The Requirement

I write knowing you might disagree. I get that. I am only sharing my own viewpoint and experience. You might misunderstand me. I’m used to that. Or, you might get it.

We live in this split world. There are sides and lines drawn. Saw a FB post by a pastor today, “It’s hard to love those anti-vaxers, anti-mask wearers.” There is the line. His post, possibly done humorously, saddened my own heart. There’s a division between those saying, “I’m vaccinated!” And those saying, “I’m never getting that vaccination!” The purpose of the line is to divide, sow discord, cause division, breed hate. Let’s not let it.

This week I let the line divide me from those I love. It staggered me.

For nearly 16 months I have been involved with a Christian, Portland-based group of guys. I met their founder in November, 2019, attended one of their monthly meetings in December and in January, 2020, I attended their retreat.

It was the most significant and unique retreat event I had ever attended. At it, we were assigned to a five-member group of guys. With this group, we met up for the Deep Dive. During a five-hour time, each of us vulnerably shared his life story, his heart, his upbringing, the place of faith with the group. We who began as strangers became deeply connected friends in those hours. You might understand how rare with guys such sharing is. It sent shock waves through my system. In five hours those guys and I went deeper, faster than guys I had known for decades. My small group continued to meet up virtually since then every few months to share and pray.

Since then, I have attended the monthly gatherings, which went virtual with the pandemic, to hear a guy share his life and heart with the whole group and pray together.

The retreat was canceled for January 2021, but registration just opened for the January 2022 retreat.

During our monthly gathering, last week, I went to register for the retreat. This is what was requested:

Step 6 stopped me cold. “Vaccination required”? With that phrase, tears sprang to my eyes, my safe group, my connection evaporated. Forgetting all my mediator training, I reacted via email to the registrar:

“I was shocked to read the requirement for the vaccine to attend. I’m not planning to get the vaccine.  And since the vaccine — according to all data—is about self protection not the protection of others, do you know why the requirement? I feel this is wrong not an act of safety.  And I really want to be there.  I gave all the information required, then added:

“I hope there’s an expansion of this thinking about discrimination against us who do not share the same perspective on vaccine/pandemic.”

My reaction was forwarded to the convener and he responded:

“Brian: Because I think folks would feel more comfortable. At this point, that is the rule!”

Clearly, I did not feel more comfortable!

I had not yet seen his email, when this convener called me. I got the call while driving to a doctor’s appointment. It was hard to hear, I didn’t catch who it was at first, while closing my sun roof. Then, caught the subject and knew.

When it is hard to hear, I speak louder to make certain the other party can hear me. I asked, “Can you tell me what you are believing about the vaccine hence the rule?” He responded with, “Now, I am not here to argue. You show me the science how unvaccinated and vaccinated can be together, safely, and I’ll consider it. Until then, this is the way it is. In November and December, I might change my mind if herd immunity is achieved.”

I must have sounded like I was arguing as I spoke to overcome road noise. I sought understanding. What was the belief? He reiterated the rule. I hung up dismayed. I sent two emails to begin to answer his request how those with and without the vaccine could safely gather, but received this response.

Brian: I called you yesterday so you know where I stand and I don’t want to have a string of emails where you continue to argue for a change of position because my position on this will not change. Unfortunately, in 2022, this stands. Please stop the emails. 

What had become of my group?

With exclusion added in, the sense of discrimination and the hard line I felt from the convener, my safe place dissolved. I felt ousted. I had a couple minutes before my doctor’s appointment so emailed another friend from the group.

He wrote back:

Well, I have good friends who are very good people (and family members too) who fall on both sides of the matter. I have some friends who absolutely won’t go to an event if people are going to be attending who haven’t been vaccinated, and I have friends who absolutely refuse to be vaccinated, and then folks in between. I chose to get vaccinated because it was important for my wife and children who care for me and were worried about me getting the virus as I have stayed fairly active. I love their love for me. I got the J&J vaccine as it is the more traditional one (just like the annual flu shot.) But it is only 85% effective so I could still get sick.

My guess is that as we get closer to the retreat, the folks who insist on everyone being vaccinated will “lighten up” a bit and that it won’t be a problem. I’m hopeful anyway. Time will tell as we either knock down the new variants or this situation will continue to vex us.

That made sense. I have the same. I wrote back apologizing for being reactive, and he wrote this:

Not at all! React all you want.  Just a big sign saying you truly care.  The mRNA is an interesting genetic “hybrid.” I don’t pretend to understand the long-term potential ramifications. But you’ve read my book so you know I’m concerned.  It is a weird season.  As are most seasons as people live through them.  

My favorite Lord of the Rings quote:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

This brother’s kind embrace helped. “React all you want!” The quote from Lord of the Rings is so true: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

That night I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake in bed praying, thinking, and listening. I reflected upon the story of the disciples out in the middle of the lake, fighting the winds. In this account, from Matthew 14, Jesus had sent the disciples in the boat ahead of him. He’d remained behind to pray. Then when it was nearly dawn, he went walking to them on the water. In the dark of the bedroom, I thought, Jesus could have just walked around the lake, he could have walked passed them, ignoring their fears. But instead, he noticed and immediately called to his disciples, “Be of good cheer! It is I! Don’t be afraid!”

Jesus approaches his disciples when they are stuck in a storm. And He speaks to them. Wow, I thought, This applies to me.

Sometimes in following Jesus’ directions, I’ll end up in the crosswinds of difficulty. These do not surprise Jesus. He joins me in those times. When Jesus enters the disciples’ boat in this biblical account, the wind stops.

Our experience of tough situations or the situations themselves will change when Jesus enters them.

Because of my late night reflection, and the next day’s walk through the feelings of loss, I emailed the group’s convener again. I apologized for my reaction. I accepted the requirement not as a divide of faith but only of a difference of opinion over safety.

When people draw lines, when they oust some to embrace others, when they create barriers and claim it is hard to love some people, when they emphasize what we don’t share, we must remember Jesus who draws near to all of us the same, no matter the winds against us. Jesus draws close and gets into each of our boats, whether or not we have a vaccine, and no matter what we believe. And if Jesus is in all the boats, who’s not to love the people with Him?

Photo by Vanderlei Longo on Pexels.com

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