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COVID-19: Where is God?

04 N1506P37007CColumn Gist: In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, many people are asking if it was caused by God. This column addresses that question.

As people ponder how God might be involved with the COVID-19 pandemic, the normal response is, “I don’t see how a loving God would cause an event such as this.” The implication is that God’s love does not allow him to, for any reason, bring hardship upon people of Earth … to punish. Even though I do not claim that COVID-19 is God’s punishment on America, my question would be: How can a loving God not punish America?

I think Rev. Billy Graham went to the heart of the matter in a statement where he referred to an assessment made by his wife, Ruth. This from an article in 2012 by Rev. Graham titled, “Billy Graham: ‘My Heart Aches for America.’”

“Some years ago, my wife, Ruth, was reading the draft of a book I was writing. When she finished a section describing the terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards and the idolatry of worshiping false gods such as technology and sex, she startled me by exclaiming, ‘If God doesn’t punish America, he’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.’”

The 19th chapter of Genesis records God’s punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah. Scholars differ on the nature of the sin that caused God’s destruction of these cities. Some say it was because of rampant homosexual activity. Others point to a lack of hospitality. Discussion of these differing schools of thought may be reviewed at www.britannica.com. No matter what the causal sin was, these people were horrendously sinful. That is the level of sinfulness that has taken up residence in America. Consequently, Ruth Graham has my full agreement — America is due for God’s overwhelming punishment.

Whether COVID-19 is our punishment, I do not know. However, every American should seriously consider that possibility and respond accordingly. What follows offers some thoughts on how we might go about assessing the plausibility of this plague being God’s punishment of America. Granted, the whole world is adversely impacted by this frightful pandemic. However, this did not mandate that it come to America, especially with the tremendous devastation that we are experiencing.

By way of assessing, start with a definition of love and how true love looks in action. This definition of love from “36 Definitions of Love, According to Urban Dictionary” by Marisa Donnelly.

“The act of caring and giving to someone else … having someone’s best interest and well-being as a priority in your life.” This definition “hits the mark” because it requires taking actions that sometimes are necessary for the correction of those who are loved. In the “I can’t believe a loving God would do this” assessment of our difficult experiences, love is viewed as void of punishment or correction.

The following segments, from an article by  Monsignor Charles Pope titled, “Pondering Punishment in the Light of God’s Love,” makes crystal clear the great fallacy in how God’s love is generally viewed:

“We have become rather ‘soft’ in modern times (at least in the Western World). We have been taught in the ‘God is Love’ school, which is not wrong but has often understood that love in sentimental and simplistic ways. Modern notions of love are usually soft, permissive and nondirective. Love is often thought to be exclusively ‘supportive’ and ‘affirming.’ The understanding that love could or should include setting limits, correction, admonishments or
punishments is usually downplayed if not explicitly rejected as pertaining to love.

“God too has largely been relegated to being essentially an affirmer. He is the one who
‘understands.’”

Beyond recognizing the correction, the punishment, component of God’s love, our assessment of God’s possible role in COVID-19, as it relates to America, requires understanding that God deals heavily in quid pro quos. A Google search yields this definition: “Quid pro quo refers to the giving of one valuable thing for another.” The examples from scripture are almost limitless. For instance, there is this often quoted verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14 (KJV): “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” God does not say that he will, without any action on the part of the people, heal their land. He lays out what they must do.

God goes even further and details for Solomon, the king, what he will do if Solomon does not live by God’s statutes. This from the  Life Application Bible note on 2 Chronicles 7:17-22:

“God plainly set forth certain conditions for Solomon to meet if he wanted the kingdom to continue. If Solomon followed God, he and his descendants would prosper. If Solomon did not, he and the nation would be destroyed. In Deuteronomy 27 and 28, these conditions were outlined before all the people.”

Over time, Solomon turned from God, and God did what he promised. Solomon’s descendants, and all of Israel, suffered tremendously.

