Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What We Do With Evil

"Evil" is a loaded word.

In his address to the nation following the shootings in Las Vegas, Donald Trump referred to the act as an "act of pure evil." I suppose I can get on board with that. The sentiment has been echoed in other quarters and over and over again I get the impression that when acts like the Las Vegas shooting are called evil, what is meant is that they were incomprehensible, unstoppable acts, the sort of thing that is the unfortunate and inevitable, the kind of thing you just hope and pray will never affect you, or the ones you love, directly.

Obviously, such a chaotic, random, overwhelming thing would be ludicrous to try to legislate against, right? How do you legislate against evil? So folks offer their thoughts and prayers, toss up a quick; "there, but by the grace of God, go I..." and walk on, saddened, but unchanged. How much more so must that be the case when what we face is "PURE evil?"

Which is curious, because that has not, in my experience, been the reaction to other things I have heard similar camps call "evil."

It must have been news to the LGBTQ community that evil couldn't be legislated against, as they have centuries of being called evil and centuries of resulting legislation to look at. Likewise, when we name terrorists evil, we raise our walls and write our laws against them, even if it means leaving refugees, the victims of the very evil we fear, out in the cold in the process.

When "evil" is queer, we act. When "evil" is muslim, we act. When "evil" is of color, we act. When "evil" concerns a woman's body, we act. When "evil" is a matter of speech or expression, we act.

But when "evil," even "pure evil," is a white man with guns... nothing. Over and over and over again.

I am very much aware that I have very different definitions of evil than many of the people I am referring to, here. I do not believe, for instance, that homosexuality is evil, nor do I believe that Muslims are. But here we are, finally in agreement. The shooting in Las Vegas is pure evil. We've crossed the aisle, we're on the same side... only to find that this is the kind of evil that no one wants to confront, the only one that legislating against would be "plainly ludicrous."

I'm sure you can understand why that would be frustrating.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

When Faith Fails

Two weeks ago, I spent a few days in a Pediatric ICU while my daughter struggled to breathe.

The whole incident started when her mother and I picked her up from Daycare. She'd just gotten up from a nap and her breathing was visibly labored. She'd had a cold for a while but we'd never worried about it... her doctor had listened to her lungs and said that everything was fine. Suddenly, it wasn't.

This led to a cascade of events that had me holding her in an emergency room so that the doctors could snake a tube down her nose to suction mucous out of her lungs, an action that visibly hurt and panicked her as she coughed and choked. Then the Doctor came in and said she would need to be transferred to a children's facility, and not the one nearby, because she need an ICU unit.

My world stopped. Suddenly we'd gone from a scary breathing situation to an intensive care situation while my little girl cried and clawed at me to help her and... I just couldn't.

I said a prayer, in that moment, that I have revisited with the Lord several times since, the type of prayer I have never prayed before. It went on for awhile, but the basic thrust of it went as follows:

"Lord, this one isn't negotiable. If you make me watch my daughter die gasping, you and I are done."

I learned, later, that Katrina was never really in that much danger. Her O2 levels never fell dangerously, and the ICU was needed more for its monitoring capabilities in case things got to that point. Regular breathing treatments (fought by her every step of the way) and a high powered oxygen flow saw to it that she was safe until the asthmatic reaction her body had to whatever virus she carried had relaxed and she was able to comfortably breathe on her own. She had an amazing team of child care specialists watching over, including doctors, nurses, Respiratory technicians, even child life specialists who helped make her feel at home in the strange environs of the PICU.

But you could have fooled me at the time. Her whole tiny body seemed to clench to get breaths in, and I guess all I really heard from the Doctor was "ICU." The people taking care of her seemed to be torturing her. When they came to load her up for the trip, her mother and I worried she wouldn't make it. I was terrified that I was saying goodbye.

Now, I want to be clear that I do not attribute her survival or even her recovery to my prayer. I don't think that she was divinely scheduled to die and then I prayed in anger and God was all; "Oooh, wait, Dan seems serious, we'd better rethink this plan..." I don't think the world works that way, and I certainly don't think that the parents whose children DID lose their lives around the world that day experienced that heartbreaking loss because they failed to threaten God appropriately, whatever that would mean.

I am talking to you about this because people have regularly asked me to talk about a time when my faith failed, and two weeks ago, it did. I was scared, I was angry, and so I looked at a being I believe to be all knowing and all powerful and then THREATENED that being. I made an ultimatum, I put my God to the test. You're not supposed to do that, and I did.

