disaster of worldwide proportions is what it takes for our global population to remember God? Or at the very least, is this a forceful reminder for mankind to be less self-centered, and an opportunity to serve the weakest among us, our elderly and our infirm? Recently, I read a Wall Street Journal article which asked if this crisis would lead to the next Great Awakening. In the article Mr. Robert Nicholson brought out some historical context which helped me understand that religious ups and downs are nothing new.

He writes, “three-quarters of a century has dimmed the memory of that gruesome conflict and its terrible consequences: tens of millions killed, great cities bombed to rubble, Europe and Asia stricken by hunger and poverty. Those who survived the war had to grapple with the kinds of profound questions that only arise in the aftermath of calamity. Gazing at the ruins from his window at Cambridge University, British historian Herbert Butterfield chose to make sense of it by turning to the Hebrew Bible.”

“The power of the Old Testament teaching on history—perhaps the point at which the ancient Jews were most original, breaking away from the religious thought of the other peoples around them—lay precisely in the region of truths which sprang from a reflection on catastrophe and cataclysm,” Butterfield wrote in “Christianity and History” (1949). “It is almost impossible properly to appreciate the higher developments in the historical reflection of the Old Testament except in another age which has experienced (or has found itself confronted with) colossal cataclysm.”

“Americans, chastened by the horrors of war, turned to faith in search of truth and meaning. In the late 1940s, Gallup surveys showed more than three-quarters of Americans were members of a house of worship, compared with about half today. Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. Some would later call this a Third Great Awakening.”

The concept that calamities can bring people to faith and houses of worship is an interesting topic to ponder. In looking at several charts, I found that faith and attendance in religious houses of worship increased in America after World War II. I also found that since the fifties the numbers have declined with the exception of protestant groups. As Mr. Nicholson stated so eloquently the horrors of such a traumatic event like war brought people to the throne of God searching for why. Since that time we have not had a great sacrifice of our own personal lives, at least not to that degree or magnitude. Have things become too easy, and have we become too comfortable?

Was it the fear or a search for meaning in the war that brought those in the 1940s seeking? Or was it the realization of the fragility of their mortality? While researching this I came across several recent Pew Research Center articles, and Gallup research articles with eye opening charts.

This first one, ties in well with our question about the Corona calamity. Countries with the shortest lifespan have the highest religious service attendance. We can extrapolate a lot of theories about why that is, but in my mind it is the correlation between the comfort of our lives and our lack of need for God’s help. This makes it harder to remember God, Christ, or any Deity. Nations with higher life expectancies tend to be nations with higher incomes per capita, as well as higher standards of living in general. We tend to think when all is well, why do I need God? I have my health and my wealth, what else could I need? But in times of distress we come back on our knees seeking help and answers. Before anyone says I am overgeneralizing, please note that I am simply examining my own personal experiences with God, and thousands of years of written scripture. The Bible as well as the Book of Mormon are prime examples of civilizations that go through a pride/humility, remembering/forgetting cycle with God. The Israelites turned to and remembered God mostly in times of pestilence, famine, and destruction from their enemies. Not always, but mostly.

Several other charts below also show a clear distinction of church attendance/religious affiliation based on age. It is clear by looking at this data that house of worship attendance is down in all age groups. It also makes sense that the older you are, the more you are confronted with your own mortality, the more you think about the next life and what that means. I use to joke with my mom that she was so religious because she was closer to seeing God than I was. Now as I’m older and have kids of my own, I can attest to that reality. When you’re young you’re hardly thinking about consequences and your future. At least I wasn’t.

Catholics' Church Attendance Resumes Downward Slide
U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades
Catholics' Church Attendance Resumes Downward Slide
U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades
Bar graph. 29% of millennials have no religious affiliation, more than any other generation.

As young people are now confronted with their own mortality, and the possible loss of parents and grandparents, does that lead to an increase in faith or even just spirituality? It’s too soon to tell, but in other research I’ve looked at there was a clear increase in church attendance after events like WWII. That increase was not just in the older, but actually and primarily in younger adults. In fact there were periods after the the second world war where house of worship attendance was just as high for younger adults as it was for the older.

Another point to make is that we see slight increases in attendance during recessions in general. I have a theory that the harder the trial, the more likely we are to have our own personal great awakenings. That can be different for everyone. For some it can be a return to or finding Christ for the first time. For others it can be an awareness of a higher power or the seeking of that power through prayer and meditation, or just a greater spirituality.

I’m not sure how this all plays out in the end from a spiritual and religious standpoint. As a Christian, and someone who recognizes his own personal weaknesses, I at least hope for an increase in my faith, and an increase in my love for my neighbors and fellowmen. Times of trial are opportunities for change. It is my prayer that in the end this leads to us looking outward and upward.

Never Short Human Ingenuity

In the stock market you can profit if a company’s stock price declines. It’s known as a short position. If you had taken a short position in a large U.S. stock market index right before the pandemic hit our shores, you would have a positive gain today (April 6th, 2020), all because of the markets swift and speedy decline.

It sounds like a rather good idea, and shorting can work well within a small time period. You would never want to bet against the overall U.S. markets in the long run (for multiple years), and let me tell you why. Historically the S&P 500 which tracks large U.S. stocks has ended each year positively 76% of the time and negatively 24% of the time. Any economy that allows its citizens freedom to pursue their own individual economic interests is very difficult to contend against. Any time there is a capitalistic free-market, coupled with a democratic society, you unleash human ingenuity. Any time you control or dictate what people are allowed to invest in, or create barriers to creation, you stifle human ingenuity. Humans when allowed to explore, grow, fail, and create, can do, and have already done remarkable things. Look at our historical track record. Consider a few recent innovations i.e., automobiles, jet airplanes, the internet, air conditioning, television, refrigeration, satellites, space exploration, and the list can go on and on indefinitely. Do you think that innovation and breakthroughs in various fields will stop, or even slow down? I don’t. I see an acceleration of all of these things as the world becomes smaller and smaller and as information is shared between us.

Remember that in the past our markets and economies survived not one, but two world wars, the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis (where we were days away from a nuclear War), Black Monday in 1987, the Dot-Com crash, 9-11, the housing bubble, and the Great Recession.

We have been through some dark days in humanity’s history. We have seen worse days than what our world is experiencing in our current pandemic. We will come out of this more resilient, and also more compassionate. Humanity, despite what we read in the news is improving. Sometimes that progress happens so slowly that it is difficult to observe and identify, but it is happening nonetheless. Yes, there are periods of regression, but they never last. The truth always prevails.

In the end, human ingenuity has always outsmarted mankind’s smartest skeptics and naysayers. Nothing can be fathomed without it first being imagined. It takes imagination and hope to create. We are living in a world of endless possibilities, and now more than ever, endless opportunities are before us. Never short humanity, you will lose every time.