Are You Ready to Go Home?

Depending on your age, you may have grown up during the Cold War, which was a state of political hostility between Soviet-bloc countries and the U.S.-led Western powers, roughly between 1945 and 1990. The threat of nuclear warfare hung over the world during those decades. Maybe you had to participate in the silly “duck and cover” drills, which in some schools basically involved crouching under your desk, grabbing a leg of the desk, and putting your head down. This was designed to protect us from a nuclear blast. But I digress!

The goals of the U.S. during the Cold War were to undermine communism in the Soviet bloc and to prevent its expansion to other countries. The list of communist countries is now down to just five: Cuba, China, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. Of the five, Laos is the country that I know by far the least about, so I am drawn to stories about it. One such story is in the February issue of the Voice of the Martyrs magazine. Bounsaen came to faith in Christ at the age of 20 and is now 101. He used to be the pastor of a church that met in secret in the jungle during the 1980s, and he was imprisoned three times, which means in terms of his age, he spent much of his 60s in prison. While Laos is still communist, its persecution of Christians is much less severe than it was 40 years ago. That same congregation now meets openly in a church building; while Bounsaen is no longer the pastor, he continues to visit and pray for those who are sick.

It is not only Bounsaen’s story that is very inspiring to me, but his words as well. Here are a few of them: “Now I am tired physically, but my heart is not tired for the Lord’s work.” I can identify a good amount with this, as my energy level is not what it used to be. However, I’m retired, so I have more time to devote to the Lord’s work in a more direct way than I used to. For example, I have the responsibility of sharing God’s Word and facilitating discussion in a Sunday-school class at my church as we read through the Bible on a 3-year plan.

Here are some more words from Bounsaen: “I am really looking forward to the day that I am going to be with the Lord.  All my sufferings in this world will be gone… I am looking forward to the reward He has for me, too.  I wonder what kind of retirement I will get.  I am getting impatient, to be honest.  He has prepared a home for me.” I am “only” 62, but these words resonate with me. I laugh at his wondering about “what kind of retirement” he will get! He knows that the Lord has prepared a home for him because Jesus in John 14:2-3 tells us, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” I also love Bounsaen’s honesty about being impatient; at the age of 101, I would think so!

As I write this, I’m also reminded of the man who until recently was our plumber. He was persecuted under the Romanian government (another Communist one at that time) but managed to make his way to the U.S. He will probably be going home to be with the Lord soon, and thankfully, his son has taken over the business. We recently had him replace our garbage disposal, and we had a very rich conversation while he was working. Among other things, he said, “You know, I’m not suicidal or anything ’cause that would be irresponsible, but some days I just want to go home to be with the Lord.” This was largely in reference to the way the U.S., along with the world as a whole, is becoming more decadent.

There’s an old song by Wayne Watson that I thought of as I was reading Bounsaen’s story; it’s called “There Goes Sundown.” While the context is a little bit different in that it refers to the Lord’s second coming, it still speaks to going home to be with Him; Watson was only 43 when he wrote it. Here are a few lines:

“Some days I pray this prayer more than others
For my Lord to come
When I’m weary of fightin’
Yeah, when I’m tired of runnin’
Other days I wanna stay around
And grow old with that girl of mine”

Amen to that. Like 101-year-old Bounsaen, my plumber, and Wayne Watson, I am ready to go home any time; in the meantime, I want to joyfully continue to serve our Lord and stand firm. Are you ready?

Clarity and Compassion for the Transgendered

In 2018, Ryan T. Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sally was published. Because Anderson’s views did not align with those of America’s cultural elites, his book was eventually banned by Amazon; thankfully, there are other places where you can still purchase it, including Barnes and Noble.

There’s a lot that I could write about Anderson’s book, but I’ll focus on three groups of people that Anderson wrote about: women, children, and detransitioners (those who have transitioned back to their original, biological sex). For women, there are at least two primary concerns: safety and fairness. Safety should be obvious: what woman wants to enter a locker room or a public restroom, having to worry about whether a man who “identifies” as a woman will enter? The obvious solution to this in regard to restrooms is single-stall facilities, which are available in some places. In terms of fairness: perhaps you’ve heard of Lia Thomas (University of Pennsylvania) and Iszac Henig (Yale University), who recently dominated in various swimming events at the Ivy League Championships, setting records in the process. Why were they able to do this? You guessed it: they are both trans women, allowed to compete against biological women. There are other examples as well.

