The Cost of Calling it a War

In some places in the world – Wuhan, northern Italy, New York City, to name three – the spread of COVID-19 has greatly resembled the impact of war. The virus has brought terrible suffering. It has taken lives. It has left thousands grieving. It has overwhelmed medical facilities and professionals. It has forced horrible decisions. It has exacted a stiff toll on the economic lives of cities, provinces, states, and nations.

Wars do that.

In response, governments have summoned organizational resources in a very similar manner to those required in war. They have issued orders restricting the freedoms of their citizens. They have sought to create supplies that had not previously existed, and direct them in unusual quantities to the places they are needed. They have recruited additional personnel to meet the needs. They have intervened in the economic processes of the world.

Wars do all that, too.

Further, governmental leaders have urged their citizens, out of a sense of patriotism and the good of the nation, to take on new tasks (while old ones cannot be done). Sewing masks for medical staff reminds me of the bandage preparation groups of the American Civil War. They have asked for sacrifices among the population for the good of all.

These things, too, happen in war.

It is not, however, a war, and there are steep costs to thinking about it as one.

This week, some business and political leaders came to the conclusion that the public health response to the spreading contagion came at too high a price. Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, offered that he and those of his generation might offer to sacrifice their lives “in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren.” Fox News commentator Brit Hume endorsed the idea, saying, “The utter collapse of the country’s economy — which many think will happen if this goes on much longer — is an intolerable result.” The President of the United States, without any medical advice at all, suggested that Easter – April 12 – would be a good day to return to normal activity again.

It’s a war, they say, not on a virus, but in defense of an economy. They are summoning a patriotic fervor to defend the wealth of a nation, wealth that is held by a startlingly small portion of its population. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis, in 2016 the richest 10% of Americans possessed 77% of its wealth, up from 67% in 1989. 1% of American assets were (unevenly) divided between fully half of the population.

In other words, the sacrifices of war are being urged on a generation of Americans who have not benefited from the wealth they are being called upon to defend. It is true, I’m afraid, that in war a generation, generally of young adults, is called upon to sacrifice itself in defense of rights and privileges they frequently have not enjoyed.

That is why we must not call it a “war.”

We are engaged in a massive effort, yes. We are trying to preserve the public health from a spreading pathogen which can cause terribly acute illness and has a high rate of mortality. That is not, however, a war. A virus does not select targets. It makes no decisions based on strategy or in keeping with some “law of war.” It jumps from host to host as best it can without regard for anything except opportunity. Admirals and generals have no tactics for this response. Those trained in public health do.

We are engaged in promoting the healing of those infected by the virus. The number of people who require advanced care because of COVID-19 disease is stunning. Our hospitals are built for the number of people who are usually sick, not for this. Mobilizing the equipment and the personnel to care for the acutely ill is a herculean task, but it is a task of healing, not of death.

We are also trying to maintain the daily life of human beings. Some of that gets measured and described by economists: growing things, transporting things, making things, selling things, bringing things home to continue the life of the household. Other things rarely get measured by economists: conversations between friends that lift the heart, the acknowledgement of the sales clerk’s shared humanity, the sweetness of common prayer. All of these things are being stressed by the pandemic, and all of them will need help and healing to recover.

None of them will be aided by the language of war.

None of them will be strengthened by the guiding assumptions of war. “War is cruelty,” said William Tecumseh Sherman, and he demonstrated it. Cruelty will not help us.

We face pain, anguish, illness, death, and loss.

We must face it without cruelty.

As for those summoning us to sacrifice our kupuna for the wealth of some: The answer has to be a firm and unequivocal, “No.” May they ashamed of their callousness. Let their cruelty find no place in policy, in the hearts of the people, and especially not in a rising tide of tears for the sick and the dead.

It is not a war.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

No Explanation; No Blame

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)

All you need do, Redeemer, is explain.
Explain the suffering, the illness, the
dis-ease. Explain the disabilities,
ill fortunes, and abuse. Explain it all
so we may know the cause, the source, the blame.

In truth, we are less interested to see
the sufferer healed. We gain a measure of
self-satisfaction in our judgments, yes?
And leave the sad afflicted in the sad
result of “their own failed and sorry lives.”

But you, Redeemer, will not settle for
the sadness of our satisfaction. You
insist that we lay down our judgment, hear
the voices we would silence. You insist
we act as healers in the suffering world.

May we take your direction in this time:

[Jesus said] to him, “Go, wash…” (from John 9:7)

A poem/prayer based on John 9:1-41, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Fourth Sunday in Lent.

The image is Le aveugle-né se lave à la piscine de Siloë (The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam) by James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.173_PS2.jpg, Public Domain,


When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free…” – Luke 13:12

Should you not have asked, O Lord?
“Without so much as a ‘By your leave?'”
as the ex-leper said. “Bloody do-gooder.”
Did she want to be healed, O Lord?

Well, I’ll take it as Gospel
(did you like the pun there?)
that Luke tells it right, and bound
she was, straining for freedom.

Loose the mule. Loose the ox.
Loose the child. Loose the sea.
Loose the woman. Loose the sky.
Set them loose! Loose the Creation!

Can today be a Sabbath I can let loose?
Can today bring a knot that I might untie?
Can today be celebration of liberty?
Can today hear the echoes of praise?

A poem/prayer based on Luke 13:10-17, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading for Year C, Proper 16.

Thanks to D. Mark Davis’ reflection at Left Behind and Loving It for insights into Luke’s composition of the Scripture text.

The quote in the first stanza is from Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, directed by Terry Jones.

