Coronavirus in the Dock

 

By now you are aware of the CDC guidelines to stave off the spread of the Chinese import – the Wuhan coronavirus. (“COVID-19” is the socially sterile PC term.) I want to offer three perspectives: mine, one from a gentleman who survived a pandemic and the third from a doctor in Lombardi, Italy. I will start with mine, the most strident:

Up until Friday night, I was working at my company’s remote office as usual. Then the Illinois governor ordered “shelter-in-place” for everyone in the state with the exception of those in “vital occupations”. Our company is now following the order. I start working from home tomorrow. I had a limited time yesterday to gather up my laptop, monitors, drawings, etc. before the remote office was closed.

Up until Friday, I had been working out 4-5 times a week. But now, the health club is closed. I would think that maintaining your health would be of maximal import right now. But things have gone berserk. You can maintain social distancing in a health club. The hours can be shortened to allow for sanitizing of the equipment.

No doubt there are legal aspects that businesses consider in shutting down. No business wants to be sued for spreading the coronavirus. We live in a litigious society where many do not want to take responsibility for their own actions and finger pointing is promoted.

The grocery stores have changed their hours to 8 AM till 6 PM. This has resulted in a hoard of people lining up before 8 AM so that they can get in to pillage the shelves. I went to a grocery store yesterday after eight. I picked up a couple of things: a bottle of water and a newspaper for the crossword. I then found that the checkout line was extended from the cashiers back through the frozen food aisle to the back end of the store and continued to the left past the meat deli counter. So much for “social distancing”. And, many of the shelves were empty. The lockdown and the lines are insane for many reasons, including the imposed reliance on the information systems in place – the 24/7 pandemic-obsessed media, with its constant log of coronavirus cases and deaths and shortages. What are you to do with this information?

On a news program just now, I heard that 5 million people could lose their jobs because of the lock-down of businesses – a number that tells you, in effect, that our economy will not recover anytime time soon. The yield curve, the relationship between the short and long-term interest rates of fixed-income securities issued by the U.S. Treasury, is indicating a pending recession. I predict that the lock-down will be withdrawn when the government cannot receive the revenue it needs to function. The Democrat state of Illinois is already in a huge financial mess. Before this happens, though, there will be a nascent outcry from those in lock-down – “Enough Already!” For they will see that the cure is worse than the disease. While there is much talk of flattening the pandemic curve, the economy’s health curve is now inverted and will not begin to flatten until “Enough Already!” or a vaccine is produced.

The federal government’s response – handing out checks to those earning $99K and less – is absurd. This shotgun approach will not help a long-term lockdown. Many are still working and maintaining. Those who lost jobs will go on unemployment. The amount the unemployed receive is around fifty-percent of their previous paychecks. The federal government should provide the balance of that income through the unemployment system already in place. The money provided by the federal government could replicate H. R. 4584: money paid out now would be in exchange for delayed eligibility for Social Security benefits. The focus for citizens should be to maintain income through the imposed lock-down. The focus for small business and corporations should be to keep them afloat with no-interest long term loans, reduced regulations, and a delay in taxation. (A word to Democrats in Congress: you continue to hate on corporations. You continue to deny economic reality. Corporations along with small businesses provide the common man a job. Corporations provide millions of jobs. Corporate profits work to create more jobs (and money for your political campaigns). Corporations provide the infrastructure of supply and demand. Corporations provide your “Precious”: toilet paper.)

The taxpayer’s money should be spent primarily on securing the equipment and means to fight the virus. Such a vaccine will bring an end to quarantine much quicker. I have every confidence in America’s biotech companies. They will find a vaccine that will stop the virus.

Our church will not be open during this lock-down. Though there is an obvious physical component – the virus – affecting everyone’s behavior, there is also a spiritual component at work. It’s as if the Evil One, through the world system, wants to deprive Christians of the Eucharist and gathering in the name of the Lord. It’s as if the Evil One, through the same system, wants the media with its fear-mongering news, its prescription drug commercials and its prurient depictions of life – to be the sole source of how to think and feel during the lock-down. What will you be doing during your shut-in time? Watching TV. The media is a constant reminder that there is a spiritual battle going on, a battle for your heart, mind and soul. The media virus will have its negative effects.

As a church community we are right to obey the authorities. But there is also this to consider:

“A scared world needs a fearless church.”

-A. W. Tozer

At times like this one looks for a reference point from the past. Here’s mine: In 1957 I was five-years old. I became very sick. I had a burning fever and chills. Our doctor made house calls then. He took my temperature: over 103! He said that I had the Asian flu. He gave my mother a script for something. I recovered after a week. I do not recall any lock-down or social madness at that time. I have never been germ-obsessed. So, somewhere along the line, I must have developed antibodies to stave off illness. If I came down with something the kids brought home, I just worked through it. I have never had a flu shot and I can’t remember a time when I had the flu.

Here’s another perspective, a more reflective one. I recently came across an article written by an older man who also had experienced the Asian flu:

Say Your Prayers and Take Your Chances

And another perspective, a sobering one, sent to me from my brother, a hospital chaplain in Indiana:

Testimony of a doctor in Lombardy, Italy:

Never in the darkest nightmares did I imagine I could see and live what’s happening here in our hospital for three weeks now.

The nightmare is flowing, the river is getting bigger and bigger.

At first some came, then tens and then hundreds.

Now we are no longer doctors, but we have become classifiers on tape and decide who lives and who should be sent home to die, although all these people have paid taxes all their lives.

Until two weeks ago, my colleagues and I were atheists; it was normal because we are doctors and learned science and science was told to exclude the presence of God. Always laughed at my parents going to church.

Nine days ago a 75 year old pastor came to us. Gentle man, had big breathing problems. He had a Bible and we were impressed that he read it to the dying and they grabbed his hand. Being all the new doctors tired, discouraged, psychologically and physically exhausted, when we had time we listened to the pastor. Now we have to admit that we, as humans, have reached our limits; more we cannot do, and more people die daily. We are exhausted, we already have two colleagues who have died and others are standing. We realized that where what man can do ends, we need God and we start wondering things when we have some free minutes. We talk to each other and we cannot believe that of fierce atheists we have become believers to find our peace, asking the Lord to help us to resist so we can care for the sick.

Yesterday the 75-year-old pastor died, who until today, even though we had more than 120 dead in 3 weeks here, we had all ended up wanting; we are destroyed because the old pastor managed, during his stay, to bring us a peace we no longer expect to find. The shepherd went to the Lord and soon we will follow him. I’ve been home for 6 days now, I don’t know when I last ate, and I realize my futility on this earth and I want to dedicate my last breath to helping others.

I am happy to have returned to God while surrounded by the suffering and death of my peers “…

 

Prior to this current pandemic, haven’t each of us avoided becoming infected via social interactions prior to the pandemic? Haven’t the elderly and pregnant women avoided friends and family when things seemed iffy? Haven’t we tried to stay healthy? Haven’t you been helping your neighbor? If these things are true of you, then “Stay the course”, as my doctor told me at the end of my yearly checkup on Friday.

Homestead Reset: Avoid the media. Play games. Try new recipes. Challenge your mind. Spend time learning a new trade. Take online classes. Learn how to trade stocks. Read classical literature. Read to invoke your imagination. A healthy imagination is life-sustaining. Read to see how others deal with adversity. Read to take your thoughts to new places. Don’t let your thoughts fester on the “Island of Despair”.

And, pray.

O God, the source of all health: So fill my heart with faith in your love, that with calm expectancy I may make room for your power to possess me, and gracefully accept your healing; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

…..

This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.   Amen.

Watershed at the Well

 

This day began like all other days in Sychar. The man that stayed with me last night left my side early, while it was still dark. I turn over and wait. I go out when the sun is highest over Mount Gerizim so as to not rankle the locals.

You see, I have a reputation in this town. It has to do with the men who have come and gone from my life. I keep going back to the well for a different man. Those I’ve been with have been dull, uninteresting and not satisfying at all. The one I’m with now: ehh! I could do better …

No matter. I am supremely self-reliant, like my people the Samaritans. We don’t need the Jew’s affirmation. We have our holy mountain, our Pentateuch and the true religion of Israel. And, I have my ways …

It is time for me to go for water. There is a spring way off in that direction, but I much prefer the water from the well of Jacob our patriarch. Come with me and I will tell you about my people. Cover your head, for the sun is scorching, and carry this water jar. We will fill two water jars today …

My people remained in the land of Israel and were not carried off to Babylon like those of Judah. We are the true remnant of Israel. We are guardians of Israel. We have preserved the true religion of our fathers. Our ways were not altered and distorted by the Babylonian captivity. When the Judahites returned to Israel, they presumed their ways to be true Israel. They presumed their own holy place …

Look at blessed Gerizim. Mount Gerizim is our holy mountain. It has been the true holy place for Israel since the time Joshua conquered Canaan … It is the mountain designated by Moses for our place of worship …

There, at its base is Bir Ya`qub, the well of Jacob our patriarch. That is where we are headed. It is near a crossroad for those traveling north or south … that well is where our father Abraham sent his servant to find the future wife for his son Isaac. The servant was to ask for water. If offered water by a woman there then that was the sign that she would be Isaac´s future wife …

Those who returned from Babylonian captivity despise us. According to the Jewish polemic Ben-Sira, we are “the foolish people that dwells in Shechem” and an enemy of Israel. Over one-hundred years ago a Jewish king, John Hyrcanus, destroyed our holy city of Shechem and our temple on Mount Gerizim. I suspect that the Jewish authorities didn’t like us trying to stop their rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem when they returned. They also don’t like that we married foreigners and took on their ways. They call us half-breeds! …As you can imagine, there has long been religious and ethnic enmity between us and the Jews …Why, they even have hatred against their own people and prophets. They kill them! … So, I want nothing to do with them …

The well is to the right of the road where it bends from the great plain of Makhneh into the pass of Shechem. The well is deep. The water is clear and pure. You must taste it ….

If you haven’t realized it yet, I am fiercely independent like my people, the Samaritans. I support myself. I own property, earned through my dealings with men. I am fiercely independent like my people, the Samaritans. And we are an open-minded people. We have welcomed criminals and refugees and the excommunicated – the violators of the severe Jewish laws. They have found safety with us from the Jewish authorities … I am comfortable living as I do among the rejected …

It is good that we go to the well now, while the sun is hot and the chatter cooled. The women of Sychar have all drawn water early this morning and have returned home. We will be left alone …

I am not only a Samaritan but also a woman of the world. When the Greeks came and conquered Samaria, we took on many Greek ways while keeping our traditional ways. We called our sanctuary Zeus Hellenios to honor God in the language we became familiar with. And, why shouldn’t we acknowledge their gods as being the same as our God. We are open-minded and not like those uppity Judeans who returned from exile with their Judaism. They refuse to associate with foreigners and us Samaritans. They keep their distance and we keep our distance. They have their land and we have ours. They have their ways and we have ours. And when the Messiah comes, he will put things right. The Messiah will show those Judeans that we were right all along …

Just a little further. I can almost taste that cool water …wait! Who’s that? A Jew? Why is he alone? Is he a running from the Jewish authorities? One doesn’t come through these parts alone for fear of being robbed and left to waste. Remember those men we passed earlier? Maybe he is with them. He must be passing through … Look! This ‘foreigner’ has nothing to draw water with. We will ignore him and pretend that he isn’t there in our space. Those Judeans have nothing to do with us Samaritans. They think we are all demon possessed. We will have nothing to do with them….

Give me your water jar. I will lower it into the well … there, water cool and clear.

“Give me a drink.”

(Whispering: This is odd. Why is he asking me for water? He is not my husband. Doesn’t he know that women and men don’t keep company? Doesn’t he know that Samaritans and Jews don’t associate? He is crossing a line. I’ll deal with him.)

“What! You, a Jew, asking for drink from me, a woman, and a Samaritan at that?”

“If only you’d known God’s gift and who it is that’s saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you’d have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

“But sir, you haven’t got a bucket! And the well is deep! So how were you thinking of getting living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, with his sons and his animals?”

“Everyone who drinks of this water will get thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I’ll give them won’t ever be thirsty again. No: the water I’ll give them will become a spring of water welling up to the life of God’s new age.”

“Sir, give me this water! Then I won’t be thirsty anymore, and I won’t have to come here and draw from the well.”

“Well then, go and call your husband and come here.”

“I haven’t got a husband.” (Whispering: Where is he going with this?)

“You’re telling me you haven’t got a husband! The fact is, you’ve had five husbands, and the one you’ve got now isn’t your husband. You were speaking the truth!”

(Whispering: Hmmm. This guy is perceptive. Let’s see what he does with this!)

“Well, ahem…Well, sir, I can see you’re a prophet …Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain. And you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

“Believe me woman, the time is coming when you won’t worship the father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You worship what you don’t know. We worship what we do know; salvation, you see, is indeed from the Jews. But the time is coming – indeed, it’s here already! – when true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and truth. Yes: that’s the kind of worship the father is looking for. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

(Whispering: OK, I’ll try this.)

“I know that Messiah is coming, the one they call ‘the anointed’. When he comes, he’ll tell us everything.”

“I’m the one – the one speaking to you right now.”

(Whispering: Did you hear that? Did you hear him tell me everything about my life? He told me what was true about me and did it without patronizing me. How can someone know me who doesn’t know me except if he is from God? Could he be the ‘anointed One’? …Now, who are these guys? Judean Jews? They must be with him. They are looking at us and whispering. C’mon let’s go back home. I want to tell everyone and bring them here …What’s that? The water jars? Leave them. They will draw water and refresh themselves. They will be here when we come back with everyone. C’mon. Let’s hurry! …I forgot to ask his name! I’ll call him Joshua. C’mon! Let’s run. My community will want to meet him! This man has a new way of looking at things! A new reality we need to hear more of! My people know me well enough to know that I am no fool! ….

… … …

“Everyone! Everyone! C’mon everyone! Come and see a man who told me everything I did! You don’t think he can be the Messiah, do you? …I hear what you’re saying …you’re saying that you already know everything I have done. But listen. He doesn’t know me and yet he told me everything about me. You don’t have to believe me. Come and see for yourselves! He has a different way of looking at things, things you need to hear for yourselves! Come! Hurry, before they leave the well!”

… … …

My friend, thank you for coming with me this day. This day began like all other days in Sychar but ended like no other. My people were amazed at Yeshua’s words. They believed in him, some based on what I had said and others on hearing him for themselves. Now they want to be baptized by his disciples in the Jordan river.

I must go. We have invited these Judean Jews, the ‘anointed One’ and his disciples, to stay with us before they head to Galilee. We created space for them in our homes. Yeshua has much to teach us … We are learning how to love God and our neighbor with “spirit and truth” righteousness. I thought I was clever, but I’ve had to rethink many relationships today …. I am abandoning my pluralistic and sectarian ways. I am embracing Yeshua and his ways. There is no one like Adonai among the gods. Those old ways now seem foolish and childish and full of carnality and resentment. I was like the Dead Sea, always taking and never giving. Now, I want “living water” to flow through me, to refresh and satisfy those who ask me for water.

Before today, my people had no use for the Jewish prophets. But now, because of the anointed One, I will quote his reciting of Isaiah the prophet:

“And the LORD will continually guide you,

And satisfy your desire in scorched places,

And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden,

And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”

 

 

 

 

… adapted from the Gospel According to John, chapter 4

In My Element

 

How could I forget the passing of my father and mother? My father had become terribly sick. My mother cared for him day and night and soon became sick herself. I cared for both until they died days apart. How could I forget those days of loss and the burden put on me at that time? I am Martha and the oldest of three children.

As was our custom, the three of us – my brother Lazarus, my sister Mary and I – mourned for seven days. We did no work; we did no cleaning or cooking. Friends and relatives brought us food and sat with us and mourned with us as we sat barefoot on the floor. When that time was over, I felt isolated and overwhelmed. I felt the weight of the world suddenly on my shoulders. I was only 13 years old.

Before all this happened, I felt carefree. Life was an uncomplicated joy. When our family went to the synagogue, mother, Mary, and I would sit with the women. Father and Lazarus would sit with the men. Everything was as it should be. We were together in our element. But since, the remaining three of us have felt out of place, as if we were illegitimate children. It didn’t help that older women whispered between themselves when they saw us.

And, celebrating Passover was not the same without father and mother. Father would say, “Mary, ask the question”. Mary would respond “Why is this night different from all the other nights?” Then, we each had to give our answer as she asked it four times. I miss them most during these times.

Without father I felt cut off from the community and the events of the day. Father would come home and tell us all that was going on as we ate our evening meal. In his circle of friends there was much talk of the Romans and their taxes and about Caesar’s image on the denarius. (Father told us that he paid the temple tax in Tyrian shekels because those coins didn’t contain any earthly ruler’s image. This meant he had to deal with greedy money changers.)

