• indoubt Podcast
  • ·
  • May 11, 2020

Ep. 226: COVID-19 Culture

With James Ellis III, , , and Daniel Markin

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On this week’s episode of indoubt, we’re welcoming back James Ellis III, University Chaplain at Trinity Western University, and this time we’re going into a discussion about COVID-19. The pandemic has stopped all of us in our tracks, and in this episode, Daniel and James take the time to address what a biblical response should be by looking directly to the Bible and what God says. It’s not a light conversation because the loss that is accompanied with the novel coronavirus is devastating. But, our outward perspective and inward posture towards God is what will make the difference in this time.

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Kourtney Cromwell:
Welcome to the indoubt Podcast where we explore the challenging topics that young adults often face. Each week we talk with guests who help answer questions of faith, life, and culture, connecting them to our daily experiences and God’s Word. For more info on indoubt, visit indoubt.ca or indoubt.com

Kourtney Cromwell:
Hey everybody, it’s so good to have you for this episode of indoubt. This is Kourtney and I’m looking forward to what we’ve got for you today. If you were with us for the last episode, you would have heard James Ellis III, University Chaplain of Trinity Western University, talk through his story and the racial divides in today’s culture. I’m excited to welcome him back for a second conversation with Daniel and this time we’re going into a discussion of COVID-19. This pandemic has stopped all of us in our tracks. It’s slowed our normal pace of life and the rhythms that we’ve become accustomed to. So Daniel and James are taking the time to address our response, looking straight to the Bible and what God says.

Kourtney Cromwell:
It’s not a light conversation because each of us recognizes the loss that’s accompanied with the novel coronavirus, loss of income, loss of businesses, and most importantly, and the biggest loss, the loss of life. As you’ll hear James comment that not one of us is going to make it through this without being affected in some way. So with that said, here’s the discussion with Daniel and James Ellis III.

Daniel Markin:
Hey, welcome to in doubt. My name is Daniel Markin and I’m joined again by James Ellis III. How you doing, James?

James Ellis III:
I’m doing well. I’m in the land of the living, so all as well.

Daniel Markin:
Good. And just again for our listeners, who might not have listened to you the last time you were on the program, could you just give them a quick recap of who you are and what you do? Tell us a bit about yourself.

James Ellis III:
Yeah, as of September 16th, last fall, I came onboard at Trinity Western University as the University Chaplain and Director of Student Ministry. So I have a staff of fellow chaplains that I lead here and preach pretty often and all kinds of cool ministry things and grateful to be here.

Daniel Markin:
Well, we’re happy to have you at Trinity Western, but also joining us on the program today. The thing I want to talk about in this episode, in this discussion, that we’re going to do, I want to talk about the current event that everyone is talking about, which is coronavirus or COVID-19, and I want to hear from you how you’re dealing with this. You are a chaplain, you are brought onto the campus to be a spiritual leader for students. How has that been at Trinity Western? How are you handling all of this? And how are you finding hope amidst all of this COVID-19?

James Ellis III:
Yeah, it’d be my pleasure. I would say, first off, my heart goes out to those who are experiencing loss. As you mentioned, those who are losing money or businesses, those who have lost, in particular, the biggest loss, the loss of life. Whether that’s a grandparent or been a spouse, or who knows. This is a global issue and something that no one is going to come out from untouched. Your money isn’t going to save you. Your connections aren’t going to save you. There’s no special hocus pocus dance that you can do that’s going to protect you from not being impacted by COVID-19. And so there’s lament in that. That’s not an easy thing to go through. And so yeah, I just want to acknowledge that from the beginning.

James Ellis III:
As far as myself, I’m doing well. To be frank, this is a time where most of us are sequestered, so to speak, in our homes or working remotely and these kinds of things. And then you go out to get groceries or maybe to do some walking, but we’re not doing the things that we’re used to doing. And as an introvert, I’m okay with all that.

