Why I Didn’t, Don’t, Didn’t Like the Bible

Here is a dull sentence. Its purpose is to ensure that this post does not begin with a cheesy hook.

Why would you immerse yourself in stories about a nomadic Middle Eastern culture that morphed through various political alliances before being smashed to bits by an occupying force and sent into exile? Why would you concentrate on stories about a man who said some interesting things, did some odd things, and then was tortured to death?

I remember hearing about a local woman who did goddess-y, nature-y things back in the 80s and 90s. She’d been a good Lutheran, maybe even hanging out at UniLu in Cambridge, until she said goodbye to it all and hung out her shingle as a therapy-nature-spirit guru.

She said she couldn’t stand the stories any longer.

That’s what someone told me.

Well — Jesus God! Why do I read about girls being sold, girls being bought, girls being sent into exile by jealous wives with only fractionally more power than they, girls being offered for gang rape, girls being spied upon and taken for sexual access by powerful men. Women powerless against divorce, powerless against being rejected by their families, powerless to protect themselves or provide for themselves.

Why read passages that put me in a place of subservience, for the mere reason of the accident of my birth, not because of my actions or failings. Why accept a despised, diminished valuation, offered by men who think themselves interpreters for God. They can go to hell.

Why go to the source that puffs up the fragile egos of Christian Manly Men Dude Bros, the ones who would leave their churches in droves if anyone ever told them that Christianity does not give them the upper hand? I knew a kid in college, at the Campus Crusade for Christ the few times I ever darkened their door, who in conversation, a little smile hovering over his lips, rattled off the citations – literally, the book, chapter, and verse numbers – of all the passages that assert male authority over women. That is the comfort Christianity gave him, and he found it in the Bible.

That awful book.
I don’t ever read it.
I wish we didn’t have to have it.

In the early 80s, an older woman at Christ Church Cambridge said that to me, her words a mixture of frustration and humor. Yes, humor, and yet she was serious. I bet you anything she was a lifelong, committed Christian, too.

Sometimes I read the Bible and pick the diamonds out of the shit. Other times, especially when I am in the company of a true scholar, I am blown away by the riches, the wonder, of that awful book. Because I got away from the fundie dude bros long ago, and have had a rich life in a church that now has both women priests and bishops, my early despair and anger have been partly assuaged. I mostly love the Bible now and am fascinated by it, but I still partly hate it.

November 25, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

WorldUnited StatesMassachusetts
Infections59,496,97612,364,704214,594
Deaths1,405,029247,51110,604
Posted in Bible, Episcopalians, Anglicanism, Lutherans, Lutheranism | Leave a comment

COVID-19 Holidays

If you go here and fill in these values,

You get to see some tender mercies:

Massachusetts Unemployment Claims

(I deleted every other week (mostly) because I only want to show the trend.)

A drop in the unemployment rate from 16.80 to 6.23 must be good news. Some people may have stopped job-hunting out of discouragement, but let’s hope that most of the drop has happened because people have found work.

Neighbor, I’m sorry I haven’t gone to your store or picked up takeout at your restaurant. I’m in my 60s and I’m easily spooked; I wonder if I’m too cautious and therefore ungenerous.

I’m sorry.

I hope things are at least starting to look better for you. Maybe that 6.23% is having beneficial ripple effects, however small.

How is your head doing? Who ever dreamed this would drag on this long — and even with vaccines, we won’t be able to live normally for a long time.

I’ve been holding steady and I hope you have, too. The holidays are making everything harder, though. I couldn’t concentrate on Thursday or Friday. I did no work. My company pays me to work and I didn’t do any because as soon as I sat down at my desk, my thoughts flew away. I could not make them behave. I feel such guilt over this but nothing helps and there is nowhere to go for respite.

Let’s try to think of genuinely encouraging things. Let’s think about the vaccines. We must await the final vaccine with patience and self-discipline. Does it help to know that that is what we are already doing?

What else can we do to get through this time? Is it enough to count our blessings? I am a praying person, so I do that. But what if you’re not? What helps you?

