The View from Emerald City

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“We were happy once, weren’t we?”

I don’t think I would use that line in a screenplay, because I wager it’s been used quite a bit before, with good reason:  we’re sad, sentimental creatures.  Listen to the lost-love songs of  Left Banke or Bread.  Better yet, spend some time, over a glass of wine, in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes and you’ll come to understand both a lament and an admonition wise King Solomon gave voice to:  all is vanity, enjoy the fruits of your labor.

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.”  Ecclesiastes 2:24

This life affords us such a bounty of both love and hate, joy and sadness, wisdom and foolishness, that our default demand (“keep me happy, Lord, ALL THE TIME”) feels more and more childish, the more I’m tempted to yield to it.  We are told to “count it all joy” when trials come our way, because a loving, all powerful God knows that we need them.  We are, in fact, built by those trials.  The atheist’s lamentation — “Why would a loving God allow suffering?” — is the stuff of tantrum fantasy and utterly foolish in any other context: you don’t become a concert violinist without the pain of practice, and you don’t really value the full measure of life until you’ve tasted something of death.

One of my best friends died of Commie Virus pneumonia this week.  He was one of those true Christians, and patriotic Americans, who will deserve all the praise heaped upon him.  Selfless. Generous.  Tortured by arthritic pain, but uncomplaining.  He had enormous compassion for his friends’ trials, and he lived for his family and his Lord.  He co-taught our house fellowship, here, for the last ten years, and he shared our worry, and anger, at America’s cultural and spiritual decline.  He will be sorely missed.

This loss takes place against the backdrop of public health hysteria that is turning much of America into what might be called “cruel fools.”  The Atlantic changed a story title this morning from “Is it Safe to Hang Out With the Un-Boosted” to the somewhat less fevered “How to Socialize Safely in the Booster Era.”  A discussion of this piece on one site yielded up story after story of family division rooted in panic parading as compassion: one un-jabbed fellow reported that he was invited to Thanksgiving but he couldn’t use the bathroom.  Another couple had to remain outside.  Still another family told the story of a dying 95 year old kept from them, because they had not yet been boosted.  (Ponder that one.  “He’s very close to death; seeing his grandchildren might push him over the edge.  Right?”)

Meanwhile, Covid cases break out on a cruise ship where 100% of the crew and guests are fully vaccinated.  (Getting used to this new era of vaccines that don’t actually vaccinate is difficult.)  Remember, all those months ago, when we were told a little lock-down might be necessary to “flatten the curve” and make sure hospitals weren’t overrun?  Georgi Boorman over at TheFederalist asks the question on all of our minds:  if protecting the health care system is so important, why are we laying off un-vaccinated health care workers?  Come to think of it, why are so many health care workers–the ones closest to the risk–unwilling to take the jab?

The trials of our time, the sorrow, the broken families, the fear on display were all absolutely on the radar of my fallen friend, and yet he went right on working, and living, and fellowshipping.  Some months ago, he even taught out of Ecclesiastes.  Solomon reminds us, after all, that we’re merely creatures.  We sprout like grass, flower, and then fade away.  We disappoint each other. We fall out of love.  We send sons off to war.  We divide over trivialities.  Sometimes we bitterly, foolishly attempt to resurrect a happier past, and if we’re not careful, Solomon’s lamentations about “vanity” might only leave us despondent.

But read the text more carefully.  You want to be happy?  Get to work.  Use the money to celebrate a little.


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This post was written by Jim Riley


  • Sharon Murguia says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your beloved friend. Thank you for the words of encouragement that our lives are but a vapor. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who gives us all things richly to enjoy.

    Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

  • S.P. Hunter says:

    My sympathies to you and the family of the deceased. We are sad for our loss, but as Paul tells us ‘to die is gain’. Your dear friend has passed the finish line before you and I, I’m sure he is not sorry!

  • Arlene says:

    So sorry for your loss…we also knew a Man of Valor who went home to Jesus just 3 weeks ago….he founded the Way Station along with his dear wife right after they got saved…A ministry Jesus had ready for them and they faithfully kept to for 35 yrs. (both caught the virus…she prevailed ) may the Lord comfort you all and we’ll celebrate with them soon…Keep strong and ever faithful in the work you are doing!

  • Lora says:

    Thank you for this beautiful story. We’re looking forward to seeing you all this weekend. Thank you for keeping real life alive, available to so many who choose to believe in life as it is, and can be.

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