Red Doors and Vaccine Refusal Hits Home For Me

Red Doors and Vaccine Refusal Hits Home For Me

London, 1665. The city was gripped in an epidemic of bubonic plague: the “Black Death”. The skin of victims turned black and lymph nodes grew swollen and painful. Death usually followed a few days later.

To prevent the disease from spreading, a victim was locked in their house, along with their entire family. A red cross was painted on the door of the home, along with these words:

“Lord Have Mercy Upon Us.” 

Last week, hospital staff at Dallas’ enormous Parkland Hospital watched with dread as red doors went up, marking “COVID-only” spaces. The red doors first went up in March 2020 and came down in March 2021. 

They’re baaaack. 

In Texas and in other areas of the country with low vaccination rates, Delta variant-driven COVID infections are overwhelming emergency rooms and packing ICUs. 

Lord have mercy on us. 

Vaccination is no longer seen as a common responsibility of all in order to protect our families and our communities.

Love for neighbor is no longer the goal. Individual rights trump all.

Jared Byas, author of Love Matters More, put it this way:

“I’m learning that “Freedom” in the wrong hands devolves into ‘You’re not the boss of me’ playground immaturity. Without love at the center, freedom becomes selfish entitlement. Paul makes a lot more sense to me now.”

This week, it hit home for me – right into the heart of my family.

My mom suffers from a rare form of dementia and reaching a crisis point, my family made the difficult decision to move her into a memory care facility.

She has been hospitalized for more than a week and the plan is for her to be dismissed soon, directly into care. She is scared and confused and has no idea what is happening. 

But during this critical time of adjusting to the care home, she will have limited contact with her family. My dad can only see her two hours a day and cannot eat any meals with her. 

Rising COVID positivity rates automatically trigger restrictions for long-term care centers in Texas. And before she even enters care, family presence in her hospital room is restricted. 

Packed hospitals, exhausted healthcare workers, and scared dementia patients are paying the price for vaccine-refusal.

Lord have mercy.

What do we know at this point about the three vaccines available in the United States?

Vaccines do not prevent you from harboring the virus. Vaccinated people can pass the virus to others for about six days, but then their vaccine-primed immune responses kick in and stop the spread.

Vaccinated people have a 59% reduced risk of having symptoms if they are infected. 

But here is the really big deal: while vaccinated people might get infected and might have symptoms, what vaccinated people are NOT experiencing is severe disease and death. This, according to epidemiologists, is nothing short of miraculous.

The vaccine keeps you out of the ICU.

The vaccine keeps you off a ventilator.

The vaccine keeps you from months and months and maybe more of long-COVID, the feeling that you’re wrapped in lead and might cry if you have to do ANYTHING. As Baylor medical professor Dr. Peter Hortez put it:

“COVID does so much more than kill.”

And this is important: a vaccinated population prevents the evolution of new variants.

Mutations (variants) can only arise in warm, human-sized petri dishes. The more a virus is transmitted, the more it has opportunity to mutate. Right now, 73% of counties in the country are in a state of “high transmission”. 

We can stop this. 

Lord have mercy.

Six weeks away and reviews are coming in!

Six weeks away and reviews are coming in!

Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? The Bible and Modern Science and the Trouble of Making It All Fit releases in less than six weeks!

Read below for reviews from Sean Palmer, Andrew Root, Don McLaughlin, Jon Walton, Karl Giberson, and Deborah Haraasma:

“It’s often unwise to judge a book by its title, yet this is the rare case when you should do just this.  Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? is an intriguing title completely backed up with an even more intriguing book.  Janet Kellogg Ray blends storytelling, biology, and biblical reflection to offer a very helpful, engaging, and important book.  All pastors, parents, and young adults will find this book an essential resource in understanding faith and science and a way to faithful embrace them both.”

Andrew Root, author of The Congregation in a Secular Age and Exploding Star, Dead Dinosaurs and Zombies: Youth Ministry in an Age of Science

“Janet Kellogg Ray combines transformative faith in God with a gritty commitment to science. Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? opens new possibilities for bridge-building between the truth of faith and the facts of science. If you are tired of clumsy science and combative religion, Ray is the conversation partner you have been looking for! This book is for anyone who seeks truth wherever truth may be found.”

