The First Noël

The following took place during my thirteenth year . . .

A week before Christmas Day, a gaggle of us self-conscious teenagers loaded into three cars. We headed to Elgin State Hospital, formerly called the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane. Our church’s youth group leader had decided that, in the spirit of Christmas, his charges should bring hope and joy to the less fortunate.

Four of us sat bunched together in the back seat of one of the cars. We kidded each other about who was the crazier. We cackled and fidgeted and sniffed the mimeographed sheets of Christmas Carols and became giddier. None of us knew what to expect. “But for the grace of God” is all I heard the youth group leader say before I got in the car.

The high school senior driving our car asked us if we wanted to hear about “Elgin State.” We became quiet and ready to squeal like when the four of us sat at a campfire last summer. Jeff slowly spun out his words and waited for our reaction.

 “They say the place is . . . haunted … horrific experiments had been performed there . . . spirits of the unclaimed dead walk the cemetery grounds and, . . .  in the buildings, . . . the criminally insane live there.”

It didn’t take much. Jeff’s description of Elgin State and the winter wind that howled through Jeff’s rusted-out car gave us goose bumps. I wound and unwound the pretty purple printed sheets. Lise snapped her gum. Mary kicked the front seat and Joan kept biting her nails.

The three cars drove through the front entrance and down a long driveway towards the largest brick building I had ever seen. I suddenly felt out of place. I saw no signs of Christmas anywhere.

We parked along the front of the building. The youth group leader led our group of sixteen through the front door. He announced us at the front desk. Soon an older gentleman came down the stairs.

Dr. I-Forget-His-Name was bald and wore thick-rimmed glasses. In his white lab coat, he looked like the mad scientist I’d seen in a movie that I wasn’t supposed to watch but watched anyway at a friend’s house. Up close, I could see small blood vessels on his nose and cheeks. Whispering to Lise, I wondered if that is what happened when you work here. I tried not to stare when he escorted the group upstairs.

On the second floor he directed us to a double-door entrance. We walked through it. The room before us was bigger than any church sanctuary I had been in. There were large windows along the length of the room. They were foggy, providing a pale spectral light. None of the patients stood near them.

There were no curtains around the windows. There were no pictures on the walls, no paintings, and no Christmas tree or decorations. The furniture, wooden chairs and tables, was scattered around the room on the dull linoleum floor. The hall seemed soulless and indifferent toward the fifty gowned inmates within it.

The patient’s voices, moans, yelps, and shrieks sounded like they were coming out from a deep cave. Many sat staring off blankly. Some of them bobbed their head endlessly. Those who walked around seemed content to be walking in no specific direction. Our appearance at the double-door made no difference to them.

We gathered in two rows just inside the doorway and began signing Jingle Bells. Our voices reverberated and then seemed to go off somewhere. Our captive audience didn’t stir. We followed with Silent Night. There were a couple of moans of recognition. Then we sang The First Noël.

The First Noel the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds
In fields as they lay
In fields where they Lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s…

Out from the hallway behind us came a naked man. He began shouting and writhing right in front of us. One of the girls shrieked. The patients whooped and hollered.

Two men with white coats tried to grab the man. But he squirmed and threw them off again and again. free. He jumped and shouted and flung his arms right in front of us. He wanted to be right in front of us.

More white coats came to help. They surrounded the man and subdued him. He was dragged from the room.

It took a few minutes for our youth group leader to get us back to singing. When we did, we kept looking behind us to see what was next. But nothing happened after that.

When we finished singing our host escorted us down stairs. At the door, he thanked us for coming. On the way home we had a lot to talk about. Jeff said nothing.

That night I told my parents about my experience at Elgin State. Father said he was reminded of the Gadarene demoniac. Mom said “That poor man.”

Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, I was allowed to stay up late. I sat with my father as he watched the newsman recap what had happened in 1965. Something was said about demonstrations and Vietnam and The Great Society. But I sat there thinking about “that poor” wild “man” in Elgin State. He sure reacted to The First Noël.

“an issue of evil – pure evil”

“I was a stranger and you . . . you treated me like chattel.”

Legal immigrants come to the U.S. to better their circumstances. Many immigrants entering the U.S. illegally are doing so for the same reason.

And, there are those illegal immigrants seeking new circumstances for their nefarious deeds. Pedophiles, rapists, drug dealers, MS-13 gang members, and terrorists also want in.

And the sick:

The CDC specifically cites the possibility of the cross-border movement of HIV, measles, pertussis, rubella, rabies, hepatitis A, influenza, tuberculosis, shigellosis and syphilis. Chris Cabrera, a Border Patrol agent in South Texas, warned: “What’s coming over into the U.S. could harm everyone. We are starting to see scabies, chickenpox, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections and different viruses.” Some of the youngsters illegally entering our country are known to be carrying lice and suffering from various illnesses. Because there have been no medical examinations of undocumented immigrants, we have no idea how many are carrying infectious diseases that might endanger American children when these immigrants enter schools across our nation.

