Monday, November 20, 2017

Thirteen Reasons to Keep the Doors Open

While fog wept outside the door, the air hung heavy with regret inside the old church building. Of the dozen people gathered around the table, only one was male. However, not even the virtue of gender could make Thomas Stone a leader. Thomas breathed a sigh of relief when Cora Wilson called the meeting to order. As church clerk, Cora was the last, and highest, vestige of authority left. The pastor had departed in disgrace, leaving a decimated congregation in his wake.

Cora carefully explained the situation. She didn’t miss a miserable detail—which was why she was the church clerk. By the time she was done, it was painfully clear that the options were few.

“So, what do we do now?”

Matilda Manheim was 84. Faded blue eyes shifted slowly from one face to another, challenge written in every glance and punctuated by her terse words. She was a charter member of the congregation, had survived two world wars, the Great Depression, been widowed and left destitute at the age of 40, and still raised three fine sons on her own. Tillie wouldn’t give up without a fight—and she still had plenty of fight left in her despite her age.

“Maybe the denomination could help us out?”

This come from Sadie Waters, a quiet, tremulous voice that caused Matilda to crank up her hearing aid so that she could catch every word. Other voices answered.

“Fat help they’ve been. Wasn’t it them that insisted we pay the pastor a year of severance? Darn near broke the bank.”

“Yah, we got to show Christian love, which was more’n he showed us with all his high jinks.”

Cora could tell that the conversation was headed downhill—and quickly. There was still a lot of healing needing to be done. The wounds were still seeping.

“No use us crying over spilt milk. What’s done is done. We have to move on; to think about our future.”

“They could help us find a new pastor,” insisted Sadie.

Jane Stephens sighed, still smarting from the severance issue and her husband’s resignation some months previously from his position as treasurer and church member.

“Who’s going to come to a church with a dozen members left, most of them women, no money, and a rotten reputation in the community?”

Another nail smashed into place in the church’s coffin. In such a small town, news traveled fast. Months of conflict between pastor and people hadn’t stayed a secret for long, especially as members abandoned the battle to find peace in other places.

“Nothin’ wrong with women,” muttered Matilda.

“Nothing at all, Tillie. It’s just that none of us are wage earners, not even Thomas. Pensioners can’t carry the church.”

With great tact, Cora left out mentioning single mothers like Sadie, and women like Jane, who were financially dependent on their husbands.

Now there were lots of voices, all with problems, not a single one with solutions.

“Most of our best workers are gone. We need people, even one person would be an encouragement.”

“Preferably one who doesn’t know all the gory details.”

“Now you are asking for a miracle.”

This time it was Tillie who brought the group back to order.

“Are we saying that we close the doors of the church?” she demanded. “If one person can make the difference, God’ll deliver him. Did we lose our faith along with our pastor?”

The silence provided the answer to the question Tillie had left twisting in the cold wind of despair.

Suddenly the outer door swung open and a blast of moist air swept in, pushing an older man ahead of it. The stranger was decently dressed, but looking a little disheveled.

“I’m sorry to disturb you. My car broke down at the end of the lane. The fog is so thick that I feared getting lost while I went for help. I’m looking for 57 Birch Street.”

He laughed as he removed his hat.

“Imagine not being able to find your own house, but I just moved here. When I saw the light from the cross on your steeple I knew that God hadn’t abandoned this old retired preacher.”

The people seated around the table looked at each other in awe. For the first time, Thomas Stone spoke up:

“Welcome, Pastor. We’re what’s left of Bethlehem* Church.”

He turned towards Tillie.

“It looks to me like God might have just provided us with our baker’s dozen.**”

*Bethlehem means house of bread.
** A baker’s dozen is 13.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Argument

The sounds come tumbling,
Cresting the tip of the tongue
With the suddenness of a Spring flood.
Will the force of the argument,
By its sheer volume, dissolve my banks?
Or will reason sweep your detritus away?
You speak. I answer.
Is it you who blithers and blathers?
Or could it be I who dithers and dathers?
Perhaps both.