Don McLaughlin, senior minister, North Atlanta Church of Christ, author of Love First: Ending Hate before It’s Too Late

“My wife, like Janet Kellogg Ray, is a science teacher. Her students and colleagues know she is married to a pastor. Each year, like clockwork, a student or fellow teacher asks her about the intersection of science and faith. Their assumption is that her allegiances lie with one faith or science, that she couldn’t hold them both appropriately. Science and faith are in a dance together, and Janet Kellogg Ray’s, Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark, helps those of us with questions about the interplay of faith and science articulate and understand our faith better. Here you will discover more of what (and some of how) God is up to in the world, how faith and science testify to one another, but even more so testify the beauty of our Creator.”

Sean Palmer, Author Unarmed Empire: In Search of Beloved Community and 40 Days of Being a Three (Enneagram Daily Reflections) andTeaching Pastor, Ecclesia Houston

“This is a well-written, insightful, and accessible book with pitch-perfect and well-balanced tone. I couldn’t help but to be drawn into the stories that punctuated the treatment.”

John H. Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One and professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College

“Janet Ray’s Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark?  is a deeply personal, scientifically informed, and valuable contribution to our troubled conversation on evolution. Readers will appreciate the engaging and often humorous anecdotes.  The book deserves a broad readership.”

Karl Giberson, author of The Language of Science and Faith, Saving Darwin, and others.

(from the foreword) “If you are . . . wondering if there is any way that Christian faith and evidence-based science can work together, Janet Kellogg Ray is an able guide. She is a biology teacher and a Christ-follower who invites you to walk alongside her in her journey and provides an engaging overview of the views, evidence, and arguments on origins science.”
Deborah Haarsma, President of BioLogos

(If you missed reviews from Jared Byas, Dennis Venema, Ken Cukrowski, and Thomas J. Oord, see July 15 post “A Blaggblurp-blurb on the Road to Publishing”)


Hello Dolly! What a Little Lamb Taught Us About Stem Cells

Hello Dolly! What a Little Lamb Taught Us About Stem Cells

She didn’t have a shirt pocket, so embryologist Karen Walker tucked the little container holding the tiny egg inside her bra to keep it warm on the chilly trip from the farm to the lab. 

It’s not unusual for it to be chilly in Scotland, but it is a bit odd to find a cell laboratory tucked in a corner of a Scottish sheep farm. “Lab” is a bit of a stretch: it was actually a cupboard, just big enough for two chairs and an incubator. 

Twenty-five years ago this month, Dolly the sheep was cloned from an adult sheep living on a farm near Edinburgh, Scotland. 

Dolly wasn’t just the first mammal ever cloned. Dolly was the first animal ever cloned from an adult cell of an existing animal. 

An egg from one of the farm’s Scottish Blackface sheep (the one carefully incubated by Walker), was brought into the tiny lab. In a delicate process, Walker and her partner, Bill Ritchie, removed the nucleus from the egg. Egg nuclei, like the nuclei of all cells, contain the DNA of the organism. 

Likewise, the researchers removed the nucleus from a breast cell taken from a second adult sheep, a white-faced Finn Dorset. The breast cell nucleus (containing DNA) was then inserted into the empty egg. 

Next, the researchers implanted the egg with the new DNA into a surrogate, another Scottish Blackface sheep. 

Nobody really expected success. Nobody was terribly confident that the DNA from an adult breast cell could be “reprogramed” to fashion the wide variety of cells found in an entirely new animal. 

But implantation was successful. The surrogate was pregnant. And at the end of a normal pregnancy, the surrogate gave birth to a healthy lamb.

Walker was away at a wedding at the time, so Ritchie sent a fax to her hotel:

“She has a white face and furry legs!” 

I bet the hotel staff thought: “Well….that’s a, umm, unique baby….”

Only the DNA donor was a whitefaced sheep. Both the surrogate and the (empty) egg donor were black-faced. 

Genetic tests would later confirm what appearances first revealed: Dolly was a clone of the sheep who donated the breast cell DNA. 

Dolly was a healthy ewe who went on to birth a total of six lambs. Dolly was euthanized at age six due to a lung disease she developed.