That prayer did have it's upsides, of course. Normally when I get that angry or scared my strategy is to leave the situation until I calm down, and while I did go into the hallways when I felt I was on the verge of irrational action, channeling all that anger at God when I did kept it from going at, say, my wife, or the nurses, or even poor Katrina.  But in the time since that prayer I have found my relationship with God to be a bit more awkward, like after a huge fight with a friend or loved one when things seem to be normal again but what was said in anger seems to hang hovering over everything else.

I know that God loves and forgives me, just as I know that God loves and watches over my daughter. We'll be fine, and maybe when I've had time to really process everything that happened and was said, I will find my strength to be stronger for it.

But for those who want to know if my faith ever falters; yes. Sometimes it does.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Reader Question: Loving the Alt-Right

You always talk about love. Aren't you supposed to love the Alt-Right, too? -Anonymous

I've had a few messages from "Anonymouses" (Anonymi?) lately, and this was the nicest (and best spelled) of the bunch, so we're going to answer this one, partially in hopes that this will stay a family friendly show.

Yes, it is true, I harp on and on about the importance of loving one another. It's a key part of my theology it applies to everyone. I will admit I am not the best at actually following through, but yes, I am supposed to love members of the alt-Right as much as any other subset of humanity.

But what exactly that means isn't quite so clear cut as people seem to think.

The Alt-Right has a fascinating (and horrifying) mindset in which they feel that they are free from the consequences of their actions. They march with torches in Charlottesville and are "surprised" that people don't take kindly to it, or that businesses do not want to have employees who are viewed, nationally, as racists. They harp on endlessly about the First Amendment and rarely in cases where the First Amendment applies, but nearly always to make the point; "What I am saying should not have negative consequences for me."

They are led in this currently by the American President, a man who clearly thinks that he can do whatever he wants with no negative consequences, and actively tantrums when that proves not to be the case. He did it during the election, he's doing it now, we've grown so used to it that it hardly even gets any mention anymore. It's like an old dog who can't stop peeing on the floor, eventually you just sigh, pat him on the head and clean up the mess. Cute for an old pet, worrying for a sitting President.

It even seems like that desire for freedom from consequences pushes the "anxieties" that get so much press in the forming of these groups. Trouble finding a job, or not getting enough respect in the job you have? Nah, it's probably nothing to do with you, it's the Jews keeping you down, or the blacks, or the immigrants, or the liberals, the faults of the world landing squarely on everyone else.

(Hey, Dan, wasn't this going to be about LOVING them?) Yeah, yeah, I'm getting there.

Love is a powerful force. It is, I suspect, the strongest force in the world. But Love, done correctly, isn't about giving people what they want, but what they need. The tantruming toddler wants cake for lunch, but mommy gives him vegetables. The drug addict just wants another fix, but loved ones send them to counseling and treatment.

There was a powerful article out there about the family of an alt-right marcher who begged him to give up his hateful ways, and warned him that until he did, he was no longer welcome with them. That's hard, hard love. I don't know if I could do it with my daughter. But they saw that their son needed to recognize that his actions had consequences, and that marching with groups like "Unite the Right" was indeed a harmful action, rather than the "peaceful gathering" they claimed they wanted.

We don't love the Alt-Right by caving to their demands, or by ignoring them until they go away. They are on a truly awful path, one customed designed to take angry young people and militarize so they can be used to victimize others. We love them by calling them on their horribleness, removing their leaders, de-radicalizing them and helping them to reintegrate with a society built on diversity and hope, rather than anxiety and fear.

They want their cake. But if we love them, we need to give them vegetables.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

White Supremacism is ALWAYS violent.

Let's be completely clear. There is no such thing as a peaceful White Supremacist rally. The moment the Swastika and the Confederate flags are displayed the event becomes inherently violent, because those flags represent extreme violence towards others; both of them representing genocide and slavery.

(And before you take issue with me putting them together like that, you might first take issue with the fact that they both keep showing up at these rallies. You can say two people aren't friends, but when they always attend the same parties...)

You cannot have a "peaceful, reasonable" discussion when one side thinks that genocide and slavery are acceptable outcomes. There is no compromise with hatred.

And by failing to condemn the actions of the alt-right, by clinging to a concept of "well, both sides..." Donald Trump's failure, yet again, to be a voice against terror when that terror is carried out by white people against his political enemies is the only indication anyone should need of his unsuitability for office.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Myth of Conservative Christianity

Some folks have noted that I don't seem to be posting all that much, or really at all, lately. A big part of that is a choice on my part to be less angry, as my anger was started to seriously leak out at people who didn't deserve it, or at least, at people who didn't deserve the extreme depths of it that they were receiving.