God’s use of quid pro quos even shows up in the loving and, very likely, most quoted verse in scripture, John 3:16 (NIV): “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God offers eternal life, but receiving it requires that a person believes
 in Jesus.

The experience of Solomon not only illustrates God’s use of the quid pro quo; it also makes clear that God punishes disobedience. An even more telling instance of God’s love resulting in punishment shows through in his sending of Israel into the wilderness for 40 years. The following, from an article by David Treybig titled, “Why Did God Choose Israel?” sets important context for them being sent into the wilderness:

“God wanted Israel to be a model nation, a group of people through whom other peoples could learn vitally important lessons. God wanted Israel to be ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (Exodus 19:6). Other nations would see that when the Israelites obeyed God, they were blessed (verse 5), and when they disobeyed God, they would be punished (Deuteronomy 28).”

God loved Israel and had a high calling for the nation; however, when the people rebelled and chose not to follow God’s direction and enter the land he had promised, God sent them into the wilderness for 40 years. God punished people he loved dearly.

In deciding what role, if any, God might be playing in COVID-19’s invasion of America, we must recognize that God must sometimes punish us because he loves us and must substantially employ the quid pro quo and treat us in the same way that he has treated individuals and nations across the ages.

When we examine the behavior of American society, the picture is clear. As a nation, in the overall, we blatantly reject the statutes, the way, of God. We have declared abortion a woman’s right. We decided the homosexual lifestyle acceptable and protected by law — no matter what scripture says, a person gets to choose their gender regardless of gender at birth. Sex before marriage is routinely accepted. Christians are under attack because of our faith.

Even further, government policies and programs support or encourage ungodly conduct. For instance, instead of taking actions that would discourage premarital sex, American governments provide free condoms to citizens. When that action fails and children result whose parent(s) cannot afford to financially support them, governments provide financial support, health care and other benefits. Then there is the push for expansion of public funding of abortions. All this at the expense of taxpayers, many of whom oppose these actions that advance
ungodliness.

I do not claim that COVID-19 is God’s punishment on America, but when the likelihood is examined as is done here, there is more than ample reason to seriously consider the possibility. If this is not God’s punishment on us, we would do well to treat it as a warning and change our ways. Ruth Graham spoke absolute truth.

          

            

            

What we don’t know can kill us

03 margaretNorth Carolina has begun a tentative process of opening up selected businesses, as have many other states — some more aggressively than others, even though confirmed cases of  COVID-19 continue to rise. As we do so, we are also still learning what we do not know about this novel virus. Here are some of the unanswered questions.

Are people who have recovered from COVID-19 actually immune from an-other bout of it? Can they still pass along the infection to others even though they themselves are well?

What about children? Does the virus infect them differently than adults? At the time of this writing, North Carolinians who have been infected range in age from 6 months to 85 years.

Why do symptoms vary so much from person to person, with some people critically ill and others only mildly so? Does it depend on the concentration of viral particles in one’s body?

Why does  COVID-19 kill more men than women?

Does  COVID-19 cause lasting damage to the bodies of survivors?

Researchers are digging for answers for these and other questions, of course, as well as working overtime to develop a vaccine or vaccines. We do know a great deal about the pandemic, though, and it is not a pretty picture.  COVID-19 has pulled back the curtain on our nation’s health care system, who it serves well and who it does not. It reveals longstanding social and economic disparities long swept under the rug.

Common sense tells us that service workers face more exposure than people who can work remotely, and many service workers are considered essential during the pandemic. They are also often hourly workers, often minority workers, facing the stark choice of working in dangerous environments because they need the income or not being able to support their families. Service jobs are almost always low pay and with little or no employee control over working hours, a significant hurdle for working mothers.

Consider what kinds of work have been deemed essential during the pan-demic. Health care workers, including nursing home and elder care aides; child-care workers; teachers; domestic workers; all occupations heavily populated by women and all of which put workers in direct contact with others. These jobs of-ten require intimate work for others, work that has historically been done by women and has been historically undervalued and underpaid.