The image is from a mosaic in the Duomo di Monreale, Sicily. Photo by Sibeaster – Own work, Public Domain,


The Raising of Tabitha

Oh, what if they’d called me?

They sent for you, dear Simon,
Cephas, Petros: You’re the Rock.
They sent for you, dear Simon,
when their dear Tabitha had died.

Oh, what if they’d called me?

My heart would have been pounding in
my chest so loud the village could
have heard. Why send them all
away (except to miss my failure)?

Oh, what if they’d called me?

A prayer. A tender summons: “Tabitha,
get up!” That heart whose love so
overflowed is beating even louder
than my own. Look, she lives!

Oh, what if they’d called me?

Did you feel you were holding Jesus’ place?
Did you ache for the Master’s steady poise?
Did your heart falter before hers revived?
How did you dare to call her name?

Oh, what if they’d called me?

A poem/prayer based on Acts 9:36-43, the Revised Common Lectionary first reading for Year C, Fourth Sunday of Easter.

The image is the raising of Tabitha in the Cappella Palatina in Palermo, Italy, a 12th century mosaic. Photo by Rmsrga – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Man Who Defined His Healing


O, let me play God, God.
Or at least let me play Jesus
in homage to his own classic performance
as Jesus of Nazareth in:…
The Man Who Defined His Healing!

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
OK, that wouldn’t be my line, but what a line it is!
What better way to grab for Christ’s attention
(my attention, if I get the role)
than to use that risky title of Messiah?

And then, O God, I’ll hear the shushing crowd,
that doesn’t want to risk the Roman wrath
and refreshing lack of discrimination
in the application of most deadly force —
they’ll kill everybody —

with cool consideration wrinkling my brow.
I’ll let it build — “Have mercy!” “Oh, be silent!” —
and at the height of tension, stop, and say,
“Now call him here.” Take note, dear God:
“Now call him here.” He takes those steps himself.

As word arrives, he rises — leaps, perhaps
(You’re the director) — in my direction,
guided by the helpful (and confusing) shouts
of those around, in chaotic compensation
for the eyes that cannot lead him here.

And here he is, brought here himself.
He made it happen, instigated what’s to come,
cried out for me, cried my name,
cried my title, cried for mercy. And now,
what can I do but ask: “What do you want?”

It might be healing for his eyes,
it might be dinner for his family,
might be that someone remember his own name,
not just the patronymic
“Bar Timaeus.” “What do you want?”

As he names it, God, to see again,
You can let Your camera linger
on my softening eyes, compassion and
respect commingled, love in echo
of Your own. For power, though:

we’ll have to count on Your Most
Special Effects Department for its work.
And then, ’tis done. He has achieved
the goal for which he struggled, shouted, strode.
With his healed eyes, he’ll see the tears in mine.

I hope, director God, that You won’t choose
to pull the camera back to show the crowd,
but rather, as they cheer, let the picture linger
on this man, and me, and pan down to our feet
as, side by side, we take the Way together.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 10:46-52, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for Year B, Proper 25.

The underexposed photo of a sunset in Kona was taken by Eric Anderson on October 13, 2018.

If I Could Only Touch


If I could only touch… Not grasp.
If I could only touch…

Would my loved ones be healed?

If I could only touch… Not hold.
If I could only touch…

Would my nation release the children it imprisons?

If I could only touch… Not seize.
If I could only touch…

Would my nation welcome refugees?

If I could only touch… Not clutch.
If I could only touch…

Would my heart swell with courage?
And power?
And grace?

If I could only touch?

A prayer based on Mark 5:21-43, the Gospel Lesson for Year B, Proper 8.

The image is of the woman touching Jesus’ hem, a sixth century mosaic found in the Church of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy.

Hidden Healing

I Feel Down by Lisa Brank

“I Fell Down” by Lisa Brank

This story begins with some children playing. All was as it should be, that is: just a bit exuberant, just a bit frenetic, just a bit noisy.

OK, maybe it really exuberant, really frenetic, and really noisy. But that’s as it should be.

The ball they were tossing about and chasing sailed right over the head of one boy, who went pelting along after it. He ran so fast that his feet started to run away with him, or perhaps he ran faster than his feet. You know how it is: you suddenly realize that you can’t step out far enough ahead of yourself to stay on your feet.

And sure enough, down he went, splat on the ground.

And of course, the place his knee came down was the place where the rock was. Of course. It always is, isn’t it?

So he got up with some sounds that might have been sobs, and looked down at the dirt and the leaves and the red liquid oozing there. He walked off home with a limp and a groan, and there might have been a tear or three on his face.

When he got home, he found Mom and Dad there, and they did the things that parents do for a child with a skinned knee. They washed it off (and that stung), and they put ointment on it (and that stung), and they put a bandage on it, which didn’t sting, but didn’t actually make him feel a lot better.

What really concerned him was the thought that it might not get better. Even though he’d seen it washed off, and even though he’d seen it the ointment go on, he was sure that underneath the bandage it was dirty and ugly and bleeding. So he’d try to look under the bandage, lifting up just a little, but all he could see underneath was in shadow. It was just dark.

Until the day when the bandage came off. Imagine his surprise when he saw that it wasn’t all dirty and bleeding. New skin was growing where the scrapes had been, there was no sign of bleeding, and the redness was fading away. Over the next days he watched in wonder as the new skin grew, until there was no sign his knee had ever hit that rock.

Sometimes, healing happens where we just can’t see it. Sometimes, it happens where we can. God made us so that things do get better, most of the time. And even then, I think God heals us in ways we just won’t see until God’s finger points it out.