Daniel Markin:
Yeah. This is the dream.

James Ellis III:
It’s not necessarily the dream. I do enjoy interacting with people. And as much as I appreciate Zoom and those kinds of video conferencing technologies that we have at our disposal, even as an introvert, it’s just not ideal. I don’t enjoy staring into some screen seeing an image of a person, even though I’m not interacting with that person. It’s a weird thing.

Daniel Markin:
It is.

James Ellis III:
You feel like alternative universe.

Daniel Markin:
It is. And just to jump in there, it is tiring in a different way.

James Ellis III:
Yes.

Daniel Markin:
And that’s the thing that’s been blowing my mind is you think, well, I don’t have to go anywhere. I’m just sitting in my pajamas talking to people. Which, by the way, I’m not in my pajamas. But the idea that it’s just so different speaking to a screen and I’ve talked to a lot of people who are finding it very tiring. Why do you think that is?

James Ellis III:
Yeah, no, I’m right there with you. I’ve talked with my staff here and colleagues that it’s a strange thing. I think part of it is just the fatigue of staring into cyberspace. It’s different to have a conversation just on the phone, we’re used to doing that, I think. But the combination of audio and video and just that you’re trying to focus, you want to be attentive, and so you’re having this video call and you’re looking, but all you can do is look into a screen. How engaged can you be to look into a screen? Even though you’re talking back and forth. It’s just the weirdest thing. So I have experienced that too. I get tired and I’m like, man, I just did one Zoom call for 30 minutes and I just really want to take a nap. And so sometimes I do. I don’t have any shame about that.

James Ellis III:
I guess I would just say, like I said, for me, especially being an introvert, I want to recognize the loss of life and the loss of finances, those are very real and trying things. But outside of that, just the slower pace of life that we’re all, I think, having to move at, even the ways in which everything isn’t available at our fingertips, go into the store and these kinds of things, just because of the way I live my life, that honestly hasn’t been a huge hurdle.

James Ellis III:
The biggest thing for me is I don’t like not being able to go to the gym because I go to the gym almost every day of at least the work week, Monday through Friday, probably like 5:00, and I just don’t like not having that available. So I’ve had to make my own home workouts and go outside, and I have a big tire I flip and a weight vest and all kinds of different things. That’s what happens when you get older. You’re trying to think up all these ways you can speed up your metabolism.

James Ellis III:
But by and large, I’m doing well. I think you asked about hope. How have I maintained hope. I think it is really just because of Jesus. It’s a cliche answer, but it’s not cliche because it’s real. Our hope, as the hymn says, is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ and his righteousness. So I think that’s where I find my hope. I would love to have some more money in my bank account, pre or post COVID, but I’m good because of Jesus.

James Ellis III:
I would love to have a lot of different things in my life look different than how they do now, but my life is not dictated by those things, much like my life is not dictated by COVID-19. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And so I put my hope and my trust in him, that God is going to work all this stuff out. He has a plan. He doesn’t run his plans by me and have a little committee huddle. He doesn’t call me on Zoom and say, “Yo, I really need to check in with James and see how he feels about this thing I’m about to roll out or that I’m going to allow to happen.”

James Ellis III:
So yeah, I’ve just tried to take my lead by surrendering to Christ, which is really something where we’re supposed to be doing every day. So yeah, it’s been okay. Tough time, but I’ve been okay.

Daniel Markin:
Yeah, you have a good perspective on that because this is something I’ve been reflecting on as well, is that the Lord, He knew this was coming and He was not afraid of it coming. He allowed this for His glory and for the purposes of His Kingdom. And even though we don’t see those right now, we can’t deny the fact that God is sovereign over every single situation.

James Ellis III:
I agree. It can sound, again, I don’t mean to be dismissive, again, there’s significant things that have happened in terms of loss and we need to recognize those things and be there for people to mourn with people as they mourn. To weep as they weep, again, over loss of even some material things, retirement whatever it may be. And the loss of life, which is the greatest loss.