Father became especially animated when he talked of a Messiah, one anointed by God who would smash the enemies of God and reign over the earth. Everyone he spoke with thought his appearing was imminent. When father talked about the Messiah he would recite the synagogue reading of the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

 

As the oldest I took charge of caring for my younger brother and sister. Who else would do this? I fed them, cleaned their clothes and taught them the ways of our people as I had been taught by father and mother. Thankfully, father left his affairs in good order. We lacked for nothing and lived in a spacious home in Bethany.

At our home I tried to maintain order, as my mother had done. She watched over the affairs of the household and did not eat the bread of idleness. She was a woman of noble character and I wanted to be like her. So, I did what was needed.

As I busied myself at home, Lazarus and Mary would go to the marketplace to buy food for our daily meal – fish, vegetables, fresh herbs and the like. At the market they also gathered up the recent gossip and news from travelers about the events of the day. One day it happened that they came home and could talk of nothing else except Jesus.

Mary couldn’t contain herself. She swirled as she spoke in her lilting voice: “He healed … a man … of a terrible skin disease! He healed … a Centurion’s … servant! He raised … a widow’s son … from the dead! Unclean spirits … are cast out! The daughter of Jairus … the ruler of the synagogue … healed! A woman … sick for twelve years … healed! A lame man … made to walk…on the Sabbath! Jesus fed thousands … with a few … fishes and loaves! A storm … was calmed … on the sea of Galilee … “

As Mary spoke, Lazarus paced back and forth. When he finally stopped, he said that Jesus had been in the synagogue in Nazareth … that he had been handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah … that he had read the same words that father recited to us so often!

“His words are the words of life!” Mary exclaimed half-twirl. Lazarus wondered out loud: “Could this be the Messiah that father talked about?”

They both tugged on me. “Come and hear what people are saying!” But I had to remind them of the hour.

“It is almost sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath. We must prepare for this. Help me do this. Mary, sweep the house. Lazarus, take these fish bones out to the refuse pile.” After the sabbath, I told them, we will go and hear what is being said about him.

 

 

Soon after, it happened that Jesus came to where we were. He arrived with twelve men who followed him intently and some seventy others. The three of us overheard many of their conversations as they gathered in our village. There was excited talk of Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. “But what good is a dead Messiah?”, was a response we heard over and over. Many were questioning the direction Jesus was taking – going up to Jerusalem. The rumors were that the authorities there were wanting to do away with him.

The disciples discussed and puzzled over what Jesus had said when they were alone: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life”. “What could this possible mean?” they asked each other, “Why must he be killed? And “Isn’t the resurrection on the last day?”

Several spoke of Jesus sending them out in his name. They had the authority to cast out unclean spirits in his name! They were sent to proclaim the kingdom of God. There were villages where they were welcomed and were given food and drink. And there were places where they were not welcomed. In response to these places they wiped that town’s dust from their feet and said “Gods’ kingdom has come close to you! It will be more tolerable for Sodom than this town”.

When I heard this, I immediately welcomed the Master and his followers – all of them – to our home. Who else could do this with all of these? And, of course, the house was clean and empty and ready for guests.

The courtyards were soon overflowing – men gathered on the upper courtyard and women gathered on the lower courtyard. I loved the commotion after so many quiet days – days since father and mother passed away. Like my mother, who had received and served many guests, I was in my element. I took charge.

I sent Mary and Lazarus to the market for cured fish, cumin and coriander, vegetables, figs, grapes and almonds. With seventy plus mouths to feed I needed plenty of provisions and plenty of help.

While they were gone I set about baking bread on the hearth, making lentil stew, and roasting a goat on a spit. I went about offering my guests wine, water and goat’s milk to drink. After a time, Mary and Lazarus came back with everything I asked. They said that the whole town was outside waiting for Jesus and they gave us what we needed!

And Jesus was in my home at the center of a group of men. I set down bowls of figs, dates and almonds before them where they sat and talked. At this point, I was coming and going, from kitchen to room to kitchen to courtyard to kitchen. With so many, there was such a din. But I did hear one ask Jesus to tell them a story.

Jesus affirmed that he would. “Hush!” rippled through the gathering. The courtyards grew quiet. Lifting the sound of his voice so that many could hear, he began:

“Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

While Jesus spoke, I went back to cooking and preparing and wondering what happened to Mary. She was not helping me feed all these people. I needed her help. I was shorthanded and getting more flustered by the minute.

I returned the room where Jesus was with more bread and lentil stew. And, there she was! I was shocked! Not only was Mary sitting around distracted from her duties, but she was sitting with the men …and right at Jesus’ feet! O, the impudence!

Right then and there I wanted to say, “Mary, that is not your place. Come and help me.” But I had a better idea – invoke someone with authority to deal with her. There is someone in this room that she will listen to and who will sympathize with me. He will put her in her place. I stood before Jesus.

“Master, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to give me a hand!”

Jesus looked at me and must have seen the distressed look on my face. Certainly, I thought, he must know all that us women do, especially when we are hosting. He has a mother.

“Martha, Martha, you are fretting and fussing about so many things. Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.”

Well, that wasn’t the response I was expecting. I stood there looking at him and then at Mary who hadn’t moved and then at a room full of faces. Was the kingdom of God staring back at me waiting for my reaction? There was nothing left for me to do but to sit down, eat and join the conversation.

 

 

In the days following, Lazarus and Mary invited many into our home. I’ve hosted hundreds of people! Those who came were eager to hear about Jesus. I fed them. I sat with them. And, I taught them – men and women alike – about the words and ways of Jesus. I serve the kingdom of God and that is all that matters. I wish father and mother were here to see me in my element.

 

 

 

Adapted from the Gospel According to Luke, chapter 10

Same Road. New Vista.

 

What’s that you say? You’ve just arrived from Cyprus and you are new to the area? And, you’ve heard some incredible things? You want me to tell you all that’s happened? Come in for some water and …some bread.

Where should I begin, stranger? There is so much that has happened the last three days – the last three years, in fact! And long before now! Since you are a visitor from Cyprus, I will start with some necessary background so you will understand why my husband and I are so giddy.

My husband Cleopas and I – I am Mary – settled many years ago in this fertile valley below Jerusalem This area is known as Emmaus. We call this place Motza. Our village is about 30 stadia from our beloved Jerusalem.

As you have seen, it is a well-watered area with rich soil and an abundance of willow trees. During the Feast of Tabernacles celebration many come to our valley and gather willow branches. They take the willow branches and stand them up on the sides of the altar with their tops bowed over the altar.

Our valley has many springs watering it. Our people come down to one of Motza’s springs to get water for baking their matzo for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

I’m sure you noticed the Roman Centurions stationed here. My husband says it is a strategic position for them as they can protect the ascent to Jerusalem on the road leading from Jaffa. And, it is strategic in the ways I know of. Cleopas has overheard some of them saying that they would like to retire here because of the many springs and because north of our village the valley widens offering them plenty of room for settlement and for growing food.

My husband and I are simple farmers. But life for us and our people has not been so simple. Many of us have long desired to be freed from the rule of those who do not worship the One true God. When the Babylonians overtook Jerusalem and carried our people away into exile it was the Isaiah the prophet who spoke for us …

O Lord our God,

other lords besides you have ruled over us

but we acknowledge your name alone.

Now, we are back in our land and still the pagans lord over us. So, we wondered: Would our God act again to bring us out of this exile as he took us out of Egypt? And, when will God resurrect Israel and restore her as a nation? When will the messiah, the Anointed One and Son of the Most High from the line of David, restore the house of David? When, when, when …when would God redeem his people and set up his everlasting kingdom on earth?

On many Sabbaths, as we gather in the synagogue, words from the Torah are read. And then the words of the prophets – the haftarah. We all felt the hopelessness and despair in the words of the prophet Ezekiel: “our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Our leader would then pray these words:

Vindicate me, my God,
    and plead my cause
    against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
    deceitful and wicked.
 You are God my stronghold.
    Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
 Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
 Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

 

Yes, there were times of renewing hope and rejoicing. This past fall my husband and I and pilgrims from Cyrpus and from faraway lands went up to Jerusalem for the feast of the tabernacle. We carried with us willow branches and olive branches to build to sukkah – our temporary booths. When we all gathered together, we shouted praises to God, sang the songs of Aliyah and waved our fragrant lulavs – our willow branches and palm fronds – before the Lord in a spirit of thankfulness.

After the feast, we walked home with the pilgrims on the Emmaus road, the same road that brought you here. Our hearts were burning with expectation as to what God would do. There was much animated discussion about the events of those seven days. And, it all centered on Jesus. You must know about him, don’t you? How can anyone not know?

That day as we walked along we talked about his feeding the five thousand by the shore of Galilee. We talked about our seeing him healing the blind and the lame. And, Lazarus had been raised from the dead! We marveled that demons were being cast out and at Jesus’ authority over them. And, his words! No one ever spoke like he did about the Moses and the prophets. We discussed how our religious authorities despised him and wanted to do away with him. This made us all fearful, as it would negatively affect our synagogues. Yet, they each said that many were believing in him as the one who was to come.

But Miriam told the group that that even his brothers did not believe in him. She learned this from a young doctor named Luke, whom she met at the feast. He told her that Jesus’ brothers wanted Jesus to show himself publicly so that he could become well-known. “Show yourself to the world!” they said to him. They wanted to put Jesus in a situation which would make him prove he is the Messiah. But Jesus told them “My time is not yet. The world can’t hate you, but it hates me, because I am giving evidence against it, showing that its works are evil”. He told them to go up to the feast. Miriam said that Jesus went up later in secret and now we know why. There was a considerable dispute in the crowds. Some said “He’s a good man and others “He’s deceiving the people!” There were those who hated him and wanted to do away with him.

Ruth told us about the twelve-year old Jesus. His family had gone up to Jerusalem for Passover. When they left to return to Galilee with a caravan of friends, they had traveled a day’s journey before realizing that Jesus wasn’t with the group. He had vanished! So, they went back up to Jerusalem and searched for him for three days. They couldn’t find him anywhere. When they finally did put their eyes on him, he was sitting with the teachers of the law. He was listening to them and asking questions. Those listening to him were amazed at his answers to their questions. But, Mary was neither amazed or happy. She scolded him for disappearing. “Child”, she said to him, “why have done this to your father and me? We have been frantically searching for you”. Jesus told his mother, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?” They didn’t understand a word of what he was saying. Wasn’t his father a carpenter?

Oy, there is so much to tell. I will focus on the last few days and on what happened to Cleopas and me this afternoon. What happened the last few days in Jerusalem we learned from the Jesus’ disciples as Cleopas and I were in Jerusalem for Passover. I can tell you that it was a time of weeping and anguish.

As you may have heard, on the night of Passover Jesus was captured by the authorities – ours and Roman. Though he had done nothing wrong he was sentenced to death on a Roman cross. Our authorities pushed for this, shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea and then released by Pilate to the angry crowd. Jesus was crucified like a common criminal. When we learned of this our hearts were broken, our hopes were dashed. “What good is a dead messiah we asked each other? We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” God be praised! There is more to tell you!

We were in Jerusalem this morning. We heard many, many accounts and rumors of visions and of Jesus’ tomb being empty. The disciples were at a loss as what to make of it all. Peter had gone off to see for himself and confirmed that the tomb was indeed empty. But he was as perplexed as the rest of us. We waited for while longer to see what might come of it all and then we decided to head home. Now, this is the part I’ve been waiting to tell you… I can barely …

Cleopas and I headed home to our village. Along the way we discussed all that had happened that morning. We argued, too, about what it meant. As we walked a stranger approached us and began walking with us. He was not at all familiar to us but he must have overheard us. He started the conversation:

Rowan LeCompte and Irene Matz LeCompte, “Third Station of the Resurrection: The Walk to Emmaus” (detail), 1970. Mosaic, Resurrection Chapel, National Cathedral, Washington, DC. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

“You’re obviously having a very important discussion on your walk. What’s it all about?”

We stopped walking and turned to him. He must have seen that we were both downcast. Cleopas answered the stranger. “You must be the only person around Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s been going on there the last few days.”

“What things?” he asked.

“To do with Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet. He acted with power and he spoke with power, before God and all the people. Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. But we were hoping that he was going to redeem Israel!

And now, what with all this, it’s the third day since it happened. But some women from our group have astonished us. They went to his tomb very early this morning, and didn’t find his body. They came back saying they’d seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Some of the folk with us went off to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see him.”

“You are so senseless! So slow in your hearts to believe all the things the prophets said to you! Don’t you see? This is what had to happen: the Messiah had to suffer, and then come into his glory!”

At this point, we were quite perplexed. Who is this stranger and why is taking this so personally? We were both taken aback by the zeal and authority with which the stranger spoke. We searched his face for answers to what we didn’t recognize in all of the Sabbath words. He began walking and we followed.

We listened to the stranger explain Moses and the prophets and all of Scripture in terms of the One who was to come and ransom Israel and bring her and the whole world out of exile. He told us …

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

He talked about a kingdom on earth and about creation and new creation. As he spoke, everything we had been taught began to look different. Everything was coming into focus and the focal point was Jesus. Everything was becoming clear except for the stranger. He remained an enigma.

We reached the intersection to our village. We turned down our road. The stranger kept walking down the Emmaus road. We called after him urging him to stay with us. He kept walking. Cleopas finally ran up to him and pleaded with him to stay with us. “Sir”, he said, “the day is almost over. Stay with us.” The stranger agreed to come with us.

We invited him in and gave him a bowl of water and a towel to wash his hands and feet. We gave him water to drink. We sat down to a small meal. The stranger took the bread up into his hands and prayed, giving thanks for the meal. He then broke the bread and gave it to us. It was then …it was then …it was then that we were shocked beyond belief! Our jaws dropped and we looked at each other with wide open eyes. Cleopas and I saw that the stranger was Jesus, the resurrected Jesus! And, as soon as we saw him, he vanished from our sight! Poof!

We were speechless. The Anointed One and Son of the Most High was walking with us and talking with us and sitting down to eat with us! Everything we hoped for had come true in our sight, as Anna the prophetess foretold and Simeon prophesied! … Our eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people!

Now, our new friend, Cleopas and I have to return to Jerusalem to tell our brothers and sisters all that has happened this afternoon. We must break bread with them. Come with us and you will see him, too!

 

As we walked the 30 stadia back up to Jerusalem, Cleopas and I kept pinching each other. We walked and danced and walked and ran and clapped. We kept asking each other “Do you remember how our hearts were burning inside us, as he talked to us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us? Cleopas, in his booming voice and with a smile on his face, kept repeating “For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave” and the words our Sabbath leader prayed:

Why are you cast down, O my soul

And why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.

We both shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

 

The Cypriot, not sure what to make of all this, watched us from a distance. There was an amused and perplexed look on his face.

 

 

 

 

Adapted from the Gospel according to Luke (2:41-50)

 

You’ll Never Be the Same

 

Daybreak. The village of Bethsaida. The air is hot and dry and still. And something is astir. Jesus has come to the “house of fishing”.

You hurry down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Your husband and his brother have been fishing long before daybreak. You carry with you a clay jar full of water and a cloth.

Along the shore are baskets of fish. The village women and merchants have come to purchase the salted tilapia. You know that your husband will reserve some for his family and for the widows. And though there over two hundred boats on the water, you spot your husband’s and his brother’s boat.

At the edge of the water you hear “The time is fulfilled! God’s Kingdom is arriving! Turn back and believe the good news!” Jesus, walking along the shore, is coming toward you.

Trying to get your husband’s attention, you wave. He and his brother are busy casting nets. You shout. “Look! Jesus is coming this way!” Your husband finally hears your voice and turns toward you.

Jesus walks up to you. From the same vantage point he calls out to your husband and his brother, “Follow me! I’ll have you fishing for people!”

At once, your husband and his brother let go of their nets and bring the boat to shore. At once, they begin to follow Jesus along the shoreline. You follow them, two steps to their one, with the clay jar of water. You soak the cloth in the water. With it your husband proceeds to wipe his brow and then his beard to remove the crusted salt – sweat from his brow. You hand him the clay jar. Dehydrated, he gulps half the water down and then hands the jar to his brother.

Further down Jesus calls “Follow me!” to two men mending their nets. You know them – James and John, the sons of Zebedee. The brothers leave their boat and their father and the hired servants behind.

At this point, you’ve run out of breath and are not able to keep up. You call to your husband, “I’m going home. My mother is not feeling well.” Your husband acknowledges but goes on, determined to keep his eyes on Jesus.

As you watch him and the fellowship of fishermen continue down the shore, you remember the words of the prophet Isaiah that were read in the synagogue last Shabbat:

The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame

Zebedee calls to you. “I will have my hired hands take care of your boat. I will sell the fish you husband caught and bring you fish for you and the widows.” You thank him. Carrying the clay jar and the cloth you head home pondering all that has happened. Every woman in Bethsaida knew what Mary had said about Jesus. Something begins to stir in your heart.