Talking about the realities of illegal immigration is not fear-mongering or xenophobia. Who and what is crossing the border affects everyone (except for a small minority who live in gated communities, e.g., Fort Pelosi, Washington D.C.) The effect of open borders will be coming to a town near you. In fact, the venal thinking behind open borders has already migrated into our lives.

The Democrats passage of H.R. 1 is an assault on humanity. From voting to gender to increased taxes, H.R. 1 imposes a Progressive ideology on America. HR 1 reveals the Hideous Strength underlying “the most progressive bill in U.S. history”.

Along with H.R.1, an open borders policy will bring about a dilution of Judeo-Christian values in America. Values will be then be reconstituted to that which Big Brother Tech ordains and enforces through dependency.

Humanity is threatened by the evil attached to policies. As always, there are government policies which slow the spread of evil and there are policies that rapidly deploy evil. The stolen 2020 election fostered the latter.

With the construction of the wall and a wait-in-Mexico policy among others, the previous administration throttled the flow of illegal immigration. The many deleterious effects of unbridled illegal immigration (e.g., human trafficking) that we are seeing today were held in check.

 The current “border crisis”, acknowledged by those involved except for the Biden administration, is growing exponentially. The reason?

The Biden administration, via EOs, canceled the previous administration’s policies. Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki spins the canceling EOs to the world as moral high ground.

What you won’t hear from Press Secretary Jen Psaki is that the massive inflow of illegal immigrants is the low-cost labor force that Globalist’s require. To compete in the world market of consumerism, a cheaper labor force is required to sustain profits and their vision of a techno-utopia.

Allowing an incursion of illegal immigrants is hawked by a mawkish Christianity as compassionate. But what is happening is not humane. It is not Christian. To wit: the hardest hit by lower wages and a massive labor pool are the minorities – Blacks and Hispanics. But that is of no concern to Globalists and the virtue signalers they encourage.

Rather, the open border policy is diabolical, evil. Illegal immigrants are being used by Globalists including the Catholic church Globalists to shore up their Globalist agenda. That agenda first and foremost is the Great Reset – a dehumanized mankind made to service and accommodate centralized power. The Communist Chinese party is a prime example of this agenda in action.

The Globalist Elite need minions – blissfully ignorant and pliable “proles” – to grow the P in their P&L and to sustain a techno-utopia. That is why you will hear Progressives, secular and religious, pushing for open borders and illegal immigration. The Biden regime is now Executive-ordering the takeover and repurposing of humanity.

Biden, called the “Migrant President” by the very concerned president of Mexico, is actually the Human Trafficking President.

The cartels will literally tell these people, ‘If you have a minor with you we’ll give you a lower price of $3,200,’” he told War Room, Friday. “’We’ll give you safe passage.’”

On top of child smuggling, “we have all these pedophiles, rapists, and kidnappers being released into the United States,” Hernadez said. “This is not a Republican issue, not a Democrat issue.

This is an issue of evil.

Cartels Are Selling Children for $3,200 at Biden’s Open Border – Steve Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic

If they don’t pay their debt then the cartel has the information about where they’re going, but more importantly, they have the information on their families in home countries,” Jones said. “From there, they can start the threats and hold them accountable through debt bondage, a form of human trafficking. Either pay or we’re going to come after your family.

Overwhelmed Mexican Alien-Smuggling Cartels Use Wristband System to Bring Order to Business (cis.org)

The Mexican government is concerned that President Biden’s asylum policies are encouraging illegal immigration and providing revenue to drug cartels through human trafficking across the US border.

Mexico says Biden asylum policies boost illegals, cartels (nypost.com)

Should the administration fail to address the weaknesses in U.S. law that serve as a magnet drawing foreign nationals to enter the United States illegally, I will be writing a lot more about recoveries of human remains, rather than rescues of migrants in distress. I don’t want to.

An unnamed Mexican official recently quoted in Reuters stated: “Migrants have become a commodity” for smuggling gangs. “But if a packet of drugs is lost in the sea, it’s gone. If migrants are lost, it’s human beings we’re talking about.” That is eminently self-evident.

Simply telling migrants “[t]hey need — they need to wait”, as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas did on March 1, is not a deterrent, or a life-saving strategy. In fact it’s not a strategy at all.

Do Biden’s Border Policies Now Have a ‘Body Count’? (cis.org)

The Migrant Crisis Isn’t Just At The Border, It Stretches To Central America (thefederalist.com)

The Biden Administration Is Releasing COVID Positive Illegal Aliens into the United States by Katie Pavlich (townhall.com)

“Episode_7946 Biden is the President Of Human Trafficking”.