If you don’t pray and don’t like praying, then skip this paragraph and the next one! But if you think it’s OK, here’s a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer that covers the bases pretty well:

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

November 22, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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Infections57,882,92411,873,233206,850
Deaths1,377,393242,44010,512
Posted in Career values and work life, COVID-19, Economic fears, Mental health, Praying | Leave a comment

The Faithful Techno-serfs, part 4

If Matthew 25:14-30 is a simple narrative about the world, what makes it a parable? In  a parable, one thing stands in for another. It seems to me, offhand, that in all parables, the Man With Resources is a stand-in for God. At the outset, that seems to apply pretty easily to this parable: God entrusts us with everything and rewards us when we take risks and increase God’s wealth — the Kingdom of God, or missionary work here on earth, or something like that. Salvations listed in a spreadsheet, if you like. If you don’t take risks, if you are cautious and miserly like the third servant, you are an unfaithful Christian who deserves to be punished.

That all tracks pretty well. But what is symbolic about this:

Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.

If the master is God, God is getting quite a chewing out by this human being, who is amazingly unafraid of him. Maybe the servant doesn’t know who he’s dealing with? How could he know? God does a pretty good job of hiding Godself from us.

Of course, if You revealed even a shred of Yourself, we would be vaporized. So You don’t, and leave us guessing, except for that time You came for a visit.

Is the bad servant’s monologue an illustration of how wrongly people can understand God? In that case, is being cast into torment in outer darkness an appropriate punishment for having bad theology?

I like the bad servant’s wild, to-hell-with-it courage that can get you fired, or ruined, or, in the worst circumstances, killed. I don’t think the evangelist put those lines in for the purpose of undercutting them. I think they are intended to be the true words of a brave person. So who is the evil master?

When I was in graduate school, I did a lot of temporary secretarial work. Because I was reasonably intelligent, and good-looking enough, I was sent to a lot of executive secretary jobs, working for the President or Vice President of This or That. For a while, I worked for a managing partner of an accounting firm near Government Center in Boston.

The accountants there liked to play a little game. When their meetings began at mid-morning at the long mahogany table in the executive conference room, a typical catered business lunch would be provided: a variety of sandwiches and salads, fresh fruit, dessert, and coffee. The guys, and they were all guys, would finish their meal by making the most disgusting mess they could. They would mash the remains of their cakes and cookies into the ice at the bottom of their glasses of soda or juice — actual glasses that would have to be handled and washed by a human being. The guys would slop together the remains of sandwiches, potato salad, mustard, ketchup, napkins, and salt, pepper, and sugar packets, into stomach-turning piles of mess. We secretaries didn’t have to clean it up; the caterers did. Everyone knew about it. The guys did it at every one of their meetings, and always left the room, grinning.

Those were unhealthy servants of the wrong master. I try not to be like them. Don’t you be, either.

Part 1 of this post is here.
Part 2 of this post is here.
Part 3 of this post is here.

November 18, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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Infections55,333,78511,192,623195,868
Deaths1,334,014236,38610,407
Posted in Bad ideas about God, Bible, Career values and work life, God is like, Theodicy | Leave a comment

The Faithful Techno-serf, part 3

I am working through a tutorial for a business intelligence program. Obviously, once you have big data, you want to use it. It’s impressive how easy this tool makes it to identify and display slices of information. When the data is about, say, access to PPE in urban medical centers versus rural practices, we probably think it’s good to have a view into bottlenecks, underserved areas, etc., especially if we have the will to improve matters once the problems are identified.

But if the same data slicing and dicing is done to records about your buying patterns, including your prescriptions, or your political donations, or your personal friendships and associations – with you identified within a hair’s breadth, laughable promises about anonymizing notwithstanding – then big-data capturing and analysis become malign.

My work is only glancingly related to the business intelligence tool I’m learning; I need only a basic understanding of how we use it in our product. But everything I work on has the same double-edged moral aspect. I wonder: can I always justify my work life by saying “The thing I work on is morally neutral, like a kitchen knife. You can use it to prepare a meal for hungry people, or you can use it to kill someone. It’s not the knife manufacturer’s responsibility to control how its product is used.”