An hour or so later your husband and his brother are at the door. They tell you that they are going to Capernaum with Jesus and are not sure when they will return. You give them some bread to take with. Before your husband takes off, you stop him at the door. “Could he be the one? He’s talking about a kingdom. I don’t want you getting killed. What’s his plan?”

Your husband responds. “Woman, there is only one way to find out.”

Sweat runs down his temples to his beard. The midday sun is blazing. You hand him his mantle, which he throws over his shoulder. He races off with his brother Andrew. He calls to John and James who are already fifty paces ahead of them and Jesus is ten paces ahead of them. He wants them to wait up. Your husband is a big man with a big heart and is impulsive to a fault. He takes strides in all directions. And today, you wonder what will become of him and the fishing business as he takes off in a new direction.

On your way home you stop and give the widows the salted fish and to hear rumors. You learn that many were repenting and were being baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, Jesus among them. And that when he came out of the water there was a dove and a large booming voice that said “You are my son! You are the one I love! You make me very glad!” There is so much more for you to ponder.

At home you prepare for Shabbat which begins just before nightfall. You sweep and clean your home from top to bottom. You cover the sales money so it is out of sight. You make sure there is oil in the two lamps.

The night settles in. You eat food prepared earlier. You care for your mother who now has a fever. As you wipe her head with a damp cloth you talk with her about Jesus until you can’t stop yawning. You go to your bed. You are glad that you and your husband sleep in separate rooms, for when your husband sleeps, he snores – a nightly ritual even on Shabbat. Tonight, there will be the moaning of your delirious mother.

As you fall asleep you imagine your husband walking to Capernaum. He would walk two hours in the hot sun. Did he have water? Maybe the journey would take less time with the strides Jesus takes. When will he return …?

 

Your husband and his brother and James and John return the next day. They are all at the door with Jesus. He had been told about your mother and her illness. Jesus goes in, takes your mother by the hand, and raises her up. At once, her fever is gone and she was well enough to feed them. How is this possible, you ask yourself? But there is no time to wonder as you want to feed them all. Your heart is brimming with thanksgiving.

Outside your home there is large crowd – people from all over Galilee have followed Jesus. Jesus goes out to them. People with all kinds of diseases are brought to him and he heals them. Inside, the four fishermen sit down on the floor. You place bread and fish and water before them. As you do you ask them for details of what happened in Capernaum. They all begin to talk at the same time, but your husband has the loudest voice and so the rest wait their turn:

“We went into the synagogue and Jesus began teaching from the scrolls….’

“None of us had heard anything like this teaching before. He has his own authority, “John interjected. The other three agreed. Your husband continues.

“We are sitting there looking at each other astonished by what he is saying. You see that crowd out there. There was a large crowd around the synagogue. The people were pressing in from all sides trying to hear him. Anyway, we are sitting there when all of a sudden this guy starts shrieking “What business have you got with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: you’re God’s Holy One!”

“He had an unclean spirit living in him,” James tells you. As he says this they hear another shriek outside. And another. Andrew got up to see what was happening. “Jesus is casting out those spirits right outside our door!” Your husband continues.

“You know what he said to that unclean spirit in the synagogue?” Wide-eyed, you ask, “What?”

“He says, ‘Be quiet! And come out of him! The man jerked and writhed like a snake and then screamed and then the unclean spirit came right out of him!”

“We were all shocked, “John continued. “Jesus not only speaks with authority, he even tells unclean spirits what to do, and they do it! The demons talk like they know who he is. He tells them to shut up.”

“We know who the unclean spirits are, where they come from,” Andrew added. “They are from Belial, the kingdom of Belial.”

Noticing two centurions keeping an eye on the crowd, your husband asks, “Do you think that the coming kingdom Jesus talks about will rid us of the tyranny of the Roman dogs?

James is quick to respond, “I hope so. Right now, he appears to be overthrowing the kingdom of Belial.”

“I’m good with that!” John chimes in. “Look around. Those spirits wreak havoc on everyone and everything. The Essenes at Qumran have been battling them for years.”

Nodding in the direction of the two centurions, James wondered out loud, “If Jesus has power over the kingdom of Belial, shouldn’t the Romans be shaking in their caligae?”

Your mother, upon hearing this, went out and offered the two centurions water from the clay jar, which they guardedly accepted. She then offered Jesus some and invited him in for a meal and a place to sleep for the night. He accepted.

Very early – the middle of the night, actually – Jesus got up and went out. You woke your husband and he roused Andrew and James and John. They went looking for Jesus. When they found him praying, they said, “Everyone is looking for you!”

“Let’s go off to the other towns around here,” Jesus replied, “so that I can tell the news to people there too. That’s why I came out.”

 

The next morning you hurry down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Men have been fishing long before daybreak. You carry with you a clay jar full of water and a cloth. You want to do what you can to prepare the way of the Lord.

 

 

 

Adapted from Mark Chapter 1

The Dead Can’t Help (Or Hurt) You Now

Having some time off of work this holiday season, I was able to watch the “ghost” TV programs on the Discovery and Travel channels. In doing so, I wanted to see how the supernatural was being depicted. The fact that there are paranormal themed TV programs with many viewers tells me that the metaphysical is still of great interest to people despite the logical overrides handed down from the Enlightenment. With this post I will present my impressions of these programs and offer my perspective.

Impressions: There are several ghost-hunter programs. The hour-long programs show a group of paranormal investigators using electronic devices to track down ghosts. They assume that the phenomena their clients are experiencing are the dead interacting with the living. They will interview those experiencing paranormal activity and search historical records to make their case and to explain what they capture electronically in terms of the dead. Historical records are used to lend ‘credence’ to their assumption – if dead, then ghosts and the phenomena witnessed.

Another show, The Dead Files, goes a step further than the ghost hunter shows while using the same assumptions. Per the IMDB blurb:

An investigative series that pairs Steve DiSchiavi, a retired Homicide Detective with the New York City Police Department with more than 21 years of active service with psychic communicator Amy Allan who has an established sixth sense and an affinity for channeling the dead. In order to not influence the other, the partners initially explore each case on their own. Steve interviews the residents/employees and investigates the history behind the property (prior ownership, murders or other crimes that occurred at or around the property, etc.) to verify the veracity of the claims, and Amy does a walk-through of the building and expressing any feelings, emotions, or other impressions she feels, with any leading items such as photos, personal items, religious items, etc., having been previously covered or removed, so as not to influence her impressions. She also works with a forensic sketch artist to sketch any entities she claims to witness. They then link up at the end to compare notes with those they are trying to help.[i]

The Dead Files would have the viewer believe that Amy Allan has special knowledge and ability. The show opens with her stating “I see dead people. I talk to dead people”. In the Reveal ending of the show, Amy’s findings are ‘corroborated’ by the detective, whose background findings, of dead people and past events, lead the viewer to accept the reality they have laid out. The detective’s findings are always curiously aligned with Amy’s walk-through physic findings, as are their clients. I have never heard her predict the future other than saying to the clients that the dark force she ‘sees’ will kill if them if they stay in the house.

This show, like the others ‘ghost’ shows, attempts to bring resolution to those experiencing paranormal activity. But, again, The Dead Files goes a step further. The detective will turn to Amy for the resolution. Amy will suggest that the clients move or bring in a medium or a shaman or a reiki master psychic to deal with the dark forces.

My perspective: Despite the use of historical records and despite the use of a former homicide detective and investigators, these shows provide no evidence, no causal link, whatsoever that dead people are interacting with the living. These shows deal in assumptions, in circumstantial evidence: if dead then ghosts; if ghosts then the phenomena witnessed (always negative). Evidentiary support is immaterial – literally.

The noises, voices, objects moving, etc. are presumed to be the activities of dead people making themselves known. Paranormal activity on these shows, as I have said, is attributed to the dead and rarely to demonic activity. The premise of these shows is to solve unexplained paranormal phenomena in haunted locations across America … and attribute it to the “familiar spirits”.

That there is no evidentiary support for the dead interacting with the living, a misleading disclaimer is posted during the show. It says, in effect, that nothing depicted in the show constitutes evidence of a crime that would hold up on court. During my viewings I heard no crimes being discussed. The revealing disclaimer tells us that the bad guys, the dead – the shadow figures – provide no material support for their existence (and their maleficent behavior) that would then allow them to be pinned with a crime. I see the disclaimer as manipulation of the viewer, to get him or her to suspend their reason and to accept that there are deeper and specially divined things going on in each episode. What’s more, Amy has studied psychology.[ii] She would understand manipulation using the fear appeal technique[iii].

Manipulation is what is behind The Dead Files. The viewer is led to assume that the dead interact with the living. The viewer is led to assume that Amy Allan has psychic ability to communicate with the dead. The viewer is led to assume that the involvement of a former homicide detective brings credibility to both of the above even though no bit of credible evidence is provided to substantiate the claims made by Amy Allen. As I watch, I am reminded of a shell game that uses psychological tricks to convince potential players of the legitimacy of the game. The three cups set before the viewer are the client’s experiences and the case work of the detective and Allan’s impressions. The ball, the susceptibility of the viewers, is placed under a cup. The cups are shuffled back and forth for almost the whole hour and then, during the Reveal, the ball is found under the Allen’s cup, as the viewer was ‘convinced’ by closely watching the shells. TV entertainment works only if you feel playing the game is rewarded in the end.

As the title of the show predicates, the dead are making themselves known. So, when people contact the show for help, they already assume (and are setup to go along with the scheme) that dead people are doing just that.

Can’t see the forest for the flimflam. During The Dead Files opening the former homicide detective tells us what he knows: “Every home has a secret … every person has a secret”. And the show has a secret. It Is not inconceivable that the detective is wearing a microphone and is recording the interviews he conducts with the spooked clients. This deception would allow the caveat at the show’s opening – that Amy and the detective never speak before the Reveal – to be true while setting up the viewer with a pretense of legitimacy. The two don’t have to communicate when a tape recording, another type of medium which receives ‘impressions’, is recording the phenomenon experienced by their clients. The Amy Allan sketch by a forensic artist could be easily created via the tape-recording impression. The detective details out loud the locations and experiences of their clients during his interviews.

Dead men tell no tales. Why would the dead communicate with Amy or the clients? And what have they been saying? It would appear that the dead are up to no good. In every show I’ve watched, Amy’s repetitive ‘impressions’ from the dead are disturbing and negative – this and that entity wants to unsettle and terrorize the client and may harm them. This show is the New Age version of the Walking Dead.

Based on the words of Jesus, in his story of the rich man and Lazarus[iv], the dead want the living in the heavenly realm to interact with the living in the earthily realm. But that is not going to happen.

In this account, the poor and afflicted man Lazarus died and “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom”. The rich man also died, was buried and was now being tormented in hell. The rich man wanted Abraham to have pity on him. He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue! I’m in agony in this fire!”

Abraham makes clear that their situations are now reversed: the poor once-suffering man who was aware of his great need during his earthly life is now being comforted. The rich man who knew all the comforts of the world and was not aware of any need during his earthly existence was now suffering and in great need of relief. The balance sheet of good and evil received by these men had been has reversed. And there was no way the rich man could reconcile the books in his favor, as Abraham tells him:

“Besides that, there is a great chasm standing between us. People who want to cross over from here to you can’t do so, nor can anyone get across from the far side to us.”

The rich man, no longer trying to ply Abraham for mercy for himself, wants his five brothers to be warned so that they will repent and stay away the torture-chamber he is experiencing. Abraham tells the rich man that they have Moses and the prophets. “Let them listen to them.”

Apparently, the rich man, though a Jew and a believer in the God of Abraham, had avoided taking to heart the words of Moses and the prophets during his earthly existence and ended up in torment. So, knowing what he now knows, he thinks a supernatural visitation would do the trick.

“No, Father Abraham” he replied, “but if someone went to them from the dead, they would repent.”

Abraham, again, sets the record straight:

“If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets neither would they convinced, even if someone rose from the dead.”

Even if the dead were raised and went about issuing warnings nothing would change in the brother’s attitude or with their sense of need. They would only be entertained, like the viewers of ghost hunter shows.

(Let the reader understand: The story of the rich man and and Lazarus is not about God favoring the poor and condemning the rich. It is not about materialism or lack of charity or about assigning the poor to heaven and the rich to hell based on their life situation. Rather, it is about each one, whether rich or poor, understanding what they truly need and what is the fulfillment of that need. A great chasm is created when one chooses the righteousness of God, as revealed in Moses and the prophets and ultimately in Jesus and when another presumes a form of righteousness based on a blessed life. Both the rich and the poor have the same challenges as posed by Jesus: “What use is it to win the whole world and lose your life?”[v] and “Blessings on the poor in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours”.[vi])

The dead will have their day to speak before the throne of God. They won’t be speaking on TV.

I don’t doubt that what the client’s experience as related in these ghost shows is real. What is not real and has no supporting evidence is the assumption that the dead interact with living. There is a sense of sentimentality and humanism in assigning the poltergeist phenomena to the dead. And, a sense of dealing with someone your own ‘size’.

If the dead do not communicate with the living, then what does?

Unclean spirits, the Sons of Deceit, have been around since after God called creation good. They know what we know and they have been around to know about the dead. With that knowledge they can play all kinds of mind games with humans. The show’s correct title should be The Demon Files.

The dead are not poltergeists – lost souls caught between this life and the next. The dead do not produce phenomena. Poltergeists are the things that produce the phenomena witnessed by the clients. Poltergeists are the unclean spirits that have existed all around us since the beginning of mankind. They interact with humans, as witnessed by the clients in the shows mentioned above. The Kingdom of the Occult by Dr. Walter Martin provides incite into these unclean spirits:

Poltergeists (demons masquerading as humans) are usually imaginative in creating their manifestations: they slam doors, walk up steps, throw objects around a room, moan, cry, touch people, and materialize as dark clouds, red eyes, figures, or colorful moving orbs of light. If they succeed in catching someone’s attention, they often speak to the targeted individual audibly or through digital recorders, Ouija boards, or automatic writing, crafting tales of tragedy and woe designed to foster sympathy in the hearts of listeners. In some cases, foul smells or ice-cold temperatures manifest along with other phenomena.[vii]

Amy Allan’s impressions and ‘ghost’ phenomena are not from the dead but from demonic spirits. So, Amy Allen’s (and the ghost hunter’s) attribution of poltergeist phenomena to the dead is not helpful. In fact, it is incredibly harmful to the clients and to the viewers as are Allen’s ‘remedies’ to resolve the paranormal activity, discussed at the end of the show.

As mentioned above, Amy’s recommends that members of the psychic community – shamans and reiki masters and the like – be summoned to clear the house of the dark forces. Per Amy, emancipation comes through gnosis – the gnosis of the psychic. Yet, no one should ever invoke those who are in touch with unclean spirits to clear their house. Why would the satan destroy his own work?

Jesus, after casting out a demon from a man, was accused by some in the crowd that day of doing so with the aid of Beelzbul, the prince of demons.[viii] Jesus made it clear that if this was so, if the satan drives out the satan, then the satan’s kingdom would be split down the middle and come to ruin. “But,” Jesus told them, “if I’m casting out demons because I am in league with God’s spirit – well, then, God’s kingdom has arrived on your doorstep!”[ix]

Jesus knew their thoughts. Those who had accused Jesus of working with the satan wanted to rid the house of Israel of him. In this context, Jesus told a parable about the “strong man” – the satan – and the stronger man – Jesus – coming to plunder his kingdom on earth:

“Look at it like this. Suppose you want to break into a strong man’s house and steal his belongings. How are you going to do it unless you first tie up the strong man? Then you can plunder his house to your heart’s content If you’re not with me you are against me. Unless you’re gathering the flock with me, you’re scattering it.”

Why would Satan destroy his own work especially when he can use psychic mediums, shamans and the those who communicate with the ‘dead’ to increase exposure to his kingdom and scatter the flock? And, why use those involved with unclean spirits to clear the house of …unclean spirits? Jesus, in the same Matthew passage above, warns those listening that cleaning their house (the house of Israel) of unclean things and not filling it with God’s spirit will cause them to be worse off.

“When the unclean spirit goes out of a person,” Jesus continued, “it goes wandering through waterless places looking for somewhere to rest, and doesn’t find anywhere. Then it says, ‘I’ll go back to my house, the one I left.’ When it gets there it finds it standing empty, clean and tidy. Then it goes out and collects seven other spirits to join it, spirits worse than itself. They go in and take up residence there. The poor person ends up worse off they were to start with! And that’s what will happen to this wicked generation.”[x]

Satan’s forces may retreat for a time because of some newly found resistance of the owners but repossession comes if the space it left is not filled with Gods’ spirit. What the satan loses one way he may gain another way if we do not react to the situation in the correct way. All hell may break loose.

