The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: COVID-19 (Page 1 of 2)

Reading and Walking in 2020

 

In April 2013, I started walking laps around the church auditorium while studying or reading. I found this helped me to focus better, and also it was a good way to be a little less sedentary while at work.

Each lap around the auditorium was approximately 74 yards:

This past year was strange due to COVID-19. Back in the spring when we suddenly became concerned about the pandemic, I began working from home, and did so for about 12 weeks. During that time, I walked and ran around my neighborhood a lot, and listened to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts while doing so, but quite naturally, fewer days in the office meant less opportunities for walking laps. Once I returned to the office, however, I was still not going to the gym, which meant that I was coming in early some days and getting a lot of reading done those days.

Without further ado, here are my totals for the year:

Total Laps in 2020: 6,836 (approximately 118 yards per lap)

Total Distance in 2019: 458.3 miles

Total Distance to date: 3419.4 miles

In 2020, my totals were the equivalent of walking from Erie, Pensylvania down to Cleveland, Ohio, through Columbus and Cincinnati, and finally stopping in Louisville, Kentucky.

I was surprised but pleased that my totals increased from last year. I have certainly spent enough time walking around the Cloverdale auditorium over the last 18 months that people have become aware of this unusual practice and now joke with me about it.

It has been a couple of years (2018) since I hit 500 miles for the year; that is my goal for 2021.

2020 Blog Review

 

The end of the year is a good time for reflection, and one of the things I like to look back on is my yearly blogging here at The Doc File.

Overview

Since I started writing here back in 2006 (wow, it is hard for me to believe it has been that long!), I have been very up-and-down in how much I write each year. Last year, I lamented that I had written less in 2019 than any other year since The Doc File began; in 2020, I blogged 50 times, which is the most since 2014. This increase in production was largely due to two factors, I believe:

  • First, the lockdown situation that arose from COVID-19 back in late winter/early spring. It is not so much that this left me with an abundance of free time, but rather that I was sensing the great anxiety that so many were feeling (and feeling some of it myself), and wanted to produce some content that might, perhaps, be encouraging.
  • I engaged in a few different ongoing series this year, which helped give me direction in what to write (more on that below).

The increased frequency of posts combined with the popularity of several posts (see below) meant that The Doc File had over 31,000+ hits in 2020—the second-highest total since I started writing.

Top Posts

By traffic totals, here are my most-read posts during 2020 (posts in bold represents those actually written in 2020):

  1. A Christian Response to COVID-19, March 12, 2020
  2. A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity, April 9, 2020
  3. The Role and Character of Elihu in the Book of Job, December 3, 2010
  4. Lessons from David: Sin Has Consequences, March 17, 2014
  5. Creation and New Creation: Connections Between Genesis and Revelation, April 25, 2017
  6. Links Between Daniel and Esther, October 10, 2011
  7. Scattered Reflections on Race-Related Issues, June 9, 2020
  8. A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity Part 2: Distractions, April 16, 2020
  9. Moral Evil and Natural Evil, February 24, 2015
  10. A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity Part 3: “Problem” Texts: 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, April 23, 2020

Five of the top ten posts were not written this year, and four of those (Elihu, David, Creation/New Creation, Evil) were in my top posts from last year as well. Those posts must be particularly accessible to search engines based on their enduring popularity.

“A Christian Response to COVID-19” was my most popular post of the year, and went somewhat viral (pun intended). I wrote it in the early days of the pandemic, and it clearly struck a chord with a lot of people. Similarly, “Scattered Reflections on Race-Related Issues” was read a lot, and also reflected on current events that were dominating all forms of media. The three posts on “A New Heaven & A New Earth” were all part of a much longer series that a lot of people read and seemed to benefit from.

The Year of Blog Series

That last sentence helps me transition to one of the biggest changes in my blogging in 2020, which was the extent to which I wrote multi-post blog series. Over the years, I have written several series on The Doc File, but it is something I have struggled to do (often taking a really long time to complete series or even abandoning a series midstream). With that in mind, I was proud of my perseverance in completing a few series in 2020:

A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity: I had taught on this subject back in 2019, but blogging through all of this material enabled me to polish my notes and provide citations as well as refine my thoughts. This series summarized what has been a significant theological shift for me over the past decade, one which has provided a great sense of purpose, hope, and excitement. Additionally, I felt that it was a fitting topic for the extended season of fear and uncertainty that Spring/Summer 2020 turned out to be.