The cold hard reality is that millions of Americans depend on these service workers to take care of our children and our elderly parents, to prepare our food and to sell us goods and services, but we do not respect their work. We ask and expect them to do work we do not — and perhaps would not — do ourselves, and we are unwilling to pay them fairly. It brings up the ugly truth that underpaid and often dangerous care work is what allows other Americans, both women and men, to do their jobs at any time, and even more so during the pandemic.

This is not new news.

Speculation abounds as to how our society will be changed, even trans-formed, on the other side of  COVID-19. What will education look like? Will we go shopping in stores again? Will nonchain restaurants survive the pandemic?                        

Whatever else the virus has done and perhaps will do, it has shown a laser light on care industries and their feminine and insecure faces. Care work is absolutely essential work, but it is undervalued because women do it. The  COVID-19 pandemic is a lesson in why that has to change.

Will the virus keep us from voting?

10 element5 digital 2i7Dn2uMEQE unsplashAre you going to be able to vote in the upcoming November election?

Or will the coronavirus claim another victim: your right and responsibility to choose the leaders to guide us through this public health, political, economic and moral disaster?

The recent elections in Wisconsin should have taught North Carolinians that the process will probably be partisan and contentious. It will likely put a heavy burden on individual voters as well as the election day workers who will be trying to accommodate voters and protect them and themselves from the dangers of transmitting the coronavirus.

Without careful planning, North Carolina could repeat Wisconsin’s April 7 voting day experience. Milwaukee had to reduce the number of poll sites from 500 to five. Voters were forced to wait in line for hours. At least six poll workers have already come down with symptoms of the virus.

Sadly, but predictably, Democrats and Republicans in Wisconsin battled for partisan advantage in a crucial judicial election pitting a conservative Republican incumbent against a more liberal Democratic challenger. The Democratic governor tried to postpone the election to give more time for mail-in voting and a better chance for his party’s candidate to win. The Republicans objected and won a legal battle to require the election to be held on schedule.

Partisan bickering about election procedures and rules is nothing new in North Carolina. In his new book “Wilmington’s Lie,” David Zucchino reminds us what happened after conservative Democrats won control of the legislature in the 1898 elections. They crafted “a constitutional amendment requiring voters in the state to pay a poll tax and pass a literacy test unless a father or a grandfather had voted before 1867. The amendment also required voters to present proof of their identity during registration, if challenged. There wasn’t much camouflage of the amendment’s motive. ‘The chief object of the amendment is to eliminate the ignorant and irresponsible Negro vote,’ the Democrats explained in a pamphlet.”

Both North Carolina political parties have a sorry legacy of framing election laws and voting districts for political advantage, with the modern Republicans being the more recent abusers.

Elections and election procedures are bare-boned political battles in Wisconsin, too. One of the arguments there is about mail-in voting.

Many political scientists, including Barry Burden, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, cite studies that show no partisan advantage to either side in expanding voting by mail. But the Democratic judicial candidate won, according to The New York Times, primarily by performing better in mail voting in every community than she did at the
polling places.

North Carolina does not have a true vote-by-mail system. Should Democrats fight to have one in place by this November? Bob Cordle, former chair of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, points out that North Carolina’s no-excuse absentee voting procedure already gives voters the opportunity to secure and send in a ballot by mail. However, he says, “the requirements to obtain and vote an absentee ballot by mail need to be simplified and made more accessible to our voters.”

The current elections board chair Damon Circosta, a Democrat, and board member David Black, a Republican, recently recommended that the legislature make “it easier to securely request and cast votes
 by mail.”

They continued, “We sincerely hope that North Carolina and the United States can be past this crisis before the fall elections, but it is imperative that we are prepared in the event that the crisis remains with us. There will be plenty of time when it is all over to reengage in our partisan battles about election policy. Right now, we all need to work together. The coronavirus has given us a chance to live up to our democratic values. Let’s take it.”