From a previous post:

“…these spirits are restless and never sleep. These disembodied spirits are able to dwell in humans and animals. We learn that they cause havoc: “the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble”. They are the ones Jesus casts out (again and again) as he begins His kingdom on earth.[xi]

The unclean spirits – the Sons of Deceit – play tricks. They can appear as angels of the light, making icons weep and troubling the waters. They seek to scatter the flock. They will do anything to keep one’s eyes off of Jesus, the King of the Universe.

Unclean spirits are the demons in democracy, motivating people into wild excesses and having them demand that others be controlled. They revel in taking what is good and perverting it as in the constant and pervasive noise (so-called music) in so many venues today. Read C.S. Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters to get a sense of how the demonic spirits work.

From my reading of The Revelation of John, I see demonic activity increasing just before the Lord returns, just as it did in the years before he was incarnated. Anti-Christ forces will increase as they see their day of reckoning coming on. All of the forces of evil, those dark forces in the spiritual world and those who have embraced evil and want nothing to do with God, will do battle against the Lord.

If you are experiencing poltergeists and demonic activity then do not seek paranormal investigators. Don’t play the demonic spirits game. You will only make matters worse. Instead, get a priest and holy water involved. Surround yourself with prayer. And make sure to get rid of Ouija boards, tarot cards and the like that invite in the darkness. The strong man’s armor can be removed but you will have to put on the armor[xii] of the stronger man and be filled with God’s spirit. The dead can’t help you now.

 

[i] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2012511/?ref_=ttep_ql

[ii] https://puzzups.com/amy-allan-bio-career-childhood-net-worth-body-measurements-boyfriend-marriage-divorce-children/

[iii] https://www.psychologium.com/7-ways-to-manipulate-someone-to-do-anything-you-want/

[iv] Luke 16: 19-31

[v] Mark 8: 34-38

[vi] Matthew 5:3

[vii] Dr. Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Occult, Psychic Phenomena, (Thomas Nelson), 244.

[viii] Luke 11: 14-15

[ix] Matthew 25-28

[x] Matthew 12: 43-45

[xi] The Serpent’s Apprentice(s)

[xii] Ephesians 6: 10-18

The Letters

 

September, 2019

My Dear Agnus,

I may be among the last of those who write letters. Handwriting is personal and so I hope my words will be received not as the words of a deacon, but as your brother.

The last time I saw you Agnus, at the funeral for Nicholas, I perceived bitterness behind your grief as we spoke that day. You asked “Where is God in all of this?”

The tragedy that took your son was compounded by his claiming to be an atheist before his death. Together, these events must have caused you considerable anguish.

What succor can any observer give to the one who has suffered such a loss and heartbreak? What comparison of those who have also suffered loss can one make to lessen your grief when your sorrow and pain are profoundly yours, and yours alone? And, imagine, what support a spouse gives to her husband who has suffered profound losses when she says to him that he is better off dead?

Job’s wife, knowing where God ‘was’ in all that had happened, ‘comforted’ her boil-encrusted ash heap-seated husband with “Curse God and die!” In effect she said “Why maintain your notions of God and your devotion to Him when He does this to you?”

Job, also knowing where God ‘was’ in all that he suffered, responded to the “foolish” words with his own reckoning of the situation: “Should we accept from God only good and not adversity?” I wonder at the reckoning of Job, after suffering devasting losses: “the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job wasn’t putting a positive spin on his situation. Rather, he was letting God be God.

And what of value are clichés like “time heals all wounds”? The wounds may heal, but the scars remain, as they do for our Lord and Savior. Pain, loss and suffering make their marks, as you well know.

As I write this I have before me the photograph of you and Nicholas at his fourteenth birthday. What joy and promise I see in both of your eyes. How will you remember him on his eighteenth birthday this Saturday?

Do you blame yourself for Nicholas saying he became an atheist? Don’t. I have mentored many such young men. Approaching adulthood, they are dynamic. They believe they know all they need to know and what they don’t know you can’t tell them. They begin to reject familial authority and the fixed rules and identity imposed on them. They will chose a path opposite of what they know. When they receive a driver’s license or go off to college, they believe they can drive off without limits.

Your Nicholas didn’t have time to harden his heart against God. Had he gone on to the university he may have begun to harden his heart, as immature Christian faith is often weaned on the religion of ideology.

The picture I have in my mind as I mentor these young men: they are like the lost wandering sheep that the Shepherd goes looking for. You committed Nicholas to the Good Shepherd as an infant. When he declared himself to be an atheist, the Good Shepherd went looking for him asking “Where are you Nicholas?” The Good Shepherd did not give up on him.

Most likely Nicholas, not yet understanding the nature of God, saw something in the nature of life. The world offers many shiny objects to lure a young man away from the fold.

Be assured, Agnus, that you are continually in my thoughts and prayers. Help me to see through your eyes.

Love,

Tom

 

September 2019

Dear Tom,

Forgive my email reply. My stationery, which I used to thank those who gave flowers in remembrance of Nicholas, has run out except for a mismatched envelope.

Thank you for writing. This past year have been a blur. The loss of my only child and the loss of my marriage the year before has drained life out of me and filled me with wormwood and gall. That is what my new friend Ann calls it.

I saw Nicholas change after the divorce. He became moody and distant. It didn’t help that Bill and I often fought the months before we separated. I was crushed when Nicholas asked both of us “Where is God in all of this?”

I will remember Nick’s birthday with a few friends. They are folk from the church I now attend. They are giving me a memorial tree to plant in my yard.

Agnus

 

October, 2019

Dear Agnus,

A memorial tree is a symbolic and an enduring way to remember Nicholas. What kind of tree did you plant?

You mentioned in your last email that Nicholas was affected by what was going on in his homelife. Changing aspects at home would intensify the growing dynamics in his young life. It would spur him to look elsewhere for greener pastures. But the Good Shepherd knows his sheep and cares for them wherever they run off to.

All that has happened has changed you, as well. Our sister tells me that you are now attending a Universalist Church. This concerns me, as I know of their pluralist beliefs.

How is your health? I worry about you.

Love,

Tom

 

October, 2019

Dear Tom,

I planted a redbud tree in my front yard. I can see it from my chair by the window. My friends from church helped me plant it. They say it will produce rose-colored flowers.

You mentioned the church I now attend. At the church I attended for many years, the one where Nicholas was baptized as an infant, after the divorce no ever one ever invited Nicholas and me over for a meal. I felt judged, unclean and worthless because of a failed marriage. I felt isolated, like I didn’t exist. I felt like a leper.

There was one old woman at that church, I won’t mention her name, who rankled me. She had the gall to imply that what happened to Nicholas was a judgment for my divorce. “These things happen for a reason” is what she said. Why on God’s green earth would someone say this? At that point I had had enough of that can of wormwood. I wasn’t about to lose my sanity and so I looked elsewhere.

Nicholas refused to go to church. He was spending time with his father who also didn’t attend church. Bill said that he has more fellowship on a golf course on Sunday mornings than in church. I don’t even know what fellowship means at this point. My old church had become a valued-members only country club of sorts.

I met the folks from the new church at a rummage sale. They invited me over for coffee. So, I took my baggage and started going to their church.

My health? I don’t sleep. I wake up from dreams so real I begin to cry. I see the old woman and Nicholas standing at the end of my bed. They are turned away and Bill is walking away.

Food and a glass of wine and a few new friends are my only comforts.

Agnus

 

November, 2019

Dear Agnus,

I understand your reaction and your desire to walk away. That woman had no business saying those things. The church, where the lost and lonely and broken should find hope and fellowship and healing, is often the place where the most rejection and hurt is incurred. There are, as you may have encountered, broken people who believe they know the mind of God and can diagnose other’s lives through their own distorted lens. I am reminded of Job’s friends and their counsel.

Now, it may be that this woman had also experienced loss or hardship or heartache and assumed that God was chastening her and that became her frame of reference to project onto others. It may be that, like many in the church, she gets involved with people only viscerally and never enters into a deeper relationship with them. There are those who are not solicitous about a person’s spiritual and emotional well-being as it would involve having to get involved. I don’t want to project any of this onto her or impugn her character, as I only know of her. I don’t know her. One cannot know the mind or intentions of another or the mind of Christ, for that matter, unless they are intimately acquainted with the person. Still, that woman had no business saying those things.

I think many see the church not as a Mash unit where the wounded are cared for and nursed back to wholeness. Rather, they see it as a soapbox for their views. Years ago I left a church where the congregation voted on church matters. That was a nightmare. Many who voted had already converted their political commitments into moral principles. As such, they had become conduits of the world and not of the Holy Spirit.

My main concern is you. How are you holding up? I am glad you found some folks who invited you in. I hope this letter finds you well and in better spirits.

Love,

Tom

 

November 2019

Tom,

I received your letter. The church isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and neither am I for that matter. Maybe the old woman just woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day. I know I did.

These days all my focus has narrowed to getting by day to day. I try to make sense of it all. It seems life is one of those patternless crossword puzzles in the newspaper. There are clues and no structure or a place to start. There are answers that connect at one point but after I work on it the puzzle ends up being a disconnected mismatched jumble. And the solution is a Want Ad.

Now that Christmas is approaching and I will be without Nick, I have a question for you Deacon. Why would God send his son into the world when he knew that his son would brutally die? That is a world of hurt that I know all too well. Why all the suffering? What does it accomplish?

I may get around to buying stationery someday. Right now, email is what I can handle.

Agnus

 

November 2019

Dear Agnus,

I can relate to the crossword puzzle example you gave. More than once I have a puzzle almost completed but there are a few clues that confound me. I have to search to find the word suggested.

You ask a deep theological question that is much like the patternless puzzle. Both begin on a template as a mystery that bids the partaker to search for answers, as you are doing. Mysteries cannot and should not be assessed on their face and be rejected outright as too difficult or pointless.

I have long wondered why Jesus didn’t just come down to earth and feed everyone and heal everyone and keep people from suffering and death. Why did he have to suffer to make things right for the world and then allow suffering to continue?

I have been reading Russian authors for a while now – Chekov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn. What I like about these Russian authors is that they were not afraid to pose deep questions in their works. The things of the spirit were of great importance to them. Their writings depict the torment of the Russian soul especially as it is affected by suffering and loss and evil.

My favorite is Chekov. His writings depict the prosaic side of Russian life and the hopelessness pervasive in the lives of his characters. His stories are not of the Hallmark/Disney sentimentalist twaddle so popular today. He writes the about the way life is without moralizing.

Here, as an example of their writings, I will quote Ivan, one of the brothers in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov:

“And if the suffering of children goes to make up the sum of suffering needed to buy truth, then I assert beforehand that the whole of truth is not worth such a price.” (5.4.21)

Ivan Karamazov, a deep thinker, poses suffering as a theological problem: if sweet innocent children suffer, how can there be a just God? With this conundrum he reveals what is behind Russian nihilism and atheism he sees all around him – sentimentality and a false sense of sympathy for mankind.

The Russian nihilists and atheists he speaks of see children suffering, so they assume that if there is a God that he is unjust and not worth their time. They walk away from God bearing a hatred towards Him and his divine purpose for life. They take on a false moralism which denies all values including the sacred. They will hold an abstracted God accountable but not themselves. They will not stomach the tears of children nor will they stomach the sacrifice required of them to alleviate the tears in this world. In fact, as history shows, they go on to sanction Progressivist revolutions that create untold sufferings and tears.

Have I answered your questions? No. Not yet. I am relating that the patternless puzzle, the mystery, has troubled mankind since the days of Job. The Psalmists and the wisdom literature authors in Scripture reflect on the meaning of life amidst suffering and hardship and loss. These writings offer clues that suffering can be redemptive as they turn to God for healing and justice instead of indicting him. Maybe the old woman spoke from this perspective.

Each individual puzzle, yours included, can be redemptive as one seeks the Source for answers. The church should be a resource of redemption, of grace and a healing balm. But it is often the resource of sentimentality and a false sense of sympathy for mankind as I mentioned above. There are those in the church who see themselves as prophets, as arbiters of who is right and who is wrong and of the mind of God, like Job’s friends. They think they have the answers to the patternless puzzle.

I’ll briefly mention that along with the problem of suffering there is also the problem of evil. Of the Christian view you are already aware. Jesus suffered death on the cross to defeat evil. His resurrection means new creation. That sin and evil continue is a matter of human’s free will. That suffering continues, Jesus’ resurrection tells us that things are not as they seem – that suffering can be redemptive and that death can be overturned so that new creation can take place. The return of Jesus is when he will put things to right.

I’ll just mention a non-Christian view.

An atheist will revere cause and effect science as the tree of life, as the impersonal source of life. This ‘relieves’ them of accountability. Yet, as mentioned above, the atheist will not see human agency as the mechanism behind the cause and effects of evil. Rather they see themselves as the tormented and not as the tormentors. This is more to say on this subject but would be of no comfort for you now.

How are you spending Christmas? Will you be alone? If so, I will come out. Let me know right away so that I can book a flight. I should have asked sooner.

For your sleep I recommend exercise. It will alleviate your mood and help you sleep at night.

Love,

Tom

 

December 2019

Tom,

I received your letter and your Christmas card. The card is beautiful. Thank you.

Of the things you wrote, that whole ball of wax, I can barely take it in. The church has been both a blessing and a bane to me. Now I see myself as part of the bane. My focus has been on myself and words spoken and not spoken to me.

You and I were raised in a church with petty rules. No dancing, no movies, no talking in church. Remember the sign that hung over the choir loft? Be still and know that I am God. How can anyone be still when so much suffering is going on?

Later I attended a free church where I thought I would be free from judgment. I think it is called grace. No way. I traded the Be Still church for the Shut Up about your problems put on a smiley face and carry on church. I came home depressed and crying so I went elsewhere. I told you about my last church. My last straw is the church I attend now. They accept anyone and anything. They teach universal reconciliation – that all humans will eventually be saved. I want to believe this for Nicholas’ sake but I can’t. Why wasn’t everyone saved and suffering stopped right after Jesus died on the cross? Why is there still evil and trouble in the world. It seems that people must still make a choice to be saved or not. You mentioned free will. It seems that universal salvation would mean that there is no difference between good and evil. Alls well that ends well, I guess is what they think.

They also teach about finding yourself within yourself. I found enough in myself I don’t like. If God thinks like me and the rest of these people, we’re all in trouble. Your letters got me thinking about all this.

Anyway, I sit by the window looking at the memorial tree covered in snow and wonder when the redemption part kicks in. I sit here with this feeling of something gushing up inside me like a flare was set off inside me and I can’t contain it. What could this be?

The church does give me the chance to work at a local homeless shelter. I brought in some of Nicholas’ clothes. I was so happy when I saw a boy wearing the shirt I bought for Nicholas.

Rose said that she is coming out for Christmas. She is bringing her kids. That will be a blessing. There will be noise and life in my home again. I will have to clean the house. This is no vale of roses.

How are you spending Christmas?

Agnus

 

December 2019

Dear Agnus.

Your email was a great encouragement to me. My concerns for you have greatly diminished. I don’t see you being taken in by your church’s pluralism. As you have stated, the church accepts anyone and everything. It teaches all religions as emanating from a divine origin and therefore all religions are true and therefore worthy of toleration and respect and considered on equal footing. As such, the church synthesizes universal principles of many religions to form a universal truth. The church wants to be known for being inclusive. You will encounter all manner of false teaching to make inclusion and toleration possible.

The Universalist church will teach about God and Jesus and immortality and, as you mentioned, that things will work out at the end, that no one will suffer eternal torment. The church implies with their teaching that evil and sin make people victims and therefore no one should have to suffer eternal punishment. Their teaching questions how the redeemed can enjoy heaven while even one soul suffers in hell. The sympathy card is played.

The Universalists are like the prodigal son’s older brother. He deems himself on higher moral ground than his father as he witnesses his brother repenting and returning to their father of his own volition. He believes he deserves the sympathy of his father for just being himself.

Like the atheists I have mentioned in a previous letter, the Universalists have taken on sentimentality and a false sense of sympathy for mankind and imbue it with false moralism and cheap grace. They do not let God be God. Rather, they let a god of their own making, as synthesized from the world’s religions, be their graven image.

But there will be no synthesis of good and evil. There will be no marriage of heaven and hell. In fact, there will be The Great Divorce. If you get a chance, read C. S. Lewis’ book by the same name. As Lewis depicts, the choices we make take us down divergent pathways.  We either choose a path of good that becomes an even greater good as we continue to make good choices and stay on its narrow way or we choose a broad path that leads towards ever greater evil.

In the story you will read of the proud, the stubborn, the willful and the angry.  There are those who demand their rights.  There will be those whose feet hurt them as they walk on solid ground for the first time and there will also be the “bright solid people” who move about the “High Country” without effort.  And finally, there will be those who reject Joy and solid Reality to return to “grey town” on the same bus.

