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Abstaining is not Leadership

While there are some contexts where abstinence is the best policy, leaders are not abstain-ers.

Recently, significant members of Liberal party of Canada abstained from voting on a motion in parliament proposed by the Conservative government stating:
“the People’s Republic of China has engaged in actions consistent with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 260, commonly known as the ‘Genocide Convention’.. [and] the House, therefore, recognize that a genocide is currently being carried out by the People’s Republic of China against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims… and call on the government to officially adopt this position.”

The motion passed by a vote of 266 to zero despite the many abstentions (there are 308 members of parliament). As noted in the following reports, although members from all parties voted in favor of the motion (including the Liberals), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was not present, along with a number of other members. Two Liberal caucus members including Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau who voiced opposition to the motion but abstained when it came time to officially cast a vote. (Reports from Global, CTV & CBC)

Whether one agrees with the motion or not, abstaining (or not being present to vote) is NOT leadership. In fact, borders on cowardice.* The primary (only?) reason a person should abstain from a vote is due to a conflict of interest. As a government leader, you are called to represent the people you serve. To abstain, is to silence the voice of those constituents. A leader should always vote on a matter, whether affirmative or negative. (The irony of Prime Minister Trudeau’s abstention on this matter in contrast to other occasions where he has moved ahead despite a conflict of interest will not be lost on some!)

There are those who contend the choice to abstain because they agree with the intent of the motion, but feel they cannot appear to be favorable towards it for other interests. In regards to this specific case, political experts believe Trudeau is trying to minimize alienating the Chinese government further due to ongoing negotiations regarding two Canadian men detained in China and the already strained relations pertaining to the case of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive under house arrest in Vancouver who is the subject of an extradition request from the USA.

While commendable, one wonders how not even showing up for the vote – and thus abstaining – really “saves face” for PM Trudeau. Furthermore, if as a leader one is so convinced a motion is detrimental to the country’s relationship with China, would it not be better to make an impassioned speech to not pass this motion for the sake of Canadians living abroad? Wouldn’t it be better to vote “No” and then be able to face the government authorities in China and say, “this is what the nation has decided, even though as the record shows, I personally was against the motion”?

However, abstainers appear in all sorts of non-government organizations too! Non-profit organizations (eg. churches, educational institutions, charities, etc) hold board meetings where individuals abstain from voting for a motion. Often the person opposes the motion, but rather than vote “no” – and be viewed as a troublemaker, having a personal issue with a certain person, or being anti-change – the person simply abstains, as if this leaves them less responsible. In fact, legally the whole board is liable for the decision, even if a member abstains. At least if the minutes recorded your vote as negative, you might have some recourse if a decision yields bad results.

If one sincerely disagrees with a motion, they need to let the permanent record reflect their opposition, and, if possible, explain the reasons. A leaders needs to have the strength of conviction to stand by their values, even if they are outnumbered. But to simply abstain accomplishes nothing.

Patrick Lencioni’s books remind leaders that any healthy organization includes a diversity of perspectives and the ability to truly hear all opinions and come to a decision. In fact, the best decisions and strategies often come from the naysayer speaking up and pushing everyone to understand and incorporate their objection(s) into the conclusion or plan.

See: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2011) and The Ideal Team Player (Jossey-Bass, 2016)

*Note: Recognizing there are some legitimate reasons for a Member of Parliament to be away, even when the house is in session (eg. personal health, family reasons, other government responsibilities not in Ottawa).

As always, your comments & feedback are welcome!

Leadership Lessons from “Doc” Emrick

Mike “Doc” Emrick

I would highly recommend watching the NBC documentary “Doc: The Voice of Hockey.”

As you do, you will discover at least five leadership lessons from Mike “Doc” Emrick’s life.

Start Anywhere

Early on in his life, Mike Emrick decided he wanted to be a hockey play-by-play announcer. The documentary describes his doctoral program program choice being based upon the school that would allow him to do play-by-play as his graduate assistant job. He began doing the second period of Bowling Green State University hockey games. (He did graduate from the program, thus earning him the nickname “Doc” through the remainder of his career.)

