What lifetime habits has COVID-19 given you?

For me, they are as follows.

1. I will touch the elevator button with any part of my body other than my finger. Because my finger touches my face.
2. Browsing in the supermarket? No thank you. Get in and get out. Like special ops.
3. If the need arises to cough or sneeze in public, I will put my body through whatever contortions are necessary to suppress that cough or sneeze.
4. Buffet? No thank you. Never again.
5. Everyone will always stay away from me. Always. Social distancing is my jam.
6. I will wash my hands each and every time I have the opportunity. With soap. For 20 seconds. At least.
7. There is no place like home.
8. Crowds have always been overrated.
9. Work should always be done pants-less.
10. I’m important, but so is my neighbor.

What about you?


Reopening Schools in a Pandemic

Lots of upset people on Facebook today. The push from the White House to restart face to face instruction in school and university is scary, especially to teachers.

If you are upset, then you are feeling exactly what we were feeling in China back in April when we received word that schools would reopen on April 24. We were upset. We were livid. We met together (on Zoom) to strategize and plan and figure out how we would stop the reopening from happening. It was just too dangerous.

And then we were told to come to school for COVID tests, which were required of everyone before the school could reopen, and reluctantly, we went. When we arrived, we were amazed at how organized our Chinese staff was. We were social distancing, everyone was wearing masks, it was very well planned and organized, and it was incredibly reassuring. Maybe we could do this.

And so, on April 24, we reopened. It was extremely strict. Meter distancing. Nobody in the building without passing a COVID test first. We scanned a QR code every day when we arrived that confirmed that we hadn’t travelled. The rooms were set up so that the students would be separated, and we had spare rooms in case someone became sick during school. And quarantine tents. Hand sanitizing stations everywhere. Certain routes students could take. No more than one person in the bathroom at a time. Everyone masked all the time. And the classes were a continuation of distance learning, just in the school. No actual face to face instruction allowed.

It was incredibly strict and monitored and careful. We did this for almost two months, with regulations coming down from the Chinese version of the CDC every day. And we complied all the time.

By the way, this was only after our city had gone weeks without any new domestic cases of the virus. Understand that: the reopening did not happen until the virus was essentially done in our city, but everyone continued with precautions.

Since the reopening, with a continuation of no new cases, we’ve been able to reopen even more. Summer school has proven to be much less restrictive, with social distancing encouraged but not patrolled, masks being worn, but optionally. Face to face instruction encouraged. I’ve been actually teaching these last three weeks.

We’re pulling out of this thing after months of hard choices and hard work. And we’ve still not had any new local cases. That’s what has enabled things to return to normal.

Meanwhile, in America, lots of people are upset today. The push from the White House to start face to face instruction in school and university is scary, especially to teachers.

As well it should be.

Looking at the latest numbers of new cases in America, uncertainty about reopening schools is exactly as it should be.

The Ichthus Fish for 2020

I want to make a proposal. An ichthus fish for 2020.

The mask.

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Let me give some background to this proposal.

daniel-and-diasporaYesterday, a friend sent me a link to a video of a pastor talking about a prophetic dream he’d had that things are going to get really REALLY bad in the US in November. Not sure I need a prophetic dream to guess that might happen, especially the way 2020 has been going, but I digress.It’s what the pastor said at the end that got me thinking. He called for Christians to prepare for the coming apocalypse by loading up on gold, silver, food, and guns. “Brace yourselves”, was the message he felt led to convey.

All this energy to survive… if Christians believe their eternal destination is heaven why work so hard to survive in a dystopia? Surely it is so that they can be salt and light in a dystopia, right? If things really go to hell, we’re going to need lots of people acting like Jesus to get us through it. Right?

static1.squarespaceBut he didn’t say anything about salt and light. He said gold and silver and food and guns. Load up on guns. Are we talking about being salt and light to other survivors while staring down the barrels of our guns?

I get it. If you are to survive things falling apart, you will want to keep the Mad Max-esque evil psychopaths at bay. You’ll need to protect your sheep. We’ve all seen the movies.

But salt and light, loving our enemies, the caring for our neighbors… the Gospel stuff… shouldn’t that happen, too? Does the message of Jesus get paused during times of duress?

It’s kind of like wearing a mask during a global pandemic.

Gessen-MaskProtestsThis isn’t a surprise to folks who know me, but I just don’t get why the people arguing the most loudly against wearing masks often identify as Christians. Why is this a thing?