It was a significant project—12 posts and some 37,000 words—and had I realized how much work it would take, I’m not sure that I would have begun it. I am really glad I did, though—in addition to the satisfaction of bringing a project of this size to a state of semi-polished completion, it also led to a lot of good conversations and feedback, and three of my most-read posts from 2020 were from this series (with several more just outside the Top 10).

Ranking Narnia: Early in quarantine, I began reading through The Chronicles of Narnia, which I found to be very good reading for the craziness of 2020: it provided imaginative distraction from current reality, and also helped re-orient me from fear to trust.

I have enjoyed these books since college, and the idea of blogging about them had been in my mind since at least 2007 or so. What began as a plan to write a post or two ranking the various books in the Narnia series continued to grow and expand, ultimately resulting in an 8-part, 23,ooo word series. In a sense, these were book reviews. I have never particularly enjoyed reviewing books, and so I didn’t get a lot of pleasure from writing this series, but I was really proud of the result for a few reasons. First, these posts represented growth for me as a writer as these reviews reflect greater depth and thoughtfulness than what I have done in the past. Also, spending so much time thinking and writing about Narnia helped me to appreciate the series even more and yielded new theological insights. Finally, I pushed through and finished[1] this series of posts despite the fact that almost no one read them.[2] In other words, while this series was not as long as the “A New Heaven & A New Earth” series, I am more impressed with it in the sense that I didn’t get a dopamine hit from lots of likes and comments every time I would share a post, but I still finished the series regardless.

Lament For A Son: One of my favorite books in 2020 was Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament For A Son. It was a short book, but I thought Wolterstorff shared so many compelling thoughts on the topic of suffering that I decided to write a series of short reflections and basically grouped them as a sub-series of posts under a larger, loosely-united series entitled A Theological View of Suffering (which dates back several years). Like Narnia, this was not a particularly popular series, but I thought Lament For A Son was an important book and worth writing about.

Politics From a Christian Perspective: One of the reasons I write The Doc File is because it helps me work out my thinking on certain topics, and that was certainly the case for this three-part series that I wrote in late October/early November in the midst of a rancorous election season. As a person of faith, I’m convinced that Scripture has a lot to tell us about the way we view politics, but I was dissatisfied with the political engagement I was witnessing from many professed Christians, and I wanted to wrestle with my own views against the background of biblical teaching.

I was under no illusion that my thoughts would change anyone’s mind (and in an election where an unprecedented number of people voted early, this series of posts came a little too late anyway), but this was a popular series that I got some good feedback on, and it was helpful for me to write about and work through my own beliefs.


So, that was The Doc File in 2020! I’m not sure what 2021 will look like, but it is my hope to continue to write about once a week (the rough pace of my blogging in 2020), and to continue with some multi-post series as well. Thanks to everyone who continues to read and follow, and especially to those who comment and join in the conversation. May God bless each of you in the coming year!


[1] As the length of these posts grew, they became more and more difficult to write and I was sorely tempted to revert to old habits and abandon the series. This can be seen in the release dates of the various posts: May 18, May 26, June 16, June 30, July 20, August 24, October 13, October 23. I went from eight days between the first two posts, to about two weeks between posts, two three wees, to a month, and then seven weeks. The concluding post was shorter and easier to write than the others, and came ten days after the last review.

[2] There were, of course, exceptions, as several people told me how much they enjoyed this series and a few actually reached out to me to see when (or if!) the next post would come out. But on the whole, these posts were amongst the least-read of what I wrote in 2020.

Return From Exile

My friend Smith Hopkins preaches for the Oliver Creek Church of Christ in Bartlett, Tennessee, and there are so many things I appreciate about him as a thinker, a minister, and a leader. During this season of pandemic and quarantine, he has been producing a series on YouTube called Light In The Darkness, and recently, he invited me on to have a conversation about the transition out of quarantine and back into some semblance of normalcy.

From my perspective, the biblical notion of Exile is instructive for us as we think about living during a pandemic and the interruptions and struggles that come with that. But in Scripture, following the period of the Exile, we have the Return from Exile, seen especially in the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. I think there are some lessons from that biblical period that are helpful for us as we begin to think what our own “return” looks like. Here is a hint: don’t place your hope in the wrong things.