Following the announcement of Dolly’s birth, reaction ranged from the hopeful (“new cures for diseases!”) to the frightful (“oh no! armies of cloned humans!”). 

In reality, Dolly’s birth did not have much impact on animal cloning. Aside from the prize racehorse or prize cow here and there, cloning did not become a big deal.

Before Dolly, we thought that adult cells, once they had matured and developed into their final form (like heart cells, liver cells, nerve cells, etc.), were stuck in their final form and could not regress back to their unspecialized embryonic state. 

Dolly showed us that a specialized adult cell can be reprogrammed into an unspecialized embryonic cell. 

Unspecialized cells, capable of becoming any of the specialized cells in an animal’s body, are called “stem cells”, and stem cells are gold in medical research. 

Stem cells collected from actual human embryos are controversial and carry an unfortunate ethical stigma. 

But thanks to the Dolly research, cell biologist Shinya Yamanaka began developing stem cells from adult cells, a feat that won him a Nobel Prize in 2012. “Induced” stem cells have greatly reduced the need for ethically problematic embryonic stem cells. 

Because of her DNA origin in adult breast cells, researchers named Dolly (the sheep) for Dolly Parton (the singer). No disrespect for Ms. Parton was intended, according to the researchers, and Dolly Parton’s agent was said to respond: “There is no such thing as baaaaaaaaad publicity.”

Dolly is on display behind glass in the National Museum of Scotland – behind glass because people kept nicking bits of her wool. See the photo of me with the (second-most) famous Dolly! 

Dolly and her surrogate mom

Hello, Dolly!

A Blaggblurp-blurb on the Road to Publishing

“BLORK”

“BLuuRF”

Believe it or not, these are lines from a #1 New York Times Bestselling children’s picture book! The Book With No Pictures, written by B. J. Novak (of “The Office” fame), requires the (presumably) adult reader to read nonsense words in a monkey voice or a robot voice and say things like “boo boo butt”, while the kids rollick in the hilarity of it all. 

So, BLURB!! (said in my best monkey-robot voice!)

One of the final steps in the long, long, LONG road to book publishing is collecting “blurbs”. Blurbs are short quotes about the book and are usually printed on the back cover or sometimes just inside the front cover. A publisher asks noted authors and experts to read and review a soon-to-be-released copy of a new book, and these become the book’s “blurbs”. 

Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark was read and blurbed by an amazing group of scientists, theologians, and pastors. It is a surreal experience to read about my book in the words of people I read, respect, and follow!

Here are a few of the blurbs for Baby Dinos:

“Ray writes with candid humor, a pastoral spirit, and engaging, accessible science. This book deserves to be widely read, especially if you’re not sure that evolution and robust faith can go together.” 

 -Dennis Venema, Ph.D.

Professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia; author of Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science

“Too much Christian opinion on science has been uninformed and unhelpful. In Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? Dr. Ray gives us a down-to-earth, yet thorough, introduction for how science works and how necessary it is to shake off unhelpful and untrue assumptions about the Bible. If anyone asks why you accept the science of evolution as a Christian-feel free to simply pass them a copy of this book.”

 -Jared Byas, co-author of Genesis for Normal People and co-host of the podcast The Bible for Normal People 

“What a delight to read! With an engaging style and a keen mind, Ray navigates the landscape between the false binary that so many Christians face: reject science or reject God. A trustworthy guide, Ray explores the various positions with intellectual honesty and civility; rare is the author who can explain this complex topic in such a clear and compelling way. If you are looking for a resource that equips you both to embrace the findings of science and to embody a deep faith, this is the book for you.”

-Ken Cukrowski, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Biblical Studies, Abilene Christian University

“This is the most cleverly written and yet profound book I’ve read in some time. I love it! Ray makes complex and deep issues accessible. She answers questions about science and contemporary debates. I plan to give copies to friends trying to make sense of evolution and Christian faith.”-Thomas Jay Oord, Ph.D., author of The Uncontrolling Love of God and other books

Watch for more blurbs to come!

Releases September 9

Flat Stanley, a Vaccine Protest, and a Scary New Variant

Flat Stanley, a Vaccine Protest, and a Scary New Variant

You’ve likely heard of the travels of Flat Stanley, but have you heard of Flatrick Burke?

