Prophecy

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.

 

AA

March 11, 2020

I was very glad to read this review of research into drug and alcohol rehab. Bottom line, it shows that AA is effective.

Role Models

March 7, 2020

My wife and I loved the Mr. Rogers movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” with Tom Hanks. What struck me particularly is how seriously Fred Rogers took his vocation. He was a Christian minister with a sense of calling to children’s television. That had to be difficult to explain, let alone to get people to take seriously. It’s virtually the basis for a SNL skit. But Mr. Rogers took it very seriously. He thought hard about what children needed to hear, and how they would hear it—and he agonized about the details in a way that was almost monomaniacal. I suspect he could be difficult to live with and work with, not because he was unpleasant in the least, but because he was so otherworldly. He had a vision, and he was not going to deviate from it, not for anything.

He also had a vision for how to relate to people, and he took that seriously too. He kept notes on friendships. He called people and wrote notes, not for business purposes, but to show that he cared for people he met. He prayed for people, on his knees, every day, and he asked children to pray for him. He took kindness to an extreme. He did it every day, with every person.

So I’ve read. I have seen a similar seriousness in my uncle Paul Pulliam, who died last year at the age of 93. He spent his life as a missionary in Pakistan and as the pastor of a large, downtown Presbyterian church in San Diego. He was extraordinarily energetic, adventurous (he treated himself to a jump from an airplane for his 85th birthday), curious. What stood out to me the most was his hospitality. He welcomed me and my family members many, many times, and would have done anything in the world to make us more comfortable. Hospitality extended far beyond his home, though. He showed great interest in the church custodian and the Thai taxi driver, in the small business owner and in the homeless woman with a dog. If he got half a chance he would learn all about their work and their family and everything else. It wasn’t something he did sometimes; he did it all the time, 365 days of the year, tired or busy or in a hurry.

In the same week I attended his memorial service, I also went to Wanda Britton’s. Wanda died at 93 too. She was a school teacher, the mother of four children, and a very devoted member of my church. (One of her daughters told me laughingly she thought her mother was in a Presbyterian cult.) According to what people said at the service, Wanda was a very good teacher and a very good mother, but what stood out to me was her gentle kindness. She knew what to say to encourage people. She had a lovely smile, which she used frequently, and possessed a stillness, a consistency, like that of a deep river. She was very loved, but I don’t think she acted out her life with the aim of being loved for it. She did what she knew was right for her to do. The love of Jesus had penetrated her soul. I miss her, and I am far from the only one.

These three people—two whom I knew, one whom I knew only through TV shows—are role models for me. They were consistent. They took their lives seriously, and they worked at being what they were supposed to be. It was natural to them to be the kind of people they were, but they applied themselves to developing that. It’s so much easier to say to yourself, “This is who I am; I have it down; I will just put in my day.” It’s so much easier to cruise.

The Right-Enough Candidate

March 4, 2020

I’m feeling amazingly perky after Joe Biden’s miraculous resurrection, with the seeming likelihood that he will beat Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. I say “amazingly” because less than a week ago I wrote a friend that “I’d like to vote for Biden because I think he’s a decent man,  but every time I see him in a debate I think, no way.”

At the beginning of the campaign I was mildly favorable to Joe, seeing him as the exact opposite of Trump. But on the debate stage he sometimes flailed like a drowning man grasping for a coherent sentence to pull him out of the flood. It particularly stood out next to the other candidates, who were a remarkably articulate bunch. (Can you spell Buttigieg?) I flirted with Mayor Pete (but thought he was just too young and inexperienced), Amy (I wanted to like her, but she absolutely lacked charisma), Corey (I still like him, but he dropped out early), Elizabeth (who is smart and capable and chipper, but makes too many policy choices that I think are wrong).

All along I was wishing for somebody to jump out of the pack. Nobody did. They were all impressively good but nobody was perfect. Nobody could grab our attention and hold it. Nobody could pull the bulk of the party behind them.

Then, in a week, Joe Biden jumped out of the pack. What happened? He did not become perfect. But somehow the crowd saw, with vivid clarity, that it was either him or Sanders.  We wanted to believe in Joe, so we did. It’s a little like accepting the guy you aren’t crazy in love with but who is a good man and a reliable provider. Once you make up your mind, everything feels better.

Joe isn’t the candidate we dreamed of, but he is, certainly, somebody we know. He’s right enough, as Ross Douthat put it in his column today. He’s a realist who would rein in extremes, but he’s a pragmatist who would want to get something done. Could he? That might depend on the fate of the Senate more than on his legislative skills. He’s broad-minded enough to bring in a talented cabinet (we’ve seen plenty of possibilities in the debates) so it wouldn’t all fall on him.

His most important quality, however, is normalcy. There’s a reason he’s called Uncle Joe. I could use a dose of normal. A big dose.

 

 

Book Sale

January 29, 2020

For one week only, my Rescue Mission novels are on sale on Amazon. The latest, Those Who Seek, is $5 off its regular price. Those Who Dream and Those Who Hope are also on sale at significant discounts. Kindle prices are also 40% off.  They will never be cheaper. Why not buy all three?

My personal opinion is that Those Who Seek is my best work yet. Many people have told me they find it engrossing and compelling. They are deeply engaged by Elvis Sebastiano, the funny, quirky lead character who struggles with addiction even though he’s been through the Sonoma Gospel Mission rehab program.

Each book stands alone, and they can be read in any order. Together, they describe the world of drug addiction and the people afflicted by it. Seems like a relevant topic today.

This sale lasts for one week only, ending February 8.

 

My Latest

December 18, 2019

cover jpegMy latest novel is now published and available on Amazon, both in paperback and in ebook format. Those Who Seek is the third in my Rescue Mission series, following Those Who Hope and Those Who Dream.

Combined, I hope they tell the story of drug addiction.

Those Who Seek is my favorite of the three books, because  Elvis, the main protagonist, is a funny, off-the-wall character. There is nothing  funny about his meth addiction, but Elvis is a lovable person tormented by drugs. Here’s the story synopsis:

Elvis Sebastiano’s father was “lost at sea” when Elvis was only ten. Left to himself by a grieving mother, Elvis drifted into drugs and crime. By the time his mother emerged from her fog, he was in prison.

Now almost forty, Elvis attends his mother’s memorial service. A colorful, funny meth addict, he is two years sober, but feels the shadow of a relapse hanging over him. Elvis got clean after the firestorm that swept into Santa Rosa two years before; that night galvanized his desire to hang on to life. Now he hopes that connecting to his past will enable him to get back on the path.

After the service, Elvis is approached by a stranger who claims to be his father. This launches Elvis into an adventure, untangling an eccentric family history. His addiction throws him down time after time; with the help of his partner, Angel, of AA and church, he stands up again while the mystery of his family unwinds with increasing, bewildering complexity.

There may still be time to get all three books for Christmas, but if not, they make a wonderful New Year’s present.

Here’s the link for Those Who Seek: https://www.amazon.com/dp/167636014X

Have a very Merry Christmas!