By Day 48, Biden’s White House Had Made Major Progress in Destroying America. (thenationalpulse.com)

Justice De-Platformed

No. You are not crazy. Facts Matter. Evidence matters. Truth matters. Justice matters.

There is abounding evidence that the 2020 Presidential election and various congressional elections were stolen. There are testimonies and affidavits that detail the steal. There is video evidence depicting the steal. There is a semi-truckload of evidence (pre-marked ballots) that mysteriously disappeared according to testimony of the truck driver. There is documented evidence that private money i.e., Mark Zuckerberg, “improperly and unlawfully impacted the result of the 2020 election” in swing states:

For a detailed accounting and explanation of the election irregularities and fraud perpetrated on the Republic, download the Dr. Peter Navarro PDFs below. Keep them in a safe place, as big tech and the shadow government will be removing all evidence of the election fraud. (Note: If YouTube removes the election stealing videos above, you can find similar videos on Rumble.)

The evidence – including testimony, affidavits, videos, illegal voting registrations and more – has yet to be considered on its merits in the courts. The evidence has yet to be fully disclosed in court cases. Those who have presented the evidence have been labeled “conspiracy theorists” by the corporate media. The result of the persistent denial of reality: a tainted and illegitimate election and justice denied for over 70 million voters.

What has been forced upon Americans by corporate media, social media oligarchs, big tech, and Congress with the help of naïve useful idiots – Democrats – in the swing states is an illegitimate election. It follows, it should be noted, that the Biden/Harris administration is illegitimate no matter the presidential trappings. And, it also follows, that whatever comes out of the Biden/Harris administration, including executive orders, is illegitimate. You can decide what that means for you.

Whether the elected representatives, the Vice President, and the courts did not want to get involved in a politically charged matter or whether they were incompetent in their duties or whether they were simply going along with the steal, none of them prevented or acted to stop the steal in any way, except Justice Alito. (Some acted late in the game after immense pressure from constituents.)

The Vice President was asked by the President’s attorney and Pennsylvania state senators to delay the vote on Jan. 6th so that the state’s “questionable activities” and “numerous unlawful violations” could be investigated and so that the state’s legal votes could be tabulated:

Their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy argues that the actions by Democratic state officials caused last-minute changes to election law not authorized by the legislature, including allowing mail-in ballots to be received and counted three days after Election Day.

V.P. Pence was never asked by anyone to decide the election. But he did anyway by not delaying the vote count as requested and by not seeking a legitimate vote count. V.P. Pence acknowledged in his Jan. 6th letter “significant allegations of voting irregularities … [he shares] the concerns of millions of Americans about the integrity of this election…” (You can download his letter below). Yet, this was all CYA psycho-babble. Pence rubber-stamped the steal and the actions of other faithless representatives of the people.

Why should we accept the legal blah, blah, blah of talking heads who say “Pence had no choice” or “there was no evidence” or “that the evidence was insufficient to alter election results” or “the courts rejected the cases, so there” or “blah blah blah”? Are they lazy? Too busy? Or, are they intimidated by the Left?

“One of the reasons I was called [by Trump] is because virtually every major law firm in this country and in this city refused to represent the President,” [James] Troupis explained. “Not because of the lack of merit of his claims — we’ve certainly demonstrated that there’s merit — but because of the cancel culture, because of the environment that has been created by the Left that has intimidated lawyers, so that they can’t be here.”

Many lack moral courage. This was affirmed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his Harvard address in 1978.

“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.”

Should we lack moral courage and not question and investigate the glaring irregularities and fraud that has come to light? Or, should we say “there’s nothing to be done for it” and “Why should we bother (with what we have heard with our own ears and have seen with our own eyes) when so many say ‘Don’t bother’?”

You are aware. A Manchurian candidate – a sock puppet, really – is going to be installed on Jan. 20 as President-of-the-Lie. The shadow government of big tech-Reset globalists, with the aid of corporate media, are the ones moving the sock puppet’s mouth: “Now it’s time to turn the page …to unite and to heal”. The sock speaks and I hear “Accept the illegitimate election … sit down, shut up, and do what you are told from now on.” Biden is their means to “control the opposition.”

“The best way to control the opposition is to lead them.” — Vladimir Lenin

The over 70 million people – populists, nationalists, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, blacks, whites, Latinos, and those escaping tyranny in their home countries- the over 70 million people who voted in 2020 did not receive justice. America did not receive justice. Americans received a lie.