Back in the Before Times when I taught on campus, I caught sight of this stealthy vehicle (see photo) traveling the streets of Denton.

Apparently, it’s driven by a well-known local, but it was my first sighting. 

Last summer, the owner of this vehicle was issued a citation for criminal trespass after defacing the local Walmart. 

His graffiti? “COVID hoax”.

Color me shocked. 

Patrick Burke is also an evolution and climate-change denier (again, shocker), but a flat earth is his primary bandwagon of choice. His house, just a half-mile from the UNT campus, continues the theme: Gravity is not real. The earth is motionless. 

Burke is a college graduate, employed, and a self-described “regular guy.”

Walmart graffiti notwithstanding, Patrick (or “Flatrick” as he is lovingly known) is not really harming anyone. No one is going to force him to buy a globe.

Now, imagine that Patrick or one of his fellow flat-earthers teaches world geography in the local middle school. If he insists on advocating for a flat earth, he will be invited to take his teaching skills elsewhere. 

Recently, employees of the Houston Methodist Hospital system marched carrying protest signs blazoned with “No Forced Vaccines” and “Stop Medical Tyranny”. 

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by 117 hospital employees who were suspended for refusing a COVID vaccine.

This lawsuit was the first of its kind and is expected to set a precedent. It is important to note that the hospital system exempted many employees from the requirement: 285 for religious or medical reasons and 332 others for pregnancy. 

Here’s U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, in a statement referring to the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit:

“Bridges can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else.”

In the Houston Methodist system, patient safety is a priority. If it is not the priority of an employee, the employee is invited to take their skills elsewhere.

And finally, if you or someone you know needs more convincing about vaccination, let me introduce you to…

the Delta variant.

The Delta variant currently accounts for about 6% of COVID infections, but at the rate it is spreading, it will be the dominant strain in the United States by August. 

The Delta variant is really good at three things: rate of contagion, potential for high mortality, and ability to evade immunity. 

We need to pay attention.

A single dose of one of the mRNA vaccines is only 33 percent effective against Delta. BUT – the recommended two doses of an mRNA vaccine are 90-95% effective.

Now some really scary news… early lab evidence shows that Delta evades “natural” immunity from a prior COVID infection. We are waiting on more studies in actual humans to confirm this finding. 

Bottom line – vaccination protects and is likely more protective than immunity from an infection.

Vaccine Community Service

Vaccine Community Service

She took a call from the loading dock: your package is here.

Interestingly, the package didn’t arrive by plane. This package was placed on a truck and given a special ride from Boston to Bethesda. 

Can you bring it up? She asked.

No, they said. You have to come downstairs and meet the driver. And bring your ID. We can only give the package to you.

I imagine she ran all the way. 

She is young (just now 35), and thoroughly a member of the selfie generation. She asked the driver to take a photo of her with the box. 

And he’s like, no ma’am, that’s not my job.

Elated, she took the box back to her lab, where 250 little mousies awaited. The box contained doses of covid-19 vaccine, developed using her science research. 

Each little mousie was about to get a jab.

And the young woman was about to save the world. 

Meet Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. She’s young and she’s brilliant, and she is the lead researcher in the NIH Vaccine Research Center’s lab for development of coronavirus vaccines. She is the primary scientist behind Moderna’s covid-19 vaccine. 

Unbelievably, in just a few months, a scientific concept in Dr. Corbett’s laboratory became a nationally distributed vaccine that is 94 percent effective. 

It was far from beginner’s luck. 

Dr. Corbett had been studying coronaviruses for more than six years when the covid-19 pandemic struck. Her attention was on vaccines for MERS and SARS – coronaviruses that put the world on the edge of a pandemic but stopped just short. 

December 31, 2019: a respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus is reported in China. Emails to Dr. Corbett from Anthony Fauci and Barney Graham (Corbett’s boss at the Vaccine Research Center) arrived in January. 

“Buckle up,” they told her. 

January 10, 2020: researchers published the DNA sequence of the coronavirus that causes covid-19.

Sixty-six days later, a vaccine developed in Dr. Corbett’s lab entered phase 1 testing in humans.

That speedy timeline makes some people really nervous.