Universal salvation teaching reckons the ‘victim’, the ‘tormented’, as having power over God, as being able to hold God hostage and being able to force God’s hand to enact salvation from eternal punishment regardless of the choices made. This implication is mere sentimentality and nothing more. God gives each what they have desired with their free-will. I’ll quote Lewis from that same book:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

 

Now, enough of this talk. My pipe just went out.

It appears that redemption is already “kicking in”. The shirt you provided that boy is an act of redemption and re-creation. You gave new life to the shirt and to the boy, so it is also an act of resurrection. Resurrection is the hope of Christians. You will see Nicholas again. In the meantime, keep doing what you are doing.

What you are experiencing as you sit in that chair by window is what Paul wrote about in Romans. The entire creation, not just you and I and the Russians I mentioned, but “the entire of creation is groaning together and going through labor pains together, with groaning too deep for words. The Searcher of Hearts knows what the spirit is thinking, because the spirits pleads for God’s people according to God’s will.” God knows what is going on inside you by his spirit which indwells you. The spirit is pleading on your behalf so that God will work all things together for good. The Comforter is with you.

Rose will bring the gift I have for you. I hope you receive this letter before Christmas. I am spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day at church to receive the Eucharist. After church on Christmas Day I will be having dinner with a couple my age. Then I will go home and watch Alistair Sim in A Christmas Carol with my parrolet Henry. He’s good company.

Love,

Tom

 

Christmas Eve 2019

Tom,

I received your letter just today. Thank you! Still smoking that old pipe?

And thank you for the wonderful gift. It gave me a spark of joy. Rose says it is a copy of the Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. Isn’t this the same painting that hangs behind your desk?

I am sorry this will be a short email. I have a houseful right now. We’ll talk soon. Maybe you should stop smoking that pipe. You’re 82.

Merry Christmas Tom.

Love,

Agnus

 

January 2020

Dear Agnus,

I see in that painting Father Christmas and the greatest gifts being reconciliation and redemption.

I see myself, as I was a prodigal who returned to the father. The suffering caused by my waywardness to myself and to others, including a loss of dignity and relationship, was redemptive in that I saw myself as I was and in need of the father and his love to put things to rights. My Father in heaven suffered being un-fathered by me for a time but he never changed Who He was in my absence. He never said to me “do this and be that” and then I will accept you back. He did not become like the older brother with his strict moral order as the parable relates. Our relationship, not rules, was his priority.

I see Nicholas being comforted and back home. I see you beholding that scene and being filled with joy.

I will come out to see you in February. At 82 this will be my last trip. My age ‘kicked in’ a while ago, so my travel days will be over after this trip

If you’ll be asking me questions, I will have to bring my pipe.

Love,

Tom

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

The Annual Meeting

 

Friday

After driving six hours from Chicago, Joe Smoltz arrived at the Splendent Hotel. It was Friday night. An intense two days of meetings would start first thing in the morning. As the Midwest manager of a national chain of appliance stores, he was required to attend the annual “Strategic Management” sessions. The four area managers, when gathered at a bar after previous sessions, called them “Pat ‘em on the head and kick ‘em in the butt” meetings, as the sessions would invariably come down to putting fire in the bellies of the managers with the owner’s version of “Strategic Management”.

Joe found the hotel, an austere looking ten-story structure, in the middle of a high-tech office park. He parked his car and walked into the lobby. The first thing he noticed was the utter cheerlessness of the place. It was like he had walked inside a cube, a sterile cube. The white-walled two-story lobby was empty except for a few chairs, a front desk and a staircase. The massive window on the street side framed the skeletal form of another ten-story building being constructed across the street from the hotel. In the middle of the lobby was a staircase to the second floor. Its design looked as if it had been taken from an Escher drawing. The huge spare lobby had no flair and no ornamentation. There was not a plant or tree in sight. There was only floor, bare walls and the massive windows offering a view unworthy of the windows. One painting, a swoosh of color, hung above the front desk. The place looked familiar to Joe. The owner had chosen similar-styled hotels in the past for their annual meetings. The octogenarian was all business, just like the hotels he chose for their meetings.

“Ugh! Let’s get this over with,” Joe grumbled.

After checking in, Joe rolled his suitcase over to the elevators. The four elevator shafts at the center of the atrium were a vertical column within a four-sided stack of rooms. Between the elevator doors was a sign: “Elevator Testing Today”. That is odd, he thought. “What am I supposed to do with that information? Is something going to happen? Will I be stuck in this thing? What if I one of my service guys went over to a customer’s house and placed a “Dryer Testing Today” sign on one of our customer’s dryer and then he left with no further instructions?”

He thought for a moment and then smiled.

“That would be a great slogan for our stores: “We don’t leave our customers hanging out to dry. No Doubt Dependability!”

Joe pressed the up arrow. He got in the opened elevator and pressed “7”. The elevator closed its doors and began to shuttle him upwards. “Oh, thank God!” he thought, “No elevator music.”

“Hello Joe. Remember me? You’ve led a lousy life Joe. A lousy life. Three marriages and three divorces and countless sexual affairs. Your kids want nothing to do with you. Endless frustration with your lack of self-control. A lousy life, Joe. A lousy life. Go to the tenth floor and …”

Joe shook his head the voice stopped. “You again. Go away! All that is behind me now. I am a different man.”

The elevator door opened on the seventh floor. Joe got out and looked back at the elevator. “Go back to where you came from.”

Joe walked to his room, limping and his head whirring. The constant white-noise chirring in his head began about two months ago. He had thought at the time that the incessant hissing might just be an electrical noise from one of his appliances at home. But when he left the house and sat in his car, the intruding hiss was there. And, it was loud. Joe didn’t know why it had started. All he could do was name it: Tinnitus. And, his knee? The bone doctor couldn’t offer any precise explanation for what was going on with his knee.

“It could be arthritis” he was told after the doctor had taken X-rays and found nothing affecting Joe’s left knee. “Unspecified Chronicity” was written on the exit form. Joe was given a script for an anti-inflammatory pain killer and an order for physical therapy. “The body gives no senior discounts,” Joe thought when he left the doctor’s office, expecting another medical bill.

Using the pass key, Joe opened the door to his room and switched on the light. The hotel room had the same stiff angular character he had seen before in the hotel rooms booked for him for his annual meetings. Lines and boxes. A black credenza ran the length of one wall, from the entrance closet to the curtain. At the curtain end was an angular lamp with a USB charging port. To fill the void above the credenza there was an 85” large screen TV.

“Let’s get this over with.” Joe placed his suitcase on the credenza and hung up his sport coat and pants.

After washing his face, Joe reviewed the hotel services menu on the TV. There was a restaurant and bar just off the hotel lobby. He put on a sport coat and went out to the elevator.

When the one of the elevators arrived, he walked in and pressed “L”. The doors shut and the elevator proceeded down.

“You’ve led a lousy life joe. A lousy life. Three marriages and three divorces and countless sexual escapades. Remember the affair you had with the youth pastor’s wife. And, right in the parsonage? What do you have to live for? This lousy sales job?”

Joe’s tinnitus did nothing to block the disturbing noise in his head. He shook his head and looked at his watch. Maybe the other sales managers had arrived and they would be at the bar.

The dining room was empty except for the rather rotund woman tending the bar. She was leaning against the back bar. Her arms were folded across her chest and she had a scowl on her face. Above her, like three thought bubbles of “Clash”, were three muted large screen TVs showing college football games and a NASCAR race. Joe sat down and ordered a bourbon straight up and a sandwich.

Earlier in his life he would have judged the woman, thinking her repulsive and not worth his time. He would have assumed that the scowl on her face was her way of saying ‘Don’t put me in a box. Don’t mess with me. I’ve been through enough’.

But now, Joe reserved judgement only for himself. He saw her as a woman who needed a mirror that reflected more than this world has to offer.

Joe took a sip of his drink and looked around. The restaurant bar area had the same stark quality as the lobby. There was no artwork and no plants, only space with boxy fixtures against white walls. “A coat of Warm Apricot would warm up this place.”

Beyond the rectangular bar, square tables with stiff chairs were set along the right angle of two banks of windows. The windows faced the same new construction as the lobby. Another ten-story layer of containers being built for get-in-and-get-out business just like this hotel. Joe thought.

The bartender placed the sandwich before Joe. She released her scowl for her only customer. “What brings you to Splendent?”

“I’m here for the annual sales meeting. I am the Midwest manager for a chain of appliance stores.” Joe looked at her. She could see that his eyes were bloodshot.

“Did you come along way?”

“I drove from Chicago. It rained the whole way. My name’s Joe.” He put out his hand.

“Amanda.” The woman reached across the bar and shook his hand.

Joe couldn’t help notice her bare shoulders and the black lace top with sleeves that reminded him of bats. A skull tattoo was on the back of her hand.

“Amanda. That’s a pretty name.” Joe winked at the woman and she squeezed out a smile.

At that moment an Asian couple came into the bar and asked for a table. Amanda told them “Sit anywhere you like.”

Both Joe and Amanda stared at the couple. The young man was wearing a black sport coat and tie and black slacks. The young women wore a black skimpy dress that barely covered her bottom. She was taller than the young man. Her six-inch heels made it so. Both Joe and Amanda looked away when the couple turned and asked for a menu.

Joe finished his sandwich and his drink. He paid his tab and asked Amanda if she was working the rest of the weekend. She said she was. He handed her his business card. “If you need an appliance, I can set you up. I have a store in the area.” Amanda thanked Joe and said that her mom might be interested.

“I also have friends in the paint business. So, if your mom needs to redecorate, I can get her a good price on several gallons of paint.” Amanda looked at Joe and wondered if he was being nice to her so he could sell her something.” She thanked him and put the card in her purse.

Joe got up and grimaced as he placed weight on his knee. He wished Amanda a good night. “Amanda, that’s a pretty name.” He left her a handsome tip.

Joe found his way to the elevator and saw that the “Elevator Testing Today” sign was still there. “Hmmm. Let’s get this over with.” Joe pressed the up button and an elevator door opened. He got in and pressed “7”. The doors closed and the elevator began to shuttle upward.

“Go on Joe. Invite Amanda to your room. She is sweet on you. Did you see how she looked at you when you said her name? It’s been years since you were with a woman. You owe it to yourself. Anyone can go to their room and watch porn. Hook up with Amanda and you’ll have at least one relationship in your sorry life.”

Joe looked over the elevator. “What is it with this contraption? I’ve had plenty of people telling me how I should live my ‘sorry’ life. Do this, be this and not that. And now this elevator from hell. Argh!”

The door opened and Joe limped over to his room. He went in. The constant chirring in his head, the electric hiss, was the only sound he heard. He got undressed and turned on the TV.

After searching for something watchable he found a western. He watched Shane until his eyes closed and sleep and the pain pill overtook him.

 

Saturday

The alarm sounded at 6 AM. Joe shut off the alarm and sat up. “Let’s get this over with.” He got up, showered and dressed for his meeting. He went down to the breakfast buffet where he met Haze the restaurant manager. She was a likeable young woman with a nose ring. She asked Joe if he was enjoying his stay. “Its had its ups and downs so far.” Joe chuckled and decided not to go into detail. “The buffet looks good and the service so far is great. Hazel, Huh? I haven’t heard that name in a long time. I like it.”

Joe filled his plate and sat back down. He hadn’t seen the other managers yet. He wondered if they would arrive this morning. He would have liked to talk with them before the meeting and gauge the atmosphere he would be walking into. Sales had plateaued in his market and that would not go over well. He pondered how he would present his numbers. Two of the managers, the west coast and east coast managers, were vying to become national sales manager. They would cozy up to the owners again this year. Joe had no interest in the position. It meant more travel and being away from home. His only ambition, as he told himself over and over again, was to keep from screwing up his life any more than he already had.

“… I was no angel, that’s for sure. I didn’t know any PK who was. Even Peter, adopted by the Lord, denied him three times. I did the same in my three failed marriages.” Joe felt self-disgust rise up in his stomach. “I had to sit through all of dad’s sermons. Never-ending sermons about never-ending judgment. Getting numbers of people saved from judgment was his business. I wanted to be saved from the sermons and the judgment that grew in the hearts of those who heard the sermons, like that woman who scolded me with “Fly right!” after she learned that dad’s little angel had messed up his first marriage. There was no clemency for a PK, especially not for one who squirmed outside the bounds set by the mini providences surrounding me. They still surround me. Little wonder that I responded with anger and rebellion and with the same black and white judgment of those around me.”

Joe looked at his watch. He had another hour before the meeting started. He got up and grabbed another plate of food and sat down. Haze brought him some more coffee. As she poured a young couple with two children came in and reviewed the buffet.

“Have any kids, Haze?”

“Not yet.” Haze walked over and welcomed the family. Joe returned to his thoughts.

“Mothers birth boys and Fathers birth men,” is what dad often said from the pulpit. But dad didn’t birth me the man. But I understand dad. He was day and night busy with the church …. I followed in his footsteps. But not as a minster, whoa! never as a minster, unless you can call selling a coat of paint as redemption for one’s home and selling a new a washer as salvation from unwashed clothes. Work your passions, work for your family…”

Joe checked his watch again. It was time to head over to the meeting.

Outside the conference room a small buffet was set up with coffee and sweet rolls. Inside the room was a chalk board and an easel pad. The west coast and east coast managers were huddled around the owner and apparently sharing funny stories, as the they both laughed at each other. Someone was writing the day’s agenda on the pad.

The south manager walked over from the elevator and came up to Joe. “What the heck is going on with the elevator, Joe? What does Elevator Testing mean?

“Stick around and you may find out.” Joe shook Roy Lee’s hand. “When ‘d you arrive?”

“Just this morning. I wanted to fly out last night but my flight from Atlanta was constantly delayed due to heavy storms in the area.”

“You ready for the next storm?” Joe nodded toward the conference room.

“My numbers are not stellar. How about yours?

“Same. We better go in and get this over with.” Joe led the way into the room. He greeted the owner and company’s namesake, Archibald Whitlock Sr.

“How are you Mr. Whitlock?”

“Call me Archie Joe. Every year I tell you the same thing. Call me Archie.”

“You’re right, Archie.” Joe turned to greet the other two managers who had taken seats on each side of Archie.

At the table the managers began sharing brief personal updates about family. Joe shared that he waiting to become a grandfather now that all his kids were married. And, that he bought a parrot to keep him company.

Taylor, the west coast manager, burst out laughing. “A parrot? Wow! I bet you have interesting conversations with the bird.”

Joe retorted. “Perot can say Archie Appliances.” With that the owner smiled and called the meeting to order.

Archie began with a greeting and introduced his son Archie Jr., “the company’s new national sales manager”. West Coast and East Coast looked at each other with an expression of “How can this be?” Joe thought the announcement a pat on the head for Archie Jr. and a kick in the pants for those two.

Archie Jr. had a Rod McKuen look about him. Beneath his disheveled sandy blond hair, he bore a melancholic disposition. He wore a turtle neck and sport coat and slacks that must have just been pulled out of the dryer. By his looks it would be hard to take him seriously. Here was Joes’ National Sales Manager and his new boss.

Archie Jr. was handed the meeting by Archie Sr. In a slow ponderous voice, Archie Jr. began by pointing at each word on the flip chart as he spoke it. “Where …Are … We …At?”

“This will be a long day,” Joe thought, “a long lousy day”. The three other managers looked pale and antsy. West coast threw his pen on the table before him. East coast stared at the wall biting his lip. South furrowed his brow and began straightening a paper clip. “When was the next break?” was on each of their minds.

During that morning session that droned on for what seemed a lifetime, the managers learned that Archie Jr.’s background was in finance. He was a numbers guy. And, by the look of his trousers, Joe thought, he didn’t know squat about what they were selling. He didn’t know about the Archie No-Wrinkle Dryer. Joe realized where his thoughts were going and stopped them. He withheld any more judgment, as he had been wrong about so many things in the past.

Then came an endless array of pie charts and Joe grew rankled. He hated meetings to begin with. But pie charts? The business of sales was a relationship between people and not between a red slice of pie and a blue slice of pie. People – him and his customers – don’t belong in pie charts. These charts were like the porn he used to take in – objectifying. Joe sat through the presentation of graphs and charts passively engaged. A growing disdain welled up in him at the thought of his work, his passion, being reduced to a cut and paste graphic.

The group broke for lunch. The managers almost ran out of the room. Each hurried to a quiet corner of the atrium to make phone calls to their stores. After the calls they searched the internet for “Archibald Whitlock Jr.” Their area reports would be required in afternoon session. What else did they need to be prepared for?

Joe went outside for a walk. The conference room had become suffocating. Outside, the whirring in Joe’s head was replaced with the sounds of traffic and construction. Autumn wind buffeted his ears and blew construction dust into his eyes.

Joe had a lot to think about. Archie Sr., who grumbled about every nickel and dime spent, would still ask the managers, “Do you need anything?” But now Sr. was taking a hard line through his numbers guru son who said “Here’s what numbers tell us.” Sr. was silent. Jr. had a spreadsheet. And Joe had prepared for the question “What do you need?”

