Category: My Blog

Could the Holy Spirit Be Dangerous?

Scripture Reading: John 20:19-23

[This is the Gospel reading for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020]

The early Celtic Christians called the Holy Spirit ‘the wild goose.’ And the reason why is they knew that you cannot tame him ― John Elderidge

[2.5 minute read]

Nadia BolzWeber is an ordained Lutheran Pastor, founder of House for All Sinners & Saints in Denver, and something of a public theologian. She tells about a Holy Spirit moment at All Sinners a few years ago. “A local Lutheran church gifted House for All Sinners and Saints a full set of used paraments. My church is like every other church’s little sister, so we get a lot of hand-me-downs. As a group of us went through these beautiful altar cloths, we came finally to the red set and found one with an image of a descending dove with completely crazy eyes and claws that looked like talons. Yep. It was as though the Holy Spirit was a raptor.

“ʻMan,’ someone said. ‘We can’t use this one. It makes the Holy Spirit look dangerous.’”

Well … immediately when the Holy Spirit began to move at Pentecost, people start to believe in Jesus. And miracles happened. And then Stephen was murdered. Others were imprisoned. Paul and Silas were flogged and thrown into jail. Others were arrested. Eventually, most of the apostles died due to unnatural causes.

So, yeah, the Holy Spirit would seem to be dangerous. Following the guidance of the Spirit might make us uncomfortable.

Yet, the Holy Spirit is much more. One of the Greek words used to identify the Holy Spirit is παράκλητος (paracletos). It is a compound word bringing together “para” and “kalein.” These two parts mean “beside” and “to call.”

The Holy Spirit is one who is called to “come alongside” of us and to be this guiding presence at all times.

The word is rich in its meaning with subtle variations and nuances. This is why παράκλητος is sometimes translated Comforter (alongside to provide courage, empathy, support); Advocate (alongside to represent and advocate for us); Counsellor (alongside to provide wisdom and knowledge) and Helper (alongside to provide assistance).

In any case, as we observe Pentecost Sunday, let us be aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. To live out our mission, we must turn to God through the Holy Spirit for our wisdom and strength.                                                                                                                                                                                                        —Timothy Merrill


Albert Camus and the Corona Virus — Final Post (6)

[6-7 minute read]

To say that The Plague is a novel about revolt is not, of course, to say that the concept of the absurd is not overlooked. Tarrou, after dies, and the reader does not want Tarrou to die, and in this, Camus fails to keep the reader at a distance from the characters he’s created. It would have been more reasonable somehow, more predictable, more satisfying if Joseph Grand had died instead of Jean Tarrou. It is not fair that Tarrou dies, and as in all calamities and natural disasters, nothing is fair — and we’re better off recognizing that from the start. Fairness has nothing to do with anything.

So how should one behave in an unfair universe? This is the question of The Plague. How to we live now that COVID-19 has upended — permanently — our lives. We still don’t know what the new normal is going to look like. But it’s clear we are not returning to the “normal.”

Albert Camus and the Corona Virus — Part 5

[6 minute read]

In his novel, The Plague, Albert Camus allows the characters to illustrate the revolt motif he has in mind. We have already considered the townspeople as a whole, Cottard, Joseph Grand and Pere Paneloux. Now let’s turn to Dr. Bernard Rieux and Jean Tarrou.

 Dr. Rieux, the central character and narrator of the book, did not share the theological concerns of Father Paneloux. He was interested, not in heroism or holiness, but in discovering how to be a man.

Albert Camus and the Corona Virus — Part 4

In his novel, The Plague, Albert Camus allows the characters to illustrate the revolt motif he has in mind. We have already considered the townspeople as a whole, Cottard and Joseph Grand. Now let’s look at Father Paneloux.

Father Paneloux is a north-African priest, and as such, is a modern reflection or clone of the other north-African theologian whom we know as the bishop of Hippo, Augustine. As the sack of Rome was to Augustine, the plague is to Paneloux.

Pere Paneloux meets the issue of the plague head-on in a widely publicized sermon. In true Augustinian fashion, he thunders from the cathedra in the basilica at Oran, “Calamity has come upon you, my brethren and sisters, and my brothers and sisters, you deserved it.”