I made one ethical decision when I was young: I wouldn’t work for defense contractors, even though, believe me, I want to be defended against people who wish me, you, and this nation harm. But I still decided not to work directly on shrapnel guns, cluster bombs – bombs of any sort – chemical weapons, anything developed with the sole purpose to destroy. The money in defense was better, but I decided to pass it up.

I guess that’s the one glimmer of virtue in my choice of work. Otherwise, I can’t disentangle myself morally from the economy; no one can, not even professed religious who depend on donations. Donations from whom? How was that money made? Truly, we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.

I confess that I am entangled in sin, not just the sin of the evil world around me, but my own. I think about my work life – fruitlessly. Without a doubt, I benefit from the development of the weapons I decided not to touch. My decision largely means that I depend on other people’s willingness to do what I wouldn’t do. In the meantime, I’ve worked in many industries on products that could be used for good or ill, and washed my hands of moral concerns.

Part 1 of this post is here.
Part 2 of this post is here.

March 15, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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Infections53,772,25110,732,177188,275
Deaths1,309,136232,46410,329
Posted in Career values and work life, Lutherans, Lutheranism | Leave a comment

The Faithful Techno-serfs, part 2

Techno-serf #3 lies on a potholed street in the industrial park. No heartbeat, no bleeding.

One night in 1987, I was driving from Cambridge into Somerville, at least I was trying to. To my right, in the passenger seat, was the cold, withholding, insecure person – my mirror image, only male – whom I was dating. I was driving him back to his shared apartment with his fellow MIT roommates. I was driving because it was my car. We were not comfortable with ourselves. We were not comfortable with each other.

Why did You ordain this for me when other people found happiness, You withholding, coldhearted bas –

We were going home after an evening at church – where else – some worthy, socially conscious, action-oriented meeting no doubt – on a rainy winter night. I was looking for Dane Street, which would take us over the railroad tracks.

Red: railroad tracks
Green: our route

It was late; we were tired; we had nothing more to say to each other. I drove past darkened industrial buildings and took a left. But the pavement widened into a parking lot rimmed with low buildings, I didn’t see quite what, maybe loading docks, but there, stepping into the beam of the headlight – stepping out of a shadowy group of people – calmly stepping into the beam – was a man, a quiet-seeming man, not young and not old, not tall, not short, unhurriedly stepping toward us —

I jammed the gearshift into reverse –

“We’ve driven into something –”

I didn’t reply, but backed us into the street, shifted into first and got us moving, into second, and then we were at the true turn onto Dane, and we turned.

“Probably a drug deal or something,” my boyfriend said, and I agreed. Drugs, stolen goods, God knows what. We were back in the street lights, in the known world, safe, and then we were over the bridge and onto Somerville Avenue. We were not a news story about a young couple shot to death in their car, must have taken a wrong turn.

How sunny and bright this neighborhood looks now.

Do I misremember where we were, or have entire enterprises been bulldozed and replaced? Google street view now shows what appears to be new housing, there simply isn’t enough for the ever-growing class of scientists and engineers needed for the business incubators and biotech firms of Kendall Square. Did the northern side of Village Street once open onto the hellmouth – but no longer?

Part 1 of this post is here.
Part 3 of this post is here.

November 11, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

WorldUnited StatesMassachusetts
Infections51,269,00810,117,899177,541
Deaths1,271,200228,18010,222
Posted in Bad ideas about God, Bible, Career values and work life | Leave a comment

The Faithful Techno-serfs, part 1

I’m hoping that this sentence is sufficiently dull. I want to make sure that my blog does not fall into the trap of beginning each post with a cheesy hook. You know: draw the reader in by beginning in medias res, stuff like

It was only a little moment. Nobody would notice, I was pretty sure.

Or

A grown man is pretty heavy when he passes out at the altar and has to be carried into the sacristy.

Or

I avoided looking at the thermometer. What would I do if the reading was too high?