After almost an hour of pacing the long sidewalk along the hotel Joe headed back to the conference room thinking Here ‘s what I need: Let’s get this over with.

The east coast manager, Charles, began the afternoon session. He had no charts. He passed out a handout showing each store’s numbers for the past year. There were stores that had improved sales and there were stores that were just getting by. He suggested that the slow down at the latter stores was due to many folks in his area dealing with job losses, rising housing costs and high sales and property taxes. He went on to suggest that financing options should be over two years instead of one. He sat down.

The south area manager, Roy Lee, also brought a handout showing his managed stores numbers. Like the east coast area, some stores’ revenue had bumped up and others had plateaued. He talked about the areas that had been hit by floods and hurricanes. Neighborhoods and houses were destroyed. Rebuilding was going on and there was a substantial need for their appliances. Agreeing with Charles, he stated that it was essential that their financing options should be over two years instead of one, as many folks had to wait for Federal assistance and insurance monies. He went on to say that keeping employees was a priority, as they knew the appliances and the customer base. He had to pay higher wages to keep them, thus cutting into the bottom line. He sat down.

Joe was up next. He began by congratulating Archie Jr. on his being selected as national sales manager. Archie Jr. perked up and looked over at Sr., who then winked at him in approval. The other managers nodded, barely moving their heads. Joe began, also passing out a handout.

“What these not-so-stellar figures don’t show are the number of satisfied and repeat customers we have. Warranty repairs costs are down. Customer satisfaction is up. We are getting good reviews online. The upside is that the customers in the Midwest are happy with their Archie Appliances. The downside is that because the appliances work so well repeat sales have long a long turnaround. So, for new sales, I am working with housing developers to have them place our appliances in new homes.

Joe then proposed refrigerator magnets with an 800 number and the slogan: “We don’t leave you hanging out to dry. Appliances and Service You Can Depend on.”

He went on to say that he visited the factory in the past year to learn how the appliances are made and to hear firsthand about warranty issues. He said that he goes on installation and service calls as often as possible. He then turned his laptop screen to face the group. On it was a slide show of clients standing next to their appliances, all with big smiles. The last photo was of Perot. “And this is my communications director.” With that the three other managers moaned. Archie Sr. smiled once again. Archie Jr. looked perplexed at first and then he eked out a smile

Before he sat down, Joe said that he agreed with Charles, the East Coast manager, about the cost of living and making financing a priority. “The Chicago area, in particular, has very high property taxes. Many people are just getting by.” He turned to the South Area manager, Roy Lee, and said that he agreed with him about keeping experienced employees. He stated that employee satisfaction was just as important as customer satisfaction. Wages also had to go up in his area. Joe sat down.

The west coast manager, Taylor stood up. “How do I follow Perot? Good points, each of you. Here are my numbers.” He proceeded to pass out his report.

“I’ve included a forecast for this next year. The demographics of my area show many lower income folks are moving into the middle class in the areas I listed. The federal tax break has given them some buying power. As they move up, they want to upgrade and buy appliances. The financing Charles and Roy Lee both mentioned is essential for my customers. They want to build their credit rating. By giving them flexibility in financing that can happen. We should also update our nationally televised commercial. My wife Betty says it lacks verve. Maybe the commercial can say “You know you have arrived with Archie in your home”. The spokesperson could be a butler named Archie and there is a cartoon parrot which says “Archie Appliances at your service.”

Joe said a loud “Yes!” Charles was excited too. “Yeah, that might work. There are plenty of annoying spokespeople on commercials right now. But, adding an animal would make sense. People love animals.” Roy Lee saw his chance to voice his approval. “What we have on TV now is a failure to communicate.” The group looked at Archie Sr.to see his reaction. His face unchanged, Sr. looked over at his son. Jr. was biting his lip. No comment.

Taylor continued.

“I like what Joe said about the housing developer market. That will bring new sales. They will of course want discounting for the quantities involved. And, Roy Lee, you are right about our employees. Perhaps we can offer them help with regard to health insurance. We should be able to work with a health care provider to lower our costs because of the number of employees we have nationwide. I see growth but it will take some new initiatives to make it happen. Taylor sat down.

Archie Sr. stood up. “Thank you for your reports and your comments. You have given me a lot to think about. How about you Archie?”

“I learned a lot today. I have a lot to think about.”

Archie Sr. adjourned the meeting by saying that tomorrow his son would present a solution to one of the issues addressed that afternoon. Outside the conference room, the managers gathered in one corner of the atrium to talk about the night’s agenda: dinner and then a gentleman’s club. Joe said, “No, thanks. Been there, done that.” He’d see them in the morning.

Joe returned to the conference room to talk to Archie Jr. Archie Sr. came over to Joe.

“Joe, I was impressed by your presentation.”

“Thank you, Archie.”

“Joe, I’m getting too old for this game. Today proved to me again that my ways are …dated. Fifty years ago my passion was to own my own business. I worked all kinds of hours to grow this company. And, I had to provide for a growing family. So, I didn’t have much time to fool around, as they say. I was very demanding of those around me. Failure was not an option. Archie, here, took the brunt of my time away from home. And now I’m a tough old codger who can’t change my ways …Well, you know me and the background of this company, Joe. I’ve told startup story hundreds of times. I brought Archie on to pass the mantel to him when I retire in six months. I would like you to take him under your wing and show him the day-to-day business during this time.”

Joe watched Archie Sr. put his hand on his son’s shoulder. Was he asking Joe to birth the man?

“I’d be happy to, Archie. In fact, I came back to ask him to come to Chicago and spend some time at the stores there. We can also take a trip to the factory in Indiana. I can show him how we build what we sell. He can meet the people who build our appliances. He can see firsthand what goes into the manufacturing costs.”

“Excellent. Archie, you up for that?’

Jr. looked at both men and saw them looking back at him. “Yes, sir.”

Joe then asked Jr. if he would like to join him for a drink later. Jr. said he would. Joe, famished from not eating lunch, dismissed himself.

“See you in the AM Archie. I’ll see you later Archie.” Joe walked over to the bank of elevators. He noticed the “Elevator Testing” sign was still there. He walked over to the front desk.

“Are they still testing the elevators?’

The woman at the front desk said she would call her manager and find out why the sign was still there. Joe thanked her and returned to the elevator. “Let’s get this over with.”

Joe pressed the up button and a door opened. He got in and the door closed and began its shuttle upward.

“Joe, remember all the times you spent at gentleman’s club …the times you enjoyed women and wanted them. Remember the lap dances and the prostitutes you made love to. Go on. Go out with those guys, Joe. Nobody will know. Besides, all you have in your life is a parrot. This guy you are meeting later is a milquetoast. You need to be around real men. Go on, joe. Go on. It is normal. You need it.”

The elevator opened on the seventh floor. Joe got out. The whirring white noise in his head was oddly comforting to him right now. In his room he washed his face and changed his shirt. All he could think of was eating, so he hurried and went out. A cacophony of voices rose up from below. He looked over the railing.

On the atrium floor entourages in colors chosen by brides and newly-classified monochromatic men converged. It was Saturday night and marriage receptions were taking place. It occurred to Joe that on every Saturday night of his annual meetings, wedding receptions took place in the hotels chosen by Archie Sr. Was it coincidence?

He took the elevator down. Some the wedding party rode with him, thankfully, Joe thought.

Crossing the lobby Joe saw Archie Sr. sitting in a chair. His Wall Street Journal was lowered. He was taking in the flourishes of human activity surrounding him. Joe only knew Archie Sr. from their annual meetings and his phone calls to Joe. This was new impression of Archie and made Joe rethink his boss in terms of being human. Apparently, the prosaic old codger needed more than numbers could supply.

As Joe crossed the lobby he noticed signs posted. “Welcome to the Reception of the Nuygens” “Welcome to the Reception of the Hobarts” “Welcome to the Reception of the Clivens. The Splendent was no longer an empty shell.

Joe’s stomach growled loudly. He entered the bar and sat down. Amanda greeted him with a drink napkin.

“Long day? Bourbon up?”

“Yeah, yes, please. It started out lousy but things turned around. One more meeting and I’m going home.”

“Where’s home?

“Chicago.”

“I’ve heard they have great pizza there.”

“Yeah, great pizza and great hot dogs. You can tell by my potbelly. Say, something is different about you”

“I changed my hair. It was black and I returned it to its natural red. I asked the hairdresser to give me a more relaxed look. I thought I looked a little too severe before.”

“It’s a great look for you, and that smile wasn’t there last night.”

“Yeah, change for the better. What can I get you?’

“I’ll have the rib-eye and a cup of soup.”

“Coming up.”

Joe looked around. An older couple sat at a bar table watching the football games on the screens above the back bar. Other than the couple the place was empty. Sitting there it was easy for him to recall the many times he sat in bars alone during his road trips. It was easy for him to recall what he did when felt isolated and alone. Thinking about It made him sick inside and anxious to get home and back to work.

He checked his phone and found a message from Kim. She sold a washer/dryer unit to a young couple. They were expecting to meet Joe when it arrived at their home. Here was something he could bring to the table tomorrow.

Amanda brought his drink and said she would return with the soup.

The bourbon, double-oaked, went down smooth. Sitting and the strong drink helped to lessen the pain in his knee. He had hobbled from his room to the bar. The soup arrived and Joe asked for another bourbon. After a couple of minutes, the steak arrived. He had to slow his eating. He was so hungry he had woofed down his soup.

As he finished up, Archie Jr. arrived and sat down next to Joe.

“Did you eat, Archie?”

“Yes. Thanks. I went to dinner with dad …someplace nearby.”

Amanda placed a drink napkin in front of Archie. “What can I get you?”

“A glass of Chardonnay, please.”

Well, Archie, your dad must have a lot of respect for you to make you the national sales manager and eventually the CEO.”

“Yeah, well, maybe. I am the oldest and my two younger brothers joined the Navy. So, to keep the business in the family, I was the chosen one. I was initially looking at a career in mergers and acquisitions.”

“Your financial background will be a boon for this company. Each of us managers are so busy making sales and running the store operations that the books are not given their due diligence. “

“Well, I have an idea that I will share tomorrow. I’ll want your feedback.”

“You’ll get it. By the way, how do you like this hotel?”

“It serves it purpose. There is nothing charming about. It is rather cold and business-like for my tastes. I see of a lot the same minimalist thing in LA. – expose the essence of a subject through eliminating all nonessential forms, features, or concepts. Minimalism uses the fewest elements to create the maximum effect.

“Are we the subject?”

“I think the architect is the subject.”

“Non-essential features? Like a coat of warm gray paint on the walls and terra-cotta floors?

“The colorless the better for the unforgiving minimalists.”

“Minimalist, that’s the term for it? How do you know this?”

“I read Architectural Digest. Architecture is kind of a hobby for me. Helps me to refocus. Numbers are unforgiving too. I like classical forms and not the stark boxes being built today. And, this hotel is the latter.”

“Fascinating. I have a lot to learn. Archie, I hate to cut this short but the steak I just ate is making sleepy. It was great getting to know you better. I better head up to my room and get to bed. I have a long drive home tomorrow after our meeting.”

“I appreciate your meeting me for a drink, Joe. I was fairly certain that the managers would be very upset by my father’s announcement.”

“Well, I, for one, think it is a change for the better. I’ll see you in the morning.”

With that Joe paid his bill and told Amanda that it was nice meeting her. He then hobbled back to the elevator. The whirring in his head was replaced by the loud music coming from a wedding reception. The throbbing in his knee and the “Elevator Testing” sign were still there.

“Let’s get this over with.” Joe pressed the up button.

“Joe, Joe, lousy -life Joe. You want flair in your life. You can make it happen. Otherwise you might as well take your boring lousy life up to the tenth floor and toss it off. Your friends and family have abandoned you. You’re a worm in their eyes. They would have forgiven you if you were forgivable. The lousy life you led is unforgivable. You are left to your own devices now, Joe. Joe, Joe, lousy -life Joe.”

The elevator opened on the seventh floor. Joe exited and held the door open. “Your day is coming …minimalist.” Joe let go of the door. “Joe, Joe, lou …”

The party’s music reverberated up to the seventh floor. And we can build this dream together, Standing strong forever, Nothing’s gonna stop us … Nothing’s gonna stop us, nothing’s gonna stop us now.

In his room Joe took his pill and went to bed thinking about everything that transpired that day. Soon, thoughts of his past crept in … He didn’t need a voice to tell him that he had lived a lousy, roguish and profane life for many years. There was Joe by day and Joe by night for a long time. That was until he had a breakdown. Then he made long overdue changes …

That night he had a waking dream. He had committed suicide and knew that he would know he had committed suicide for eternity. Nurses would come and look at him in lying in bed. They would wrench their faces in horror and run in terror. Joe would sit up in bed and make faces at them and mouth words. But they couldn’t hear him and were scared off.

Joe woke up and looked around the room. Whirring. Only whirring. He laid his head back down and fell back to sleep.

Then another dream. Joe was on a stretcher being lowered down. His friends were lowering him down. When they stopped Joe felt a hand on his head and heard “Friend, your sins are forgiven. Get up and walk.” His friends were not happy at all. They wanted a different outcome. But Joe felt elated.

Then the alarm sounded.

 

Sunday

The next morning the hotel was still and the hiss in Joe’s ears pronounced. The wedding guests were sleeping. Joe opened the room’s curtains. He could see the boxes where people worked.

The coffee maker started Joe got in the shower. The dreams, both so vivid, colored his thoughts as he showered, shaved and dressed. He put on his sport coat and headed downstairs to the breakfast buffet.

Exiting the elevator, Joe took a few steps toward the lobby and then stopped. He turned and noticed that the “Elevator Testing” sign was gone. He went over to the front desk.

“I see that the “Elevator Testing” sign is gone.

The young woman at the front desk told Joe that someone had come early in the morning and had removed it. She was told that one of the elevator service men had left it behind on Friday after they tested the elevators. A lot of people had been asking about it, so her manager made a call last night.

Joe smiled and thanked her for taking care of it. He told her that he would be checking out later that morning. His next thought was breakfast. The smell of bacon was in the air.

At the breakfast buffet in a large room next to the bar Joe saw Haze. Her cheerful smile was a welcome sight.

“Good morning Joe. Coffee and orange juice?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Joe began to fill his plate. He decided that he wouldn’t eat again until he got home that evening.

Haze brought the coffee and juice to Joe’s table.

“You’re from Chicago?”

“Yes, do I look the part?”

Haze laughed. “No, Amanda told me. She mentioned that she got to know you the past couple of days.”

“Yes. We talked. I go to know her a bit.”

“She said that you sell appliances …Archie Appliances.”

“That’s right.” Joe pulled a business card from his coat pocket and handed it to Haze.

“Do you sell kitchen equipment to hotels? Corporate is building a new hotel near the airport next year.”

“Yes, we do. We offer commercial ranges, broilers, fryers, ice machines, freezers, hoods, ovens, bar refrigeration. Have them call me.” Joe handed her several cards. “We work onsite with the contractors who install the equipment. The website shows all of the equipment well offer. The prices shown are individual prices. We can bundle the equipment and offer a discount.”

“Wow! Thanks. I’ll pass it on. In our last meeting I told my manager that our chef was not happy with what he had to work with. Apparently, the last time, somebody had purchased the equipment without talking with him.”

“Here’s another card. Have the chef call me and we can talk about what he needs. Oh, and I have friends in the paint business. They can offer great paint at great prices. Have them call me and I can make it happen.”

“Will do. More coffee?” Joe said and yes and then noticed Charles and Roy Lee walk in. They looked in bad shape. A few moments later Taylor straggled in. All three looked hungover. Haze greeted them and asked if they would like a table. They noticed Joe and said that they would sit with him.

The three brought their plates of food over to Joe’s table and sat down.

Joe greeted them. “You guys look in bad shape. Did you paint the town last night?”

“Yeah,” Charles rubbed his forehead, “Taylor is on west coast time. He wanted to stay out later,”

“These annual meeting are killing me.” Roy Lee was pinching his temples.

“It was the five Southern Comforts you had at the club …” Taylor held his stomach until the nausea passed. “You were so lit up last night, Roy Lee, that you kept saying that you heard voices in the elevator. You …” Taylor stopped when the nausea came back. “Uhhhgg. Ishhhh-kabbible.”

Charles continued for him. “You freaked out when you saw that sign by the elevators. You said we were all gonna die if we took the elevator. You wanted to take the stairs up to the sixth floor.”

“I think I did die. I feel like death warmed over.” Roy Lee moaned.

Joe knew how they felt. He had had many mornings feeling as they did. But today, his head wasn’t pounding.

Haze came to the table and asked if they would like more coffee.

Joe said yes. And then seeing his chance to rub it in he said, “Maybe these guys would like a Bloody Mary.”