There is an eddy in the mind
Hidden from the swirl of verbal emoticons.
It says maybe I’m right. Or maybe not.
But the dam must hold against the torrent.
A thought rushes by,
Though, tossed by the current, it passes
Before I can net, then dry it in my mind.
I respond to what is already gone.
Feeling foolish as soon as the words are launched.
The flow has swept both thought and response far away.

Why do you imagine I don’t know?
Why do I think you don’t understand?
Even as the tidal wave subsides
I feel a malevolent current underneath the surface.
Lapping gently, but determinately,
Wearing away that which holds the argument secure.
I resist, shoring, buttressing, sandbagging.
It is no longer the argument, but the principle that reigns.
Do you feel the same?
Does the argument weaken even as the resolve grows stronger?

An ocean is full of things the same, yet different.
Each is right and none is wrong,
Divine absolutes cannot be changed.
But are yours divine? Are mine?
I hug that truth, fearful of allowing it to surface,
To face the light after the dark depths of mind.
You too, I suppose, must wonder
If the storm of opinion has stirred up muddy waters
Disguising truth, faking fact.
Do we hold tight to water in a sieve?

I let my river run again,
Though this time damming its flow.
It is not weakness that stems the tide,
But caution instead.
A strategic retreat, a reversal of the tidal bore
That signals, not defeat, but assessment.
I know, and I think you understand.
You understand, and believe I know—
And for the moment the waters are still.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Returning Point

The wood creaked as the old man pushed the window open as far as it would go. During the heaviest rains it had been swollen by the damp—and kept firmly closed. Now, dried out, and with the rain stopped, the wood yielded to gentle persuasion, allowing bright sunshine to enter.

Noah shielded his eyes against the brilliant light. He’d opened the window when his floating zoo had come, with a decisive thump, to rest against the mountainside. He hadn’t seen peaks—or sunshine—for a long time. The air smelt blue not green, like water not grass. The birds he loosed came back, unable to find a place to land.

So he waited, opening the window and looking out every day, curbing his impatience. All the inmates were restless, anxious to get out, to feel solid ground under their four feet, two feet, ten feet, three hundred and fifty-four feet, or no feet at all.

They were all that was left, too few to afford to make a mistake and leave the safety of the ark before God had made adequate provision for them. Everything else was gone, a world scrubbed clean by the brush of the Almighty.

They would have to start again.

But the birds had kept coming back.

Then the last one didn’t.

Like an old hound, Noah sniffed green on the breeze, heard the Voice, and turned toward his traveling companions bunched up behind him.


Years later another old man stood outside the entrance to the great city, staff in hand, watching a floodtide of humans and animals flow past, heading toward the wilderness.

They carried, carted, or drove everything they owned—along with bags and chests of items that their “hosts” for the last four hundred years had eagerly thrust on them. Was it compensation for years of ill treatment? Or desperation? The cries of bereaved Egyptians could still be heard even above the tramp, shuffle, and creak of the Hebrews.

When the crying stopped and the anger set in, Moses knew that they would be pursued. He shaded his eyes, looking to see if the end of the column was visible yet. They had to hurry, get as far as they could as fast as they could.

For Moses, what was happening on this day was a kind of redemption. Years ago he had tried to do what God had done today—rescue his people. He’d failed miserably. He carried that failure into the desert. Now, a better and more humble man, Yahweh had brought him back to Egypt, to do it right, to take His people toward a brighter day and greater prospects.


Forty years later Moses was dead. Joshua felt his absence. For all those years he had followed the old man, listened to his instructions, obeyed his orders, and seen God work through him. Now, the newly-minted leader stood on the shores of the Jordan and wondered if he was capable of wearing Moses-sized sandals…or if he wanted to.