His first ‘big break” was when the New Jersey Devils franchise hired him as their announcer. Although the Devils were the (very) poorest of the three greater New York teams, both financially and on the ice, “Doc” took the job because it was doing what he always dreamed… play-by-play for an NHL team. Shortly after the team began, Wayne Gretzky described them as a “Mickey Mouse franchise,” again both on and off the ice. In many ways, his first NHL position was at the very bottom of the barrel.

Of course, from the small start, the New Jersey Devils gradually became a Stanley Cup contender, eventually winning three Stanley Cup championships, in no small way thanks to the excellent goaltending of Martin Brodeur who set NHL records in many goaltending categories. Emrick eventually went on to become the play-by-play announcer for NBC Sports, calling Olympic hockey as well as NHL hockey for the regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs each year. He became the “Voice of Hockey” in America.

Find a Mentor

Even before he started broadcasting hockey games in college, he found himself a mentor who would help him work towards to his dream of becoming a play-by-play announcer. He connected with Fort Wayne Comets announcer, Bob Chase, and worked with him in various capacities during his high school years to learn as much as he could. When Chase celebrated his 60th anniversary of broadcasting the Fort Wayne Komets, Emrick returned to honor him which was a thrill for both of them.

Invest in People

The most significant part of Emrick’s career was his investment in the lives of people. His partners in commentary – Bill Clement, John Davidson, and Ed Olcyzk – among others each share of the impact of working with him and his friendship in their lives. NHL players also share how they grew to know and appreciate him, not just for his legendary voice and calls, but for his personal interactions with them and connection to their personal lives. Finally, the next generation of broadcasters explain the little things he did to open doors for them, encourage them in their careers, and intentionally build into their lives and future aspirations. He was a true friend to many, in celebrating the great moments and in connecting with individuals in their hours of great need such as a challenging medical diagnosis.

Interestingly, he saw his role as a broadcaster as the bridge between the game on the ice and the fans watching, whether in the arena or elsewhere. As his influence grew, he increasingly used this role to connect players with the fans, developing many inspirational connections which only enriched various individual lives, the team’s story, and new fans for hockey.

Hard Work

“Doc” Emrick did not become a legendary hockey announcer without hours of hard work and sacrifice. The documentary shows examples and tells stories of his preparation for each and every game, researching the teams and individual players, their backgrounds, and a plethora of details which would sometimes add into the story of the game with the color commentators.

Emrick also mentioned at the end of the documentary a significant part of the hard work was the sacrifice of being away from his wife, Joyce, for approx. 5000 nights over the course of his career, and 42 years of marriage.

Have Fun

The same people who talked about how much “Doc” invests in their lives, also shared how much fun he was… to be around, to broadcast a game with, and to share in big moments. Although he was serious about his work, he did not take himself too seriously. He could easily admit his biggest regret (Patrick Kane overtime winner to win the Stanley Cup for the Chicago Black Hawks in 2010).

From all appearances, it seems “Doc” could still be broadcasting games and doing a good job. Although the reasons for his retirement are not discussed, it appears Emrick also knows how to end well and bow out graciously. As Max Depree says, “the last job of a leader is to say thank you” and Doc also does this well throughout the documentary, saying, “I cannot believe I have had the privilege of broadcasting hockey for 50 years. I just want to say Thank You to so many people who have blessed my life along the way.”

Mike “Doc” Emrick was also interviewed by Jason Romano on the Sports Spectrum podcast. Listen here.
Another great interview with “Doc” came from the Hockey Ministries International All-Star Breakfast in 2018.

I cannot recommend the documentary highly enough!

As always, your comments & feedback are welcome!

2021 Writing Challenge – Awaken

In order to awaken, one must previously be asleep… or at least in some form of inattentiveness to the surroundings. Waking up in the morning, a good night’s sleep is interrupted… whether naturally, by an alarm, or by another individual! Whether welcome or not, any disruption leads to an “Awakening.” All over the world, people have experienced a disruption – and awakening – because of the global pandemic of COVID19.