Good advice for all of us.

Liberty and personal freedom at risk: Where is the outrage?

02 N2005P72024CAmid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is distressing to learn that members of the U.S. Congress and our Justice Department would lie, cheat and conspire against innocent Americans to discredit and try to unseat a duly elected  president. Partisan greed, power and unbridled animosity have become way too common in America’s political scene, and those factors are undermining American rights and freedoms, not to mention wasting time and energy while distracting Congress from doing the people’s business. 

Regardless of whether you are a Republican, Democrat or Independent, we are all human beings and should not turn a blind eye to political injustice or conspiracies that ignore the rule of law. What is taking place politically in America today should scare the hell out of any decent, God-fearing human being. And, if it doesn’t, your principles and values may have already been compromised, and your levels of sensitivity and compassion toward humanity calloused. Again, it makes no difference what political affiliation you are. Human decency defines the boundaries of “right and wrong.” We live in a country where citizens are (or should be) equally entitled to freedom, fairness and justice. We do not live in a socialistic or communistic state where authoritarianism* dictates “what’s good for me, is not
for thee.”

This unsavory situation exists today and has escalated ever since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a public health emergency in January. Since then, based on faulty information, the world panicked, exposing the true talents, abilities and leadership skills of government officials worldwide. Here in the United States, under these dire circumstances, it is difficult for our national and local leaders to hide traits like political gamesmanship, greed, gross incompetence and the blatant abuse of power and authority for personal gain. 

No doubt, we have many capable leaders whose intelligence and level-headed strategies and management style aided their constituents during this crisis. But as the pandemic expanded through March and April, it became more and more evident that power-drunk government officials were slowly, conveniently and methodically eradicating our liberty and personal freedoms. Freedoms guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights are being methodically replaced by Soviet-like directives from authoritarian state governors’ offices or from local city halls. Making this situation even more frustrating is the fact that these directives are often baseless, senseless, contradictory and, in some cases, deadly. It’s bad enough for the government to decide which businesses are essential and which are not, but deciding who lives and who dies? 

New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo could be the poster child for being the very best of the worst. His state has the highest rate of coronavirus cases anywhere on the planet with nearly 350,000 cases and over 27,000 deaths. With two-thirds of the cases and over 70% of the deaths in New York City, this governor sends 1,700 aging citizens to their deaths after mandating that nursing homes and senior care centers accept their residencies knowing full well that seniors and aging populations are the highest risk group most vulnerable to the disease. Instead of protecting them, this governor was digging mass graves to bury the victims by the hundreds.

Where is the logic? The leadership? The compassion? The humanity? Hell, where is the outrage?

And, just when you think it couldn’t get much worse, Cuomo’s leadership team releases 1,000 hardened criminals, rapists, murderers, dope pushers and child molesters from the Rikers Island jail. Not only did they unleash mayhem and an eventual crime wave upon innocent citizens of New York City, but over 1/3 of the criminals released were infected with the coronavirus. Cuomo’s logic? To protect the criminals and prevent the spread of the virus. No wonder they lead the world in COVID-19 infections.

While this craziness is going on in New York, a judge in Dallas is sentencing Shelly Luther, a single mother and beauty salon owner, to jail for seven days for opening up her small business so she can feed her children. Unbelievable. In California, you can be arrested if you go to beach, but you can be paid if you snitch on your neighbor. In Michigan, residents are storming the statehouse in protest because they can buy liquor and go to Home Depot, but they cannot worship in their churches. In North Carolina, under Gov. Roy Cooper’s reign, protesting has been deemed an “illegal activity.” You can be arrested for stepping on a sidewalk. In North Carolina, residents are told that exercising their First Amendment rights to peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress, was among the activities Gov. Cooper deemed “nonessential.” The arrogance. He actually took it upon himself to nullify the Constitution. But, Cooper’s not the only person drunk on power. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy had 15 members of a Jewish congregation arrested for assembling at a funeral service. When he was questioned as to whether he was concerned about violating their Bill of Rights, he responded, “That’s above my pay grade … I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when I did this.” Really? The governor of New Jersey wasn’t thinking that freedom of worship and the right to peaceably assemble are both protected in the Bill of Rights? In Fayetteville, the mayor curbed the COVID-19 virus and protected citizens by enacting a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Are you beginning to see the pattern?