Why should you and I condone or embrace the illegitimate election as legitimate and obey whatever comes out of its illegality? If the election was legitimate, I would go along with the results. But that is not the case as it stands today. And I am well aware of what is behind the illegitimate election: evil

In my previous post The Takeover of 2020 I tried to outline that when evil gets its way, then those in its way can become disoriented, dispirited and depleted. As I write this, evil is de-platforming many on Twitter, Facebook and Google. These sites are not about justice. For, evil loves darkness and abhors the light. These sites are about putting your light under a bucket.

No. You are not crazy. Facts Matter. Evidence matters. Truth matters. Justice matters.

Americans are a justice hungry people. And we don’t accept slop. “We the people” want justice – a full and fair accounting and resolution of what happened to our Republic on and around the Nov. 3rd election.

And now, I petition my God with the Psalmist …

You are a righteous God
    and judge our thoughts and desires.
Stop the wickedness of evildoers
    and reward those who are good. – Psalm 7:9

Added 1/13/2021, a letter to the Wisc. Gov. and copied to V.P. Pence. Pence ignored this letter:

Added 1-13-2021:

Added 1-14-2021:

MI Judge Orders Democrat Sec of State To Release All Communications With Dominion, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google (100percentfedup.com)

Added 1-16-2021:

BOMBSHELL: Fulton County Elections Caught On Video Discussing Stealing Votes | Populist Press 2021 ©

20/20 Observations

The following are some brief observations to consider for this election cycle. I offer my observations followed by observations (in bold) made by black American economist Thomas Sowell. Sowell, who turned 90 this past June, has had a lifetime to reflect and comment on issues economic, social and, political. I introduced this prolific author in a recent post Perspectives on Race Relations.

Consider white suburban women. They sit on their patios sipping chardonnay while watching illegal immigrants landscape their property. They chat each other up about yoga class, manicures and, vacationing in Cozumel. They prattle on about how proud they are of their children becoming socially aware in school and about how uncaring people are when it comes to climate change, immigration, gender issues, income inequality and, black lives. The dilettante’s conversation turns to their voting for Obama’s handmaiden – the Progressive black faux-nurse who never had a patient or held a full-time job in her life. They voted for her because the nurse-in-the-political-theater-sense-only wants healthcare for all and everyone should suck on government teat. For the onus to make the world a better place should be on everyone and not just on them. Like their candidate, they do not have the ‘patients’. They have yard signs and votes and garden parties.

These woke women want you to notice that they are riding the wave of wokeness:

That sign and the Lauren Underwood For Congress sign on their front yard confirms how much these champagne socialists care.

Some of the most vocal critics of the way things are being done are people who have done nothing themselves, and whose only contributions to society are their complaints and moral exhibitionism.

Although the big word on the left is ‘compassion,’ the big agenda on the left is dependency.

Liberals love to say things like, “We’re just asking everyone to pay their fair share.” But government is not about asking. It is about telling. The difference is fundamental. It is the difference between making love and being raped, between working for a living and being a slave. The Internal Revenue service is not asking anybody to do anything. It confiscates your assets and puts you behind bars if you don’t pay.

Consider the college professors ensconced in their ivory towers. They dole out ad nauseum their ideology – Marxism, anti-capitalism, gender theory, critical race theory, etc.- and suffer none of the consequences for what they dole out.

Apparently, there are enough sheep-like parents these days to let “experts” take control of their children at a critical juncture in their lives. But these “experts” suffer no consequences if their bright ideas lead some young person into disaster. It is the parent who will be left to pick up the pieces.

The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political left is that they do not work. Therefore, we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.

Too often what are called “educated” people are simply people who have been sheltered from reality for years in ivy-covered buildings. Those whose whole careers have been spent in ivy-colored buildings, insulated by tenure, can remain adolescents on into their golden retirement years.

Ours may become the first civilization destroyed, not by the power of our enemies, but by the ignorance of our teachers and the dangerous nonsense they are teaching our children. In an age of artificial intelligence, they are creating artificial stupidity.

Not since the days of the Hitler Youth have young people been subjected to more propaganda on more politically correct issues. At one time, educators boasted that their role was not to teach students what to think but how to think. Today, their role is far too often to teach students what to think on everything from immigration to global warming to the new sacred trinity of ‘race, class and gender.’

Intellect is not wisdom.

Consider the Democrat politicians and their apparatchiks. These demagogues assume a moral monopoly where one is either in or out of that monopoly. For them, there is no marketplace of ideas, only the sound of their voice, as in “We have to do the work!”

They invoke the conjuring word “science” with any descriptor to produce hysteria and conformity to their demands. “Medical science” is used to produce fealty to the Democrat governors and mayors and their “public health crisis” mandates. Consider the mandates a social experiment in controlling the population.