For example:

  • Individuals are realizing they could work remotely just as successfully as at a work location.
  • Companies recognize employees can be just as productive (if not moreso?) remotely. Corporate office space is not as vital as expected.
  • Restaurants are learning delivery services are important partners in the food service industry.
  • Churches and their leaders are availing themselves of new opportunities to connect more widely with people through technology, initially used as the only way to continue “regular” services.
  • Churches are also recognizing how much (too much?) of their focus was on Sunday worship activities – often in a building – when most claim to be about whole life transformation.
  • With fewer activities open to groups (eg. school, sports, community activities), some families have realized how much time and energy is spent on enjoyable though non-essential activities. And sometimes they have realized how little meaningful communication happens between parents and children because of the “normal” busyness of life.
  • Unfortunately, some families have come to recognize the depth of disconnectedness, even dysfunction, in the home.

Almost everyone realized the truly essential services… often taken for granted:

  • health care professionals at various levels,
  • grocery store staff at various points in the production, delivery and service areas
  • teachers, especially at the K-12 level (and other child care workers)

Whether through COVID19 or some other cause of “Awakening” – a medical diagnosis, a debilitating accident, a tragedy with family or friends, or a spiritual transformation – there are three possible responses, personally and as leaders of organizations:

  • IMplosion,
  • INtrospection, or
  • IMprovisation.

Negatively, a disruption may lead to an IMplosion.

While there are those who suggest COVID caused some businesses to go bankrupt… unless a government program bailed them out… the reality is many of these businesses were too close to the edge already. When a “sudden disaster” struck – in this case COVID19 restrictions – the venture did not have enough margin to survive. It didn’t really explode, the pressure of the circumstance caused the cracks to be exposed and the company imploded.

In our small town, a new food service began in early March 2020. Literally, the weekend after their grand opening weekend with rave reviews, the province (and nation) began stay-at-home orders. One would expect this brand new food service business cratered. No! They pivoted allowing take-out and then physically distanced spacing when people were allowed to return. A year later, they are still a growing business! (Feel free to visit Waffles on Main!)

Positively, a disruption leads to INtrospection and IMprovising

Often a disruption like COVID19 causes one to re-examine their priorities in almost every area of life.
*When, where and how you work?
*When, where and how your family conducts life?
*What activities are truly important and what ones have you realized are enjoyable, but take too much time from the values which you hold truly important. Why do you [insert activity] when you actually enjoyed more quality tine as a family doing [reading, movie nights, board games, etc]?

Nonetheless, if this thoughtful self-examination does not lead to change, individuals – just like organizations – are more liable to revert to imploding or exploding. The implosion of introspection has revealed itself with individuals having mental health issues, even thoughts of suicide. We should not minimize the importance of reaching out to family and friends, over the fence or over the phone, to make sure loved ones are not disconnected.

The other extreme is also possible… individuals exploding with pent up emotions, especially frustrations, at being “cooped up” for so long at home. Again, reach out to a neighbor or family member and check on their emotional health. And make sure you have someone “outside” your home who can help you regulate your emotions in a time of disruption.

The saying “necessity is the mother of invention” proves true in a time of disruption. The disruption “forced” schools to come up with online/virtual learning options for students. K-12, post-secondary schools, and the teachers found creative ways to connect with students and keep their learning moving forward, because they had no other choice during COVID19 restrictions.

For example, Prairie College (and others) improvised by investing in HyFlex technology so whether students were able to return to campus or not in Fall 2020, they would get the same learning experience. This short-term solution enabled them to broaden their technology resources, continue to serve their current students, as well as reach out to potential new students who may never have been able to physically attend classes on campus. As well, they now have hours of recorded class lectures to improve their already burgeoning distance learning/online programs.

Thus, temporary IMprovisation leads to lasting INnovation.

How many of us “zoomed” before March 2020? Now a significant portion of the world “zooms” every day… and everyone understands that’s not a reference to their vehicle travelling fast!

So, next time you “Awaken” – whether from your night time sleep or from an unwanted disruption to your routine – remember every Awakening is an opportunity for you to reflect, restore, and renew yourself, your organization and those who come across your path as a leader.

As always, your feedback & comments are welcome!

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Will you still identify as “evangelical”?

A friend texted me last weekend: “Down goes another evangelical leader!”

The insinuation was clearly, Will you still identify as “evangelical”?

Another implication was that I should no longer hold on to perpetually derogatory category, dismiss any further association with this useless term and join with those, like him, who are Christ followers but not affiliated with any church/group, especially “evangelicals.” They are so out-of-touch with reality and pathetic!

