The State of California has been updating its COVID regulations over the past three or four weeks. As a religious educator, I have to familiarize myself with three separate sets of regulations: “industry guidance” for “places of worship and cultural ceremonies,” “cohorts for children and youth in supervised settings,” and “daycamps and other supervised youth activities.”

Reading through these regulations is a mind-numbing experience. Many of the regulations start off saying “you have to do thus-and-so” but then refer you to another Web page or PDF which says “you have to do this-and-that,” where the two different sources don’t exactly contradict each other, but don’t seem to be in full agreement either.

And sometimes the rules are vague. In my favorite example, the state rules frequently say that “physical distancing” is required, but then they don’t tell you exactly what distance is required. Are we supposed to assume six feet? But a year ago, some of the physical distancing requirements were greater than six feet, as for example the distance required to be maintained between two stable cohorts of children. And now federal recommendations from the CDC are saying that three feet might be enough physical distancing; is the state trying to be deliberately vague about the amount of physical distancing, so they can decide later whether to adopt the CDC guidelines or not?

And I’m glad I don’t have to deal very much with the “industry guidance” for “places of worship and cultural ceremonies,” because those regulations contradict themselves. Due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, California is not allowed to have regulations for places of worship that differ from the regulations for other large gatherings. And the first page you hit on for “industry guidance” for “places of worship and cultural ceremonies” basically says to see the guidance for large gatherings, which should make things easier, right? — but then there’s also a link to a PDF with rules from 2020 that are clearly not acceptable under the Supreme Court ruling, but because they’re linked to from the current “guidance” mean that still you’re supposed to follow them — I guess?

I understand that this must be an incredibly difficult time for state regulators and state employees. I’m sure they’re doing their best. But as it stands now, the regulations are so disorganized that I sometimes find it impossible to understand what I’m supposed to do. I sometimes feel like they wrote these regulations assuming we’re all big corporations who can hire full-time staffers to sort through this mass of material. The things is, if you’re a small nonprofit or a small business and trying to figure it out on your own, the staffer who’s trying to make sense out of the regulations doesn’t have hours and hours of spare time because we’re already working overtime trying to deal with everything else the pandemic is throwing at us.

To top it all off, they keep updating the regulations. So I have to figure out if I should put in a lot of time now trying to figure out the regulations, or wait and see if they change things again next week.

My mind is numb.

Living in a sick world

Gospel singer Deitrick Haddon has released a new single in which he takes on pandemic deaths and grief. Listen to Haddon’s soaring, swooping gospel voice over a compelling trap backing track: “Sick World” by Dietrick Haddon.

What I especially like about this song is that Haddon gets the way grief is additive. All the grief we’ve experienced since the pandemic began gets added to all the grief we’ve experienced from COVID deaths and COVID-related deaths. Haddon specifically mentions Kobe Bryant’s death, and the official music video references the insurrectionists storming the Capitol building: these and many other events get added to the people we know who’ve died because of COVID. Here are some of the lyrics:

“We’ve got kids killing each other in Chicago,
Detroit just ain’t the same no more,
And it ain’t getting better on the West Coast —
Tell me why we treating each other so cold.
People would rather put faith in a vaccine
Than wearing a mask, keeping their hands clean,
And this will all go down in history
That thousands have died cause we cannot agree, yeah.
Living in a sick world, but I’m praying you are well,
We can’t stand to lose nobody else,
Can’t stand to lose nobody….”

I don’t listen to much gospel or hip hop any more, but the powerful lyrics and the high level of musicianship make this song worth a listen. And yes, I am praying that you are well.

Research on Zoom fatigue

An article published in the journal Technology, Mind, and Behavior, Jeremy N. Bailenson reviews existing research to try to understand why Zoom meetings can be so fatiguing. The article’s title, “Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue,” summarizes what Bailenson perceives to be the primary cause of Zoom fatigue: it’s the nonverbal elements of Zoom that are so tiring. In the article’s abstract, Bailenson also states the limits of his paper:

“The arguments are based on academic theory and research, but also have yet to be directly tested in the context of Zoom, and require future experimentation to confirm.”

Bailenson outlines four “possible explanations of Zoom fatigue”:

“Excessive amounts of close-up eye gaze, cognitive load, increased self-evaluation from staring at video of oneself, and constraints on physical mobility. All are based on academic research, but readers should consider these claims to be arguments, not yet scientific findings.”

Bailenson then suggests small changes to the user interface of Zoom. Smaller default size of heads in the Zoom window reduce the load of “close-up eye gaze.” Cognitive load may be reduced by making audio-only calls the default. Using the “Hide Self” feature in Zoom does away with the problem of staring at one’s own video feed. Finally constraints of physical mobility can be handled by hardware solutions: “Use an external webcam and external keyboard that allows more flexibility and control over various seating arrangements.”