“Climate science” was used by apparatchik Ocasio-Cortez. She has informed us that “the world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change”. Another apparatchik, a Democrat governor, invoked “social science” by declaring “racism” a public health crisis. She has mandated that all state employees undergo “implicit bias training,” in order to “eradicate and prevent discrimination and racial inequity” because the “Implicit, unconscious bias exists within each of us”. The Democrat politicians and their apparatchiks have no problem projecting bad motives onto others, thereby giving their halos renewed luster.

The voice of the party, Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, fresh from a maskless blowout during an illegal salon visit, has no problem upbraiding the president after his COVID diagnosis, calling his behavior a “brazen invitation for something like this to happen”. No hypocrisy here. She is a Democrat, after all. And besides, she is on the side of “science”:Simple Science says “Do what I say! (Not what I do!)”

To wipe away any tarnishing responsibility clinging to their hoary haloes and hacked hard drives, Democrats obfuscate and deflect: “People will do what they do” and “What difference at this point does it make?” They assume no responsibility or complicity for their actions; they receive no consequences for their actions.

Liberals seem to assume that, if you don’t believe in their particular political solutions, then you don’t really care about the people that they claim to want to help.

It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong. Yet that is what at least half of the bright ideas of the political left amount to.

It is amazing how many people think that they can answer an argument by attributing bad motives to those who disagree with them. Using this kind of reasoning, you can believe or not believe anything about anything, without having to bother to deal with facts or logic.

So many idealistic political movements for a better world have ended in mass-murdering dictatorships. Giving leaders enough power to create ‘social justice’ is giving them enough power to destroy all justice, all freedom, and all human dignity.

The more people who are dependent on government handouts, the more votes the left can depend on for an ever-expanding welfare state.

Since this is an era when many people are concerned about ‘fairness’ and ‘social justice,’ what is your ‘fair share’ of what someone else has worked for?”

All the political angst and moral melodrama about getting ‘the rich’ to pay ‘their fair share’ is part of a big charade. This is not about economics; it is about politics.

In liberal logic, if life is unfair then the answer is to turn more tax money over to politicians, to spend in ways that will increase their chances of getting reelected.

No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems – of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.

The fact that so many successful politicians are such shameless liars is not only a reflection on them, it is also a reflection on us. When the people want the impossible, only liars can satisfy.

Ronald Reagan had a vision of America. Barack Obama has a vision of Barack Obama.

Whether Barack Obama is simply incompetent as president or has some hidden agenda to undermine this country, at home and abroad, he has nearly everything he needs to ruin America, including a fool for a vice president.

Consider the celebrity: “I just think COVID is God’s gift to the left,” the Academy Award winner [Jane Fonda] said, laughing after she made the remark. 

No response required.

Consider the millennial Messiahs – the perpetual student, the Woke graduate student, those that fail to launch, the whiners, the “safe space” denizens, the SJWs and, the societal parasites. Each, having arrived on the scene less than forty years ago, presume to tell us how to save the world. But first, they must save themselves by avoiding responsibility through socialism. Their revolutionary zeal is stoked by Starbucks, their hubris by social media. (How did the world ever function without them?)

Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.

For the anointed, traditions are likely to be seen as the dead hand of the past, relics of a less enlightened age, and not as the distilled experience of millions who faced similar human vicissitudes before.

There is much discussion of the haves and the have-nots, but very little discussion of the doers and the do-nots, those who contribute and those who merely take.

Too much of what is called ‘education’ is little more than an expensive isolation from reality.

Mystical references to society and its programs to help may warm the hearts of the gullible but what it really means is putting more power in the hands of bureaucrats.

Our schools and colleges are turning out people who cannot feel fulfilled unless they are telling other people what to do.

The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Johnny can’t think. The problem is that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.

If facts, logic, and scientific procedures are all just arbitrarily “socially constructed” notions, then all that is left is consensus–more specifically peer consensus, the kind of consensus that matters to adolescents or to many among the intelligentsia.

Consider the main-stream media, the “if it bleeds it leads” media, with its ego-centric talking heads who blather on with their fellow traveler talking points. These bloviating oracles relay what the Leftist gods want you to know and to believe. Just give them your palm (with the remote) and they will tell how to think and feel and who are the victims and who are the oppressors and, who to love and who to hate.

They will tell you that China has no ill intent towards the U.S. (especially with regard to basketball sneakers) as they salivate over China’s social behavior monitoring. They will tell you “Orange Man bad”; “Orange Man” is responsible for the wildfires and climate change; “Orange Man” is responsible for the rioting in Portland, Seattle and, elsewhere; “Orange Man” is responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. (absolving China of any complicity in spread of the Wuhan Red Death). They want you to fear Orange Man. In their political math (2 + 2 = 5) They will pronounce judgement on the “Orange Man” as “complicit” in a kidnapping attempt. Lies, hyperbole and sensationalism are the motivators they use to keep you coming back.