I confess, the recent findings regarding Ravi Zacharias personal failures and RZIM’s lack of accountability and responsibility, are just another example of the multiple occasions in the past few years I have been tempted to disown rather than defend the label “evangelical,” especially as one sees the way the term is employed within social and political rhetoric in America.

However, its not just in America the term has come to be synonymous with political partisanship. In most of the Western world (ie USA, Canada, UK, etc), “evangelical” has come to mean…

  • conservative – both in terms of moral beliefs and values
  • capitalistic – in relation to issues of wealth/poverty and justice, and
  • dismissive – in terms of race relationships as well as environmental stewardship.

As Tim Keller notes:

When I read the Bible, I see four things clearly emphasized:
*Christians ought to be sold out for racial justice.
*Christians should be deeply concerned about the poor.
*Christians should be pro-life.
*Christians should believe that, at least for Christians, sex should only be between a man and a woman in marriage.
Two of those beliefs look very conservate and two of those look very liberal, and the [evangelical] Church has to find a way to preach both. Most Christian churches will feel pressure to focus on two of these and neglect the others.

From the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, Episode 339.

For these key reasons, many Christians – especially those under the age of 40 – eschew the label “evangelical” because they do not want to be associated with these values and views which are clearly contrary to the Gospel.

Nonetheless, here are three reasons I will continue to identify as “evangelical” and I invite my brothers & sisters who hold similar concerns to help correct the false ways the term has been co-opted in favor and restore the label “evangelical” to more accurately reflect the transformational Good News of Jesus.

Evangelical is the Most “Biblical” term

First and foremost, as Brian Stiller points out in his Christianity Today article, “evangelical” is a biblical word, deriving from the Greek word euangelion meaning “good news.” Any person who testifies to the Good News – that Jesus came to earth as a baby, lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and then rose again to pay the penalty for human sin, individually and corporately – and affirms Jesus is the only way to have a right relationship with God, the Creator of the universe, is an “evangelical,” whether they want to admit it or not. If you believe the above, you a believer, Christ-follower, and (evangelical) Christian.

Certainly, there are individuals who claim to believe this and yet their life and choices do not reflect the truths of the Bible (arguably another part of what it means to be evangelical is to hold to the 66 books of the Old & New Testament to be the sole authoritative guide for a Christian’s faith and practice). This is more than just unfortunate. It is sad. In fact, it is wrong.

Likewise, if anyone chooses to read the various books contained in the Bible, you learn two things: 1) God will justly judge those who claim to be followers, but do not live their lives accordingly and 2) human beings are not to serve as the judges of others, but to continue to love and care for them, enough to call them to repent and change their ways.

Yet the reality of this hypocrisy is ironically another indication of the Good News. For those claiming faith but living no differently from unbelievers, the reason the Good News is just that (Good News) is because while no person can do anything to earn God’s grace, neither can a person do anything to separate themselves from God’s love once they have trusted in Him.

Evangelical is an Effective Defining Term

In order to be a useful term for descriptive purposes, any term must provide definition to the limiting parameters – who or what should be included and who or what should be excluded. The term evangelical is a term which accurately reflects diversity within the historic confessions of church doctrine. For example, within the term evangelical Reformed, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and many other denominations can be included. Organizations who work within certain parameters of doctrine (such as those identified above) can be included regardless of the continent they operate physically. Finally, the type of work an organization is involved in – church, education, health care, social justice, etc – can be included when it affirms the common doctrinal foundations of evangelicalism.

Nonetheless, “evangelical” is also a limiting term. It requires adherence to the Bible as the One True Story of the universe and Jesus Christ, God-in-the-flesh as the solution to the problem of human sin (see above). So, my understanding is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not “evangelical” because they do not believe Jesus in the divinity of Jesus (or the Scriptures as God’s sole revelation). Likewise, while I do believe there are Catholic Christians, the Roman Catholic church is not evangelical as the official teaching of RC church ascribes infallibility to the human pope(s) when they speak ex cathedra.

Nonetheless, a term that is accurate (ie “biblical”) and adequately provides parameters leads one to think the term is meaningful. The fact the terms is called into question because those who have professed beliefs and values and then failed terribly to live them leads to a discussion of the third reason to keep the term.