It’s interesting that the people arguing the most loudly against wearing masks would probably also be the ones working the hardest to survive the coming cataclysm, should it come. They’d be the ones with the gold, the silver, the food, and the guns.

But would they offer salt and light? If they can’t be counted on to demonstrate love to their neighbors during the pandemic, what makes anyone think they would do better in that regard when the crap has really hit the fan?

I don’t know. But I do know I would think twice before I’d go knocking on their doors looking for help.

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.1500.844The ones who do give me hope are the people (Christians and otherwise) who are concerned enough about their neighbors that they do the simple thing of wearing a mask right now. Those are the people who would be most likely to also offer salt and light in dark times.

Yeah, there will still be plenty of authentic Jesus-like things going on in a dystopia. I’m convinced of it.

And it gives me hope.

So I propose the mask as the ichthus fish for 2020. It should be put on the doors when and if everything falls apart to indicate where the salt and light lies. If you knock on this door you will be met with grace and mercy, not guns and paranoia.

The mask.

Anyone onboard?

The Mask. What will you do?


The mask.

It’s funny, that a small bit of sewn material has become such a contentious object.

Up until 2020, most of didn’t know the mask except for watching episodes of M*A*S*H or looking at pictures of people in Asia during SARS.

If we weren’t medical, the mask was a curiosity. An oddity. Something that would never have anything to do with any of the rest of us.

2020, as it has with so many things, has changed that.

Now, in the United States, we have two factions when it comes to masks. We have the “I will wear the mask to protect myself and others” faction and the “you can’t tell me what to do, this is against the constitution, masks are useless anyway” faction.

And it’s all so irrelevant.

I almost fell down The Mask rabbithole tonight. I did a search for “reasons for wearing the mask in COVID19” and then a search for “reasons for not wearing the mask in COVID19” and found the same thing: Some scientists say that masks help, and some scientists say that they don’t know, when it comes to COVID19. The science is still out on the subject. It’s all so new that science doesn’t know.

That’s it. That’s the short/long about masks. Science doesn’t know if masks help.

That leaves us the rest with a decision to make. Either we say, “I care about my neighbors and I will wear the mask even if it might not really help”, or we say, “I don’t care about my neighbors and I will not wear a mask even if it might help.”

That’s it. Those are the two positions. There are no third positions. There are only two.

To rephrase, either you show your neighbors you care and you wear a mask, or you show your neighbors you don’t care and you don’t.

And read: your neighbors are the people who live around you. The ones who shop with you. The ones who live next door. The ones in line at Walmart. Those strangers are your neighbors. Jesus talked about this.

And so, that’s it. Those are the choices. Until this thing passes, that’s what you got.

This isn’t about the constitution. This isn’t about freedom. This isn’t about politics.

This is about showing your neighbor you care. And we’re supposed to be a Christian country where that sort of thing matters.

And with that, dear neighbor, the mask is in your court.

“Try living somewhere else and see how much you like it!”

Earlier today I was an online bystander in a heated social media debate. People were arguing the merits of the president’s idea that people should be put in jail for a year for burning the flag. More than once in the argument, people defending the president told the disagree-ers something to the effect of, “you should try living in another country for a while and see how much you like it!”

One person wrote, “if you have such distain for our flag, country and PRESIDENT, by all means leave, see how wonderful the world is, then you can apologize when you come running back….”

This is my story.

I first moved overseas in 1998 to live in Kazakhstan, my wife’s home. She and I met in university in America, and I thought we would be there for a couple of years so I could get to know her culture, and then we’d return to the United States. But we liked it so much that we ended up staying in Kazakhstan for fourteen years. Then, when I was given the opportunity to transfer to my company’s school in China in 2012, we took it. And we’ve lived in China ever since.

In both countries, people have been overwhelmingly kind to me, gone out of their way to help me when I needed help, been generally glad to meet me as an American, and also… and this is a kicker… they’ve wanted me to help them learn my language instead of insisting that I learn theirs.

Things have been pretty good for me living outside of the United States. It’s not been a punishment, something that would make me come “running back” apologizing about anything. Rather, it’s been a pleasure. One that I am grateful to have experienced.

Not to say that either China or Kazakhstan are perfect, of course. Both countries have problems and issues, but they also have many, many positives, and I have no regrets for living either place. I don’t regret that my children have grown up knowing people from all over the world who share the bond – the humbling bond – of living as aliens and strangers in a foreign land. I don’t regret that, as a southerner, I’ve been welcomed into a multitude of homes and have been shown what true hospitality looks like (hint – it’s more than just offering a Coke or glass of iced tea). And I don’t regret that I’ve had the opportunity to see my own country through the eyes of others on the outside, warts and all.