Regarding children: let’s start with safety. What I wrote about women in locker rooms and restrooms obviously applies to girls as well. I think most Americans are familiar with the horror of the skirt-wearing boy who entered a girls’ restroom in a Loudoun County school in May of last year and did unthinkable things to her. What I wrote about fairness in sports for women obviously applies to girls as well. Beyond fairness and safety, however, is the oft-quoted statistic that 80-95% of kids who at some point “identify” with the opposite gender never (thankfully) make the transition because they eventually become comfortable in/with their bodies. There are four stages of transitioning for kids:

  • Social: giving the child a new name and wardrobe, for example;
  • Puberty blockers: these prevent the normal process of maturation and development;
  • Cross-sex hormones: estrogen for boys, testosterone for girls (age 16);
  • Sex reassignment surgery: completing the transition to the opposite sex (age 18).

Transgender activists have claimed that if kids change their mind at Stage 2, for example, the process can easily be stopped. However, as Anderson points out, it’s not so easy. Once puberty blockers have been started, the physical effects on the body are significant and at best result in a delay of the normal process of maturation. It’s obviously difficult for a girl, for example, to feel more at home in her body when her peers have matured while she has not because of puberty blockers; will she ever “catch up?”

In spite of what Anderson’s critics have said, his compassion is evident throughout the book. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his chapter about detransitioners, meaning those who had previously transitioned to the opposite sex but then transitioned back to their original biological sex. He tells the stories of four women and two men who thought that transitioning to the opposite sex would finally make them feel at home in their bodies. However, that was not the case, and they eventually transitioned back. They now regret ever transitioning in the first place; some expressed regret, for example, about never being able to have children. Most also expressed anger against doctors and other medical professionals who encouraged them to transition, rather than seeking to counsel them about the roots of their gender dysphoria (meaning distress or impairment related to a strong desire to become the opposite sex) as well as giving other options. While their stories are heart-wrenching, in most cases they are more at peace now than they had been before transitioning in the first place; this is at least in part because they have come to understand the roots of their dysphoria.

On a fundamental level, it seems the main reason that our cultural elites hate Anderson’s book is because he reasonably asks that before we push those with gender dysphoria to transition, let’s try to figure out why they are so distressed about their biological sex. I use the word “push” because in some states, there have been bills introduced that would ban so-called “conversion therapy.” As this relates to the transgendered, it would mean that counseling people who have already transitioned to detransition back to their original, biological sex would be illegal; it could even include that counseling those considering transitioning to the opposite gender in the first place to reconsider would be illegal. Thankfully, for example, even though California’s AB 2943 bill was passed by the Senate on August 16, 2018, it was withdrawn for further consideration 15 days later. So far, however, 20 states have banned “conversion therapy.” Canada banned it on January 7 of this year. Note this: Canada’s law makes it a crime to have anyone undergo conversion therapy, regardless of whether they consent. You can read more about it here: https://www.npr.org/2021/12/09/1062720266/canada-bans-conversion-therapy So much for choice.

Anderson is a Christian, but he decided not to give an explicitly Biblical view of transgenderism in his book. Since this blog is devoted to Biblical answers to questions and issues, let’s look at what the Bible says. You don’t have to look very far because Genesis 1:27 says this: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God is the Creator, and He is the One Who makes people as well. Psalm 139:13 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” In effect, when people transition to the opposite sex, whether they realize it or not, they are saying, “God, I don’t like the way you made me at this fundamental level, so I’m going to change it.” I would also be remiss if I didn’t add Deuteronomy 22:5, which says, “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.” OK, so I don’t think Christian women are bound by the first part of that verse (although some would disagree with me on that), but the second part is very different. One of the reasons I mention this, besides its being in God’s Word, is that researchers have found there are a significant number of trans men who have said that as a young boy, they dressed as a girl, even being encouraged (?!) to do so in a couple of cases.