I hope this discussion is helpful for you!

The Christian Response to a Broken World

Over the weekend, my family and I passed the 50-day milestone of our COVID-19-inspired home isolation. I have tried to view this as an opportunity for growth, and there have certainly been some benefits to this season, but like the vast majority of folks, I acknowledge its challenges and am ready to move on to something else.

There is no denying that this is a rough time all around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, and millions have contracted COVID-19. Financial uncertainty is widespread, as millions have lost their jobs.  The quarantine directives have been particularly devastating in parts of the world with food insecurities where starvation is a legitimate threat. Closer to home, financial stress and sheltering-in-place have created a volatile mix that, according to some reports, has led to a spike in abuse, mental health issues, and suicide.



In light of what is literally a worldwide crisis, you would like to think that perhaps this shared experience could bring us together somewhat—unify us in a time of need as we all pull together to jointly overcome. To be sure, that has happened to a degree, but louder, shriller voices continue to sow discord and division, placing blame along party lines and even promoting wild conspiracy theories.

From my perspective, the response to these events from a lot of Christians has been pretty disappointing as well. Too often, we are quick to speak and slow to listen instead of the other way around (see James 1.19), and when we react in that way, we can often add fuel to the fires of heartache, division, and confusion that are already waging.

The reality is that we live in a broken world marred by lots of problems. As Christians living in this context, how should we respond when tragedy occurs? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are three responses that I believe are helpful in the face of tragedy:

(1) In response to a broken world, Christians should lament. Perhaps our most basic response to suffering is that we should weep with those who weep (Romans 12.15). That seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but recently, instead of this, I have seen Christians telling those who weep that what they weep about isn’t really a big deal or worth weeping about at all! When the world gives us evidence of its brokenness, we should acknowledge that brokenness, allow ourselves feel distress, and bring that distress before God. It has become popular, in some circles, to criticize prayer as a response to horrible tragedy, but as Christians, we should take no note of such dismissals. Christians believe that God is ultimately sovereign over the universe, and thus, He is the one who can do something about the brokenness in our world. It is absolutely appropriate that we bring out laments before our Father, as we yearn for a day when He will wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21.4).

(2) In response to a broken world, Christians should aid the suffering. I think part of the reason that a lot of people are critical of prayer is that they feel that this is all that Christians do. And perhaps that can be a fair criticism at times, because God certainly expects us to accompany our prayers with righteous actions. Philip Yancey says that the church forms the front line of God’s response to the suffering world, and I think he is right: Christians have a responsibility to get into the mess of the world and try to do something to clean it up. That is probably accomplished less by questioning the statistics that are released, distrusting the media, or berating government officials, and more by being present with those who suffer, and looking for ways to aid those who are in need: offering a shoulder to cry on (even a socially-distant one!) for the grieving, a card or phone call for the lonely, a bag of groceries or a check in the mail for those with financial needs.[1]

(3) In response to a broken world, Christians should proclaim Jesus. Too often, this part is neglected. In John 16.33, Jesus was speaking to His disciples on the night of His arrest and He said simply, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Though not spoken directly to us, those words certainly apply to us as well; as recent and ongoing events remind us, we live in the same world, a world which was created good but has been tainted by sin and is now characterized by heartache. As Christians, we weep with those who weep, we do what we can to help those who are suffering, but we also remember the second half of John 16.33: “In this world you will have tribulation…but take courage, I have overcome the world!” As Christians, we also proclaim that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean that sin, illness, suffering, strife, injustice, and death do not get the last word. As Christians, we long for the day when Jesus returns, when death dies, and when every tear is wiped away from our eyes.

This is not an exhaustive list, and I am certain that more could be said. At the same time, I am equally certain that if Christians everywhere would respond to suffering and tragedy in our world in these ways, the Christian witness would be strengthened, the suffering of people would be limited, and the borders of God’s Kingdom would be expanded.

This is an updated version of an older post


[1]If you have been blessed with financial means and would like to share with those who are in need, please contact me. I am working to help some ministers in impoverished areas who are providing food for vulnerable populations who are at risk of literally starving, and I would be happy to help your gift get to a place where it could accomplish much good.