Albert Camus and the Corona Virus—Part 3

In his novel, The Plague, Albert Camus allows the characters to illustrate the revolt motif he has in mind. Let’s look at Cottard.

We are introduced to Cottard rather early in the novel. Cottard is a little con-man, perhaps on the lam, for whom the epidemic gives a new lease on life. He is the one character in the book who overtly steps over to the side of the plague and not the people. The improvement in Cottard’s emotional health is directly proportional to the general deterioration of the physical well-being of the townspeople. “This town is going to be in an unholy mess by the looks of things!” he observes happily.

He will not join the sanitary squads: “It’s not my job and what’s more, the plague suits me quite well and I see no reason why I should bother about trying to stop it.”In the end, as the plague winds down,

Cottard is unable to readjust to the new normal, and finally convinced that the declining death statistics do indeed indicate that pestilence is passing, Cottard goes completely berserk — which results in his death.

Camus and COVID-19: Part 2

[8 minute read]

Camus’ novel, The Plague, published in 1947, follows the citizens of the Algerian town of Oran as it tries to cope with a pestilence in which people are dropping like flies. Historically, Oran was a victim of a variety of plagues, the most deadly being a cholera epidemic in the 1800s.

In his novel, Camus allows the characters to illustrate the revolt motif he has in mind. Even a quick glance at the townspeople of Oran — Cottard, Joseph Grand, Raymond Rabert, Father Paneloux, Dr. Bernard Rieux and Jean Tarreau — reveals the many possible responses to this shocking, perhaps absurd, but very definitely unwelcome, scourge. Just consider the people who are characters in your own story wherever you are, and you may find types similar to those in The Plague. Let’s look at the townspeople first.

The townspeople

In a town where everyday has been stifled by habits (having sex is relegated to weekends only), natural responses and reactions have taken on the character of simple-mindedness.

Albert Camus and the Corona Virus

[4 minute read]

My Top Book Picks from my Reading List

First Quarter 2020!

My Top Book Picks / 5 Stars!

1. Just Mercy, by Byran Stephenson (NF)

2. Shanghai Free Taxi, by Frank Langfitt (NF)

3. Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis

4. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” by Zola Neale Hurston (NF)

5. The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

6. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell (NF)

13. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles

18. In the Company of Joyful Women, by Alexander McCall Smith

21. The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Honorable Mention / 4 Stars


For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. —Jeremiah 29:11 (vv. 13-14 were Trinity’s Verse of the Year, 2018-2019)

Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making other plans. —attributed to John Lennon.

An ancient apostle once scoffed at those who have their life all planned — as though God doesn’t exist.

        Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. … Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” (St. James 4:13-15).

Former NBC News anchor, John Chancellor — the guy that came up with the red state / blue state color scheme when covering elections — died of stomach cancer in 1996. He had not planned on this.

In an interview, Chancellor said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” It’s a variation of the old Yiddish proverb, Der mentsh trakht und Gott lakht (“Man plans and God laughs”).

Here is some Latin to learn. The idea comes from St. James himself. Deo volente. “God willing.” James says that when making plans, we should surrender them to God. Our Muslim and Arab Christian friends have a similar expression: Inshallah.

So here we are in mid-April. We didn’t see this coming, did we? This COVID-19 thing has kicked our posterior, taken us down just a notch or two, dui budui? Jeanie and I certainly had January-June all planned out. And it didn’t include leaving a flat-full of furniture behind in Shanghai.

Stan Purdum, writing in “The Wired Word” refers to Matt Simon, a science writer at Wired magazine. Simon quotes a woman who said of the current crisis, “It’s like there’s no future.” Simon then explained, “What she meant was we can’t plan for the future, because in the age of the coronavirus, we don’t know what we’ll be doing in six months, or even tomorrow. We’re stuck in a new kind of everlasting present” (italics added).

Someone — if I knew who, I’d tell you — also said that it’s like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Every day seems like a repeat of the day before. Tomorrow will be like today and today is like yesterday.

Let us bow before the Lord, and say, “Deo volente,” or “In your time,” or “When you are willing … Lord, let it be.”

Lord God, I am willing to put my life in your hands. I surrender my plans and my future to your providence. Guide my steps so that I might walk within your will. Amen.

Today, the pastor has a spouse; Yesterday, he had a wife

Page 2 of 2

Copyright 2021 Timothy Merrill