I admit that I don’t feel compassion for transgender activists; the transgendered, however, are usually not the same as the activists. I will close with these words from Ryan T. Anderson: “We should be tolerant–indeed, loving–toward those who struggle with their gender identity, but also be aware of the harm done to the common good, particularly to children, when transgender identity is normalized.” While I would stress the second part of his statement more than the first, Anderson’s book has engendered much more clarity and compassion in me for the transgendered community.

How Effective Were the Lockdowns?

A week ago, there was a rather startling statistic that made headlines regarding the effectiveness of COVID lockdowns. One of the things that made this statistic more credible than some was that it came from a study by Johns Hopkins University. What they found is that lockdowns reduced COVID deaths by a mere 0.2%. Here is a notable quote from the study: “We find no evidence that lockdowns, school closures, border closures, and limiting gatherings have had a noticeable effect on COVID-19 mortality.” Perhaps it’s easier to grasp this figure if we calculate the absolute number of people who were saved from death by COVID in the United States by the lockdowns as of 2/2/22; that number is 1833. By comparison, the number for Canada is only 70. You can calculate the number for your own country if you know the number of COVID deaths on Feb. 2.

Let me be clear, first of all, by affirming that every life is precious. Psalm 139:13 affirms this: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Thus, every one of those 1833 Americans who would probably have died from COVID if not for lockdowns was created by the Lord and still has the chance to turn to Him in saving faith if they have not already. At the same time, while acknowledging the nearly 5.8 million deaths worldwide (936,000 in the U.S.) caused by COVID so far, it is certainly not the only cause of death. For example, you may have heard about a sharp increase in drug-related deaths; from April of 2020 to April of 2021, the number of U.S. deaths from drug overdose jumped by 28.5%, an increase of 22,000+, topping 100,000 for the first time. More specifically, opioid deaths jumped by 34.5%, an increase of 19,000+. I mention drug-overdose deaths because others have often mentioned them over the past year or so in connection with lockdowns; in other words, drug use and death from overdose increased dramatically during the lockdowns. I have not been able to find cancer death statistics for 2020 and 2021 yet, but anecdotally, there were reports of people putting off cancer-related doctor appointments during the lockdowns; I have no doubt that the same was true for other diseases and ailments as well.

I thought it would be interesting to compare COVID deaths by state, with a particular focus on Florida and New York. The reason is that last year, there was considerable pressure on Florida governor Ron DeSantis from the Biden administration to adhere to its various mandates related to lockdowns, vaccines, and masks. New York, by contrast, has adhered very closely to those mandates. Florida’s lockdown in 2020 lasted two months; by comparison, New York’s lockdown lasted thirteen months. So, where does Florida rank in terms of COVID deaths? As of 2/2/22, they were tied for 21st in terms of overall death rates; however, adjusting for age, they were 31st. New York ranked 3rd for overall COVID death rate and 7th for age-adjusted death rate. In other words, New York ranked considerably worse than Florida even though New York’s lockdown was eleven months longer. (Mississippi has the dubious distinction of being #1 in COVID deaths, regardless of which metric you use. You may be aware that Mississippi also has the highest rate of obesity, which is a key comorbidity factor.)

Because of the “devastating effects” of the COVID lockdowns, the authors of the Johns Hopkins study recommended that they be “rejected out of hand as a pandemic policy instrument.” In other words, the next time there is a pandemic, don’t implement lockdowns! Jennifer Grant, an infectious diseases physician at the University of British Columbia, said this in response to the Johns Hopkins study: “It made little sense to prevent young people from living normally because they are at very low risk of getting very sick, but have been very, very heavily hit by the impacts of lockdown.” I agree 100%. When I was teaching in March and April of 2020, which was very early in the pandemic, even my ESL students could see (from a graph I showed them) that the elderly were the age group at the greatest risk of death, by far, from COVID. Others have said, and I agree, that only time will tell how much emotional and psychological damage has been done to our children and young adults as a result of lockdowns. And I haven’t even mentioned the economic devastation visited upon individuals and small businesses.

In May of 2020, I wrote a post in which I mentioned, among other things, the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 and our response to it, which did not include lockdowns. Here’s the link, if you’re interested: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/05/12/a-christian-response-to-covid-19/. In it, I also wrote about fear, which seems to be the driving force behind so many of our decisions today, both at a governmental and personal level. At that time, I included Philippians Chapter 4:6-7, where we read, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Then, as now–as always–these are verses to live by.