Each of them waved off the offer. Charles said, “Hell, no,” and continued.

“I am not looking forward to another meeting with our new National Sales Manager. The guy drones on and on.”

Taylor agreed. “I don’t think I can sit through another three hours of that guy. We are supposed to end at noon. We have planes to catch and, Joe, you have a long drive home.”

Roy Lee, who looked about ready to pass out, said they should tell Sr. that the three of them got food poisoning last night and maybe then Sr. would let them go early.

Taylor chided Roy Lee. “Maybe we can tell him that we all died in an elevator crash and that we just returned from the dead for the meeting.”

Joe laughed. “You guys look the part.”

While the other three were finishing their breakfast, Joe said he had to finish packing, He settled up with Haze and said goodbye.

“How was your stay, Joe?” Haze asked.

“The food was good. The service was great. The people here made all the difference. It was nice meeting you and Amanda. You have my card. I can come down and meet with your chef and corporate to talk about what they need. It was great meeting you.”

“It was nice meeting you, too,” Haze replied. “I hope your knee gets better.”

With that Joe hobbled back to the elevators and to his room. He packed his things and rolled his suitcase over by the door and headed downstairs for the nine-o’clock meeting.

At the conference room just off the atrium, Joe saw the same small buffet with coffee and sweet rolls just outside the room. He decided to pass on more food. Inside, Archie Sr. and Jr. stood talking. Nothing was written on the flip pad except a phone number.

When Joe walked into the room Archie Sr. greeted him. “Joe, how’d you sleep? The music was so loud I couldn’t until after two.”

“Yeah, the music was loud. But the pill I take for my knee must have knocked me out.”

“Knee trouble, huh? My wife’s got issues with her knees.”

Archie Sr., seeing his three managers dragging their feet as they walked across the atrium to the conference room, said, “The music must have bothered them, too. They look worn out” Archie Sr. looked over at Jr. “Maybe we should finish up early so these boys can be on their way and get some rest” Joe couldn’t help but smile.

With the four managers seated, the meeting commenced. Roy Lee sat with his elbows on the table and holding his head in his palms. Taylor sat back in his chair rubbing his stomach and looking at the trash can. Charles kept twisting his head and neck. Joe sat there trying not to look at the other three managers. If he did, he would break out laughing at the hilarious situation that Archie Sr. had presumed.

Archie Jr. began, this time sounding more self-assured.

“I heard what you said yesterday about financing. As you know large home improvement retailers sell everything from hardware and paint to appliances and yard goods. They offer a credit card and financing is handled through the card. The card keeps them coming back. I propose the same financing with an Archie Castle Card. ‘Castle’ because your home is your castle. The card could be used to purchase our appliances and could also be used to purchase home furnishings and remodeling at our other family stores, Archie Accents, run by my sister Analise.”

Joe interrupted. “That’s a great idea. And, I have a friend in the paint business. He has stores. Maybe his stores could be tied in with this card. Then a shopper could paint their castle.”

Archie Sr. looked over at Jr. “Check out what Joe is saying, Archie. We could bundle home purchases and roll out discounts and financing through the use of the card.”

“Will do.” Archie Jr. began again.

“I heard what you said about our TV commercial. It is rather lackluster. I will talk to our ad man and get something going. You guys will be the ones to approve it.”

Hearing this, the three otherwise silent managers perked up.

Charles took his hand from his temples to say “Now we’re talking!”

Archie Sr., seeing his three lethargic managers, told Jr. to keep going.

Jr. went on to talk about a health insurance plan that might work for their number of employees. He mentioned setting up the employees with an IRA and the company matching a percentage of the employee’s salary into their account. “Employees are our greatest asset. They know what we sell and they know the customers.” Jr. went on to talk about the sales numbers for the past year and to say “going forward, the numbers will take care of themselves if we do right by our customers and our employees.”

“Lastly, the number on the flip chart is my personal number. Call me with any concerns.”

Archie Sr. stood up and thanked his son. He walked around the table and shook the hand of each manager telling each one to “Work with my son. Give him the benefit of the doubt.” Then, to the group he said “Roy Lee has invited us to Charleston for next year’s meeting. I am looking forward to that. I’ll get some more golf in. Have a safe trip home.”

The four managers exchanged “goodbyes” and headed on their way. Joe went to his room, grabbed his suitcase and breathed a sigh of relief. The meetings were over. And, the hotel Roy Lee would pick would be quaint and comforting and not business as usual.

At check out Joe was asked about his stay. Joe commended Amanda and Haze for their great service.

Joe drove home with his head whirring, his knee throbbing and with fire in his belly. He would again drive past fields of corn and soy beans and wind turbines. He would once again pass the large black billboard with white letters that read, “HELL IS REAL”. Back in Chicago he would pick up Perot from his former paint business partner Bill, who watched the bird while Joe was away. He hoped Bill had not taught Perot any of his curse words. He really hoped that Bill had not taught Perot the pet name Bill once had for Joe: “Good times Joe”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

Insider Knowledge

Maybe you’ve encountered me. I like to be noticed. I am that passing shadow and that clipped voice in a box that spooks the ghost hunters on their TV programs. I’m the cold presence they encounter. What did they expect? I have no molecules to bounce around inside of me to keep me warm. I love absolute zero and the limelight doesn’t affect me as does, you know, the searing light. I dwell in the dark recesses of the universe and come around to revel in the revolting. And, more importantly, to tell people what they want to hear. That is my specialty.

I work with psychics and with those who presume to hear from the dead. And with philosophers. I am the lifeline for their game show. And, what a game it is: humans ante up their souls so they can win esoteric knowledge. What a piece of work is man! Little wonder that Hamlet is one of my favorite plays.

Who could ask for more? Murder, revenge, a ghost, hemming and hawing soliloquys, a disloyal mother, friends with secret motives, suicide, poison, madness, carnage, and a morose and grieving Prince. You know Act One. Prince Hamlet’s friend Horatio, along with two sentries, is visited by a specter that resembles the late King Hamlet. Learning of the visitation from Horatio, Hamlet resolves to see it for himself and make his own judgement. He knows that my Master likes to deceive the grieving with familiar forms. When the ghost appears to Hamlet, he tells Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother Claudius. Hamlet must avenge his death. In the moment, Hamlet agrees to avenge his father. After being sworn to secrecy about all he has witnessed, Horatio says the encounter is unbelievably strange. Hamlet tells Horatio to welcome the strange as he would a stranger. How inclusive!

Then, reminded of his time studying in Wittenberg with Horatio, Hamlet tells Horatio that “There are more things in heaven and earth, my friend, Than are dreamt of in our philosophy”. That’s where I come in. The play ends as it should – bodies everywhere. Let the good times Roll! Left to his own devices, man is a piece of work!

Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this. I communicate to the spiritualists and theorists what I know. It is easy. I’ve been around for a long time. I know things that have happened. I’ve heard what everyone else has heard. Someone dies and I can speak to medium about what I know about him or her. I can play dead. What fun! This knowledge works well with the ghost hunters. I toy with them. Ha-ha-ha! There have been many times when humans think that they have felt spiritual forces. But it is just a bunch of emf. But I’ll take credit for it. I like the attention.

Speaking of attention, I’m the one that pushes and scratches those who live with me. I infest house and lives …and ideologies. Some will sweep me out of their lives for a time but I come back with new tricks and new guises. I can take on many forms, or, I should say, personas. History has recorded my work.

Maybe you know me as “The end is what you want and the means is how you get it” Saul Alinsky or as “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime” Lavrenty Beria. Maybe you know me as the positive materialist who holds that all things, including consciousness and mental state, are the result of material interactions. I am quite involved in those material interactions. The pursuit of happiness, whether by idealism or material necessity, doesn’t happen without immaterial me.

Now, I don’t need to work with atheists. They are already on the right track. They have their reason and no need for the likes of meta-physical me. The conditions of their everyday existence are proof enough that there is no God. So, they resign themselves to the laws of nature and adapt to them and give way to those laws. They end up lonely and pounding their head against the wall. I don’t have to get physical with them. They do it to themselves.

The atheist cannot prove the beauty of a woman, yet, he will demand proof of the Antagonist’s existence from his minions and that is where I come in. How so, you ask? Alinsky said it best: “Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.” Seeing the Antagonist’s minions foul up with my help, the atheist becomes all the surer that his or her descent into pure reason is where he will find answers. And, once he or she dons implacable autonomous reason (I’m thinking in Halloween terms) they won’t need to get involved with the gooey and merciful Antagonist. I’ve already been there and done that. Things didn’t work out in my favor. But you Atheists, hang with me and before you can snap your fingers three times, you will put on the Imago de Diabolus, the likeness of my High Master. “Will you win his favor?” you ask.

I may be cold-hearted but my Master, his disposition colder than Absolute Zero, warmly welcomes the proud self-assured atheist.

My Master knows that atheists cannot accept mysteries unless they are solved in a movie or at the end of a book, or solved before their very eyes. My Master knows that they refuse to hold in tension any thought which presents itself outside of cold logic. Because of their wonderful quality of unending skepticism, they revere solipsism, science and reason, and the readily explainable. My Master is their lifeline in this game. He explains everything right when they need it. No waiting. The Antagonist draws things out into mystery and keeps you on hold indefinitely.

Some of my best work is done with humanists and social scientists. I use Progressive ideology along with consensus and sentimentality to persuade them into thinking that humans are perfectible, that one day man will reach the pinnacle of human perfection because of their exalted efforts (and if only they were in charge). Their motto: Fortschritt, Fortschritt über alles! (nb: I am working on the chosen people as I pen this.)

The young and inexperienced are the best targets for, ahem, smoke and mirrors. They dream of happiness, regeneration, of utopia. Like moths to a flame, they gather around the prophets of secular humanism. They did so for Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. These heroes of the religion of Revolution offered the utopia of uniformity and universality. They delivered on their promises. Humans were uniformly and universally dealt with, just as I had hoped. Healthcare is my newest moth-gathering flame. Control healthcare and you control people. Another Alinsky saying.

And that is how I work the old – with offers of healthcare. But some of the old are already set in their Antagonistic ways. If they refuse my offers of help then I say ‘He that is not with me is against me’. I walk away and shake the dust off of my Ways and Means Handbook.

The Antagonist has many followers in name only. I call them FINOs. They are fine with a religion without evil. Ha-ha-ha! They even believe in universal salvation! I love it! These FINOs love the amorphous and homogeneity above all else. They are not much different than the Progressive humanists and social scientists. And though they congregate differently from them, the FINOs also believe that there are no limits to human perfectibility. Therefore, they do not oppose the forms of culture I offer.

Kudos to the humanists, the social scientists, the FINOs and the central planners who work to fulfill the mission statement of My Master: reduce humanity to a state of uniformity and universality – the brotherhood of man and all that. And that is why I sow seeds of discontent. I stir up the pot, so to speak. How better to create a unity of the disgruntled than to divide humans into “me, good and you, bad” groups. Again, Alinsky best described my ways with the unwilling and obstinate: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. And of course, I get them to see that difference means hierarchy and all hierarchy is oppression, especially the hierarchy of that realm of hideous and cruel light.

Lawlessness is the only proper response to hierarchy. So, I want you to banish all law-enforcement, judges, priest and pastors, et al. from existence and to unleash the gates of …prisons. You shall know me and my ways and you shall be free.

Of course, I cannot recommend the Antagonist to you. As the Master’s muse I can only sing the Master’s praises. But I do commend the fact that humans have wills and make choices. This makes my job doable. For with the right choices, one can reach the perfection I have planned for them.

Caveat. I don’t deal in consequences. I don’t have to. Humans let the chips fall where they may. They are inclined to do what they feel and to not pay attention to consequences. I am good with that. In any case, they will end up blaming others or society or the Antagonist for their problems. Ha-ha-ha! What fun!

I’m in my element when I create dilemmas – no escape dilemmas. The only solution being to beat one’s head against the wall or the revolver. Either solution will have you blaming the Antagonist and asking “Why am I here?” I’ll tell you why once you stop beating your head against the wall.

You are here to know the power to control others that is available to you. And, I am not just talking witchcraft and magic arts. You’d be interested to know that I am also talking social-economic-political power. And if you are hungry, I will offer you socialism and the brotherhood of man to feed you. If you fall down and break something, I will offer you universal healthcare. It pleases my Master to give you good things and …to remove the confusing things from your sight.

As a non-binary values adjuster, I alter signs and symbols and any of the inherited forms and distinctions associated with the Antagonist. I offer a new sacred ordering of things. One recent example.

Just last week a transgender cyclist won a woman’s cycling championship. And this was not the first time. Ha! The other women in the race whined of unfairness, saying that science was on their side and that men have a physical advantage over women. But science and reason have nothing to do with it. The ends, a new sacred order of things, justify the means – out-cycling your opponents. And what right do they have in reproaching the champion? None! The champion was right to call them out: “You have an irrational fear of trans women.” Ontology trumps anatomy!

“Deal in lies?” you ask. Of course, one should deal in lies. With lies you don’t cross a line. You move the line that someone else put there. With a lie you create a safe space for yourself. Very utilitarian. You can now do this online.

Social media is a Master-send. So, I try to claim every square inch of screen I can. For one thing, I get women to expose themselves on social-media. And why not. Social mores are oppressive, created by dead white men. And by now you know that self-image is a very important part of being on social media. It is also in my line of work. When you are not showing pictures of the food you are eating or pictures of your bikini-self, you will want to portray your ever-day respectable self as you call out others for their evil ways. Be prepared, though. Some on social-media will want to tear down your self-image. Be in their face to protect your self-image. Demand affirmation of yourself against all hearsay.

Enough about you. It is Halloween. I have to diddle some Ouija Boards and knock on some wood at seances. You know. The usual tricks and treats. “Give the people what they want” my Master says. So, I’m off. I must pick up my costume. Nothing ghoulishness. I will be going door-to-door as an aborted fetus.

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

The Homecoming

 

The airport was especially crowded. Parents were waiting to pick up their college kids for Thanksgiving break. Alyona waited for her youngest daughter Sophia. She checked the flight information screen. The flight was on time but the plane was sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate. When the plane finally pulled up and the passengers began deboarding she looked at each passenger coming out from the boarding ramp. She thought he saw Sophia. The eyes were the same as Sophia’s but this person looked so different.

This person walked toward Alyona. “Hi mom.”

Alyona stood for a moment looking at her daughter and then embraced her. A look of disbelief was still on Alyona’s face when she let go of Sophia. “You look so different!”

The first thing Alyona noticed was Sophia’s pixie haircut. Her long naturally blond hair had been cut short and died jet black. The second thing she noticed when she hugged her daughter was the tattoo on the side of her neck. It was a creeper, a vine with colored flowers that originated somewhere below on her torso. Alyona put her hand to her mouth to contain her thoughts: “Those three piercings she’s wearing on her face could come off but the ink …”

What did come out: “Wait till your…” but she stopped herself. “Sophia was home now”, she reflected, again with her hand pressed to her lips. “And by the looks of her, home is where she needs to be”.

Sophia put on her backpack and looked at her mother. “I wanted to look different than then the lily whites on campus…Mom! Don’t you know that plastic straws are destroying the earth!” Alyona had been sipping a coffee drink waiting for Sophia. Alyona took a long sip and then threw the cup into the trash.

“Looks like I’ll have to schedule a stagecoach for your return to campus, Sophia. C’mon, let’s get your luggage.”

With Sophia’s luggage and art portfolio case in hand they walked to the car and drove home.

Alyona began the conversation in the car: “How’s your artwork coming along?”

“Good. I am working on a graphic novel about climate change. The main character – I named her Zara – has a degree in climate science. She comes home from the university after graduating. She attends city council meetings every week. She tells the council that the way to fight climate change is human recycling, you know, eating people. The people laugh at her so she takes things into her own hands, so to speak.”

“That sounds gruesome. How did you come up with this?”

“There’s a lot of environmental activism on campus. That’s how I heard about a scientist in Sweden who’s advocating eating human flesh after a person dies …to save the planet.”

“We’re having turkey again this year. We’re not eating your dead grandmother.”

“Mom, I’m serious. There is a climate emergency. If we don’t do something the world will end in our life time. I read a study that says parents should have fewer children to reduce CO2. Overpopulation and overconsumption will bring on biological annihilation of wildlife. I ‘m going to have only one child.”

“You’re my last. I don’t want to be accused of CO2ism and “biological annihilation” of wildlife. Whew! I wish there was more common-sense activism on campus.”

Sophia screwed up her face and said, “Mom, you don’t want to be a climate denier. Those people have no common sense.”

“Listen, Sophia, your grandparents are coming for dinner tomorrow. Spend some time with them. And don’t forget. We go to church on Thanksgiving morning. So, get in the shower early tomorrow.”

