MERS, Fear, and Selfish Faith

17 06 2015


One Hundred Sixty-Two.

Six Thousand Five Hundred Eight.

Numbers and more numbers. It’s been around a month since the discovery of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus in Korea and the numbers keep climbing. The numbers keep coming. The numbers keep our fears in their place.

south-korea-mers-virusThis concerning situation with the spread of the deadly virus has reminded us of thoughts that were buried by the ordinary routine of our lives. First, that death is real, unpredictable, and most prominently uncontrollable. Couple years back, I wrote a post on Ernest Becker’s Pulizer Prize winning book The Denial of Death. We are reminded again how Becker was right in how humanity uses everything and anything to drown out the unchangeable truth of inevitable death. Death is the ultimate problem of humanity, and yet so many live on without a hint of desire to seek out the solution. Second, fear is ok. Fear of the virus, fear of infection, fear of isolation, fear of death. Often, we jest and laugh to minimize or guise our fears. We want to look strong. Fear is a sign of weakness and weakness is oh-so-unacceptable. But perhaps, fear is not that bad. Panic is bad. But fear? A healthy dose of fear helps survival. When a wild hungry tiger comes charging toward you to make you its next menu for dinner, fear will drive you to find an escape, drive you to seek survival when charging straight on against opposition is not wise for survival. Fear can be wise. Hmmm… I think the author of Proverbs said something to that effect. Third, faith can be selfish. A week ago in the church elevator, an elder (a leader of a Presbyterian church) pulls out a mask often suggested for MERS prevention from his pocket and proclaims his faith or perhaps his humor, “I want to put this on, but I’m scared that people will think I don’t have enough faith!” My mind dashed initially towards how wrong his theology of faith was, but the more my mind ran, it saw how selfish such faith was. If strong faith means not wearing a preventative mask at the expense of contaminating other people, it is no worthy faith at all. A selfless weak faith will suffice, one that may be timid but has in sight the well-being of the other. One that says, “I don’t know how I look in this thing, maybe I will look foolish, perhaps even risk looking faithless but if it will help stop the spreading.” Fourth, family is important and they are not with you always. Speak kind words. Spend time with them. Fifth, humans think they have more control than they actually have. It is evident in light of the first point and this MERS outbreak, we have none. Control is an illusion.

Last. My thoughts go to the twenty-one. The twenty-one who had families. The twenty-one who spent their last days in quarantined isolation. The twenty-one who were not just a number to produce in us fear, but lives who had stories. Prayers to them. Prayers to their families. And a word from the late Professor Al Groves who wrote this while struggling with terminal cancer: “I am in distress. But that is not the final word in my prayer. I live on the other side of the cross and the resurrection, that toward which Nehemiah looked from a distance. For me the final word is not distress, but hope in the One who has raised me from the dead and changed me into a new creature in Christ.”


The Wisdom of Walking

15 05 2013

rjWbKIt’s been conservatively calculated that at the end of an 80-year lifetime, a person would have walked 220,000,000 steps (7500/day). That is a lot of steps. A college student by the name of Andrew Forsthoefel, after being fired from his job three months after graduation, decided to take a lot of steps, 4000 miles of it (go hear for the entire podcast: This American Life: “Hit the Road”). From Philadelphia to New Orleans to the Pacific, he walked on foot across America with one rule: no rides. But the fascinating thing about his trip was not merely the feat of feet, but it was what he heard along the way. He narrates what he was doing on this long trek:

And as for why, well, I wanted to listen. After all, I was wearing a sign that said, walking to listen. And people told me about their lives, what they’d done, what they wish they’d done, whatever they thought I needed to hear. In Louisiana, a guy who let me camp out behind his trailer told me, all you’re doing is reading a book, just with your feet.

The thing is, we are all walking, somewhere, with someone. Every one of our feet has a story (or stories) to tell, and the longer they’ve walked, more likely that they have much more to say. It kinda reminds me of a blog post by a friend of mine, where we may speak different languages, but there is always a story. So then, what stories do your feet tell? Or better yet, do you care to hear where other’s have gone?

Along the way, Forsthoefel asked many people a similar question, taking all of what they have learned in life, what they would tell their previous twenty-three year old selves. My favorite response came from an elderly Southern belle.

Yeah, I wouldn’t worry so much. I used to worry myself to death. And then now I realize the things you worry about, how many of them come true? Very seldom.

I’d go barefoot more. I wouldn’t be nice. I wouldn’t be the nice little Southern girl. I’d be a bitch.

I wasn’t passive aggressive. I was just passive.

There is, more often than not, wisdom in walking. There is wisdom in age (though age doesn’t necessitate wisdom). But I wonder for us 4Feet.35122825younger folk, how much we are listening. How often do we consign the elderly to obsolescence? More often than not, perhaps? It may do our generation some good to stop running as if we are running alone, to stop and listen to the feet that have walked before us. If we do, we may just not have to take as many useless steps anymore.

It’s Finals Period… Want some salt?

4 12 2008

I’ve been coming across various simple yet unique ways that the world may be helped to become “better.” The other day I was listening to NPR and a healthcare expert was explaining how the implementation of a certain systematic hand washing procedure would decrease the likelihood of infections by a dramatic percentage. The the worst hospital in the only state (Michigan, thanks THK) to have incorporated this procedure has a less likelihood of infections than the best hospital of the rest of the America. This may not help health coverage, but it certainly sounds like a cost efficient way to increase health quality.

I was also reading Nicholas Kristof’s NYTimes Op-Ed Column, “Raising the World’s IQ“, and he talks about another simple, unique and cost-effective way to better the world:

“Travelers to Africa and Asia all have their favorite forms of foreign aid to “make a difference.” One of mine is a miracle substance that is cheap and actually makes people smarter.

Unfortunately, it has one appalling side effect. No, it doesn’t make you sterile, but it is just about the least sexy substance in the world. Indeed, because it’s so numbingly boring, few people pay attention to it or invest in it. (Or dare write about it!)

It’s iodized salt.

Almost one-third of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water. The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism. But far more common is mental slowness.”

It’s quite sad that such a great option is overlooked because it’s not glamorous enough. I wonder how many good options are overlooked because something is just not marketable… Isn’t efficiency glamorous enough? If not that, then the glamor of philanthropy? I guess either way glamor is key. There just is something about beauty we can’t get enough of.

Going off on a bit of a tanget, this iodized salt proposition makes me wonder how differences in cultural diet affects our IQ. I’m kind of glad I’m Korean. We got lots of sodium in our food, hopefully it’s iodized. (Kimchi, baby!) Hmmm… enough thought. Back to finals. Maybe I’ll have some salt for lunch…