Should the Unvaccinated Be Denied Hospitalization?

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you already know that I am against vaccination mandates, so you don’t have to guess at my answer to this question. (Full disclosure: I am vaccinated against COVID.) Why then, you may wonder, am I bothering to devote a post to answering this question? Read on.

On August 30, 2021 Don Lemon, a CNN host, went on a rant against the unvaccinated. Here’s a portion of what he said: “If you’re not going to get vaccinated, you don’t want to social distance, you don’t want to wear a mask, then maybe you don’t want to go to the hospital when you get sick. I know that sounds harsh, but you’re taking up the space for people who are doing things the right way.” A little later, he added, “Think about someone other than yourself. And if you don’t believe that COVID is real and that it can affect your health and possibly take your life, don’t go to the hospital then when you get sick.” Finally, he added this: “Don’t take up the resources from other people who are playing by the rules, getting vaccinated, social distancing and putting their lives on the line to try to take care of the people who are there. That’s all I’m saying. That’s how I feel and I have no apologies.”

Lemon’s statements are problematic on several levels. First of all, he clearly thinks that the unvaccinated are acting selfishly in not getting the vaccine; I suppose he is not aware of natural immunity, for example. And does he honestly think that the unvaccinated believe COVID is not real? Also, notice his phrase “playing by the rules.” You are probably aware that several of President Biden’s illegal vaccine mandates have been struck down in court; so, who’s the one who hasn’t been playing by the rules? Finally, notice Lemon’s “That’s how I feel.” So much for any semblance of objectivity by a “journalist.”

Then on January 19, just a week ago, shock jock Howard Stern went on his own rant against the unvaccinated. Here’s a portion of what he said: “If it was up to me, anyone unvaccinated would not be admitted to a hospital. At this point, they have been given plenty of opportunity to get the vaccine. No one’s sitting there conspiring against you. Americans don’t want to create a vaccine that’s going to turn you into a robot or magnetize you,” he continued. “It’s time for you to get it. Now, if you don’t get it, in my America, all hospitals would be closed to you. You’re going to go home and die. That is what you should get. Absolutely.” I might add that in early September of 2021, about a week after Lemon’s rant, Stern went on another rant against the unvaccinated, using the F word multiple times.

Let’s just say that I’m thankful Howard Stern (like Don Lemon) doesn’t have any real authority in this country. I’m willing to put aside his bizarre reference to “turn[ing] you into a robot or magnetiz[ing] you,” but Stern obviously thinks the unvaccinated should not be admitted into hospitals if they have COVID but should instead “go home and die. That is what you should get.” In other words, you deserve death.

I actually have some sympathy for Howard Stern in that he’s 68 and is thus part of the demographic most at risk of dying from COVID. I have written elsewhere about fear in relation to COVID, but I understand that Stern, who is not a Christian, has no hope. He has even questioned whether Jesus Christ ever existed and has said that man created God. Don Lemon is 55, so he is in less danger of dying from COVID than Stern. However, like Stern, he is not a Christian. He is gay and has said that anyone who believes the Bible is naive; he has also said that Jesus was not perfect.

I’m a little surprised that anyone is still ranting against the unvaccinated for several reasons. First of all, for those who follow the science, it has become very evident that the vaccinated both get and spread COVID, just as the unvaccinated do. The main benefit of the vaccines seems to be that they prevent COVID cases from becoming as serious. In addition, many of those who have gotten and survived COVID have natural immunity, which has been shown to provide much better protection than the vaccines. There is also the fact that people with Omicron, the current dominant strain (accounting for 98.3% of all new cases in the U.S.), usually have mild symptoms. Unsurprisingly, it is much less deadly than Delta, for example; in fact, the World Health Organization, in a report released in late 2021, said that of the 38 countries touched by Omicron, none had reported Omicron-specific deaths. Almost a month into 2022, I haven’t been able to find any hard stats about Omicron deaths except that patients who have died with Omicron have not necessarily died from it; the majority had preexisting conditions.