Note that Bailenson firmly states that all his suggestions need to be confirmed by further research. I already disagree with Bailenson on at least one point. I don’t use the “Hide Self” feature on Zoom because it’s too easy to go off camera; instead I prefer the user interface of Google Meet which shows a tiny thumbnail view of oneself, too small to see details, but just large enough so you can see if you’re going off camera. Bailenson also points out some interesting possibilities for further research. For example:

“Very few psychology studies on mediated interaction examine groups larger than two or three people, and future work should examine the psychological costs and benefits of video compared to audio in larger groups.”

As I think about Bailenson’s article, here are some changes in the way I use Zoom that I’ll implement for myself:

  • I’ll sit further away from my webcam, to reduce excessive close-up eye gaze
  • I’ll continue to use my remote keyboard, and my under-desk cycling machine, to reduce my fatigue by allowing more physical mobility for myself
  • When teaching small groups, I’ll use more screen sharing, which reduces apparent head size and provides another center of interest so participants don’t have to stare at me or each other

One big problem with any video platform, from my point of view as a religious educator, is that a lot of what I do is social-emotional learning. And a big chunk of social-emotional learning is about using nonverbal communication in a way that simply isn’t possible on video calls. So I’m also going to remain aware that videoconferencing has definite limitations, and I’m not going to expect it to do things it cannot do.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on improving our uses of videoconferencing.

COVID-safe outdoor program space

The pandemic has forced many readjustments. Children’s programming is, I feel, a big challenge. Given that there’s still no vaccine in testing for children 12 and under, we may be looking at COVID restrictions in children’s programming for another academic year. Offering only online programming for another academic year does not feel like a good solution to me.

Our congregation is fortunate in having lots of good outdoor space. The problem with our outdoor space is that anyone can access it, and current regulations for children’s programming in our county require limiting access to children’s programming space so that only the children and staff may enter. So the congregation purchased that ugly orange emergency fencing and a bunch of steel fence posts, and last week I and one of the members of the Board of Trustees (who is teaching in one of our in-person classes, and who is also the teen member of the Board) installed a fence around our primary children’s program area.

It’s not very attractive, but it seems to do the job of keeping unauthorized persons out of the program area. Once you’re inside the children’s program area, it’s less visible. In fact, the program area looks reasonably attractive.

We have some more improvements in the works, and soon should have another COVID-safe in-person children’s programming area ready. We’re going to max out at two in-person children’s programming areas, however, because at this point each program area has to have its own bathroom. With the bathroom limitation and the maximum allowed group size fo social distancing, our capacity for in-person children’s programs has dropped from 80 children pre-pandemic, to 16 under current COVID regulations.

What’s good about the pandemic?

I’ve been trying to think of good things that have come out of this pandemic. Most of the pandemic is bad: personally there’s the loss of social contact, cabin fever, the fact that every task at work seems to take much longer so I either have to work long hours or things don’t get done, we can’t go to visit our relatives (who live far away)…. Then in wider society, there’s economic disaster, increasing mental distress and illness, rise in domestic violence, children not learning, widening gap between the rich and everyone else….

So is there anything good to come out of this pandemic?

Well, I haven’t had a cold or any other illness since the pandemic started. Wearing masks in public places (as everyone does here in San Mateo County) and frequent hand washing really do reduce the spread of illnesses.

I only have to commute to the office twice a week, and traffic is light when I do drive. Pre-pandemic, when there was a lot of traffic, I had a grinding, soul-sucking commute, so this is a benefit.

Since I’m stuck at home, I’ve been practicing the guitar more. I haven’t become a good guitarist by any means, but at least I’m no longer bad.

That’s really all I can come up with right now. Maybe you can add to this list?

Radio silence

Aside from the weekly videos, I haven’t had much time for blogging recently. Looks like we’ll be starting a few in-person classes again in our congregation. Making that happen safely is a time-consuming process. Which means not much time for anything else.

Dealing with the pandemic is a time-consuming process….


I just received email asking for my help in a social justice cause that I care about. And I deleted it.

I can’t add any more to my life right now. Because — COVID. Because I’m trying to keep programs running to support kids and families who are stressed because of COVID. Because I know what little I’m able to do is inadequate, but it’s what I can do.

Yes, I know I should feel guilty for deleting that email. Yes, I know I should feel guilty for working for a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Silicon Valley when the needs are much greater elsewhere. But the nice thing about COVID fatigue is that I no longer have the energy to feel guilty. Instead, now I practice humility: I no longer pretend that I can save the world. I do my part, but I no longer have to pretend to do more than my part.

“Religious people tend to look like pretty good neighbors”

Several sociologists have found a characteristic that seems to predict with some accuracy who will flout social distancing restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19: Christian nationalists.