In that silence (excuse the occasional Facebook post not limited to ANF) I had hoped to hear other ministers speak against the various atrocities coming out of the Washington these days, and while voices are present, they are largely drowned out by a very vocal contingent of pastors who seem to see it as their personal duty to advocate for every action the White House makes.

It reminded me of the Theological Declaration of Barmen, which chilled me. Adopted in 1934, the Declaration was written mostly by theologian Karl Barth as rejection of the theology of the "German Christian" movement, a movement that saw the church as little more than an extension of the Nazi Party.

You can find the full text of the document here. It isn't very long. What it represents is simple enough: German Christians were more and more acting as if their faith was beholden to the government, and used platforms like pulpits to advance the governments goals.

It worried me because we very much see it in modern Churches today, where preachers often seem to have TWO tasks... not only the preaching of the scripture, but explaining how that scripture conforms to the ideology of the Republican Party.

It isn't even very subtle. Back during the election, when Donald Trump had a tape released where he boasted about sexually molesting women, Pat Robertson went right on TV and said; "Well, at least we know he isn't gay!" This supposed pastor who has often held sexual propriety as the most important of Christian morals advocating for an admitted sexual predator because he was the Nominated Candidate for President of the Republican party!

History is a valuable teacher in this kind of situation, and unfortunately the history of Nazi Germany is very useful. It was actually very simple... religious leaders found that they had gained a greater hand in the government than they had previously, and when one gains power, one typically wants to hold on to it. So bit by bit, point by point, they placated out of control government figures until the whole of their message had become dedicated to propping up a political platform.

People often forget that there was a time when the Church, while very present in American Life, was not particularly active in government. Separation of Church and State were taken very seriously. But with the advent of Ronald Reagan and the so-called "Moral Majority" Evangelical Christian leaders started finding themselves invited into the halls of political power, and they liked it. And so what at the time was an alliance of convenience with the Republican Party became what is today almost a fused being... it can be difficult tell where the Evangelical Church ends and the Republican Party begins. And as the Republican parties actions become more and more unconscionable, the harder the Evangelicals work to hold up the myth that the GOP is, in any way, shape, or form, following a recognizable Christian ideology. 

And heaven help the Pastor who doesn't maintain that image. Pastor find that their congregations demand that they stay "fair and balanced" if they do not adhere to GOP protocol, while those who do are let loose to bash all enemies of the conservative machine.

So let me be clear. In a great many ways, the GOP has so far deviated from any recognizable interpretation of the scriptures as to be almost anathema to them, and yet, Evangelical Pastors across the country are apologizing for them and calling for Christians to be loyal, not to Christ, but to the Conservative movement, to the detriment of their own faith.

83 years ago, German Theologians from many disparate denominations recognized the threat such theological adherence to a political ideology posed, not only to the church, but to the nation. And now, it's happening here.

I'm not telling you that you can't be a good Republican and a good Christian. But when you require your pastors, and other theological leaders, to maintain the myth that to be Christian and to be Republican are synonymous terms, you are following a path that led, ultimately, to the kind of destruction that made the Nazis the Nazis.

Christians are called worship God with all of hearts, minds, and strength. I know that it is easier to believe that voting a certain way is the "Christian" way, but that is very, VERY dangerous thinking. It has led to horrible consequences before. And it can happen again.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Saturday Ramble- Who is Deacon?

 This is a short story, based in the universe of the Matrix, that I wrote back in college and have done some updating on ever since. I stumbled on it again tonight and thought it did a decent job of showcasing an aspect of my faith, specifically, how I move forward with the knowledge that, for much of the Church's history, people have used it as a tool towards decidedly non-faith based ends.

Hope you enjoy it as a change of pace!