Out of their crystal toilet bowls come dire warnings: “Racism is a public health crisis”, “Climate change is a public health crisis”, (and next week?) “Gun owners are a public health crisis” (and, the following week) “Christians and Jews are a public health crisis.”

When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.

There are few modest talents so richly rewarded — especially in politics and the media — as the ability to portray parasites as victims, and portray demands for preferential treatment as struggles for equal rights.

One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidize those who refuse to produce, and canonize those who complain.

The New York Times’ long-standing motto, “All the News That’s Fit to Print” should be changed to reflect today’s reality: “Manufacturing News to Fit an Ideology.

Some things are believed because they are demonstrably true, but many other things are believed simply because they have been asserted repeatedly and repetition has been accepted as a substitute for evidence.

If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.

Are you OK with the ends-justifying-the-means politicians? Are you OK with truth being whatever serves the revolution, as calling the rioting in Portland and Seattle “mostly peaceful protests”? Are you OK with injustice – lawlessness, releasing violent predatory criminals, the burning and looting and razing – thinking that the mythical phoenix of Justice will rise from the ashes? Are you OK with abortion and human beings being disposed of? Are you OK with class wars and race wars and constant societal division and unrest? Are you OK with people telling what to do and how to live? If so, then you will vote for Democrats and for the devils you think you know.

Observe:

“Where I come out as a businessman, I will take the devil I know over the devil I don’t know anytime of the week,” BET founder Robert Johnson said of the presidential race

“I know what President Trump has done and what he’s said he will do. I don’t know what Vice President Biden has said he will do other than masks, listen to the scientists,” the 74-year-old Johnson said. He suggested the coronavirus response should weigh the tradeoffs of “pandemic safety” versus “economy growth.” 

“I would rather know who I’m going to deal with in the White House. I’m going to know what regulatory decisions they’re going to make. What fiscal policy decisions, what monetary policies they’re going to make than to be taking a chance, particularly when you have the turbulence of a pandemic,” said Johnson, who in the past has been complimentary of Trump’s business-centric policies.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. ~Abraham Lincoln~

Added 10-13-20:

Added 10-15-20:

“I am a left-leaning New York City public defender who voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries and Hillary Clinton in the general election. I have never voted for a Republican candidate. I chose my career because I wanted to help those most defenseless in our society: indigent people accused and convicted of crimes and facing the awesome power of the state. 

Until I saw the catastrophic effects that the lockdowns were having on the very people I sought to help…”

Lockdowners Speak with Privilege, and Contempt for the Poor and the Working Class.

In a radio interview discussing her article, Ms. Younes, a lifelong Democrat, said she is voting for Trump based on the COVID-19 restrictions the Biden/Harris ticket would impose if elected.

The Antique Shop

 

On a street known as Artifact Row, in the historic district of Langford, D&D Antiques offered vintage collectibles. The owners, Dale and Doris, lived in the small apartment above the shop.

Per the rules of the town’s preservation committee, the shops and cafés of Artifact Row were required to maintain their 19th century façades. During the summer months, the lattice ironwork of the display windows and the frame of the double doors into D&Ds were coated with layers of black paint to keep them from oxidizing. Next to D&Ds, the Reitz Artifact Gallery, specializing in graphic arts, antiquarian maps and atlases, repainted its ironwork verdigris green and installed a new awning. On the other side of D&Ds, the wood framed windows and door of Dunwoody’s Furniture Restoration were repainted with a fresh coat of terra beige and brown.

Above D&D’s recessed doors were two transoms which, when lowered, gave the appearance with the doors of being the door’s black eyebrows. And above the transoms was a weathered green signboard with gold letters:

D&D Antiques

Things both Excellent and Rare

The shop’s windows displayed objects collected by Doris from estate sales. On exhibit, a menagerie of items passed down through generations of families including pottery, porcelains, vases, silver platters, a Tiffany lamp, jewelry, spelter candlesticks, figurines, watch fobs and watches, photographs and, postcards. A small banner with a gold star on a red and white field hung in the recessed window next to the door. Above it, a sign posting the shop’s hours. Beneath, a detachment of smartly uniformed nutcrackers that appeared to be standing guard at the door.

The shop now offered consignment, as Things both Excellent and Rare were no longer collected by Doris. A gaunt figure in her eighties, called a flower with a delicate stem by Dale, Doris could no longer attend estate sales. Her knees had become feeble, her gait wobbly, her strength gone. Dale noticed, too, that her mind had become wobbly. Doris no longer knew who he was. So, for a time, she remained with Dale in the shop.

During her days in the shop, Doris would sit listless in the spool-turned rocker. At times she would get up, hobble around and pick up pieces on display. She held them to her ear, as one would do with a sea shell at the beach. A dulcet smile would then appear on her face.