Perspective: Reframing Quarantine as a Season of Growth

Making the Most of our Trials

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

(James 1.2-4)

When James wrote these words nearly 2,000 years ago, he certainly didn’t have the worldwide effects of COVID-19 in mind, but once we realize that these aren’t directly about us, we can still see that they teach principles that do apply to us today.

First, in various ways, people all over the world (whether they are believers or not) find themselves facing trials. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones who have perished because of coronavirus. Others are worried about their health or the health of others they care about. Some people have lost jobs or are dealing with diminished income. Others are reeling from the negative mental and emotional effects of social distancing directives. So, it’s a trying time. That seems clear enough.

But I also think there is a significant point of connection in the way we view this current season of quarantine. At the heart of James 1.2-4 is James imploring his audience to reframe their situations. Rather than spend their time lamenting over the trials they face, he encourages them to reframe their trying experiences by viewing them as opportunities for growth, specifically in the sense that they can bring about perseverance and maturity.

It is only natural to respond to this current season with complaining, fear, laziness, selfishness, isolation, and mindless consumption. But here’s the thing: as a disciple of Jesus, I believed that I am frequently—no, constantly—called to rise above my natural inclinations and live a redeemed life, reflecting the reality that I am a new creation in Christ Jesus.

So, in this post, I want to share some practices that I have been working on (habits that I am trying to form) to help me rise above my natural inclinations and view this season as an opportunity for growth in various aspects of my life. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I am doing this flawlessly; indeed, it is a constant struggle for me to reframe the COVID-19 quarantine as an opportunity for growth. But, that is the goal. Also, some of these practices may not be possible for everyone. However, my hope is that you will find some ideas in this post that will be helpful for you as you seek to grow in this season.

Changes in Perspective

I mentioned above several of the “natural” responses that I think a lot of us are currently experiencing. Although each of these could likely merit individual posts, briefly, here is how I am trying to reframe these responses:

  • From Complaining to Thanksgiving: Maybe you have felt the urge to complain at times during this current season of quarantine. I certainly have. Many of my plans have been altered or canceled. My routine has been changed. I am limited in the places I can go to and the things I can do. As a disciple of Jesus, I am not called to complain, however, but to give thanks. And really, I don’t have much to complain about, but have much to be thankful for: my family and I are healthy, we have a nice home in which to “shelter in place”, and we have plenty of food. In a time when millions of people have been laid off of work, my wife and I both have jobs where we can continue to work from home.
  • From Fear to Trust: The uncertainty in our world right now makes it easy to be fearful. We have to stay away from other people to limit the spread of disease. Economic forecasts are concerning. Future plans are up in the air. Even as we begin discussions of “opening America back up,” no one knows how long we will live in this limbo period before things are back to “normal”. As a disciple of Jesus, my life should not be characterized by fear or anxiety, but an unrelenting trust in the protection and provision of my heavenly Father.
  • From Laziness to Activity: Especially for those who are not working, or whose workload has diminished significantly, this can easily be a time of boredom and laziness. It can be hard to find the motivation to get up and do productive tasks. As a disciple of Jesus, I do not want to be lazy; I want to be healthy and productive. I want everything I do to be done as if I were doing it for the Lord (Colossians 3.23).
  • From Selfishness to Generosity: This is somewhat related to fear, but in times when it seems that there is not enough to go around, it can be very easy to hoard as much as we can, and keep what we have to ourselves. As a disciple of Jesus, though, I am not to place my confidence in material possessions, and I am to share what I have with others who need it.
  • From Isolation to Community: By necessity, we are physically isolated from one another right now, but that doesn’t mean that all of our relationships and interaction with people should be suspended. As a disciple of Jesus, I know that we were created for relationship, and it is important that I continue to cultivate and maintain relationships with others.
  • From Mindless Consumption to Thoughtful Consumption: Like many others, I am spending virtually all of my time at home right now, and much of it is spent on the computer or in front of a screen. There is an endless supply of content to be consumed. Some of it is actively harmful; some is perhaps less sinister but is still mindless and thus, not helpful. As a disciple of Jesus, I want to be more thoughtful in what I consume—I want to focus on that which is true, honorable, lovely, excellent, etc. (Philippians 4.8).