And not so incidentally, you might be interested to know that the vast majority of people I have met in both countries love America and love what it has represented, historically.

So as we move forward into campaign 2020, I would say to my friends who might be tempted to do so that telling your social media sparring partner “then why don’t you leave and see how much you like it” is not necessarily as much of a put down or argument ender as you might think it is.

Living in America can be great, but living outside America can be pretty good, too.

The Sermon on the Mount won’t play on Infowars

I thought that I would spend some time listening to the other side today, and I decided to take it hard right. I mean, HARD RIGHT. I’ve been watching John Oliver and others, so why not take it the other direction? I was at school, trying to organize my classroom, and so I put Alex Jones on the computer.

Guys, I was mortified.

The stuff that this guy was saying… the incredibly dangerous rhetoric he was pushing… it literally made my skin crawl.

And understand, I am a child of The Right. I was raised in the evangelical Christian culture, I listened to Rush well into my 20’s, before I moved overseas. I was anti-Democrat, anti-Clinton, anti-liberal… everything.

But the kind of dangerous and wildly incendiary nonsense I heard Jones espousing today… it’s just so incredibly wrong, and so incredibly un-American. It’s meant to divide and to damage and to entrench.

So I pulled back. I moderated. I put Rush on. I haven’t listened to Rush in years, but I wanted to hear what he had to say.

And it was much more moderated. Much less incendiary. But still just as divisive and partisan and reactionary. It was more subtle, more entertaining, less nauseating.

And that makes it even more dangerous.

At one point, Rush blamed Obama for the lack of preparedness for the outbreak. In 2020. Literally years after Trump had taken office. It’s Obama’s fault that we weren’t prepared for an outbreak that happened years after he left office? Seriously?

And I realized that the whole system is frakked. Everything. The politics, the parties, the purposeful separation of us all… it benefits a few, so they push it on the majority. It’s the goal of the ones in power to make the rest of us fear each other, distrust each other, hate each other. That’s how they keep their positions of authority.

It seems like it comes down to us… us…. the little guys. The non-connecteds, the un-influential… to be sane. To approach each other with humanity and dignity in spite of our differences. it comes down to me accepting that you might see things differently than I do, that you might be different than I am, but understanding that we can still share a zip code. Your thoughts and beliefs and understanding of the world doesn’t need to be a threat to me just because they are different.

If we just treat each other with basic dignity as human beings, we can live together.

This isn’t what these others want us to do. They want us to tear each other apart. Probably for their own gain.

But here’s the thing.

Jesus taught us to love our neighbor. He taught us that our neighbor is the last person we thought our neighbor could be. The Samaritans. The ones we thought we were supposed to hate.

It’s interesting how these decisive types talk about Christianity quite a bit, but don’t quote Jesus much. That’s because they know that if they did, it would undercut their entire argument. Because Jesus wasn’t messing around, and these guys are. They’re just building their own kingdoms and lining their own pockets.

Me? I’m personally going to with the guy who preached the Sermon on the Mount, and he wouldn’t have diddlysquat to do with these reactionaries who are using his name to divide and enrage and confuse and profit.

Either side, he wouldn’t have been in their camp.

He would stand among them and say, among things…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Graduation 2020

We graduated our seniors today.

Three weeks ago, I didn’t think we’d be able to do it.

There were too many restrictions in place, too many things that we couldn’t do. Too many hurdles to jump.

But our team pulled it off. Without an administrator on the ground, we pulled off one of the best graduation ceremonies I’ve attended. A complete and total team effort.

This has been a really hard four months, but today was a high point. And our seniors deserved it.

Congrats, class of 2020. Here’s hoping the difficulties of this year takes you further than you would have ever gone otherwise.WechatIMG6057

Summer School

I have been offered, and have accepted, a position in our school’s upcoming summer school here in China.

I’m glad to know that my inability to go anywhere won’t mean that I’ll just be sitting at home, as tempting as that might seem. Also, with the news that we don’t have to wear masks in school anymore, it means I’ll be able to breathe in school. After six weeks of wearing the mask in school, that makes me happy.

But it also stinks.

We were supposed to be heading home in a couple of weeks. We were supposed to be seeing our oldest son and spending time with him. We were supposed to be giving our 17 year old daughter her once in a lifetime chance to attend space camp in Cape Canaveral. We were supposed to attend a family reunion in August. Lots of “we were supposed to’s” that aren’t going to happen.

All thanks to the virus. Thank you so much, COVID19. I don’t have words.

Understand, I’m not complaining. I appreciate that I have a job. I appreciate that I have an income, especially these days, especially considering that nobody knows what the future holds.

But I am also lamenting what was supposed to be. I’m lamenting what was supposed to happen this summer but will not.

Like everyone, I am lamenting the state of things.

I lament.

Summer 2020 won’t be what any of us thought it would be. Here’s hoping it will be more than any of us think it can be. Here’s hoping.

September 11, 2001

September 11, 2001.

I was in Almaty, Kazakhstan when the news first broke. I was with some college-aged Kazakh and Russian students, and one of the other Americans in the room got a phone call from his wife that a plane had struck the twin towers. A while later, we got a phone call that a second plane had struck.

It was a moment that changed everything.

The following days were so odd, being an American after the 9/11 attacks, living overseas. People showed me care and empathy. They were as concerned as I was. It meant something to people that America had been struck. America stood for something, and the fact that America was suffering impacted people all over the world.

America stood for something.

For years, this idea has stuck with me. Why would people in Kazakhstan care about a terrorist attack a world away? Terrorism happens everywhere. What made this thing different?

Because America stood for something. America stood for freedom and opportunity and the little guy. America stood for all of us.

That’s what makes the last few years so difficult for a person living overseas.

America first.

Make America Great Again.

Slogans that sound great when you don’t consider the rest of the world. When you don’t consider that the rest of the world has been looking at us – whether we deserve it or not – as an ideal to be achieved.

But here’s the thing. “America first” and MAGA, are not American. Not by a long shot. These are not the ideals that inspired people around the world to feel our pain when we were going through 9/11.

We didn’t inspire the world by being selfish.

With all our faults, we inspired the world by embodying a different American ideal.

But did we? Did we really?

Because while we were trumpeting amazing values to the world, part of our society was being pushed back. While we were expressing freedom and democracy and all lives matter across the globe, Americans were being swept aside back home for nothing more than the color of their skin.

And everyone reading this knows what I’m talking about. We’ve all experienced it on one side or the other. Either you are white and you’ve judged others on some level by the fact they are not white, or you are not white and you’ve been judged because of it.

We have been one or we have been the other.

This is the big sin of America. We claim equality and justice for all, but many of us don’t live it. Not in our hearts.

We really don’t.

But we should.

And maybe we will.

Maybe that will be what comes from all of this. Maybe this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in our hearts in the way we see each other. Maybe the absolute disaster of what is happening in our country right now will be the wakeup call that we need to truly live what we say we believe as Americans.

Maybe these times won’t tear us apart, but will draw us together.

Maybe they will make us look at ourselves in the mirror and be honest about what we see, regardless of how ugly the reflection might be.

Maybe being honest with ourselves might be the first step in making things better.

Maybe all of this will help us to recover the American ideal.

As an expat I can tell you that the world is watching, and hoping that we figure this out.

They’re hoping. I’m hoping.

Let’s figure it out.

Be Part of the Change

It wasn’t long ago, was it? We were worried about a virus. The virus consumed us. It was everything. There was nothing more important.

Simpler times.

Now, nothing matters more than the protests.

First, the virus. Now the protests.

And in both cases, nothing mattered more.

There are a couple of options here. There are at least a couple of things going on.

First, this is just a really bad year. I mean, the worst year in the history of years. In modern history, at least, there’s not been anything like this, and we just need to press on and get out of it.

Second, the powers that be are struggling more than any of us would want to imagine. There’s more going on here than any of could every dream or imagine, and we just need to press on and get out of it.

And either way, most of us are caught in the middle.

So what do we do? Those of us caught in the middle, what is the solution? How do we get life back to a semblance of normalcy?

That’s the question, isn’t it? How can life ever get back to a semblance of normalcy?

Here’s the answer.

We will not.

It will not.

Life will not get back to what it was.

And it shouldn’t.

There was so much wrong with life before. And I write this, knowing that I benefited so much from the life before.

But things can’t return to that. They just can’t.

Life, pre-COVID, we can’t go back to that.

Life, pre-protests, we can’t go back to that.

There is so much that needs to change. So much that needs to be done better. I can’t even begin to articulate it all. I just know it needs to happen.

We are at a pivotal moment in history, y’all. Everything is changing, and everything must change, and we have to be a part of the change or everything is just for shit.

And that’s just damned depressing. And it’s also damned exciting and liberating.

So I will be part of the change.

I’m not sure how, but I will be. I hope you will be, too.