He’d witnessed the stubbornness of the people Moses had led out of the Egypt. Just because those he was leading were of a new generation didn’t mean much. They still had the same genes, and the same propensity to want to do their own thing their own way.

Across the river lay fortified cities, and people stronger and more numerous than the Hebrews he led. He had seen them. Though he knew that Yahweh would give them what He had promised—a homeland—he also knew that gaining it wouldn’t come cheaply.

Still, it was a new beginning. At long last, entrance into the land promised to their forefather, Abraham, awaited them.

The priests stood at the edge of the river. Between them, carefully carried, was the Ark of the Covenant that represented the promise the great I AM had made to them—and the commitment they had made to Him.

They waited for Joshua’s command. Behind them, still and silent, were the soldiers and the citizens of this new nation.

He shrugged off the heavy cloak of his fears, remembering that late night encounter with Someone much senior to him. He may have succeeded Moses as leader but he knew he wasn’t the real commander.

He raised his spear.


Yes, cross—another new beginning.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Coroner's Report on the Soul of a Nation

I hover, reluctant to detach myself from what has been my home for one hundred and thirty-two years, six months, ten days, twelve hours and fifty-seven minutes.

It isn’t that there haven’t been other moments, similar events and rebellious people just like these, who have threatened my existence before this. Oh, there had been plenty of those! But the Soul-Giver, forever creative and extremely patient, has always made a way to rewind that clock, overcome those circumstances, move or remove a nation.

Sometimes the adjustments have been substantial; oftentimes just big enough to keep me going for a while longer.

My intimate connection to the Soul-Giver prevents me from even considering that the Giver Himself might be cruel or unjust. I accept that my reason for being includes abuse at the hands of those to whom I have been entrusted. The Giver has decreed that no sacrifice is too big, no effort too great, in the quest to restore creation. And so I have continued to root out evil, to stand for truth and right, to promote peace and exercise kindness in spite of every obstacle and every defeat.

But this day has finally come; the day I have longed for, but dreaded as well. The Soul-Giver enfolds and caresses me. This is the good part. He speaks to me gently, without reproach, assuring me that none of this is my fault.

Enough now, my gentle essence. You have fought bravely and done all that you were able to do but the time has come for you to step back, and for me to take a different tack with this part of my creation.

I shudder, for I remember only too well another time when the Soul-Giver gravely pronounced these very same words. I know what they meant to a wayward people He had rescued from slavery and who had thrown that freedom back in His face in order to chase after delusions. The meaning of the Soul-Giver’s words to this new nation and generation is the part I now dread anew. And I weep, for I know what is about to happen to another people who have trampled underneath their feet the heart and spirit of the Soul-Giver.

What little light that flickers against the dark of evil will soon be gone. The sun will continue to shine, but what good is that to blind men? The grapes will ripen; sweet and rich on their vines, only to turn to vinegar in the cask. The harvest will be gathered only produce worm and weevil in the storehouse. Men who dispensed injustice will themselves seek Justice only to hear her mocking laughter as they stare in dismay at their reflections in the cold polished marble of her halls. Club-footed, love twists inward. The gold standard of truth turns green; raped of her purity, beaten and unrecognizable.

My greatest desire is to stay longer. Perhaps there is still something I can do. But I hear the voice of the Soul-Giver speak again:

No, no more. It is too late. Go back, my precious essence, rest and recover. There is nothing more for you to do here. There will be other battles for you to fight, other hearts to touch, other lives to change. These dead can no longer hear your voice.

And at that, I back slowly away, the last vestiges of light and warmth clinging to me. For a while no one will notice that I am gone. It will be “business as usual”. Life will go on until the smell of death grows so strong that even the dead can no longer stand their own stench.

I, the soul of this nation, distance myself from my charges. Though bruised and battered, I am reluctant to go, but unable to stay. But I guard within me the nature of all that is my Maker and because I know that nature, I also know that I will return.

So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice … so his own arm worked salvation … “ (Isaiah 59:14, 15, 16b NIV)