The tall halls of the Cathedral captured the voice of the priest, scattering it through the cavernous sanctuary. The morning Mass was read with feeling, and those faithful who had come listened intently. Messages of peace and joy washed over them, and they basked in it, feeling the comfort of the Words of God. The host was shared, and one by one they left, after confessing, some moving back to the altar to complete their penance. Life continued as it always did, day by day, week by week, until the building was nearly empty.
One of the confessionals opened, and a tall man stepped out, his neck circled by the clerical collar that denoted him a priest. His eyes, dark and deep, lifted up to large stained glass windows, holding visions of saints throughout time. At the front was the crucifix, in all of its morbid glory. Flanking it were scenes of Christ's birth and resurrection. Time seemed to slow, as if he, for a moment, was experiencing the timelessness of God. As it passed, he shook his head and looked back to the floor. "It's not right." He whispered to himself. He looked again at the crucifix. "This isn't the world you wanted us to have."
"Talking to yourself again, Father Daniels?"
The priest turned to see a man decked in colorful robes, the attire of the local Archbishop. He shook his head. "Not to myself, your grace, but to God."
The Archbishop nodded. "Prayer is the armor of our kind, Father Daniels. You always seem particularly distressed after your time in the confessionals. It is difficult duty, I know, to bear not only your own sins but the sins of others. Yet others learn to cope with it, in time. You've been wearing the collar for nearly a decade, now. Why are you still so consumed by this duty?"
The priest shrugged. "Perhaps I merely refuse to let myself grow used to anything. Sin is as much sin now as it was when I was first ordained. But it all feels so wrong... it always has. I'd hoped I would be calmed in my vows, comforted by the strength of the church. But now it seems to me that the church has only magnified my awareness of it. Comfort has been lacking."
The Archbishop looked the priest up and down. "Walk with me, Father." The priest nodded, and they began walking out of the sanctuary. "The world is a fallen place, Father Daniels. Many of our order grow so overwhelmed by the sins that they see that they close their eyes to it after a time. They live in it, blinded. They go through the motions, hoping maybe to help others, but they are largely ineffectual because of their refusal to see the truth."
They stopped in the Archbishops office. "You are one of the few who never blind themselves, who refuse to let this darkened world absorb them. This is as much a strength for you as it is a burden. You have borne the burden for nearly ten years. You have not, however, learned to wield the strength. Look at me, Father."
Slowly, the eyes of the priest raised to those of the Archbishop. They were bright eyes, blue as the sky with a sparkle that had not dimmed after decades of ministry. Yet they were housed in a face lined with age, wrinkled and worn with the passage of time. The face was tired, yet held a smile that hinted at the energy still housed in the eyes. "I am old, Father. I suspect my time is passing. The Cardinal has sent word that another is to be chosen, one who may in time rise to the level Archbishop, though that takes time. I have chosen you, and have sent word of my decision to him."
The priest stood still, shocked. "But... I am still full of doubt, your grace. Surely you need someone stronger, whose faith is more refined..."
The Archbishop laughed softly. "We all have our doubts, Father. Those who say they have none are those cloaked in the world, who refuse to admit it for what it is. You will do well. Now I recommend prayer time for you, more than ever. It is vital that you find your strength... for the burden will never stop growing as long as you live."

So he prayed. He prayed so hard and long that when he finally returned to his small apartment, the only light came from the dim street lamps that lined the road, or, upon entering, the screen of his computer. He sighed, tossed his jacket onto his bed, sat at his computer, and began searching.
Once, a priest in search of knowledge would have been forced to travel to a monastery, or perhaps even Rome to peruse the wisdom of the ages, written down by generations of saints, scholars, and scribes throughout the millennia of the church. Now, it was all there at his fingertips, thousands upon thousands of records and observations, a behemoth of tradition available with the click of a mouse.
He had spent ages here, reading the works of Origen, Macrina, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, Aquinas, Augustine, looking for answers, not even certain of his questions. When he tired of his reading he would enter chatrooms, discussing what he read with anyone who happened to be around. His alias, Deacon, was well known in these rooms as a nearly bottomless source of knowledge, and yet as a seeker, striving to discover something. No one was sure of what he was looking for, though... him least of all.
Dawn was drawing close when he found himself alone in a chatroom with only one other occupant, by alias of Carpenter. They had been exploring the mysteries of the Church for hours, and Deacon felt that it had all been worthwhile, despite the fact that he would face yet another day without sleep,  hardly a rare occurrence.

It was drawing near time to log off, and the priest smiled as he typed.

Deacon: Well, I'm going to have to be going soon, it's been good to talk with you.

Carpenter: And you as well. Can you answer a question for me?

Deacon: I can try.

Carpenter:  What is it that bothers you, on the nights when you come here?

Deacon leaned back and pondered his answer for a moment. It was a question rather more direct than the kind he usually fielded, but after such a long conversation he felt he owed it to Carpenter to answer.

Deacon: Sometimes the world just doesn't feel right. The people I meet there seem fake, and so I come here. People like you feel more real somehow.

There was a long pause, and Deacon began signing off, when Carpenter responded.

Carpenter: You're right, you know, about the world. Few your age recognize it.

Deacon: What, too young?

Carpenter: No, too old. Meet here again tonight?

Deacon leaned forward, intrigued. No one had ever asked him to meet again, they usually asked their questions and left, like those who came to confess. He was a moment answering.

Deacon: Sure. I'll see you then.

Carpenter: I look forward to it. Be careful... do not let it sneak up on you.