Poor Logical Argumentation

  • Ad Hominem Argument

Ironically, those who claim to be enlightened – and thus want to disassociate from the term “evangelical” – commit a basic logical fallacy known as the ad hominem argument. Simply put, rather than attacking the validity of the term, they attack the person(s) in an attempt to discredit the argument. Identifying Ravi’s life and ministry failures shows that evangelicalism is a failure. There could not be a more obvious example of an ad hominem argument.

  • Fallacy of Overgeneralization

Similarly, critics of evangelicals point to the multiple examples in recent years – as well as past generations – of leaders guilty of scandalous, immoral and illegal actions (eg. Ravi Zacharias, Bill Hybels, etc). Yet just as we would be horrified if a researcher pointed to individuals of one race as indicative of “all [Asians, Africans, Latinos, etc],” evangelicals should not so easily accept the fallacy of overgeneralization foisted upon us by those eager to discredit Christianity. Yes, these embarrassingly common examples are tragic. Yet for every high profile leader caught in horrific sin, there are countless leaders working in small, medium and even large churches and non-profits serving Jesus and their communities with sincerity and integrity. They seldom make headlines because they simply serve God faithfully in the daily duties of work, life, family, etc.

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Muslims did not stop claiming to be Muslim, simply because of few extremists killed hundreds of people in the name of their faith. While some noted differences between Shi’ite and Suni forms of Islam, even these differences have lessened as time passes, people who now presume a person to be a terrorist simply because they are Arab or demonstrate Islamic practices are correctly rebuked for being “racist.” One can disagree with the claims of Islam without believing every Muslim is a threat to his/her personal or community safety.

Society in general does not tolerate the fallacy of overgeneralization and so “evangelicals” should not cave to it either!

A Commitment

The above three reasons notwithstanding, as a white, male, evangelical – one who has rarely experienced being “the other,” and comes from undeserved privilege, I want to commit to the following:

I will listen patiently to your experience of gender, sexuality, race, as well as generational and systemic mistreatment (eg. colonialism, racism) with the purpose of understanding how these influences make the reconciliation and restoration of the Gospel challenging for you embrace whole-heartedly. Similarly, I am willing to reconsider my interpretation of Scripture passages to see how your experience informs and/or corrects the prejudices with which I approach the text. I will respect your perspective, regardless of whether we can come to agreement, and will trust you are able to regard my view similarly, even if we cannot affirm the other’s explanation.

As always, your feedback and comments are welcome:

4 Faith Lessons for Christians from COVID

As the Coronavirus pandemic has already celebrated its first “birthday” in North America, hopefully Western Christians have learned these faith lessons from a year of pandemic living. While other posts consider leadership and life lessons from COVID (see below), the principles in this post are specifically for those readers who claim to follow Jesus.

Satan will use ANYthing to divide Christians.

Most believers have heard stories of a local church dividing over the color of paint on the walls or carpet in the building. Some have experienced a fellowship dividing over a minor doctrinal point, while others have separated fellowship over a more significant area of doctrine. While unaware of any church officially splitting over Coronavirus responses, I have heard of many pastors who are being pulled in opposite directions about having services, following government restrictions, wearing masks, etc. Individuals in congregations will not talk to fellow members on the “other side” of the issue and treat them as anathema.

Christians are among the worst people at disagreeing well. The COVID19 pandemic demonstrates this reality… again! While believers exchange nasty words, share sneering faces, and shake their heads at one another, the true Enemy sits back and smiles! He has found something else for Christians to fight about instead of showing the love of God to lost people. Mission Accomplished!

COVID19 restrictions are NOT persecution.

While not precluding the above point, Christians in the Western world need to be clear: The COVID19 restrictions set out by the governments in Canada, the USA, Australia, Europe and other nations do not in any way, shape, or form, constitute persecution of the Church.

First, the restrictions are not directed only at Christians. They apply to the whole population of a country. Muslims cannot meet in their mosques. Jews cannot meet in their synagogues. Christians cannot meet in churches. No religious is being “persecuted.” All citizens are under the same restrictions.

