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Socrates and Jesus

In the 1966 spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Clint Eastwood as Blondie (or, The Man with No Name), says to Tuco, played by Eli Wallach: “In this world there’s two kinds of people: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.”

It’s a common trope: “There’s two kinds of people in the world: Those who — and you can fill in the rest. For example:

  • Those who are PC; and those who are MAC.
  • Those who give; and those who take.
  • Those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world; and those who don’t.
  • Those who wear masks in public; and those who don’t.
  • Those who hate Trump; and those who love him.
  • Those from red states and those from blue states.
  • Those whose minds are set like a Home Depot post in Quikrete cement; and —

Second Quarter 2020: Suggestions from What I Read

Super good reads: 5 stars!

25. Lily White, by Susan Isaacs

28. The General’s Labyrinth, by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

31. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

32. Laughing Boy, by Oliver la Farge

35. Back When We Were Grownups, by Anne Tyler

36. Too Late the Phalarope, by Alan Paton

44. Pudd’nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain

46. Killing Floor, by Lee Child

Loved these books, too: 4 stars

27. Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn

30. Memories of the Ford Administration, by John Updike

33. How to Make an American Quilt, by Whitney Otto

40. When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro

45. Breath, Eyes, Memories, by Edwidge Danticat

47. The Third Man / Fallen Idol, by Graham Greene


Thoughts about some of the books I read Second Quarter 2020

28. The General’s Labyrinth, by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

I give it a reluctant 5 stars. It’s called a novel, but it doesn’t read like one. Not a page turner by any means. It reads like biography, and in this case the biography of the last days in the life of Simón Bolivar, El Liberator. Márquez narrates a story of Bolivar’s 7-month journey down the great river Magdalena from Bogota to

Break Wind, Ladies and Gentlemen!

I begin with an apology for the metaphor below. Being doubtful, I talked to my wife Jeanie about it and she advised against it. “What are you?” she said. “In middle school?”

“Well, no …”

So against her better judgment, here is today’s story and morality lesson.

We’ve noticed Canadian geese migrating north for a couple of weeks here on the Oregon coast. We can hear them honking and when we look to the sky, we can see them in their famous V-shaped flight formation, winging their way to British Colombia.

This reminded me of when a visiting clergyman preached at my first little church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, a small town on the Mississippi just north of the Twin Cities. He was a Swedish Lutheran from Skeppsholmen not far from Stockholm. He was visiting a friend who happened to be a member of the congregation, and one thing led to another and here he was preaching on a Sunday morning in the spring of 1968.

He had worked hard on his sermon, and had an adequate command of English having studied since his days in grammar school in Sweden. His Sunday morning topic was “Helping One Another,” and he used as his illustration the manner in which geese fly in formation — he had seen them himself since his arrival on their way to Saskatchewan or Manitoba.

Unfortunately, and not too surprisingly, he had not mastered the strange and wonderful American idiom for — well, shall we say, flatulence.

He referred continually to the way birds “break wind” for one another. The congregation maintained its decorum by sheer dint of determination. After all, he was a guest, and came from afar and of course the message was one that everyone could take to heart.

We should all help others in whatever way we can. We should fly out ahead of them to make their “flight” easier in the way Canadian geese do when migrating to the south or making a return trip north.

In fact, sometimes we feel as though we can’t do anything. We don’t have the money or the energy. Perhaps our health is not what it used to be. We may have limited time, making long-term commitments inadvisable. How can we help anyone?

There are many possibilities, but it’s quite simple. Be considerate and as cheerful as possible, because this helps others and ourselves as well. And pray for others. This, too, helps others and ourselves. We don’t need money or a lot of vim and vigor to tap the power of prayer.

Break wind for someone today, ladies and gentlemen.

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]

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Copyright 2021 Timothy Merrill