Deacon: What?

Carpenter: The world. It has you. I'll talk to you tonight. (CARPENTER has signed off.)

Their discussions did not end after the following night, or the one after. For weeks he met with Carpenter online nearly every night, discussing not only the inner workings of the Bible or theology, but the world itself, the huge trap that it could seem at times. Though he still hardly slept, when he did sleep it was as if the hour or so he’d had was enough to last him weeks. Energy unlike any he had known since taking orders began to fill him, and he channeled almost all of it into his work. His homilies became clearer, more driven and focused. Soon, people were waiting in line for hours to enter his confessional, and on the days he gave mass they would fill up the pews like never before.

Old Archbishop Carter only smiled the more brightly, and would occasionally drop comments that his marshaling of strength seemed to be going well. Father Daniels could only bow, say the archbishop was far too gracious, and head back to his apartment, eagerly awaiting his next talk with Carpenter. Then, one day as he entered his apartment, he realized that he wasn’t alone.

“Hello, Mr. Daniels.” The invader was a nondescript man in a black suit with a black tie and sunglasses, slightly balding. Sunglasses, in the dark of night with no lights in the apartment.

“Excuse me?” The suit said, appearing somewhat taken aback. Apparently, he wasn’t used to being interrupted.

“Father Daniels, not ‘mister’. I’m a priest, you see.” he pulled back his coat to show his clerical collar. The suit smiled.

“Ahh, yes, of course. A man of the cloth. My apologies. Father Daniels, then. Hello.”

“Hello,” Daniels replied. “And what is your name?”

“Gray. Agent Gray. I assume that this is a normal hour for you to get home?”

“Typically, yes. Why, is something wrong?”

“All in good time. Please, sit down. This might take a while.” He gestured to the chair by the computer, and Daniels moved to it, but didn’t sit. “You see, we are aware that every night for almost a month now, you have met online with a certain person who goes by the on-line handle of Carpenter. True?”

“Yes... and?” Daniels frowned. There was something very wrong going on here, but he couldn’t figure out what, exactly.

“This... individual... is dangerous. Extremely so. He is a stalker of sorts, an on-line predator. And I’m afraid this he has picked you as his next target.”

“Me... why?”

“Because you crossed his path. He hunts people.  Befriends them, gains their trust, and then acts. He’s killed at least five so far that we know of, and possibly many more. You must have been a prime target for him, however. We understand he has a certain something for men of the cloth. We think he might have been... affected... by all that unpleasantness in the mid-90's.”

The priest gave that the frown it deserved. The “unpleasantness” deserved far worse a name, and he did not appreciate the flippant attitude towards it. Besides... Carpenter was a friend. Or was he?

Agent Gray’s smile didn’t even flicker. “Anything you may think you know about this entire situation is utterly irrelevant, Father. Now, please sit down.”

Again, that sense of wrongness pervaded Daniels’ senses. It was as if the man before him lacked... something. The emptiness that came from him made him seem as cold as the computer on his desk. Daniels sat.

“Thank you. Now, it was only through lucky chance that we managed to locate you before he struck, Father. We have been utterly unable to trace him, however, if he follows his normal pattern, he may soon ask you to meet him. Agree, then call this number immediately.” Gray handed him a folded piece of paper. “Tell us when you are meeting him and when. Then, we will give you further instructions.”

“We? Who is we?”

“The people who are trying to protect you, Father Daniels.”

“What if you’re wrong about Carpenter?”

“We’re not. Good day, Father.”

After Gray left, Daniels spent a long time staring at his computer. All I have to do is not log on for a while, and maybe he’ll give up interest. That way he stays safe, and I can’t be accused of aiding or abetting. But he had promised to meet... and Carpenter had never even mentioned a Real World meeting. If he suddenly did... then what?

Ultimately, it was the promise that made him log on. Even if Carpenter was a criminal, Daniels had not broken a promise to anyone in two decades, and did not intend to start now. That night he moved much as normal through the various chat rooms and theology sites. But Carpenter was not in any of them. For the first time since that night long ago, Carpenter broke his promise to meet. He would be nowhere to be found on-line for the next three days.

Daniels sighed to himself. He had been in the confessional for going on five hours, but the last of those who needed to confess was now entering the darkened booth. Mentally giving a quick prayer for patience, the priest turned his attention to the task, and waited for the confessor to speak.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been... a very long time... since my last confession.”

Daniels nodded, though he knew the confessor couldn’t see it. “What is it that brings you back to the confessional after so long an absence?”

There was a pause, then; “I broke a promise, Father. A promise to a good friend. And now I am here to confess and make reparations, if I may.”