Secondly, persecution involves the taking of property, provisions (food and shelter), or life itself on account of your personal faith beliefs. I have not heard of any church (or other group) having their property taken away by the government because of COVID19. Nor have I heard of any individuals or groups being beaten, imprisoned or killed for practicing their religious beliefs during COVID.

Unfortunately, I have heard of various Christian churches defying the government when not allowed to meet in groups of more than 10 (when this was a restriction). Even worse, there were significant large churches who openly announced (ie “in your face”) they would continue to meet in large groups (ie. hundreds and thousands)… and then claimed persecution if they were fined.

Again, while we can disagree, let’s remember: there are people in parts of the world who are having their houses burned or destroyed, being put in prison, having their children and spouse brutalized, and even losing their life because they claim to follow Jesus – and will not renounce this truth, even when threatened with the above actions. This is being the true definition of being persecuted for your faith.

The light of the Gospel shines brightest where God’s Word is most closely followed.

Related to the previous two points, it is not surprising that in parts of Asia where Christians experience real persecution for being followers of Christ, the Gospel continues to change and transform other lives. In contrast, much of the Western world increasingly identifies as “post-Christian,” in large part because those who claim to follow Christ experience and demonstrate so little of what Jesus exemplified and God’s Word teaches.

A Christ-follower loves someone, regardless of if they agree with them on some matter. A Christ-follower also loves those who mistreat them.

I confess I have found myself upset, disturbed, and angry with individuals in my circle of acquaintance who are clearly on the opposite side in regards to COVID19. How can s/he be so stupid? gullible? clueless? (I realize they probably think the same about me!) And I have even found myself thinking, “Well I hope they test positive and get a real strong case of COVID19 so they’ll see its not-just-another-flu-bug!” (Though I have not yet wished someone die from it! Is that commendable?)

Like many professing Christians, I have found LOTS of room for growth in my love for other believers, especially those who disagree with me on such “obvious” matters. And even if someone accuses me, or a friend or family member – of being stupid, gullible, or clueless – Jesus calls me to treat them with the unconditional love of Christ. COVID19 has revealed I still have plenty to learn about loving others in Jesus name.

Likewise, the Scriptures and especially the Gospels, Acts, and epistles explain how believers are to bless those who curse or insult them and pray for their leaders. Even those who, like Nero, are against Christians and their values. Again, the number of comments from those who claim the name of Jesus yet speak maliciously and accusingly- verbally as well as in various written forms including social media – against government leaders (eg. Trudeau, Trump, Biden, etc) is so contrary to the biblical manner of speech and the injunctions about Christians and their relationship to leaders.

Again, is it any wonder the Gospel light is dim in Western nations who we speak and act so flippantly regarding God’s principles of speech and submission to authority.

God’s always accomplishes His purposes for humanity and the world.

Despite both of the above realities, God continues to accomplish His divine purposes through the pandemic. The Coronavirus did not surprise God. In fact, one year later, stories are emerging of how God prepares His people for advance to accomplish His redeeming work.

One congregation had just gone through a hurtful series of pastoral resignations as well as elders leaving the board and the church, and desperately needed healing. A guest was invited to share with the new group of elders as part of their initial gathering to start trying to put the pieces back together. The elders were so blessed, they asked the individual to share with the whole congregation. The Sunday morning he was scheduled to speak was the second one as COVID19 restrictions began. Soon the congregation in this part of the world was closed to public meetings and so this guest speaker and a colleague did an eight part series of messages pre-recorded for the congregation to watch through the church’s website. Members then were broken into small groups where each small group interacted with the previous message. In the end, the congregation of just over 200 had almost 100 members complete the study and 12 small groups emerged, many wanting to continue with whatever the next sermon series. The small groups provided connection and community in the midst of the lockdown and also helped healing begin.

Another example of God being ready to work through COVID occurs with the Alpha program, as shared by Nicky Gumbel on the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast. Watch or Listen here.

Dr Hormoz Shariet, founder and president of Iran Alive Ministries, also explains how the global pandemic has substantially increased their ministry in Iran and the Middle East. See a video interview here.

It would be great to hear your story of God’s work through the pandemic. Please share in the space provided below. As always, your comments and feedback are welcome too!

Consider reading other posts relating to COVID19:

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