Like I said in the beginning, it doesn’t matter what political affiliation you are, what color you are or what religion you practice, the COVID-19 pandemic is serious;  however, it doesn't just threaten your health. It threatens your livelihood. We must be mindful and protective of our civil liberties, or we run the risk of some serious “unintended consequences.”

In the case of some of these crazy and contradictory statewide restrictions, the cure could end up being worse than the disease. People want to be free. Democracy is in our DNA, and it is on the decline. We cannot allow this COVID-19 pandemic to be used as a vehicle to strip us of our rights or freedoms.  We need leadership that respects our Constitutional Rights. We don’t need surveillance of any type, and we have to make sure we maintain honest and well-managed elections. Where is the outrage?

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

 

* According to Lexico, the definition of “authoritarianism” is, “the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom.”

What investors can learn from cyclists

06 N1203P58005CMay is National Bike Month. Of course, millions of Americans enjoy biking, so there’s reason to celebrate. But even if you’re not much of a rider, you can apply some of the guidelines and lessons of bicycling to other areas of your life — such as investing.

Consider taking some of these ideas for a spin:

  • Tune up your portfolio. When bicyclists tune up their bikes, they adjust their brakes, clean and lubricate the chain, tighten nuts and bolts and check the tire pressure, among other tasks. Such a tuneup keeps their bikes running smoothly and reduces the chances for breakdowns. And by “tuning up” your investment portfolio, you can help it stay in line with your goals and risk tolerance, while also preparing it for a “breakdown” in the financial markets, in the form of sharp downturns. To tune up your portfolio, look for ways to increase diversification, which can help reduce the effects of volatility, and watch for investments that may have chronically underperformed or are no longer suitable for your risk tolerance. You might be better off selling these and using the proceeds to invest in new opportunities.

  • Know when to shift gears. Bicyclists move into higher or lower gears in response to changing road conditions and elevations. As an investor, you, too, may need to shift gears, or adjust your investment strategy, when your personal financial environment changes. So, for example, in the years immediately preceding your retirement, you may want to move some – but certainly not all — of your investment dollars from growth-oriented vehicles to income-producing ones. That way, you can lock in some of the gains you may have achieved while lowering your portfolio’s overall risk level. This is important because once you reach retirement and you need to start withdrawing from your retirement accounts – which essentially means liquidating some of your investments — you don’t want to worry too much about having to sell when prices are down. However, keep in mind that, even during retirement, you’ll need some growth potential in your holdings to help yourself stay ahead of inflation.

  • Protect yourself. Smart bicyclists always wear their helmets — they know that an unexpected bump in the road could cause a dangerous spill. And on the journey toward financial security for yourself and your family, you can also expect that some hard knocks could come your way — which is why you need the proper protection. To safeguard your family in case anything should happen to you, you must have the appropriate amount of life insurance. And to help ensure your financial independence — and avoid becoming a potential burden to your grown children — you may want to consider some type of long-term care coverage, which can help cover many of the costs of a lengthy nursing home stay. You could choose a long-term care insurance policy or a “hybrid” policy, which combines long-term care protection with the death benefit of traditional life insurance. A financial adviser can recommend the option that’s most suitable for your needs.

You may want to observe National Bike Month by taking a few rides yourself. But in any case, making these cycling-inspired moves can help you keep rolling along toward your financial goals.

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