Another sigh. “The promises we make to men and to God are very important, but to truly make amends, you should go to see your friend.”

“I have, Deacon.”

The priest’s eyes snapped open wide. “Carpenter?”

“Please just listen for now. I know that you have been visited by them, and though I don’t know what they told you about me, I can guess that it was scary, and perhaps nasty as well. Believe me when I tell you that whatever they led you to believe about me, the truth about them is far worse. They are...”

“...soulless.” The realization filled his mind even as the word passed his lips. That emptiness, that lack of human warmth, was what he had felt that night in his apartment.

Silence. “Yes,” Carpenter said softly. “How did y... never mind. There is no time. I am about to ask you the most important question that you have ever been asked, and you will have to decide your answer quickly.”

“Okay,”   Daniels said tentatively.

“For months now, you and I have discussed the nature of the world. The world is broken, wrong, fallen as you have said. You have felt it, felt the despair of those within it, seen the soullessness of those who uphold it. But you do not understand what it is, and without that knowledge, you cannot begin to address the heart of the problem.”

A deep breath. “I came here today to offer you the opportunity to learn about it, and then to do something about it. But it is a one way street, and once you set foot upon it there is no turning back. If you refuse, we will never meet again, to protect both of us. You will go on to great things in this church, if it is permitted. If you join me, all I can offer is the truth, and the opportunity to do something about it.”

The silence was deafening. In the distance, thunder penetrated the thick cathedral walls. Carpenter spoke. “Tonight, when you leave this building, you may chose the life you know. In that case, go home, and go to sleep, and believe whatever you wish. I will fondly remember our conversations. However, should you choose to look even deeper, go the old Marington bridge, and be there by 2 am. I will meet you.”

The confessional door opened quickly. The priest leaped from his own booth, but only saw a dark silhouette passing through the doors. He chose not to follow... and then set to a far more difficult choice.

It would be raining... Father Daniels thought through shivers as he huddled back against one of the rails, his soaked coat pulled up above his collar to hold in what warmth was left. Despite the ongoing downpour, he couldn’t blame all of the shivers on the wet. He was more scared than he had ever been before in his life. For the fiftieth time he considered just walking into the night, disappearing and throwing the Agents a bone, far too late for them to capture Carpenter.

Yet... he couldn’t deny what he had felt from them. Gray had called them his protectors, but the cold void inside of the men in dark suits had been undeniable. He had known depravity before, had stared into the eyes of some truly evil people while administering Last Rites, but each of them had possessed something, some dredge of humanity. But these... Agents... nothing. He remained on the bridge.

The fear wouldn’t go away, though, and desperately he reached out to the old ways to fight it. He began reciting the Our Father, over and over again, like he hadn’t done since he’d been a small child afraid of the dark. To his great amazement, it worked.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.

Calmness, and a strange warmth, flowed into him like he’d been drinking rich hot chocolate. Surprised, he opened his eyes to see a beat up old car pull to a stop in front of him. A door opened and a voice he recognized as Carpenter’s came out. “I apologize for being late... we must hurry.” With a last twinge of caution urging him to flee, Daniels nodded and stepped into the car...

And found himself facing the barrel of a shotgun, held by a tall black man sitting in the front passenger seat. The driver was intent on driving in the wet conditions, and it took Daniels a moment to look away from the large weapon before him.

“C-carpenter, w-what is this?”

“I apologize, Deacon, but it is necessary for the moment. You are more dangerous to us right now than you can imagine. The Agents work quickly sometimes. We don’t think that you’re bugged, but we can’t afford to take the risks.”

Suddenly the driver spoke. “Scan complete... he’s clean. Maybe they’re getting sloppy.”

The tall black man shook his head. “They don’t get sloppy. They were expecting us to make another on-line contact first... didn’t want to spook us off. They might be watching us right now.”

“Then nothing has changed,” Carpenter said gruffly. His bright red hair came as a bit of a shock over the dark sunglasses and black longcoat. “Your, ah, guardian there is Cephas, and you have to forgive his tension. You will understand it soon. Ah, we’re here. Quickly, now.”

Daniels found himself getting ushered out of the car and pushed into an incredibly decrepit looking warehouse. Carpenter navigated his way through the stacked boxes, speaking almost absentmindedly. “This is one of our safe-houses... we’ve managed to keep it quiet for some time, so we’re as safe as we can be right now. We stay constantly on the move, however, so I fear I have no time to give you a tour. Now.”