“Mom, I’m not going to church tomorrow. I’ve decided that I don’t want to be among a bunch of dominionists who care about saving souls but not the planet. Besides, my friends at school don’t believe in God and neither do I. I’m above all that nonsense. I’ve found something better to do with my life – climate activism. Instead of sitting sit around praying and singing old songs and listening to sermons I can do something that matters, something about the planet.”

“Wait till your…” Alyona stopped herself once again as she parked the car in the driveway. Her brows were now furrowed and she began biting her lower lip. Seeing his wife’s face as she entered the house, Aleksey, Sophia’s father, thought it had to do with Sophia’s changed appearance.

“Who’s this? I thought you went to the airport to pick up our daughter. You brought home a stranger.”

“See for yourself. It is your daughter.” Alyona said this with her eyebrows raised and her hands raised, the palms of her hands facing up.

“Well, I’ll be.”

“Hi dad.” Sophia hugged her father. “It’s just grown up me.”

“There’s something growing on your neck.”

“Yeah, dad. I have a tattoo to remind me of the need to save the planet.”

“I seeeeee? The planet needs saving? You’ll have to tell me all about this.”

“Yes,” Alyona injected, “tell your father everything.”

 

Before dinner that night Sophia talked with her father. He sat and listened quietly. He was stunned and perplexed at the change that had come over his daughter. He wondered about the point of departure from what she had been taught. Was it her friend’s influence? Her profs? He was glad that she had become assertive and was no longer the unassuming young woman she had been. He had hoped for that. But she come into her own or into another’s?

After an hour of hearing Sophia talk about her climate activism and about her graphic novel and about her new found atheism, he said, “Well, we’ll talk more later.”

Before he left the room, Sophia prodded him. “You’re not a denier are you dad?”

Aleksey turned to face Sophia. “I don’t deny that humans affect the climate but that effect is miniscule and not catastrophic to any extent. And, I don’t deny that there is a God and that eating human beings is not the answer to any problem.”

“Dad …. c’mon. You’re an engineer. You understand data and the data points to a climate catastrophe.”

Aleksey returned to the couch and sat down. “Sophia, climate data is based on computer models and those models provide projections based on assumptive inputs. You know the saying ‘garbage in, garbage out’. As an engineer I use formulas and data – constants -that provide proven outcomes. The outcome is predictable. Climate science is not iterative in that respective. The scientific method involves experimentation. Scientific observations have to be repeatable to be validated. Climate scientists cannot control all the variables that effect climate. And though there have been many observations made in very different circumstances on different instruments by different observers, the observation must be validated with past results and successful future predictions to test for falsifiability. If it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.

Climate science ‘experimentation’ is based in computer modeling and virtual reality. Climate change projections have never been validated by experimentation. You can’t conduct an experiment on a natural system such as the Earth’s climate system in the same way you can conduct a controlled experiment in a physics or chemistry lab. As I said, climate science modeling is based on many assumptions, …like, the climate is unchanged without the effects of greenhouse gases and that the sun’s intensity is the same day after day and that any change in the climate is caused by humans emitting trace amounts of “greenhouse” gases into the atmosphere. And yet, some climate scientists still make their world-ending claims. They don’t say “maybe this will happen”. They say “It will happen!”

And, Sophia, if you take God as a constant out of your life’s equation and His validation the outcome will not make sense. You will end up inputting variables to force the outcome you desire. Your friends will, no doubt, approve of your values but they will not incur any consequences for their outcome. But you will. Their attitude will be much like the climate scientists who point to evidence in their own science journals. Without God, at some point Sophia, you may even begin to despair of life itself. These are hard words but they needed to be said.”

Sophia looked at her dad indifferently, thinking to herself “I am above all that. You’ll see.”

Dad, looking as if he had seen the future he just described, was no longer able to talk. He got up and told Sophia to go into the kitchen and to help her mother with dinner.

“Dad doesn’t understand what’s at stake,” Sophia thought. “This is a backwater town. I’ve seen the future and what really matters.” She set down her sketch pad and walked into the kitchen carrying her attitude with her.

“Mom, do you need help?” Alyona, at the sink, turned to see her daughter. She relaxed her furrowed brows and put on a smile.

“Soph, snap those green beans for me please. They’re for my casserole. Tonight, we’re having burgers and fries.”

“Mom, I’m a vegan now. I’ll just eat a salad. Can we make a tofu turkey tomorrow?”

“Listen, Missy, we’re having turkey tomorrow. Consider it less turkey CO2 in the air.”

 

The next morning, the air crisp and clear, Alyona and Aleksey drove off to church. Sophia slept in. She had been up late texting her friends. She wanted to make sure her resolve didn’t wane. On the kitchen counter, Alyona had left a list of things for Sophia to do to prepare for the Thanksgiving meal. After an hour-and-a-half Alyona and Aleksey returned home. Sophia was still sleeping. The list was untouched.

Sophia finally wandered into the kitchen in her pajamas. Mom, frustrated and yet compensating, told herself, “Sophia is home”.

“Hey, kiddo, we have a lot of work to do. Grandpa Mo and grandma Jean will be expecting dinner at one o’clock sharp.”

Sophia looked at her mom with cow eyes, hoping for some latitude.

“I’ll have some coffee and get in the shower and then I’ll help.”

“You’d better hurry. Dad is cleaning the house and I need your help.”

Sophia left the kitchen with her coffee and a cinnamon roll and proceeded to her room and then to the shower.

The smell of sage and roasting turkey began to fill the house. The familiar aroma brought back memories of family times for Sophia.

At noon Grandpa Mo and grandma Jean were at the door. Dad, still wearing an apron, greeted them.

“Hi dad. Hi Mom. Did you have a good drive over?”

They both responded. “Oh yeah, except for the guy who drove the speed limit in the inside lane. He wouldn’t move out of the way. That’s why we’re a minute late.”

“Well, the turkey is in the fast lane. It will be ready to cut into at one.”

“Good. I brought the wine.” Grandpa handed dad the wine.

Grandma walked into the kitchen and set down the apple and pumpkin pies she had made. She gave Alyona a hug and asked, “How’s my granddaughter?”

Alyona looked at her mother-in-law with pursed lips. “Well …she’s …she’s …she’s home. Thanks for making the pies. I’m sure glad you brought the wine. I could use a glass right now. What’s this?”

Grandam showed Alyona the multi-colored afghan she had made for Sophia.

“Beautiful!” came Alyona’s response.

“Could you use some help?” grandma offered.

“I sure could. I left Sophia a list of things to do while we were at church but she slept in and didn’t do any of it. She’s in the shower right now. …the same old Sophia and the new Sophia are in the shower right now.”

Not sure what to make of that, grandma put on an apron and started peeling potatoes.

In the living room, dad and dad were laughing. Grandpa Mo had begun telling his corny jokes.

“Why can’t you take a turkey to church? Because they use such fowl language!”

“What did the dry cleaner say to the impatient customer? Keep your shirt on!”

“I am reading a book about anti-gravity. It is impossible to put down.”

Aleksey put his hand on his father’s shoulder and responded in kind: “What did the baby corn say to the mama corn? Where’s pop corn?” Grandpa had a good laugh.

“Hey, where my granddaughter?”

“She’s in the shower. You won’t recognize her. She has a new look and a new attitude.”

Grandpa looked at his son quizzically. “Nothing a few bad jokes can’t cure, I’m sure.”

After fifteen minutes Sophia emerged from the bathroom. She was wearing a robe and her black hair was spiked out in all directions.”

“Hi, grandpa.” She called into the kitchen. “Hi, grandma.”

Grandpa looked her over and said, “Say, that’s a new look for you isn’t it?”

“I’m just catching up with the times.” She hugged him

Grandma came out of the kitchen, “Dear, what have done to yourself?”

“Grandma, it’s just a new look. I cut my hair short.”

Grandam looked at Sophia’s neck and said “Hmmm”. “Here, I made this for you.” She handed Sophia the afghan. “This will keep your neck covered.”

“It’s beautiful, grandma! Thank you!” She hugged her grandmother and walked to her room.

Grandpa Mo and Grandma Jean looked at each other and shook their heads. Grandma spoke. “Life as we know it is coming to an end.”

 

Before calling everyone to the table, Alyona looked over the place settings Sophia had put down. The table set and the turkey resting on the stove, mom lit the tapers. The flames reflected in the silver and the goblets. Looking up from the table and outside she could clearly see the Autumn Blaze Maple trees along the property line. Through the kitchen windows, fogged from the cooking, they appeared as an artist’s palette smeared with oranges, reds, and yellows. As she looked, stiff khaki-colored leaves from the neighbor’s lawn tumbled across the lawn, lifted by the cold wind. Alyona called everyone to the table.

Everyone was finally seated after calling Sophia to the table several times. Dad asked grandpa Mo to give thanks. Heads bowed, except for Sophia’s.

“Father, it was written long ago that the earth is yours and the cosmos and all who live in it. Nothing happens without you knowing it. In your providence you see a sparrow that falls to the ground. We give Thee thanks for keeping an eye on us sparrows this past year and for sustaining us. Make us wise stewards of the bounty we enjoy. And may everything that has breath praise You. We ask for your blessing on this wonderful-smelling food. Amen.”

Dad echoed the “Amen” and said, “Let’s get these dishes passed. I’ll go slice the turkey.”

Grandpa, with a twinkle in his eye, looked over at Alyona. “I was hoping for a glutton-free meal.”

Grandma looked over at Alyona and rolled her eyes. “Your father-in-law… Go easy on the potatoes, Mo. Save some for Sophia.”

The dishes began to be passed and the wine was poured. Mouths were too full to talk. Only “Mmmmms” could be heard and heads nodding “Amen” could be seen.

Minutes later dad returned with a platter of turkey. Grandma said that Alyona had outdone herself, “The food is delicious!” Grandpa and dad seconded.

From the table each could see the maple trees in the yard framed by the picture window in the dining room. The trees were overlaid with November sunlight. The trees, resplendent with fall color, seemed to respond to the sun’s attention by fluttering their leaves as standards in the wind. Seeing this, grandpa recounted his and grandma’s recent trip to the Smokie Mountains. “I got in some plein air painting. There were so many hues …reds, oranges, …the yellow birches and shagbark hickories were golden.”

While grandpa talked, Sophia ate with her eyes glazed over. She was deep in thought. She imagined the world coming to an end and her family eating turkey and engaged in meaningless conversation. “I should never have children because of what I know about their future.”

Grandpa noticed her despondency. “Sophia, how is school? Do you like your art teachers?”

Sophia perked up. “Good. I like Professor Nulin, my graphics art professor. He’s helping me with the narrative for my novel. He says that we have lost our way and must return to the narrative of the indigenous people who lived in ecological equilibrium long ago. He thinks we need to become more human by learning to live in balance with nature and to have a reverence for nature as they did. He says that to be human is to live as they did, in harmony with the cycles of nature. He thinks we need to take down civilization to a pre-civilized world to do this. He says that the religions of the world lead folks away from the divinity of the land. He says that industrialization is destroying the planet and creating climate change.”

Grandpa wiped his mouth. “Wow. That’s a lot to digest. It seems that climate change research has moved into the arts and social sciences. How’s your graphic novel turning out?”

“Oh, fine, grandpa.” Sophia went on to describe the narrative. “…and Zara is the main character. She has a band of Climate Change Confronters. I’ll show you the panels I’ve created after we eat.”

“That would be great. It sounds like you have given it a lot of thought. My old art professor, Mr. Smithers, who always wore argyle sweater vests that looked like a diagonal checkerboard, would lecture us with his glasses perched on top of his bald head. “Class,” he would say, “to create art of lasting value, it must be created within the enduring context of humanity and give dignity to the human drama. “You must read history and good literature if you want to understand that context!”

He conveyed to us that art should help us to see the world as it really is and then the viewer’s imagination can move him beyond immediate initial emotion to a consideration of the sacred and redemptive. He warned us about fantasy. “Works of fantasy”, he said, “mimic and mock reality. They begin with emotion and end with emotion, leaving the viewer frustrated and empty – with a diminished sense of objectivity. They are created to make you feel something for the sake of feeling something. They deal in sacrilege and the profane”.

Grandpa continued. “Look around. There is a surfeit of fantasy today – in pornographic images, in movies, on TV …. I saw a commercial for a movie the other day. It had graphic images depicting a specter of world-ending apocalypse and superheroes swooping in to save the world. Kids today eat this stuff up and can’t get enough of it seems, by the many previews just like it …”

Seeing Sophia’s arched eyebrows, Dad broke in. “I think it is time for some pie.”

The meal over and the table cleared, Alyona brought out the coffee. Grandma brought out the pies she had made.

Grandpa, taking his son’s cue to change the subject, asked, “How’s you work going, Aleksey?”

“I was made the responsible engineer for a greenfield project. We will be installing a new substation, transformers, circuit breakers and transmission lines. The project will take a year to complete.”

“Does it involve renewable energy?”

“Not in this case. This project is basically power distribution. But our company does do engineering for wind farm and photoelectric clients. We also work with businesses and institutions who want us to design “island” microgrids using wind and solar. The ‘islands’ can be switched to distributed power as needed. Soon, there will be microgrids using small modular nuclear reactors – SMRs. Those projects will involve both our nuclear group and our distribution group.”

Alyona, hearing the details about Aleksey’s company for the first time, asked for Sophia’s sake, “There is so much talk about fossil fuels today. Is your company involved with fossil fuels?”

“Our fossil group engineers CO2 capture projects …what you don’t hear talked about, Alyona, is that greenhouse gases make up only one to two percent of the entire atmosphere. Nitrogen and oxygen make up a majority of the atmospheric gases. And, CO2 comprises only about three-and-a-half percent of that one to two percent of greenhouse gases. Of the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, humans cause only about three to four percent of the annual CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. So, the anthropogenic effects are real but minimal.”

Aleksey stopped for a moment and finished his pie.

“And don’t forget. Without carbon, there would be no green bean casserole. Sunlight and carbon are required for the greening of the earth, for photosynthesis. And, to answer your questions, yes, our company has the anthropogenic effect of engineering and distributing clean energy. Nuclear plants alone provided fifty-five percent of the country’s clean energy last year. Renewable natural gas is also gaining in use.”

“It sounds like you and Sophia have things in common.” Grandpa wanted to restore transmission with the brooding Sophia.

Dad looked over at Sophia. Sophia looked over at her dad, her eyebrows again arched.

Dad looked over at his wife. “We do. But I think we will need to redirect some energy, dad.” Alyona looked over at Sophia and gave her a reassuring smile. And dad felt that there was more that needed to be said.

“It occurred to me as you were talking dad that what makes the enduring context that you were mentioning even possible are the physical constants in the cosmos which make life possible. These constants could not have happened by random chance. Not all scientists accept that premise, of course. Some choose a multi-verse theory as the random ‘creator’ instead of God. But scientists of all worldviews agree that the physical constants of the universe, which made possible the precise fusion of the carbon element on which life depends, are finely-tuned. It’s as if, as one scientist said, that the universe must have known we were coming.”

Grandpa wiped pie from the corner of his mouth. He looked as if he was about to say something. Everyone looked at him, hoping that he would not ask another question. They were all full and had started pushing back from the table when he began to speak.

“All this reminds me of the two goldfish in a bowl. One goldfish asks the other, “If there is no God who changes the water?”

With that and a smile everyone got up from the table. Alyona began to clear the dessert plates. Dad and grandpa offered to help. Alyona asked Aleksey to help in the kitchen while she and grandma talked. “Sophia, show your grandfather your art work.”

Sophia went to her room and came back with the graphic panels she had created. She sat down and sidled up to her grandfather on the couch. She talked about the narrative: indigenous people were in tune with the land and with the seasons; indigenous people were uncorrupted until the white man came along and began destroying natural resources with his greed; industrialization is wreaking havoc of the earth and poisoning the atmosphere; indigenous people considered the earth sacred; true religion is that which cares for the earth; we need to return to a dark green religion. She went on to explain to her grandfather who Zara was and her band of disciples -the Climate Change Confronters. “They will challenge, protest and do whatever is necessary by any means necessary to restore the mother earth to its health.”

“Sophia, you put a lot of thought into this. Your work shows a lot of promise. I like your draftsmanship. Have you thought of going in the direction of representational art? I think you would enjoy realism. I know of an atelier where you could learn. I know the owner. He lives on a farm about thirty miles from grandma and me. I’m sure he would take you in.”

Sophia looked puzzled, not sure if grandpa understood the direction of her work. Seeing the look on her face, grandpa responded to her narrative.

“Now, what makes you think that God would allow mankind to destroy His creation? You know the story of the flood. God stopped the destructive indigenous people before there was any talk of CO2. I think that there is a bigger picture that you need to take into account.”

Sophia sat there still looking pensive. “Maybe, but I still think mankind has lost its way. The planet needs to be saved from anthropogenic effects.”

“You are right about that. But then, God knew we were coming and He was prepared for the worst mankind could do. He ‘engineered’ a solution.”

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved