Ruth Part 2

April 20, 2020

If you’re interested in my Zoom class on the biblical book on Ruth, here’s the link to all three sessions.

Nanny State?

April 14, 2020

This NYTimes column from Ross Douthat got me up on my hobby horse regarding overly officious coronavirus lockdowns. A week ago I wrote the following letter to my local newspaper, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

We grant our health authorities extraordinary powers, to close businesses, for example. In exchange the health authorities owe us clear explanations of their decisions.

Item: the authorities have closed the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. For many years I have run in the cemetery daily. It is not a place where people congregate, picnic or play. Visitors walk their dogs or stroll. By closing the cemetery, the authorities force them onto local sidewalks, which are consistently narrower than the cemetery paths. Could the authorities explain what they hope to gain by this closure?

You will be surprised to learn I have not heard a response.

I understand that the authorities want to make clear rules without a million exceptions. I understand that they want to err on the side of safety. I even understand that they might want to shock the public into a realization that this really is a crisis. (By the way, if you’re still wondering if coronavirus really is more dangerous than the flu, read this.)

The health authorities’ effectiveness depends, however, on a compliant public. So far, they’ve had it, at least where I live. However, if they want to undermine that compliance, they should give the public a prolonged dose of the nanny state—officious, unaccountable, petty. I’m not suggesting we’ve had that so far, but I know how easily bureaucrats slip into it. Please don’t. Lives may be at stake.

Ruth Part 1

April 8, 2020

I’m leading a Zoom Bible study for my church on the beautiful biblical book of Ruth. It’s a story born of tragedy that leads to bitterness. It tells of how a very pragmatic woman comes from emptiness to fullness. The first week (on chapter 1) is recorded here, in case you’re interested.

What Is Going On

April 7, 2020

Looking at a notebook yesterday, I came across some notes from my studies in Romans 8. They seemed to me to speak to our current condition:

Re: verse 36—Psalm 44, suffering is not punishment for moral failure; it is (mysteriously) part of God’s purposes

Verse 38—“life” with its delights as well as problems, may seek to separate us from Christ, but will be unable to do so, since he loves us so.

Questions and assertions

God is for us–Who can be against us?

He gave his own Son–How will he fail to give us all things?

Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen?

God is the justifier–Who condemns?

Christ died, rose, intercedes–Who shall cut us off from Christ’s love? What hardships or persecutions?

Suffering is part of the story of redemption.

We are more than conquerors in Christ, who loved us

Nothing can cut us off from the love of Christ.

Bitterness and Fullness

April 2, 2020

I did a little video blog on the biblical book of Ruth for my church. It’s now posted here. The story of Naomi’s discouragement and bitterness, and the God-given factors that lifted her from them, is a word for our time.


March 30, 2020

At the suggestion of a friend, Popie and I watched “Unseen Enemy,” a documentary made in 2017 about epidemics and pandemics. It blitzes through the scourges of recent years: AIDS, SARS, MERS, Zika, swine flu, Ebola, influenza—and more!–and gives a good, simple explanation of how outbreaks (which are inevitable) occur, how they become epidemics and then global pandemics.

It’s a competent and interesting documentary, but what makes it eerie is its prophetic description of what’s coming next. Quoting epidemiologists, the film says that we are virtually certain to suffer a deadly pandemic within the next ten to twenty years. It details the responses that will be necessary: testing, tracing, massive early response, search for a vaccine. And, again quoting epidemiologists, it predicts that our response will be inadequate, because of a lack of preparation fed by public mistrust of government and the consequent underfunding of the forces meant to respond. It predicts exactly what we are living through.

If the test of a true prophet is whether their predictions come true, the epidemiologists are true prophets.

In Italy

March 17, 2020

I don’t generally listen to podcasts, but I found this one compelling. It’s a doctor in the town of Bergamo, Italy,  who has come home to his family for the first time in three weeks. He describes what he has done and seen. It’s not graphic, but deeply emotional.

Here in the Bay Area we are all locked down, legally compelled to stay away from other people except for legitimately necessary excursions (food, medicine, necessary services). I realize that for most of the country,  that still seems strange and exotic. This podcast will help you understand why it’s happening.

What To Do While You’re Holed Up

March 14, 2020

I’m asking myself what to do with all this extra time. Here are a few thoughts:

–Get outdoors. Staying inside all the time will drive you crazy.

–Call an old friend.

–Check on your neighbors. Especially if they are old and/or have health problems, you might be able to offer some help. At the very least, you can offer some human contact. Neighborliness is good!

–Write or call anybody you know in a senior living facility. They probably can’t have guests, and they may be unable to get out into nature, so a phone call helps.

–Read a book. Watching TV or checking COVID-19 news on the internet all day can make you sick.

Other ideas? Please suggest. This could last a while.


The Invisible

March 13, 2020

These are weird times. My church voted to cancel worship services for the rest of the month. My daughter’s college (Lafayette) and my son’s K-12 schools (LA Unified School District) are closed. March madness is out. Baseball’s opening day(s), cancelled. All because of something that hasn’t happened and that we can’t see.

It feels like the moment in the alien-invasion movie when the spaceships appear on the horizon. It feels like the anticipation after a tsunami warning, scanning the ocean for big waves that may or may not appear. We believe in the threat, but we can’t see anything.

That’s the upside-down version of Christian faith. We look for something wonderful, on its way but not fully arrived. We can’t see it, but that doesn’t mean it’s unreal. We’re waiting and hoping to be ready—as with COVID-19.

They Say It’s Your Birthday

March 11, 2020

I turned 70 today. That sentence has a slightly hallucinatory ring to it: how on earth can I be seventy? I woke up early and spent time praying—mostly thanking God for the gift of these years. I have so much to be grateful for! A wonderful wife. (As my friend Fred said earlier this week, “We definitely married up!”) A terrific family—particularly three kids and their spouses whom I deeply admire and love. And grandchildren! Also, almost fifty years of very satisfying work. From the time I was in third grade I wanted to be a writer, and that is what I have been.

There’s a line I love in “Babette’s Feast,” in which the opera singer says, “Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me a chance to do my best.” I’ve had that chance.

When you have been treated as I have been, it seems almost churlish to ask for anything. What I asked God for this morning was the ability to accept and rejoice in whatever comes next.

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” In my threescore and ten I have seen little sorrow. Perhaps—probably—I will see more. I pray I may take whatever comes as a gift and an opportunity, whatever strange clothes it may wear, to find in the remaining years of my life an opportunity to serve and honor my Lord and my God, who loved me and died for me.