James Ellis III:
But yeah, I agree. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. What that does not mean is that everything that happens in life is good, because you cannot find in scripture that there’s some mandate that everything that happens in life is the most awesome thing ever. No, that would be ridiculous. But it does mean that somehow in God’s infinite wisdom, He takes the good, the bad, and the ugly of life and somehow morphs it into this great tapestry that reflects what He wills for our lives in order to draw us closer and closer to Him, for us to rely more and more on Him and less and less on ourselves.

James Ellis III:
And I think COVID-19, or any economic downturn that happens, all of this minimally, is for us to refocus on God and those things that matter most. And so that doesn’t mean it feels good, but it does mean that like anything else in life, God wants to use it for His glory and for our good.

Daniel Markin:
Yeah. And it’s definitely exposing the idols that we have in our life. And what I mean by that is little things that we put in first place instead of God, and things that we tend to idolize instead of God. For people who idolize money, money is at a shortage. Some people aren’t working. If you put your trust in money, well, it’s going to fail you. If you put your faith in health, you idolize your health… You’re a guy who likes going to the gym, being active. So am I. But if I put all of my faith into my health, if I idolize it, well, one small virus comes and changes all of that, and it does again just remind the Christian, and we have hope that we can actually just put our identity, our faith, everything we have into the person of Christ and trust that what He did was enough. And because of that, there is a hope that weathers the storm. He is the one who calms the storm. And so yeah, exactly what you’re saying. This is a unique time for that.

James Ellis III:
For me, as COVID-19 started rolling out and ramping up to where we all started taking it a bit more seriously than we had when maybe it was just the first mentions of it several months ago, I think we should not make anything or anyone an idol. Nothing or no one deserves the place that God deserves to hold in our lives. And one of the ways in which it’s been my impression that we have made something an idol has been gathering together Sunday mornings for worship or maybe gathering together in general. And what by that is not that gathering together is bad. Of course it’s good. Scripture says we should not forsake the assembly of believers. Regularly gathering together in community, whether that’s for meals, for encouragement, for worship, et cetera, those are all good and godly things that we should do. But I think just as some of the restrictions and various provinces in the states we’re coming out where, I remember that first Sunday where everybody was not gathering for church. People were losing their minds. They’re like, “Oh my goodness, we’re not able to meet.”

James Ellis III:
And I’m like, “One Sunday? Brother, for one Sunday, one Sunday you can’t meet, and you’re losing your mind.” I think sometimes the church, we don’t do the greatest job, at least in the modern era, of having pause, illustrating prudence, exhibiting a slower pace and approach to life, and being able to take stock and say, okay, this is what’s going on. This is the reality as it is. But how can we walk by faith and not by sight, and still respect whatever laws of the land or guidelines are being administered so that the entire whole of a country, or the world really, can get a hold on this COVID-19 thing?

Daniel Markin:
Let me ask you this. You mentioned earlier about lament. Can you explain what that is and how we should be incorporating, or how to incorporate, lament into our spiritual walk?

James Ellis III:
Yeah, I think just generally speaking, broadly speaking, lament is just to express sorrow, to express grief. And I would say in the Christian context, we don’t see there being any apology for that. There’s no reason that we have to feel bad that we feel bad about something. I don’t think we want to stay in a prolonged, ever present, every day, posture of lament, where we’re just constantly moping around or we’re on sackcloth and ashes and beating our fists on the ground. That’s not healthy. But we have a whole book in the Bible called Lamentations. That really is about this idea of lament.

James Ellis III:
And you see it in the book of Job. You see it throughout scripture, that there are times where Christians, maybe you could say, are at their wit’s end or face their dark night of the soul, and don’t maybe see God, even though God is there, but they don’t see God or feel God, and are just really struggling with the vicissitudes of life, with the ways in which life doesn’t happen all the way that you want it to. You get caught off guard and things happen.