Suddenly he spun on heel and was facing the poor priest, holding two cups that he had taken from on top of one of the boxes. They were not particularly ornate, but Daniels gasped as he recognized them... simple as they were, they were undoubtedly eucharist cups, and the smell of wine could be detected even through the heavy must of the room.

“Last chance, Deacon. I told you a long time ago that you were right about the world, that it was wrong in a way that you have always sensed, but could never define. The truth is far more horrific than anything you could imagine, anything that I could simply tell you. This is your chance to learn it, and join us in fighting it. You have sensed the emptiness of the Agents... it is them and their kind that we stand against, that we fight.”

A pregnant pause. The priest looked around as if expecting one of them to step out from behind the boxes. He was also uncomfortably aware of Cephas behind him, still holding that shotgun... a silent executioner? He couldn’t tell.

“Once you make the choice to walk with us, however, your old path will end. You will no longer be welcome in the Cathedral, you will never become a bishop or arch-bishop. You will never again be the quiet priest in the parish. You will still serve your parishioners, but in a very different way than you have ever imagined. It is time for the choice.”

Carpenter lofted the cup on the left. “This is the cup of forgetfulness. If you drink from it you will fall asleep, wake up tomorrow in your bed, and never hear from us again. The Agents will visit you again, but you will never need to fear for your life... they will know upon visiting you that you can no longer lead them to us.”

He then raised the cup on the right. “This is the cup of truth. If you drink from it you will remain awake, indeed, you will become more awake than you have ever been in your life. You will see the world for what it is, and then we will see how you handle it. You will never again have a home in this world, you will be hounded, chased, and maybe killed. Everyday we face death... but we will face it together. It is not the easier option. It is time to choose... time is pressing.”

Seconds ticked by. The priest took a deep breath, and then took the cup on the right. It wouldn’t be until long after that he knew why... desperately afraid as he had been... the sense of warmth gained from reciting the Our Father had never left him the whole time with Carpenter.

Dreams followed, visions, flashes, nightmares. Nightmares too real to be true. Too real to be of the world. For days, Deacon (Father Daniels no longer) was lost in a nightmare of truth. He awoke with a horrible choking sensation, a breathing tube protruding deep into his lungs. His skin was surrounded with a disgusting goo, and he pushed out, his strangely weak arms pushing through an odd rubbery substance to win free, violently pulling the tube out. He dreamt (real or otherwise, he didn’t know) of falling and sliding, of struggling with strange machines that prodded and poked him, nightmares of horrible darkness and even more horrible light.

Dreams, nightmares... the truth.

The tall halls of the Cathedral captured the voice of the priest, scattering it through the cavernous sanctuary. He knelt before the altar and the sepluchure, his prayer as heartfelt as it was simple. He closed as he always did with the Our Father, basking once again in the quiet warmth as he crossed himself and stood, sunglasses clasped in hand. He had never felt comfortable wearing them here.

“Enjoying your favorite program again?”

Deacon turned slowly to face his mentor. Carpenter appeared much as he had the first time Deacon had ever seen him, bright red hair blazing in contrast to pale skin and dark clothes. Deacon knew his own appearance had also changed little- the attire a bit more loose, ready for action, but otherwise unchanged, dark clothes offset by a white collar at the neck.

“It is... peaceful... to come here. A nice break from the bustle of the ship. We have arrived?”

“We will be docking soon. The elders have already radioed ahead, asking that you be ready. They are quite eager to meet you, after all the talk about your abilities has spread.”

Deacon frowned at that. His abilities were greater than average, though Carpenter still managed to win four out of seven sparring matches. His true skill seemed to lie in fighting the rogue programs that rose up... the vampires and werewolves occasionally used by the underworld to keep both the humans and the overlords off balance. Against them, Deacon fought with a fury and skill that surprised his companions. Not a few times had his ‘abilities’ thwarted the underworld’s attacks, the reason they had been summoned home. Home, though Deacon had never seen it before. The Last City.   

“I’ll be honored to meet them, I’m sure. I just think I could be doing more out there.”

Carpenter nodded. “You will learn to cherish these visits, in time. They are certainly rare enough, and so worth treasuring.” His eyes again scanned the room around them. “I’ve always meant to ask you, my friend, and the elders surely will. Why do you return to this place? Why do you still wear the collar, after all you have learned about the world since you took your vows?”

There was another long pause. “When I took those vows, I often wondered about my faith. Did you know that?” There was an empty pause, Deacon took it as a negative before continuing. “I always wondered whether I was serving the right cause. It all could have been fake. Jesus. The cross. It could have all been lies, controls. A scheme to harness the energy of countless people.” he looked around. “But there was always a strength here... a place where people found themselves, and so became more. I knew before that men had used the gospels to aim people. Then I learned that machines had done so, as well.”

