Three years ago, our family went into lockdown, not knowing what COVID would mean for the future. After three years, life does seem to be returning more to normal. Through a combination of vaccines, immunity from previous infections, and better treatment options, the death rate is falling. The media is tired of talking about it, and I’ve had multiple people tell me that COVID is over.
While things are certainly better than they were, it’s still killing ~2500 people per week in the US. That’s an improvement from where we were, and it has been holding steady in that range for a few months. But even at that rate, it is still the 7th biggest killer in the US ahead of diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Higher vaccination rates, more home testing, and isolating when sick could save around 100,000 lives per year. How many lives could we save if people know that COVID is still killing this many people? Would they care?
We had a chance at getting people to care when there was a personal threat, but how do we get people to make sacrifices to help someone else? This challenge isn’t unique to COVID. With other global threats like our changing climate, we have an idea of which activities are making things worse, but how do we get people to make a financial or lifestyle change for results that won’t show up for a few decades? The real solutions seem to work around the need for individuals to make sacrifices, but will we find something like that for COVID?
Long term, I think we solve these types of problems by educating the next generation to do a better job of consuming information. I’ve been very happy to see Elijah’s school teaching how to differentiate facts from opinions, look for supporting evidence, and identify experts. A population with those kinds of habits would hopefully have a better response to situations like this in the future.
For now, we have to work with the tools at our disposal. The good news is that compared to the original lockdown, these tools are pretty easy to use:
- If you haven’t gotten the updated vaccine shot that came out last fall, get it.
- If you are sick, take a COVID test every couple days until you’re better. You get 8 free per month with most insurance plans.
- If you get COVID, follow the guidelines and isolate.
For a mix of social and scientific reasons, it looks like COVID is here to stay, and while we don’t need to stay locked up in our houses, we also can’t ignore the continued impacts.
PacNW Christian Men’s Retreat 2023
Every year, the area churches affiliated with the WELS and ELS combine to host a men’s retreat. I’ve known about this for years but have never attended myself. This year when I got the email, I thought, “Hmmm… I think I want to go to this one. I need to remember to bring it up with Tyla and see what she thinks.” A few minutes later, she came in reading the same email and said, “Ben! You have to go to this retreat! Professor Paustian is amazing!” Mark Paustian is a professor at Martin Luther College, and she had him for a couple classes. He was scheduled to be the guest speaker at the retreat. I took her advice and signed up immediately. Over the next week or two, three other MLC grads heard about the retreat and encouraged me to attend so I could hear Professor Paustian.
The event was held at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend. It’s only about 35 miles away but it either requires a ferry ride or a drive around the south end of Puget Sound. The event starts Friday evening so I checked in, met up with a couple other people, and we got a quick dinner at a Mexican food truck called Burritos y Tacos on the northwest side of the golf course. Then we headed back for the opening session where Professor Paustian explained what he’d be sharing over the weekend and talked to us about being “transparently Christian.” He shared examples like purposely reading Christian books when he’s out in public or simply including church activities when people ask about your weekend.
There were 76 of us in attendance so that requires a lot of sleeping space. We stayed in building 225 which is a group housing dormitory. It’s a historical site so the accommodations are simple, but I had my own room and a shared bathroom. Our group brought a large selection of snacks, drinks, and games so there was optional fun happening there until late into the night.
After waking up early and walking around the park, Saturday morning started with breakfast in the group dining facility and then we headed over to the USO Hall for more classes. Our course was on apologetics which is an intellectual defense of the truth, rationality, and core beliefs of Christianity. We went through various aspects of it, but the repeated message was that you’re not there to argue specific facts with people, but the goal is always to point people to the message of the gospel. Our consciences tell us that things are wrong, but only the gospel reveals the saving message of Christ. Jesus died for our sins. There’s nothing we have to do or can do to earn heaven. He did it all for us! This is a simple message that is unfortunately unique to Christianity and even unique within many circles of Christianity. Human reason says that there must be something we have to do, but God’s mercy is an affront to human reason. He loves us more than we can ever imagine.
There were a few hours reserved on Saturday afternoon for people to do whatever they want. Some went back to the dorms to take a nap while other groups went hiking, golfing, and shooting. I went with a group of about a dozen people to play disc golf. It was fun playing on a new course and introducing people to the sport.
After dinner, we headed back for another session before going back to the dorm for more fellowship and sleep.
Sunday morning was the end of the event and we met one more time. Professor Paustian gave a devotion/sermon and as part of a short service. Hearing a big group of men singing some favorite hymns is a treat!
If you’re in the area and are at all intrigued by these, please consider attending! This event has been going on for over 20 years except for a short COVID pause and they’re planning to hold it again next year in mid to late April. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be encouraged by your fellow Christians and hear a great speaker. Professor Paustian lived up to the hype! Tyla and I are already going through his “Our Worth To Him” devotion book, but now I’m also looking forward to reading Prepared to Answer and the cleverly titled follow-up: More Prepared to Answer.