James Ellis III:
And so, yeah, I think lament is really just an acknowledgement of, I guess, you could say brokenness. That we live in a broken world. We are broken people. And I don’t think, at least when I read scripture, God has called any of us to be a mini me of Jesus. We are not to be these little mini mes of Jesus. We are to be creations that are created in an image of God, but where we have personalities, we have backgrounds, we have experiences, we have pros and cons to us, nature and nurture. God has called us to be the best James, or the best Daniel, or the best whoever, that he’s called us to be, and to steward our gifts and our grace as well.

James Ellis III:
And in that experience, again, in a fallen world with fallen bodies and fallen people, there’s going to be calamity personally, globally. There’s going to be things. My wife and I don’t have children but some couples suffer miscarriages. Some couple that has been married for 25 years, they lose their 17 year old son or something like. These things happen. And as Christians we don’t have to gloss over them. We don’t have to stuff our emotions down in a box or put on a fake smile and act like everything’s hunky-dory. We can be honest with our God and honest with others and ourselves about what we’re feeling and then participate in the process by which God wants to lift up our heads and change our focus and our perspective that we look to the hills from hence comes our help.

Daniel Markin:
Yeah. And that’s from Isaiah. That’s a great… Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord. You see David over and over and over again lamenting, and he’s pouring out his heart to God. And this is the invitation of the Christian. And I heard put really well by a pastor I was listening to in Vancouver, his name is Brett Landry. And he said, “There’s times that you have to lament.” And he said, “Lamenting is good.” He said there was a disappointing thing that happened in his congregation and he said, “It’s important for us to take these emotions and these frustrations and lament. Bring that to the Lord.” He said, “Otherwise, if you don’t, it’s going to create bitterness inside of you.”

Daniel Markin:
And so to me, lament seems like actually a really practical way that we can not harbor bitterness against God. The idea of lament is just pouring out to God saying, “God, I don’t know why this happens. I don’t know why you’re doing this. But I need you right now.” And there’s something that is releasing and transformational about the act of lament that I think we could spend a lot more time doing, even just in our personal reflections, but in prayer, always going in prayer before God and he wants to hear those laments.

James Ellis III:
Yeah, what you said, makes me think about Charles Spurgeon, was this great preacher from years ago. He said that, “God is too good to be unkind and he is too wise to be mistaken. And when you cannot trace his hand, we must trust his heart.” And I think that really gets at again, we all, we have feelings, we have all kinds of things that happen to us in life, and we can be honest with God about those things.

James Ellis III:
I’m not encouraging anybody to cuss God out, but God can handle our frustrations and our questions and all that. But I think the arc of Scripture leads us towards a posture that even when we can’t see what God is doing, we don’t understand, it doesn’t make sense, it’s frustrating, we still can trust God’s heart. And how do you understand God’s heart? You read scripture. You see it in scripture.

Daniel Markin:
Yeah. As you look at the coronavirus, COVID-19, and the future of the church, what are some of the things that you see might be changes that are coming or bright spots that might exist as a result of this that would give us hope for the future of the church looking forward? What are your thoughts on that?

James Ellis III:
Yeah, I think that again, this COVID-19 stuff is not good, but God will use it for His good, much like again like He has with anything else that has happened in human history. I think some of the good that I see glimpses of, and that I hope continues, for us to get from this is Christians really deciding that they are going to live out their faith in a robust Orthodox way. So orthodoxy and orthopraxy would come together in a great marriage.

James Ellis III:
I think this pandemic, if you will, has really exposed for a lot of people, maybe they haven’t told someone, maybe they have, but just this recognition that, you know what, I don’t really know if I really do rock with Jesus. Because it’s been so easy during this time of upheaval with finances and health and all these different things, that I realize I don’t have this rock. I don’t have this foundation that I am firm and stable and steadfast and sober minded in my trust that God, and God alone, not my bank account, not my 401K, not my spouse, not my kids and what they do or do not achieve in life, but Christ himself is my rock. And that’s upon that I stand. I stand on his shoulders, so to speak.