During fifty-five years of marriage, the two had worked hand in hand. Yet a time came to keep Doris upstairs. No longer active, Doris had grown weaker. Dale, also in his eighties, frail and hunched-over, could no longer help his wife up and down the apartment stairs. In the days that followed and at regular intervals, Dale would hang a “BACK IN TEN MINUTES” sign on his door. He would head up the shop’s adjoining stairs to their apartment to care for Doris, where she sat in her arm chair with a vacant stare.

On any given day, except on Mondays when the shop was closed, D&Ds was visited by women poring over each item and husbands who listened to Dale as he regaled them with his stories from his time in the Navy. The children who came along were directed to a corner of the store. There, Dale had set a small table, two chairs and a globe. On the table, Dale’s loose-leafed stamp albums. The children were enchanted by the colorful stamps Dale had collected from around the world. At Dale’s suggestion, they swirled the globe looking for each stamp’s country of origination.

 

It was now Sunday evening. The ageless sounding chimes of the grandfather clock and the sudden “koo-koo” of the Black Forest clock announced six-o’clock. It was time to close the shop. As was his habit, Dale placed the cash drawer and the antique jewelry in a safe. The coffee was shut off. The back door checked. The model train was shut off. The three weights of the grandfather clock were rehung. And, the two streetside lamps that shown down on the face of the shop were switched on.

After one last look around, Dale turned the door sign from “OPEN” TO “CLOSED” and stepped outside into stifling heat of the August night. As he turned the key in the lock, he noticed a thunderous commotion behind him. He looked around. Up and down the Row passersby stopped at window displays. Shoppers walked out of the closing shops. The tremendous clamor, clashes of curses and bellowing voices, seemed to come from the next street east. “Something is in the offing,” Dale thought. “There must be some confusion about the hour.” Tired, Dale trudged up the adjoining stairs.

 

11:10 and the shop was still.  The inconsonant tickticktick of three mantel clocks the only sound.

11:11. The grandfather clock began a sonorous toll. The cuckoo exited with loud rousing “koo-koos”. The conversation began again.

“Let us use our time wisely,” came the booming voice of the grandfather clock.

“Here one minute. Gone the next,” chirped the cuckoo.

“What? We sit here, day after day. Nothing changes,” moaned the mantel clock.

“I do have my ups and downs,” noted the barometer.

“It’s all the same,” sighed the depression glass.

“But we’re not the same,” countered the silver chalice. “Some of us have a higher station in life.”

“I was tops in my class,” said masthead light.

“But I summoned the attention of all,” said the ship’s bell.

“No. It was I,” said the bosun’s pipe.

“I held the compass,” said the binnacle proudly.

“But you are not me,” said the compass. “I gave directions.”

“I was the admiral’s go to,” said the brass ship’s wheel.

“You couldn’t go anywhere without me,” replied the rudder.

“You don’t know the time of day,” replied the ship’s clock.

“I’m getting sea sick,” growled the gyroscope.

“Boys. Boys. Don’t make waves,” admonished the sextant. “Know your place.”

“It’s all the same. Night after night.” groaned the glass.

“But we aren’t!” said the painting pointedly.

“We are!” declared the silverware.

“We aren’t”, squealed the Chantilly porcelain terrine.

“We are. We aren’t,” the rocker hemmed and hawed.

“Things are heating up again,” the fireplace poker jabbed. “Just the way I like it.”

“You’re always stirring things up,” jabbed the ivory letter opener.

“Can’t we all just get along,” the fine china clattered.

“Let’s have a party,” the silver platter prompted.

“Yes, let’s!” shouted the silverware.

“It’s all the same.”

“We’re not the same.”

“The same. Not the same. The same. Not the same,” choo-choo-ed the tinplate model train.

“At least I don’t go around in circles all day,” remarked the rubber stamp.

“No. You just sit there with ink on your face,” countered the train.

“Don’t rub it in,” the stamp came back.

“Now we’re getting somewhere!” pounced the Murano glass paperweight.

“Look who’s talking,” remarked the art nouveau hand mirror.

“It’s all the same.”

“We’re not the same.”

“We are. We aren’t.”

“The same, Not the same. The same. Not the same.”

“I could shed some light on this,” laughed the Tiffany lamp.

“You’re not plugged in,” the flat iron spoke frankly.

“And neither are you,” countered the candlestick holder.

“You can’t hold a candle to me,” bragged the wash basin

“Keep a lid on it,” the tea pot protested.

“I’m with her,” tittered the tea cup

“Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” snorted the spittoon.

“Have you no taste? I am fine china!”

“Have some decorum,” pleaded the painting.

 

Tickticktick Tickticktick Tickticktick.