Who knows? Who cares?

Nobody, the instant they realize they are being manipulated!

So, from here on, for a while, until I figure out a better way, I am beginning each post with a dull sentence.

Dullness successfully established, what can I tell you? I know. Today’s high was something like 78 degrees, and it got me outdoors not once but twice. I raked. I closed up the screen house. I put away flower pots. It was a beautiful day but wrong, all wrong. You know it, and I know it – at least, you know it if you are old enough to remember normally seasonal New England temperatures.

OK, that was pretty dull, too. Now, how about a non-cheesy question.

Is this a parable:

A young man was good with computers. He hacked into the medical records of an insurance company and looked for information about abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, and other sensitive health issues. Then he investigated the patients and figured out who he could blackmail. He devised a system for receiving payments online and then vanishing without a trace. He did this for years and became obscenely rich.

All this work eventually grew tiring, so he decided to take a long trip. He gave 62.5% of his database to one techno-serf, 25% to another, and 12.5% to a third. Then he went on vacation.

When he came back, Techno-serf #1 proudly showed him that she had not only successfully terrorized and wrung money out of her share of the database, but she’d identified and blackmailed an equal number of new prospects.

“That’s terrific!” the man said. “For this, I will reward you with still more opportunities in the future!”

Techno-serf #2 reported that he had done the same, and the man likewise showered him with more praise, and more opportunity.

Techno-serf #3 said “I know what you’re like and I know what you’re up to. I have to work for you but I don’t have to follow in your footsteps. I zipped and passworded the database records I was given, and I stored them in the Wayback Machine, which everyone knows will last until the end of the Age. Here’s the password and a link to the original files you gave me.”

“You pathetic loser!” the man screamed. “You could at least have given them to a Nigerian partner who might have spammed them with ransomware and earned me at least a little!”

The man attacked and overpowered Techno-serf #3, and with ropes and chains dragged Techno-serf #3 behind a Lexus SUV for miles, finally abandoning the body at the transfer station in the industrial part of town, but only after searching the body and stealing the wallet and cell phone.

Part 2 of this post is here.
Part 3 of this post is here.

November 8, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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Infections49,588,2279,731,932171,399
Deaths1,246,256224,75210,149
Posted in Bad ideas about God, Bible, Career values and work life, God is like | Leave a comment

Politics and Hanging On

I was in graduate school when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. On the following day, a pall was cast over the hallways and classrooms that was palpable. My professors had fought for educational innovations that most people dismissed out of hand. You know the mentality: “We didn’t have anything like that when I was growing up and I turned out fine!”

Politeness made it hard to reply:

  1. I have no reason to assume that you turned out fine. And you yourself may be the worst possible judge of that.
  2. If things did go well for you, you may be the lucky one. Do you have a brother, sister, cousin that you don’t like to talk about much, because that person is just not doing well? Is there an aunt or uncle who never gained traction? Or did you have a grandparent who never left the house, never participated in the larger world? Do you have any idea why? Did it ever occur to you to wonder?
  3. There is abundant evidence that this new educational approach is effective, but in order for us to have a meaningful discussion about it, you would have to take the time to both read and think. Should I assume that that is beyond you?

Yeah, no, it was better for me to keep my mouth shut. I guess.

Anyway, what I remember is one of my professors saying Well, we must simply hang on to everything we have achieved thus far.

And you know, despite all the hostility, the programs I am thinking of were never destroyed. They still exist. Those educational advances were permanent.

November 4, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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Infections47,401,1419,254,499163,299
Deaths1,212,351220,94410,062
Posted in Career values and work life | Leave a comment

The Busy One

I quickly got a roommate after I moved into the apartment. She was fresh out of college, young and cheerful, high energy. I enjoyed talking with her when we crossed paths.

If I was working from home, I would sometimes hear her come in and step quickly down the hallway to her room. Or, in the evening, I might be reading in bed and hear her come in. Or, I’d be dropping off to sleep, and hear her.

If I got up for some reason, I’d open my bedroom door, and there, directly across from me, her door would stand ajar, her room silent and empty.