Helpful Practices

Here are some specific actions I have begun to do which reflect one or more of the changes in perspective mentioned above:

  • Morning Walks: Most days, I wake up and take a long (usually 60-90 minutes) morning walk, and while walking, I pray and also listen to audiobooks and/or podcasts. This accomplishes several objectives. The walks themselves help me stay active and healthy. The time in prayer helps produce an attitude of thankfulness within me, and moves me in the direction of trusting in God and thinking about the needs of others. Listening to books and podcasts is an example of thoughtful consumption, which I will mention more below.
  • Reading: Instead of binge-watching Netflix, I have tried to spend a lot of time reading and listening to books. I listened to Atomic Habits as an audiobook, which was outstanding, and provided me with the motivation to implement some of the habits I am attempting during quarantine. I am four books into The Chronicles of Narnia, which provides imaginative distraction from current reality, and also helps re-orient me from fear to trust. Listening to the After Class podcast and Seth Godin’s Akimbo have been helpful as well.
  • Careful Reading of COVID-19 News: It is an extremely unfortunate sign of the times in which we live that the COVID-19 crisis has become so politicized. There are a ton of people out there offering viewpoints on what is going on, and some of it is extremely dishearting, riddled with doomsday predictions, conspiracy theory rantings, or political ax-grinding. I try to limit how much of this I consume, period, and what I do read, I try to limit credible sources. Usually, I am looking for factual information; when I read analysis of the situation, I try to expose myself to well-written, if slanted, pieces from both sides of the political spectrum (like The Atlantic and National Review).
  • Workout Alarms: Monday-Friday, my cell phone alarm goes off 4-5 times per day on the hour as a reminder to get up from my chair and exercise. I have a routine of pullups, burpees, squats, and pushups that I have followed successfully (an evening routine of stair-walking, curls, and dips has been less successful). This helps me stay active during the day, and along with walks, has helped this to not be a season of sedentary weight gain. I’ve actually lost some weight over the last month, and I have gotten noticeably stronger—when I moved to Searcy last summer, I could barely do a pullup; I am now doing sets of 7-10 at a time.
  • Doxology Hand-washing: I confess that I am one of those for whom COVID-19 has completely altered my hand-washing habits. Unless my hands were coated in mud or paint or something like that, I never spend 20 seconds washing my hands, so that has been a massive adjustment. To help me wash for the appropriate amount of time, I sing Doxology while washing. In addition to helping me develop a healthy habit, this also means that every time I wash my hands for 20 seconds, my heart is inclined in grateful praise to God who provides all that I have.
  • Zoom Bible Study: I don’t really like Zoom; I look forward to the time when I do not use it regularly. But it has been a blessing in that it has enabled me to continue to teach Bible classes and participate in Bible studies. This is not only a crucial opportunity for connecting with other isolated people; it is also a constant re-ordering of my mind away from myself and my immediate circumstances and toward God.
  • Family Walks: Paired with my usual habit of morning walks, we usually take family walks in the evenings. This is another instance of exercise, but also helps our moods and attitudes (it is so nice to get out of the house), provides the opportunity for conversation, and also seeing and visiting with neighbors.
  • Driveway Church: Like many churches, our congregation has started sharing a lot of content online, including weekly worship services. We appreciate that and tune in each week, but there’s no denying that virtual worship misses the key component of fellowship that you get from being there in person. For the last few weeks, we have had Driveway Church, where we met with other members of our church who live in our neighborhood in our driveway, observing social distancing protocols. We sing, pray, read Scripture, and partake of the Lord’s Supper together. In one sense, it’s nothing profound or special; in another sense, it is incredibly profound and special.
  • Generosity: Caroline and I have both been blessed to keep our jobs and work from home, which means that we are not suffering financially as many are. We have looked for opportunities to give money to others, and also to support local businesses by getting more takeout and food delivered than normal (and, who am I kidding, I like Mexican food a lot!).

I am not going to pretend that I am enjoying everything about this current season of life; I certainly do not. But trying to change my perspective and reframe this as an opportunity for growth has been helpful for me. Whenever this ends and I am able to return to a more “normal” version of life, I hope to do so better than I was before: stronger, healthier, more generous, more thoughtful, and more dependent on God.

It is my hope that this season can be similarly beneficial for you.

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