James Ellis III:
I think it’s a positive thing. It’s a calamity, but it can be used for good in a sense that I hope that there will be people who reevaluate their faith and maybe comes to the conclusion that maybe I’ve been going through the motions, but I really have never put my faith for real, for real in Jesus Christ. And for those who would say that they have already put their faith in Christ, I think it has jarred us enough, hopefully, for us to realize, man, we can still go through the motions. We can still idolize our kid’s soccer practice. We can idolize our jobs and become workaholics and neglect our families, by which we say I am a workaholic because I love my family and I want to provide, which is oxymoronic.

James Ellis III:
And so yeah, that’s the biggest hope, I think for me, that people would come to faith, that the people of God who are already in Christ would realize that this is a great time for us to recalibrate ourselves and refocus on God and prioritize him in our life. Put our faith in him, not in people, and then see what God does. This is a life that he has gifted us. He doesn’t owe us anything whatsoever. And I think it’s a great time for us to double down on that.

Daniel Markin:
Yeah. I would say the thing I’m looking forward to and hoping for is that a renewed sense of gathering with one another. I think everyone’s now missing being with their brothers and sisters, and I think the idea of the church feeling like a family is something that people are really yearning for. And I hope that when we get back to the regular gatherings, that people will cherish that and not take it for granted.

Daniel Markin:
Church isn’t something they just show up to, but they really want to be there with their friends and their family, and I just think all the smiles that will be had, the joy that’ll be had when we’re together again is going to be fantastic.

James Ellis III:
Yeah, I’m with you. I think as policies are lifted and changed, hopefully sooner than later, it is a great opportunity. I’m curious to see how we will steward that. It could be real easy to say praise the Lord, hallelujah, now we can go to church. And we just fall back into the same old same old that we’ve maybe been accustomed to.

James Ellis III:
Or we can say praise the Lord, hallelujah, I can gather with the saints. I can be engaged more intimately in the body of Christ to do all these different kinds of things. And I don’t want it to be just run of the mill Christian life. I want it to be something that is dynamic. I want it to be something that is meaningful and substantive. And that means, while God always does the heavy lifting, that means that I have a part to play. God expects me to do my part well in submission to the Holy Spirit. And so that’s my encouragement for folks.

Daniel Markin:
Right. And I think I get what you’re saying there too is, this is an awesome time to put habits in place. The disciplines of reading our Bible, praying, we have time, a lot of us, to actually make that a habit. And so I hope that those listening are really taking that seriously. That these are the types of habits that will develop you into the person of God that God wants you to be, but also that I think deep down we want to be too. We often struggle with Bible reading and this is a great way to get that habit going so that that’s something we want to do, we desire it, and not out of a place of, well I have to read my Bible to be a good Christian, but that would be legalism and religion. This is, we want to read our Bible because we have been transformed and we want to know more about who our God is.

James Ellis III:
Yeah. For me there’s been some conversations around revival and I would love to see revival for sure, particularly in the ways when we think of revival, we probably all have different things in mind in terms of large gatherings of people come into phase and these things that are sustained over weeks, or months, or have you. I would love to see that. So, I want to be clear that that would be awesome. But I think sometimes what we fail to realize is that revival always begins in our hearts. It begins in the hearts of individuals and how we, again, try to prioritize God in our life.

James Ellis III:
It doesn’t mean we can say the right prayer or lay prostrate on the ground and that’s going to somehow get God’s attention and he’s going to maybe do what we want him to do, but I think, yeah, the ways in which we can reflect on our own lives and our commitment to holiness, or lack thereof, just the sphere of influence and management, or stewardship, that God has given us. We can’t control everything, but we can manage ourselves. We can steward ourselves and do that in light of Christ. And so, yeah, I’m excited.