For six years I heard those steps, swift and neat and purposeful. I never recognized that what I was hearing was not real. I was always quietly, pleasantly convinced that my roommate had come home. When I realized once again that I had been misled, I would feel a shock of fright. That reaction never lessened. It was the stark divergence between perception and reality that scared me. I was never afraid of her, the woman I came to associate with the footsteps.

Even now, I imagine her in her tidy business suit and her black lace-up shoes. I can see her removing the scarf from her hair, the scarf that protects her permanent wave, and I can hear the clink of the bobby pins that she drops into a china tray on her bureau.

I wonder what kind of work she did. I wonder if she lived alone. I wonder if anyone was with her when she died. Why did she still go about her workday, year after year, when she could have been at rest?

I wonder if she would mind when I pray this for her and for me:

O God, the life of all who live, the light of the faithful, the strength of those who labor, and the repose of the dead: We thank you for the blessings of the day that is past, and humbly ask for your protection through the coming night. Bring us in safety to the morning hours; through him who died and rose again for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.


Part 1 of this topic is here.

Part 2 of this topic is here.

November 1, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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Infections45,963,0758,987,030159,707
Deaths1,192,850218,31910,013
Posted in Praying | Leave a comment

Moving Night

After my suburban childhood, dense city neighborhoods seemed magical. On a summer’s day, with every window open, the barrier between indoors and out seemed barely to exist. I could hear people talking as they passed on the sidewalk below, or called to each other in the house across the alley. I could hear their children playing in the alleys and tiny yards.

On a quiet morning, it didn’t seem possible that dozens, even hundreds of people lived within a hundred yards of my apartment. I took to walking down the packed streets canyoned with triple-decker houses on both sides. One summer’s day, I had wandered halfway down a long block when I suddenly realized that parked on practically every porch, gazing impassively at me, was an elderly lady in a housecoat. I was too self-conscious to smile and take a bow, but that’s what I should have done. Probably they would not have smiled back, but you never know.

I didn’t live in either of these:

Or these:

Or any of these:

These buildings look prosperous – monumental, even. It’s hard to believe they were built as tenements and not as the cherished homes of hipsters, the professoriate, and ambitious technologists. The ones I knew, in Dorchester, Somerville, and Medford – places that had not yet been gentrified —  were already almost 100 years old. In addition, the buildings I lived in had only small porches, instead of these impressive, airy tiers. Altogether, my neighborhoods looked sturdy and worn, a bit beat-up. Sturdy, tired, and likely to stand for another 100 years.

Soon after my 35th birthday, I moved into the top floor of a triple-decker. My intended roommate had bailed on me, so I moved in alone. I’d never lived on a top floor before, and thought nothing of it when I signed the lease. The stairs were not a problem; I’d trudge up them now, but in those years they posed no difficulty.

After an exhausting moving day, I unpacked the bare minimum, threaded my way through stacks of boxes, and collapsed into bed.  I woke up when I heard someone walking purposefully through the apartment. It was a man, I had no doubt, and he walked as if he owned the place.

Every footfall had a bright distinctiveness that was more real than reality, and his steps seemed vividly close. I was terrified as I heard them calmly, relentlessly approaching my bedroom door.

I thought of screaming, but I didn’t. I think I was too terrified to scream. I couldn’t call for help; the only telephone was in the kitchen, and telephone service had not yet been activated. Cell phones had not yet been invented.

I grabbed the lamp I had unpacked, and stood poised beside my bedroom door. I listened for the final steps, but they never came. They fell silent.

I waited and waited. Surely I would hear him breathing, or shifting his weight. He would cough, or sigh. Something would give him away. But for long minutes there was nothing.

Finally I flung open my bedroom door and stared into hallway. Through the streetlight streaming through the windows I could see that no one was there.

I stood motionless for another ten minutes to hear if he had only slipped around the corner. Finally I knew I was alone. I turned on every light, examined every inch of the apartment, tested the doors and windows and locks. No one had ever been in that apartment with me. No one physically real.

