Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Heart Health

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Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, health authorities have been telling us that elderly people are most in danger from the virus. Mortality counts appear to bear that out. However, studies of the data are refining that message, showing that heart health is the critical factor in whether or not one survives an attack of the virus. To be sure, the elderly are far more likely to have heart problems, but younger people with heart problems are just as apt to succumb to the disease, and the elderly with healthy hearts are likely to be survivors.

The heart is just a pump, but when the health of that pump is impaired the cells of the whole body no longer receive sufficient oxygen to function effectively. In some cases the heart is weakened by genetic defects or by disease, but most commonly it is harmed by poor nutrition and lack of exercise.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us there is a close parallel in our spiritual life: Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. No MRI will detect the heart spoken of here, yet the similarities between physical health and spiritual health are very striking.

  • Comfort food may taste good, but if that is all our diet consists of our health will suffer. We can subsist for years on familiar Bible stories and spiritual platitudes, but our health will go steadily downhill.
    For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
    And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. (Luke 21:34)
  • Exercise is essential to our health
    But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
  • God supplies the “oxygen” to purify our hearts.
    Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. (James 4:7-8)
  • A healthy heart can resist invasion by a virus, or temptation
    But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. (1 Timothy 6:6-9)

What are we afraid of?

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I was afraid of a lot of things as a boy, the two main ones being girls and dogs. Girls were different, mysterious; they didn’t look, talk or act like boys. The thought of actually speaking to one crippled my mind and my tongue.

Yet there was always a girl or two that I could talk to without stammering like an imbecile. For some reason most of them were named Joan. Thinking back, it might have been because Joan was the most common girl’s name for that era, just like Robert was for boys. There were two grades to a classroom in our school and three Roberts in my class. In order to distinguish between us we were known as Bob Dixon, Bobby Adamus and I had to be Robert Goodnough.

There were two girls with whom I never had a problem visiting and they weren’t even named Joan. But they were cousins and that was even better. By now I think I have pretty much gotten over my fear of girls, of any age. I finally plucked up enough courage to ask one to marry me. Then we had a daughter to raise and by now we have two teenage granddaughters.

Dogs were even worse than girls. Not all dogs, but any big dog that barked was surely some kin of the Hound of the Baskervilles. I had a half mile to walk to school, straight down the west side of town. Halfway between home and school there was a house set well back from the street with a dog chained up outside.

Every day, when I walked by that house, the dog would bark. It was a big, dark coloured dog. My friends said it was half wolf. I was terrified. This went on for a couple years as I passed from nine to ten to eleven. I didn’t pray much in those days, but every time that dog barked I prayed that God would protect me from that evil wolf dog and give me the courage to keep on walking.

There was a wide coulee several miles east of ton with a little creek running along the bottom called the Arm River. At most places the river was ankle deep. But there was one spot that was wider and deep enough for children to swim in. It was an old-fashioned swimming hole, completely unsupervised, the nearest house a half mile away.

I didn’t go there often, it was too far and I couldn’t swim. I was afraid of water, too. But I knew that I was in no danger of drowning in that swimming hole; if I stood up in the deepest place my head was well above the water.

One day as I was walking home from school I saw that evil wolf dog trotting down the road toward me. I took to the opposite side of the road and he went by without paying me any attention. I noticed two things as he passed – he was dripping wet, and the pupils of his eyes were rectangular horizontal slits, not like the eyes of any dog I’d ever seen before. He was a wolf dog for sure.

The next day I heard that he had been down at the swimming hole. A young boy who couldn’t swim had gotten into the deep part where the water was over his head. He was floundering, gasping for air and calling for help. The dog had jumped in, the boy had grabbed his long fur and the dog had towed him up and out of the water. Apparently the dog was quicker thinking than the boys.

Thus ended my fear of the evil wolf dog. What had I been afraid of anyway? It wasn’t the dog, it was the overheated thoughts in my own mind.

Isn’t that how it is most times? Often, the things we fear the most have no existence outside of our own minds. Those thoughts can paralyze us. I wonder if, in our present circumstances, fears like that might not be doing more harm than the virus. I don’t mean to suggest that we should act as though the virus is not dangerous; let’s take all necessary precautions. But at the same time, let’s pray to God to be set free from irrational fears that hinder us from reaching out to those who are lonely, or in any kind of distress.