I’m thankful that I have not yet heard of a Christian who so strongly believes in COVID vaccination that they have said unvaccinated people should be denied hospital care. I agree with other people who have said that such a statement is like saying that a smoker with lung cancer should be denied medical care because he brought it on himself. Those of us who are Christians should not be controlled by fear or by some strange vaccination legalism but by the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9 comes to mind: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”

What Is Your Purpose in Life?

When I was a boy, I would sometimes think about what I wanted to be when I grew up, as well as other aspects of being an adult; I settled on being an astronaut. By the time I was in high school, I had decided to become an astronomer, realizing that if I wanted to get married and have kids, perhaps being Earth-based was better! While I retained my love for astronomy, I eventually became an ESL teacher. By the time that happened, I had become a Christian, and while my job was very important to who I was, I discovered that being a child of God was my identity.

So, my identity had been established; I knew who I was. Then I started to think more about my purpose in life; in other words, I wanted to live in obedience to Christ in my actions, but what overriding goal was to pervade everything I did? I was still single, but that would soon change. Was becoming a good husband and father what I should strive for? While I realized that both of those would be incredibly important, I understood that they would not completely define me in terms of what the Lord wanted. Eventually, as I was systematically reading through the Bible, I found it, in I Corinthians 10:31, which says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” I knew immediately that was it, and I was excited about sharing it!

At the time, I was teaching in a Third World country, and two American friends and I were getting together with a group of Americans to worship the Lord–at least that’s what we thought at first. Different people in the group took turns leading, and early on there was one young gal who spoke about how Jesus believed in His disciples and others who came to Him. Thankfully, one of my friends spoke up and said, “You’ve got that turned around. Jesus called people to believe in Him.” As the weeks went by, different members of the group enjoyed raising an issue and then almost gleefully asking, “Where do you draw the line?” It soon became apparent that they had no real interest in answering the question. One Sunday I said, “Here’s what I Corinthians 10 says: Do everything for the glory of God.” People in the group looked at me like I was an alien, and one guy said mockingly, “Oh great; yeah, that’s really helpful, Keith.” Although there were two people in that group who seemed like they were on the right track spiritually, my friends and I decided that it was time to spend our Sundays elsewhere. Thankfully, we were regularly receiving sermon tapes from my friends’ home church, so we usually listened to one of them on Sunday mornings. I should also add that a couple of years later when my wife and and I taught in that same country as newlyweds, we found a group of American believers that we enjoyed true koinonia (fellowship) with.

A few years later, in an advanced ESL class back in the U.S., I had my students listen to and discuss a couple of songs, including U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and Styx’s “Man in the Wilderness.” I then assigned them to write an essay about their purpose in life. The vast majority of them wrote about being a good spouse or parent, or being good at their job–very similar to the thoughts I had before I discovered my true purpose. One student, however, wrote about how she didn’t know what her purpose in life was, but that she was looking for her “signpost.” What an open door! I met with her privately and shared my faith with her. She said that she wanted to become a Christian, so I prayed with her. After the semester was over, I introduced her to my wife, who regularly met with her to study Scripture. Not all stories have a happy ending, however. She subsequently said she didn’t want to follow Jesus and divorced her husband. Later, she remarried, and although we have since lost touch, I pray for her every time I think of her.

I have written two posts about humility; here is a link to the second one, which I wrote last summer: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2021/06/03/more-about-humility/ As I thought about humility in relation to my purpose in life, I realized that the two dovetail perfectly because at the heart of it, humility means giving the glory to God and not yourself.

I try to evaluate virtually everything I do by my purpose in life. When it comes to entertainment, for example, I like to ask myself whether a given movie, TV show, or book is likely to have any redemptive value. (The Internet is a wonderful tool!) Are there likely to be any negative consequences for bad behavior? If it involves some criminal activity, for example, is there likely to be justice of any kind? Is there any depth of character, whether good or bad? If it’s a sitcom, does the humor mock the Lord in some way? Does the show portray family life in a positive way?

Have you ever thought about your purpose in life? If you’re a Christian, maybe it isn’t exactly what I decided on all of those years ago; that’s for you to work out with the Lord. If you can define it clearly, then you can evaluate anything you do by it. If you’re not a Christian, my prayer is that you will investigate what it means to be one.