I’ve never been more afraid in my life. If I’d had a cell phone, I would have called the police. I think. But maybe I knew that, really, no one was there. Just as I didn’t scream, maybe I wouldn’t have called.

He never came again, and no roommate ever mentioned any experience remotely like mine.

Not long after this happened, I told a friend.

“He was checking you out,” she said, “and letting you know whose place it is.”

Several years later, I was unexpectedly at home on a weekday. It was midmorning, and I was sitting at the kitchen table. Someone athletic and light of foot ran up the back stairs and paused on the other side of the back door. I jumped up, scraping the chair across the floor, and the intruder scampered down the stairs as quickly as he had come. I told the landlord, who repaired the lock at the bottom of the stairs.

Those footsteps were unmistakably real.


Has an experience like this troubled you? I am playing with fire, a bit, as I dwell on this history long enough to write about it. Even after all these years, it disturbs me to remember it. If you are like that, too, well, here’s something from the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep us, we pray, from all things that may hurt us, that we, being ready both in mind and body, may accomplish with free hearts those things which belong to your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Part 1 of this series is here.

Part 3 of this series is here.

October 29, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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Infections44,394,3068,734,776155,564
Deahts1,171,543216,0869,951
Posted in Praying | Leave a comment

All Souls

In the movie, the young couple are surrounded by boxes in their atmospheric house. The husband goes out to return the U-Haul, an errand that will take a couple of hours; the wife stays to unpack. She happily putters around; the afternoon wears on. Dusk creeps toward the sunny yard and the shining clapboards; it dims the light streaming into the empty rooms.

The young wife arises from unloading yet another box. She stands to stretch, glancing through the window at the wide lawn and the lengthening shadows. She looks again — a man is staring up at her! He is ragged, unkempt; his gaze is fierce. Where did he come from!

You, sitting in your theater seat, are plenty scared by the image alone, but the sound track has been judged just right, and a percussive punch jolts you straight upright. So what if you’re 19, or 23, or 25 and not a kid. Your heart races. You’re spooked when you leave the theater, spooked when you walk to your car, spooked as you unlock the door to your apartment, and spooked as you switch on the light.

After living in the city for many years, I bought my first house at the age of 49. After the movers left and I was alone, I thought of that movie scene more than once. My house, too, was older, and set in a sea of green. I did dare to look out the window while the day was bright, but as afternoon wore on, I stopped looking. Too scared.

The apartment I’d just left had ghosts. I never experienced them before I lived there, and I hope never to experience them again. I never got used to them and they did not go away when I asked them to. I’m not joking. There was nothing good about the experience and I told very few people about it. Trusted friends – skeptical, techy friends — checked out the apartment in every way they could think of, but could find no explanation for the things I described.

I always meant to investigate the history of the apartment, but I never did.

Why?

Too scared.

I don’t like to think about ghosts, spirits, or demons, and mostly I don’t. I’m a materially-oriented religious nut. I believe in God, and I expect to find that a ghostly whooshing sound is caused by dead leaves blowing across the pavement. I assume that the lights flicker because of a power surge. I don’t expect a stranger to materialize in the blink of an eye.

But I do believe that we don’t know everything. My friends’ scientific theories could not explain the occurrences in my old apartment. I don’t know what was going on there, but the most logical explanation I could come up with was that the mentalities and behaviors of past people still inhabited that space.

There are dead people I love, although they troubled me when they were in life. There are dead people I never knew, who died long before I was born, whom I love. There is a dead man I imagine sitting near me. Oh, how I want to see him again.

Is every soul still alive? Not just the innocent, the blinkered, the burdened, the ordinary saint, but the terrifying, the brutal, as well?

I can’t handle horror stories. Can you? When my nerves get the better of me, I pray.

Here:

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Part 2 of this topic is here.

Part 3 of this topic is here.

October 25, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

WorldUnited StatesMassachusetts
Infections42,530,8168,439,681151,777
Deaths1,147,432212,7039,881
Posted in Praying | Leave a comment