James Ellis III:
Again, I’ll admit that the loss of life and loss of finances and the just jarring moment that this is for all of us, but I look forward to, yeah, the faithful in Christ to see what we’ll do with it. And as you mentioned, not from a position of dogmatism and duty, or anything like that, but to say, I’ve been bought at a price. Freedom is not free. Christ died for me. And I want to steward that responsibility well. I want to steward the good news well. And that begins first and foremost with my own life.

Daniel Markin:
Yeah, no, that’s really good. I guess on a practical level then you heading back to work, back to being a chaplain at Trinity Western. Just real quick, what are some practical things that you are hoping to implement in your ministry?

James Ellis III:
Yeah, well we were already planning to move chapel into a, I guess the buzzword now is multi-access model, which is to say we don’t know if we’ll have physical gatherings on campus for chapel, again that just depends on how the province and other decisions are made. But we were at the very least already planning to have chapel streamed online, or through video, or to have chapel captured through video and then do some post-production, edit it, and then post it online where people can download it. at their leisure. So some of that are things that we’re still moving forward with, and so I think that’ll set us up well for the next school year. And then just continuing to try to be a resource to students.

James Ellis III:
This is a different swing for all of us, so we’re all trying to do something that we’ve never done before in terms of utilizing technology for, by and large, most everything. If students want to meet, it’s just trying to set up a Zoom call, or have a phone call, or what have you. So I think just adjusting to, again, that reality, how long that will be something that we have to conduct ourselves in that way, time will tell, but I think just trying to do our little part as faithful as we can. I think again, God always does the heavy lifting and so it doesn’t mean our parts are not important, they are important, they’re just never as important as God.

James Ellis III:
And so I think I just want encourage people to do your part well, whatever that is, but always recognize that God is the one who’s really carrying you through. And so that should take some of the pressure off of you. He’s not expecting you to be perfect. Jesus already has that covered. But just do your part well and be fateful and be earnest in your endeavours.

Daniel Markin:
Yeah, well that’s a great word and James, I think that’s a good place to wind this thing down. Thank you for joining us and thank you for being here.

James Ellis III:
My pleasure.

Kourtney Cromwell:
In the face of all this change, I hope that you were able to take this conversation and apply it in your life. It’s definitely a difficult time, but our outward perspective and inward posture towards God is what will make the difference in this time. So lament, if you need to. Reflect and feel the things you’re feeling. God can handle it.

Kourtney Cromwell:
Next week is another brand new episode of indoubt. Isaac has the opportunity to talk with Iona Snair, and she’s the Associate Director of Life Team Ministry in Vancouver, BC. The two discuss mental health in the face of this pandemic.

Kourtney Cromwell:
Thanks so much for listening. If you want to hear more, subscribe on iTunes and Spotify, or visit us online at indoubt.ca or indoubt.com. We’re also on social media, so make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

 

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COVID-19 - Ep. 226: COVID-19 Culture with James Ellis III on the indoubt Podcast

Who's Our Guest?

James Ellis III

Ordained in the Baptist tradition, Rev. James Ellis III serves as University Chaplain and Director of Student Ministries at Trinity Western University, Canada’s leading Christian liberal arts institution of roughly 6,000 students. He is the editor of a 2015 book on Smyth & Helwys Press, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil: Stories about the Challenges of Young Pastors.
COVID-19 - Ep. 226: COVID-19 Culture with James Ellis III on the indoubt Podcast

Who's Our Guest?

James Ellis III

Ordained in the Baptist tradition, Rev. James Ellis III serves as University Chaplain and Director of Student Ministries at Trinity Western University, Canada’s leading Christian liberal arts institution of roughly 6,000 students. He is the editor of a 2015 book on Smyth & Helwys Press, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil: Stories about the Challenges of Young Pastors.