When questioned about the worry some have regarding the speed of the vaccine from lab to arms, Dr. Corbett gave a surprising answer. 

It could have been faster. 

We didn’t quite get there for a MERS or SARS vaccine, she says, but if we had, we could have shortened the time to a covid vaccine. But, she’s quick to say, that research got us ready for covid-19. 

Kizzmekia Corbett is a science rock star. And Kizzmekia Corbett is a scientist of deep faith. She is a Christian who makes no secret of her love for Jesus. 

Dr. Corbett sleeps very little these pandemic days and works seven days a week, but like many of us, she stops on Sunday to watch a recorded church service. But unlike most of us, she spends the remainder of the day analyzing mountains of data. 

Dr. Corbett feels a deep sense of obligation to community health. She sees her work in vaccine development as a way to love her neighbor as herself. She calls it “vaccine community service”. 

Here’s Dr. Corbett:

“My religion tells me why I should want to help people, make the world a better place. Science shows me how to study the coronavirus and do the work that one day, hopefully, will prevent people from dying of covid-19.”

Kizzmekia was the kid who entered and won all the school science fairs. When the Nobel prizes were announced, she wrote speeches and delivered them out loud, with pomp and spectacle and dramatic tears.

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and where the buck stops regarding all things pandemic, recently said that Dr. Corbett and Dr. Barney Graham were already in discussions for “prizes”. 

Kizzmekia, I hope you kept those speeches. 

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett
Francis Collins, Anthony Fauci, and former President Trump in Dr. Corbett’s lab
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett and Dr. Barney Graham

Finding My Audience

Finding My Audience

Representative Mary Bentley of Arkansas wants to party like it’s 1986. 

That’s the last year creationism could be legally taught in public schools in the United States. The following year, the Supreme Court ruled that creationism is a religious construct, and as such, it could not be taught (as science) in public schools.

Bentley recently introduced a bill in the Arkansas House which allows creationism to be taught as science in Arkansas public schools. The bill passed in the House and is headed to the Senate for a vote. If the bill is successful there, it heads to the governor’s desk. 

According to Bentley, Arkansas teachers are pushing for the right to teach creationism as science in the public classroom.

“Scientists have been on both sides of the issue for thousands of years,” Bentley said, noting that Isaac Newton and Galileo* believed in “God and biblical creation.” (*As residents of the 17th century, they probably also believed in the science of bloodletting to cure disease.)

Creationism can legally be discussed in philosophy class.

Creationism can be discussed in a comparative religions class.

Creationism can even be discussed in a history or social studies class.

We just can’t (legally) teach creationism as science in science class. 

People know I teach biology in university and they know I love dinosaurs and they know I wrote a book and they know I am a Christian, so casual questions over dinner are inevitable. Usually there’s little-to-no preamble. 

Often, it’s just straight to the point. 

While recently at dinner with a friend, she laid this one out on the table, where it sat like an awkward frog:

“SO THIS BOOK. What about cavemen? What about dinosaurs?”

We all do this when we’re curious about a topic about which we know very little. If I wanted to join a conversation about the nuances of a fancy dish in fancy chef-terms, my contribution would probably be a Tarzan-esque “me like food”.

And it would sit there on the table, my own personal awkward frog. 

When I was pitching “Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark?” to editors and agents, I was always asked about the potential audience for the book. Some wanted a few sentences; some wanted a page:

Who would want to read this book? What are the benefits for readers?

I know I love it, but why would anyone else?

Here’s my elevator pitch:

Baby Dinosaurs builds a vocabulary to voice concerns and questions about science and faith. Baby Dinosaurs makes room for (sometimes discouraged) questions. Baby Dinosaurs is for readers who dare to form a faith that doesn’t ignore the questions.

Baby Dinosaurs isn’t just for the convinced. 

I hope you read it, even if you come away disagreeing with me.

Health Freedom and the Christian

Henning Jacobson is the pastor of a small church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cambridge has been particularly hard-hit by the virus, so local officials closed libraries, schools, and churches and enacted other temporary ordinances intended to curb infections. 

Pastor Jacobson, however, refused to comply with any ordinance that required him, personally, to take measures intended to stop the spread of infection. Before long, Pastor Jacobson found himself before a judge for his failure to comply.