“Samuel Perry (associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma) and his colleagues, such as Andrew Whitehead of Indiana University and Joshua Grubbs of Bowling Green State University, argue in a series of new papers that Christian nationalism is either the single best predictor or a top predictor of whether a person will flout social distancing recommendations, be skeptical of science, find nothing racist about calling COVID-19 the ‘China virus’ or argue that lockdown orders threaten the economy and liberty — all while de-prioritizing the threat to the vulnerable.” — as reported by Religion News Service.

At the same time, the ideology of Christian nationalism apparently has only a weak connection to the Christian religion:

“In fact, religious devotion of any kind often had the opposite effect to Christian nationalism, and was the leading predictor of whether someone would take precautionary measures. ‘We found religious people were more likely to wash their hands, to use hand sanitizer and to avoid touching their face — all the things that were recommended,’ [Perry] said. ‘We find religious people are more likely to say, “If we have the decision between individual liberty and protecting the vulnerable, we’re going to protect the vulnerable”.’…He added: ‘In other words, (religious people) tend to look like pretty good neighbors.'”

Perry explains the trend as an “emerging crisis of authority.” Not surprisingly, Christian nationalists believe in conspiracy theories and distrust both scientists and the media. Christian nationalists feel that their country is being taken away from them; not surprising, then, that they are more likely to trust people like Donald Trump, who they think is going to save their country for them.

I wonder if the rise of Christian nationalism correlates in any way to the rise of the “Nones,” people who have no affiliation to organized religion. I’ve often thought that what really underlies the rise of the “Nones” is a rise of hyper-individualism and a distrust of authority; the Christian nationalists would certainly match that description. And we know from surveys that most of the “Nones” believe in God; might some of the “Nones” in fact be Christian nationalists? But this is entirely speculation on my part.

Remember that neither Trump nor most Christian nationalists actually belong to a church: they are too individualistic to want to submit to the demands that organized religion makes.

Whereas those of us who do participate in organized religion tend to make “pretty good neighbors.”


The past couple of weeks have been a wild ride for me.

At work, this is always the busiest time of year because we’re getting ready for a new school year. This year is busier than usual because so many things have to be moved online. Fortunately, we were able to delay the start of Sunday school classes till after Labor Day, but even with that there’s a lot to be done.

The weather has been crazy. We had thunderstorms last week that lit wildfires all around us, and now just about the whole state of California is covered in a big smoke cloud. There are fires burning to our south — they’ve closed Highway 1 south of Half Moon Bay down to Santa Cruz because of the fires — and fires burning to our east, and fires burning to our north. There’s smoke everywhere. At its worst, the AQI peaked at over 400 in our area, then we had a couple of clear days, and now the AQI is up to about 150. Here’s a recent screenshot of fire.airnow.gov. Density of smoke plumes is indicated by the darkness of the gray overlays; the little squares and circles are AQI monitors, with green being healthy, yellow moderate, orange unhealthy, and purple hazardous; then the little flame icons show locations of fires, and the little glowing dots are potential fires from satellite imagery:

And now we have a Red Flag Warning — a warning for high danger of potential fires — because of a forecast of the possibility of more dry lightning over the next four days. Someone recently asked what a Red Flag Warning means. For me, it means: double-check your go-bag, then place it by the front door because you may only get 30 minutes warning to evacuate. Ah yes; the joys of living in a world dominated by global climate change.

Then if that’s not enough, I’ve been sitting too long at the computer — because, of course, when you work at home you have to spend hours and hours sitting in front of your computer — and my foot muscles got all cramped up; so much so that it’s actually painful to walk. I didn’t even know that could happen to my feet.

Pandemic, wildfires, and job. It would be easy to get discouraged, but I look at it this way — at least I get to work indoors.

“I Don’t Want To Wear a Mask”

Just in time for Independence Day, here’s a song about how nobody tells me what to do:

Click the image above for a PDF of the sheet music.

1. I went out to buy some food,
They wouldn’t let me in the store,
Said I had to wear a mask,
I shook my fist, I cursed and swore:
I don’t want to wear a mask,
I don’t want to look a fool,
Makes me feel uncomfortable,
No one tells me what to do.

2. I went to the park today
And started hanging out with friends,
They all stayed six feet away,
I said our friendship’s at an end:
Don’t you social distance me,
COVID’s no worse than the flu,
Six feet is too far away,
No one tells me what to do.

3. I’m a free American,
Don’t trample on my civil rights,
If you make me wear a mask,
I’ll get a gun, I’ll start a fight:
Masks are unamerican,
They are not red, white, and blue,
I am like my President,
No one tells me what to do.

4. I began to cough a bit,
My temperature hit 102,
Had a tracheotomy,
And now I’m in the I. C. U.:
Now I never wear a mask,
I don’t have to look a fool,
They say I may not make it, but
No one tells me what to do.

Update July 8: Revised music and lyrics.