Deacon smiled. “There have always been those who would use the church to achieve their ends. There were even some who succeeded. But they all passed away, and the church remains. Now, it rests in the hand of the machines, but one day, when the war ends, the machines will pass away. And if I am spared... the church will continue as well. God lives... the more I see, the more I learn, the more sure of it I am. I took my oaths unaware of the true nature of the world, but I took them for life. Believe it or not, old friend, I am more sure of them now than anything else.” And with that, the cathedral melted away into the waiting white of the construct.

“We are docking,” Cephas’ voice echoed through the sterile emptiness.

“Understood,” Carpenter replied, and without another word, the two of them awoke from the empty dream. Yet it seemed, to Deacon, that a quiet Amen seemed to fill the void as they left it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Beast Question: How Do You Read the Bible?

How do you read the Bible? ...it's a bunch of words all jumbled and it looks like a dictionary and it looks like some of it isn't even English.-Beast-----------------

For the record, Beast didn't actually send me this question. He doesn't think of me as his pastor and probably doesn't know I write this blog. I'm pretty certain his name isn't even Beast. But he did ask his Mom the question, and she mentioned it on Facebook, and I thought, hey, questions like that are basically what this blog is for. So Beast, if you see this, thanks for asking the question, because I've been thinking about how to answer it all morning!

So the Bible is confusing to read for many reasons. It is very old, and written in languages that no one speaks anymore. Since those languages died out, it has been translated over and over again, and not always the same way, and so depending on whose version you read, the words will be different, which means the meanings are different.

Even if you focus on just one version, it can look like a mess to read. The text is usually pretty densely packed (making it look like a dictionary, as you said) and there's also a bunch of numbers scattered through it. And yes, some of it isn't in English, even when you're supposedly reading an English translation. So what gives?

But maybe the biggest part of why the Bible is hard to read is the fact that it isn't a book. Sure, it LOOKS like a book. We bind it and sell it like a book. It's frequently called the highest selling Book of all time. Even the word, bible, comes from the Latin biblia, which means book. But the Bible ISN'T a book. It's a library, or collection of books.

When you flip through the Bible you'll frequently come upon what look like chapter headings, titles like Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, 2 Kings, 3 Peter, etc. These aren't actually chapters, like you would expect in a normal book, but actually little books themselves, written by different authors at different times about different things. They aren't all stories, either. In the Bible you'll find stories, letters, books of law, books of poetry, books of philosophy, books of prophecy, even books of erotica.

So when you read the Bible, if you just read it from beginning to end like a normal book, you're gonna get confused. Not so bad as if you read a Choose Your Own Adventure Book (ask your Mom) the same way, but it still won't make a whole lot of sense.

So there is your first clue on how to Read the Bible, pick one book at a time and read that. When you finish, remember that the next one you read is a completely different book. Even though it might be about the same thing.

Oh yeah, that's another thing. Sometimes the Bible tells the same story more than once, just from a different perspective or according to a different author. For instance, the Gospels (or the books Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) each tell the same story: the life story of Jesus Christ. But while there are similarities all four share, they also diverge from each other wildly, reflecting the different perspectives of the different authors.

This is going a bit long so I'll sum up with some (hopefully) helpful hints.

1- The numbers you see weren't originally there and aren't part of the story. The Bible has been printed so many times and in so many languages that for people to find where someone else was reading in the scripture would be almost impossible. Page numbers wouldn't work, and sometimes the words are almost completely different. So instead we used the number headings (called Chapter and verse) to make it clear where exactly we are reading. They are fairly universal, so even with very different translations, you'll be able to find the same part and look at how different people read that passage. So if you read a line that you can't really understand, you could always look up the same line in a different translation (there are a bunch available for free online) and see if that one clears it up for you.

2- The authors of the different books don't always agree with each other. For instance, the prophet Nehemiah felt strongly that Jews shouldn't marry foreign women. But the author of the book of Ruth (we don't know their name, sadly) wrote a story about how one Hebrew married a woman from another country, and she ended up being the great grandmother to Israel's greatest king!

3-  About the language. Sometimes you'll come upon a word that you don't know, even if you try to look it up in the dictionary. This is for a couple of reasons. A lot of the time, the story will translate it for you, later. (Even though the languages these were written in is very old, sometimes the language the people who lived it spoke was even older.) There are a few words, however, that aren't translated anywhere. These are words that are so old that we have no record of them existing anywhere except in the Bible, and so we can't translate them... we can't find them anywhere else to figure out what they mean!