 

“Bor…ring. I’ve more important things to do,” brayed the brass bugle.

“He’s always blowing his own horn,” a nutcracker noted.

“It’s all the same.”

“You need to change your worldview,” the globe giggled.

“Get a hobby,” snickered the stamp album.

“The same, Not the same. The same. Not the same.”

“Let’s change the subject,” broached the book. “I am a first edition.”

“But I was here first!” shouted the Louis the XVI chair.

“And consigned to the dust bin of history,” scoffed the newly arrived brooch.

“I did not know you had come, and I shall not miss you when you go away,” replied the chair.

“I have served wine to kings and queens,” said the goblet. “I deserve better company.”

Mais oui, bien sûr,“ came back the chair. “As do I.”

“Those two are broken records,” the gramophone pointed out.

“I am above all that,” said the annoyed candelabra. “I have looked down on royalty and heads of state.”

Not to be overlooked, the Victorian sewing table said proudly, “Not what I have but what I do is my kingdom.”

“Let’s face it. It’s all about me,” the cameo came back.

“You’re just another face in the crowd,” the mirror mocked.

“The lady picked me up. Held me to her ear.”

“And what did you tell her?” queried the quartz watch.

“If it’s true it’s not new.”

“Are you a philosopher now?” wondered the Wedgewood vase.

“Though Truth and Falsehood be Near twins, yet Truth a little elder is,” recited the limited-edition poetry book with a flourish.

“It’s all the same.”

“We’re not the same.”

“We are. We aren’t.”

“Well, you are all waiting,” remarked the rubber stamp.

“Waiting for what?” asked the tintype.

“Waiting to be taken to a home,” cooed the wood doll.

“Home is where the heart is,” replied the postcard.

“You’re just ephemera. Here today. Gone tomorrow,” tut-ted the dressing table.

“You have no utility,” snarked the silver platter.

“I’m a keepsake. A reminder of times past,” the postcard said proudly.

“What you are is what you have been. What you’ll be is what you do now,” exhorted the jade Buddha.

“Right on!” shouted the mantel clock.

“Progress!” The cuckoo poked his head out.

“Revolution!” fired off the fireplace poker.

“Diversity!” yelled the stamp album.

“Equality!” exclaimed the stamps in unison.

“Solidarity!” cried the flat iron.

“Can’t we all get along?” pleaded the fine china. “We can all serve humanity.”

“Hear! Hear! Shouted the silverware.

“Keep it together,” begged the bookends.

“It’s all the same.”

“We’re not the same.”

“We are. We aren’t.”

 

Tickticktick Tickticktick Tickticktick.

 

2 AM. Grandfather tolled and the cuckoo called. A loud crash.

“What was that?” questioned the quilt.

“A torch,” said one of the nutcrackers.

“I’ve seen this before,” said the fireplace poker.

“What’s it for?” wondered the watch.

“A torch is for light,” said the candlestick holder.

“But why is it on the floor?” asked the Oriental rug anxiously.

“Perhaps it is to be sold,” speculated the rubber stamp.

“I’ve read about this sort of thing,” stated the first edition. “It doesn’t bode well.”

“Some say the world will end in fire … Some say in ice,” warned the poetry book.

“The fire is coming closer,” fretted the lute.

“Shouldn’t it be on a candleholder where it belongs,” asked the candlestick holder.

“Fire goes where it goes,” replied the fireplace poker.

“It’s going up my leg,” said the Louis the XVI chair.

“How does it feel Mr. High and Mighty?” asked the rubber stamp.

“It feels … ohhhhh …familiar, …! …. like searing passion and raging anger.” The chair tried to maintain composed, but, “… now, ow! Ow! OW! …je suis d’histoire!. Aurevoir à mes amis.” The chair toppled down.

“What shall we do?” roared the rocker engulfed in flames.

“Maybe the shopkeeper will come,” said the cameo.

“Bugle do something,” shouted a nutcracker, his ranks now diminished.

The bugle, overcome by smoke, sputtered and coughed, “splurrrrtttt ….cuh cuh ….cuh cuh …someone get me some AIRrrrrrr …!”

“If I only had water,” said the basin.

“If only someone had taken us home,” cried the postcard.

The mirror, enamored by its reflection, proudly stated, “Look at the light I am reflecting. The whole room is lit up.”

“Don’t you see what is happening?” rasped the rocker. “We are being consumed!”

“I’ve done my job,” replied the mirror.

“I want out!” cried the postcard, the flames edging up his sides.

“We’re all in this together,” wheezed the stamp album with its last breath. The conversation ended.

 

3 AM. There was no ageless sounding toll and no sudden “koo-koo”. The second story had collapsed.

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2020, All Rights Reserved

(aka, Lena de Vries)

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)

 

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