Jacobson and a group of six other individuals argued that the local regulations were “invasions of personal liberty” and would only lead to increasing government control over individual behaviors. 

Jacobson’s lawyers made a familiar argument: there goes the state again, trying to be paternalistic and violating individual rights with no reasonable grounds.

The year, however, was 1902, and the pandemic was smallpox. The ordinance to which Jacobson objected required the vaccination of all adults or pay a fine of $5.00.

A state court ruled against Jacobson, but he appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. 

In 1905, the Court ruled that a community has the right to invoke ordinances intended to protect the health and safety of the public. Justice John Marshall Harlan made the point: just as governments can curtail freedoms during a wartime invasion, governments can likewise curtail freedoms during the “invasion” of a disease. 

Things haven’t changed much in a century. 

The CDC and local health departments are not only battling vaccine hesitancy, but also compliance with mask-wearing, distancing, and occupancy limits during the vaccine rollout. 

There is good news, however. 

Sixty-nine percent of Americans now say they have been vaccinated or will likely be vaccinated – a relieving jump from the all-time low of fifty-one percent who said so last fall at the height of the presidential election. 

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. A deeper dive into the “sixty-nine percent” reveals a disturbing breakdown, specifically in religious demographic groups. 

Among Americans, the group least likely to get a Covid-19 vaccine are white evangelicals. Forty-five percent of white evangelicals say they definitely will not/probably will not get the vaccine. Other evangelical and protestant groups and Catholics are much more likely to get the vaccine. 

Ninety percent of atheists plan to “definitely” take the vaccine. 

But there’s more.

And it makes me really sad.

White evangelicals are the LEAST likely to consider the health of their community when making a decision about the vaccine. Only 48% said they would consider the health of their community “a lot” when making a decision. The percentages are much higher (almost 70%) in other protestant groups, Catholics, and non-religious Americans. 

It is no surprise that resistance to mask-wearing tracks with vaccine refusal. Anti-mask and anti-vaccine are two sides of the same coin. As advocates for “health freedom”, both groups find reasons to mistrust both science and scientists. 

Like Pastor Jacobson, many people see masks as an assault on their personal freedom. How many times have you heard a variation on this theme? “Wear a mask if YOU want to, just don’t force me to wear one.”

The primary purpose of a mask is not to protect the mask-wearer. Wearing a mask primarily protects others. 

This is established science.

Although less than seven percent of the population was vaccinated, the governor of Texas recently lifted the state mask mandate, setting off a firestorm of opposing positions. While some Texans hurled their masks into literal fires in a celebration of freedom, others warned of the continuing dangers of community spread with vaccination rates still in single digits. 

And then there are those pesky variants. 

A virus can only mutate within a host. The more hosts (people) spreading a virus in a community, the higher the chance for a variant to arise.

Herd immunity for a more transmissible virus requires a higher percentage of immunized people. Continued mask-wearing protects a community until an effective percentage of the population is vaccinated. 

Sometimes loving your neighbor means forgoing a freedom. 

Blue Whales and Buttered Toast

Blue Whales and Buttered Toast

Happy World Whale Day 2021!

Blue whales are a particular favorite of mine. Weighing in at 200 tons, blue whales are the largest animals on earth, and actually the largest animal ever to live on earth. A Tyrannosaurus rex is merely a lap pet for a blue whale.  

About 50 million years ago, whale ancestors were wolf-sized meat eaters prowling for meals along the shores of a shallow ocean in what is now Pakistan. The evolutionary history of whales is fascinating – it’s one of my favorite stories in Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark

The blue whale has long been a mystery. Despite widespread whale hunting, hunters didn’t chase blue whales. Hunters targeted slow swimmers that would float when harpooned. 

Wind-powered ships were no match for blue whales who dive deep and swim at speeds of 30 mph. With the advent of steam powered ships and ballistic harpoons, however, blue whales became a popular target.

As the 20th century progressed, demand for whale oil lamps waned, but the demand for margarine on our toast increased. 

Yes . . . margarine was made from blue whale blubber. 

Easily spreadable, margarine was popular during the ration years of World War II and beyond. During the war, Britain declared margarine essential for national defense.