Caveat Lector

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Image by Ahmad Ardity from Pixabay

Let the reader beware. These are my own contrarian views on the COVID-19 situation and not grounds to take things lightly. I am not a scientist or medical expert. Even if I am correct in what I say here, it still remains that elderly and infirm people are in danger and we need to take seriously the restrictions imposed by our governments for their protection.

With every communicable disease there is a point where enough people have developed immunity to it that health experts talk of herd immunity. That means that enough people are immune that there is almost no chance that one infected person can spread the disease to others.

That number varies according to how easy it is to catch the disease. Estimates for COVID-19 vary, but 70% seems to be a ball park figure. That is, once 70% of the population develops immunity, then there will be no more danger of an epidemic. Most epidemiologists are saying we cannot reach that level without a vaccine. I believe that development of a vaccine is urgent to protect the aged and infirm, because as many as 20% of them could die if they contract the virus.

What about the rest of the population? Do they have to wait for the vaccine before they can feel safe? What proportion of the population has already been exposed to the virus and developed immunity? No one knows. We are going on the assumption that the percentage is very low; but the only people being tested are those who display symptoms of infection by the virus or are known to have been exposed to it.

How many people have been exposed to the virus and shown no symptoms at all? We really don’t have a clue. I do have training in statistics and I would have confidence in the results of random testing of perhaps 1% of the general population. There is some talk of conducting such a study. What if it showed that 50% of the population has already been exposed to the virus and is now immune? That would mean that we are not too far from the number needed for herd immunity.

I have no more idea than anyone else where we are at in Canada. I believe there are more people who have contracted the virus than the present numbers indicate. If they were free to circulate during the first 14 days after contracting the virus they may well have spread it to others. But after that they are immune, even if they never showed any sign of sickness. Our whole medical system is in crisis mode right now, but it would help us to better understand the future if there were enough test kits available, enough personnel to administer them and enough lab time to analyse them.

Maybe that’s asking too much. Maybe we just have to wait and see how things play out in the coming weeks.

What isolation?

The world has changed, due to modern speed of travel a virus that first infected a human being in China a few months ago has now spanned the world. We are all in a crisis situation;  we are asked to practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible. 

But the world has changed in other ways as well:

  • I pay a small monthly fee for unlimited long distance phone calls. Today I talked to a cousin in another city for an hour.
  • I can write letters and send them by email. Today I received an email from a cousin I haven’t seen or heard from since we were children.
  • I can read the news from across the country and around the world on my cell phone.
  • I can deposit cheques and pay my bills online.
  • I can buy ebooks online without leaving home.
  • I can connect online to my clients accounting software and work on it.
  • I can file income tax returns online.
  • I can learn almost anything I want online.
  • I can write articles and post them on this blog to be read by people far and wide.
  • I can send and receive free text and voice messages via WhatsApp or Telegram.

One thing has not changed. I am never isolated from God. We can talk to each other anytime, anywhere.

Are you in the grip of, or under the influence of, a virus?

War is hell. The First World War, from 1914 to 1918, resulted in the death of 10 million soldiers and 7 million civilians. At least 20 million more were wounded.

As horrible as that sounds, the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 to 1919 caused at least 50 million deaths, some say 100 million. Beginning in January 1918, it quickly swept around the world, infecting 500 million people. This epidemic was different from most flu epidemics as the highest mortality rate was among the young and strong. It is now thought that the immune system of the healthiest people overreacted to the virus and made it far more deadly. The young, the old, and those with compromised immune systems were more likely to survive. This has not been the case with most subsequent outbreaks of influenza.

The 1918 epidemic was caused by a Type A H1N1 virus. The outbreak appears to have begun at a military staging and hospital camp at Étaples, France. Historian Mark Humphries of Memorial University of Newfoundland thinks that the disease may have originated from the 96,000 Chinese labourers who worked behind the British and French lines on the Western Front. He cites archival evidence that a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917 was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish flu.

Wartime censors limited the reporting of the flu outbreak in the combatant nations. Spain was neutral during the war; thus news reporting from Spain was allowed and inadvertently this epidemic became known as the Spanish Flu.

The disease is known as La Grippe in French, I suppose meaning that one is in the grip of the virus. The French name was still commonly used 100 years ago by English-speaking people. At some point English-speaking people switched to the Latin word influenza, which means that one is being influenced by the virus.

Symptoms of the flu include coughing, fever, tiredness, aching muscles, joint pain, headaches and chest discomfort. These symptoms do not usually accompany a cold. Sore throats and nasal discharge are symptoms of the common cold and are less often associated with the flu. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may occur in children with the flu but not often in adults. What is often mistakenly called the “stomach flu” is usually gastroenteritis, caused by a rotavirus. Allergy symptoms may mimic cold symptoms, but are not so easily confused with the flu. The most severe flu symptoms generally last only a few days, but it may take two weeks or more for full recovery.

The influenza virus is still a serious health concern. In a normal year more than 12,000 Canadians are hospitalized due to the flu, and 3,500 die. I don’t have information for other provinces, but here in Saskatchewan free immunization is offered to all residents over 6 months of age. The vaccine contains an inactivated virus and cannot give you the flu.

I have had recurring bouts of allergic rhinitis, the common cold and the flu all my life, not always being able to distinguish among the three. Time and experience, plus numerous consultations with doctors, have taught me that most of those episodes were due to allergic reactions to dust, pollen, moulds and various other things. However, an allergic reaction can reduce my immunity to the flu virus and I have had some rather lengthy bouts with the flu, leading to pneumonia in at least one case. I have been getting the annual flu shot for at least ten years now and it has definitely reduced those bouts.

I’m back

I have been missing in action for almost a week now.  It was all because of a nasty little culprit called a rotavirus, or one of his kinfolk, that is undetectable by the layperson before the nasty, explosive bodily reactions kick in.  Last Sunday a group of 25 got together for dinner, 12 adults and 13 children.  Gastrointestinal “disturbances” hit many of us in the ensuing days.  For my wife, they began Monday evening.  I believed myself spared until 1:30 A.M. Tuesday.  The last one affected developed symptoms just before noon Wednesday.  The fact that a recently irritated and totally empty digestive system does not take kindly to the kind of meals we would like to eat has complicated recovery.

At 7:30 A.M. Tuesday, as my stomach was in spasms trying to expel what was no longer there, I began to reflect on my body’s defensive response to the invasion of this virus.  It was using every means at its disposal to get that virus, and anything contaminated by that virus, out of the body.  Was there a spiritual lesson in this I wondered?

We are constantly bombarded with temptations, ideas, spirits that want to weaken and even destroy our spiritual life.  The difference is that these things cannot infect our heart, our inner spiritual life, without our permission.  Yet, if we would be totally honest, with ourselves and with God, we do admit many ideas or spirits without realizing their danger.  What then?

Jesus recommended strong action: “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off . . .  And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off . . . And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.”  (Mark 9:43-48).  The meaning of “offend thee” would be better expressed in today’s language as “cause thee to stumble.”

I don’t believe for a moment he meant actual self-mutilation, but rather a drastic commitment on our part to not allow the members of our body to be involved in any form of sin.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”  Job had come to that same conclusion many years earlier and as a result: “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?”  (Job 31:1).

During my time as a missionary in Montreal twenty years ago, my fellow missionary and I had a meeting with a young man who confessed to having had an unhealthy attraction to young children.  He claimed to have finally conquered that desire by castrating himself.  Yet he had a burning desire to reach school children with a message about how to avoid sexual predators.  As we listened, it seemed the intensity of that desire contradicted his claim of having conquered his own lustful feelings toward children.  We refused to have any part in his supposed mission, which drew from him a furious rant about how we were enemies of the gospel and the work of the Lord.  That experience reinforced my belief that Jesus had something else in mind than actual physical self-mutilation.

The apostle Paul admonished the church at Corinth to deal with the sin in their midst.  After he heard how thoroughly they had accepted this admonition, he wrote to them a second time: “For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:11).  These are strong words, indignation, vehement desire, revenge, yet I believe these feelings and actions were directed against the sin, not the sinner, for the apostle also wrote: “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.  Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-8).

In any case, I am pretty much recovered by now, with a renewed respect for my body’s physical defence reflexes.  And a renewed desire that I might have the same repugnance for sin that my body does for a virus.

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