Until the international ban on whaling in 1982, blue whales were hunted to only 1% of their world-wide population. The blue whale population recovered but they are still endangered.

Have you ever stood under the life-sized model of a blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History in New York? If not, that’s a bullet point for your bucket list.

If yes, drop your photo if you have one in the comments below! Or, drop your favorite whale (dolphins are whales, too)!

With my friend the blue whale, at the American Museum Natural History (New York), Hall of Ocean Life

Civic Pride in the Time of Covid

Civic Pride in the Time of Covid

During the Cold War, the greatest fear in America was the bomb.

In a close second place was polio.

Everyone was at risk, children especially, but also teenagers and adults. Polio returned every year, usually during the summer. There was no prevention and no cure. 

People got sick, some got very sick. Many lost the use of their legs, their arms, or both. Many lost the ability to breathe, and some lost their lives. 

Americans were terrified.

But on an unremarkable Tuesday in April 1955, everything changed.

Church bells rang and factory whistles blew. Across America, people ran into the streets weeping.

In all caps, newspaper headlines shouted: “THE VACCINE WORKS.”

After two years of trials, it was certain: Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine worked.

In the next few days and weeks, store front windows were shoe-polished with “Thank you, Dr. Salk.” Local parades featured floats celebrating the defeat of polio. President Eisenhour choked up when he met Dr. Salk at the White House. 

For decades, Americans saw polio as a shared tragedy. In the wake of the Depression when philanthropist money dried up, ordinary people mailed in dimes to fight polio. Literally tons of dimes. 

It was the March of Dimes that funded Salk’s research. 

Volunteers organized an unprecedented two million American children in the largest vaccine trial ever completed. Smiling kids posed for photos wearing “Polio Pioneer” buttons.

No wonder Americans were proud. 

They saw themselves as part of a group. Americans cared not only for their own children, but for America’s children. They were a public that cared about public health. 

Americans have Covid fatigue. We are tired, just tired of it. We are appalled by the record deaths and the packed ICUs and the exhausted medical staffs and the damaged economy and the never-ending social distancing.

But then, hope. 

It began with front-line medical staff smiling through their masks, giving weary thumbs-up in vaccine selfies on social media. Then more medical staff. More selfies. 

And we loved it. We cheered and hit “like” and a lot of us teared up with every posting. 

March 2020 seems like a million years ago. We now have two vaccines that are 95% effective, and we can’t get them into arms fast enough.

I received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine at a mega drive through at Texas Motor Speedway.  Drones and helicopters flew overhead, and the media was about with mics and cameras.  

Volunteers and paramedics and medical staff were there by the hundreds, waving and smiling and chatting, and all the while maintaining efficiency like you just can’t believe. 

People were rolling down their windows and waving and thanking the staff and the volunteers.

I witnessed the same scene at a mega center in Dallas where my 82-year-old mother-in-law received her first jab. Big smiles everywhere. Organization, volunteers, hopefulness, thankfulness, celebration. 

As more and more of us are called in for our jabs, social media selfies have not abated. It’s our twenty-first century version of church bells ringing and factory whistles blowing.

Vaccine rollout has not been problem-free, nor was the celebrated polio vaccine rollout. Some vaccination sites run with the efficiency of a Chick-fil-A drive-through, while other sites struggle.

But we are hopeful. And our civic pride is showing.

We cheer, we take selfies, we heart the photos. We delight in the stories: the medical team, stalled on a highway in a blizzard with a soon to expire supply of vaccine, going car to car, vaccinating every willing arm; the hospital in California rushing against time to vaccinate their community after a freezer failure; the health care workers made honorary Super Bowl captains.

I am vaccinated for myself, sure, but it is so much more: 

I am vaccinated because I want to protect my neighbors living in crowded conditions, my neighbors for whom “working from home” is not an option, my newborn neighbors, my immunocompromised neighbors, my elderly neighbors, and my teacher neighbors.

I am vaccinated because I want to be a responsible member of the herd. It’s how I love my neighbor as myself.

Let the church bells ring. 

“Polio Pioneer”

It’s not a Polio Pioneer button, but I love my pin!

Staff and volunteers at Texas Motor Speedway.

RNA saves the day!

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge.