The God-Talk Club and the Gay Guitarist – II

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between the characters, places, events, and organizations and those in reality is entirely the product of the author's imagination. Copyright © 2014, Henry E. Neufeld.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between the characters, places, events, and organizations and those in reality is entirely the product of the author’s imagination. Copyright © 2014, Henry E. Neufeld.

(This is part 2 of a 2 part story. Read part 1.]

“I disagree with that. Rather, I allow my LGBTQ members full participation without making a scene about it. They know, I know, and my church council knows what’s going on. I don’t perform same-sex weddings because it’s contrary to the rules of the church. Yes, I’m ignoring the position of my church that homosexual activity is contrary to scripture, but it’s not quite clear what one is supposed to do about that anyhow.”

“And what do you do with the clear teaching of scripture?” asked Jerry.

“Clear teaching of scripture? It is to laugh. I do the same thing about that as you do about the command not to eat shell fish or pig. I see you eating a hamburger every so often.”

“But Paul took a clear stance against homosexuality.”

“I don’t think it’s so clear as all that. Paul didn’t have a concept of someone being homosexual by nature. He spoke of doing things against nature. And few such relationships at the time could be considered consensual. So no, I don’t think the teaching of scripture is any clear than, say, the teaching of scripture on the ordination of women.” As he said the last, he looked Justine right in the eyes. “Yes,” he added, “I’m acquainted with Romans 1, Jude around verse 7,  1 Timothy 1, and  1 Corinthians 6. I just don’t think those refer to consenting relationships between people who are naturally attracted to persons of the same sex.”

Jerry looked back and forth between them. He couldn’t seem to figure out who to address. His problem was not confusion. He was stunned by this sweeping dismissal of clear scripture.

Justine responded first. “I understand how one might dismiss the Old Testament passages as part of the ceremonial law, though I think there are principles from us to learn from just about any of those laws. But I don’t think we can so easily dismiss the New Testament. And with Paul’s restatement of the prohibition, I think we draw the Old Testament passages back into the discussion.”

“I find it difficult to see how you draw in passages from the Torah into a modern discussion when the penalty involved was death. If the one part applies, why not the other? I mean, I sincerely hope there is nobody here who supports the death penalty for being gay.” Mandy again looked more serious than usual, and sounded more tense.

Nobody volunteered to support the death penalty.

Bob Norman took up the conversation. “There are people in the world, Christians, in fact, who do believe the death penalty should still apply. We’ve seen such laws proposed and some even passed in various African nations. We even have churches here in America who have ties to those who advocate those laws.”

“Yes,” said Mac. “Who here has condemned those laws and taken action against them?”

Both Mandy and Justine raised their hands, an act that seemed a bit ludicrous in the informal group.

Ellen broke in. “I’m wondering if Justine wouldn’t rather be talking about something else right now. I imagine she’s spent the last month or so talking about nothing else!”

“Oh, I want to talk about it. I wanted to talk about it in a group that was less inhibited. I like to really tear a subject apart. There’s no other way I can be sure I’m doing the best I can to understand and do the right thing.” Justine actually did look more relaxed than when she had arrived.

“OK,” said Mark. “I want to know what the two of you have done about these anti-gay laws in Africa.”

“I’ve written letters to church leaders supporting these moves, and contributed money to groups working to oppose them,” said Mandy.

“I’ve stuck to letter writing and I’ve condemned that attitude from the pulpit,” said Justine.

“But how can you?” asked Bob. “As I see it, those folks in Africa have the courage of your convictions and you don’t.”

“No, I have the courage of my convictions. They have the courage of theirs. I believe we no longer live in a theocracy. I believe we no longer live under the law. So I don’t have to apply a legal penalty to these actions. I opposed them because I believe they are destructive of a good and proper life in this world and they are destructive of people’s souls in the next.”

“Amen!” said Jerry again.

“What’s destructive is hate,” said Mandy.

“Hate? Do you really believe I hate gay people?” asked Justine.

“I don’t actually believe you hate, though it’s hard for me not to think so. If I didn’t know you so well, I’d mistake your attitude for hatred. The problem is that you enable people to hate by telling them that other people are less than you and I are.”

“But I say that everyone is a child of God. We are all the same before God.”

“But some of us can stand on the stage and play a guitar and others can’t.”

“My guitarist agreed to those rules.”

“He agreed to pretend.”

“You seem to think it was impossible for him to refrain from sexual activity. Did you not teach your own teenagers that they didn’t have to engage in sexual activity before marriage?” Justine and Mandy were now focused directly on one another.

“I did. But you keep missing the point. You require that a gay person deny who he is in order to fit into your world of what is permissible. It’s not that my children’s desires were evil in themselves, and I could point them to the legitimate time and manner in which they could be fulfilled. It’s not good to be alone—that comes from Genesis 2. But one of my children, my oldest daughter, is a lesbian. And I didn’t tell her that she was somehow less than a person, that she should be less fulfilled than the others when she came out to me.”

“Oh Mandy!” exclaimed Justine.

“Oh no you don’t!” exclaimed Mandy. “Don’t even think of being sympathetic, as though I was grieving about something! Not only do I love my oldest daughter unconditionally, I am proud of her in each and every way and I wish her and her future partner—she’s not in a major hurry, but I think there’s someone on the horizon—the very best. I will love them both in the same way. I’m incredibly blessed.”

There was another moment of silence.

Mandy grinned without much humor. “Afraid to continue the discussion considering someone has skin in the game, so to speak?”

“No,” said Jerry. “I still believe what I did. But I didn’t realize we were talking personally.”

“But that’s precisely the problem!” said Mandy. “You don’t talk personally, but people hear personally. We’re talking about real people. I’ve just made it more personal by revealing my daughter’s sexual orientation. And incidentally, I have permission to do so. She’s extremely open.”

“No idea where she gets that from,” said Mac to chuckles all around.

“OK, I’ll do what you suggest,” said Jerry. “I want to know what you do about the plain teaching of scripture. And despite the usual dismissal from Mark, I think scripture is rather clear.”

“I see it a bit differently than Mark does,” said Mandy. “I think the passages of scripture that are normally quoted are actually speaking against gays. What I believe is that those statements were not the end of the matter. God is still speaking. I think some church uses that as a motto, in fact [The United Church of Christ].”

“So God is now saying something completely different than he ever said before?” Jerry was very wary of the idea of God speaking in modern times. It was, in fact, one of his major issues with Justine.

“Of course God can say something different than he ever has before. Consider Isaiah 56:3-5 vs. Deuteronomy 23:1. In Deuteronomy a eunuch would be excluded from the congregation, but according to Isaiah, the day was coming when such would be welcomed.”

“Being a eunuch is not the same as homosexuality. The homosexual has a choice.”

“I’m not trying to compare the two. What I’m saying is that God can say one thing and then another. God may be unchanging but humanity and human circumstances are not. So God’s commands to us can change with our circumstances. I think that today the applicable scriptures dealing with LGBTQ persons are those that talk about supporting the downtrodden and proclaiming freedom. Contrary to you, and even Mark, I think it’s my duty to make it easier for my gay brothers and sisters to become a full part of the community. I would not be satisfied with pretending that ‘the problem’ doesn’t exist. It’s not a problem; it’s people. We, as Christians, should be all about proclaiming liberty to these captives. I don’t need to explain every scripture that applied to a particular time. The ethical teachings of Jesus lead this way inevitably.”

“I understand that this is an emotional issue for you, Mandy. It’s your daughter.”

“So first I’m inhibiting conversation because it’s personal, and now you inform me that the reason I believe what I believe is that I have a daughter who is a lesbian. How condescending! Have you asked yourself why my daughter was able to come to me and say, ‘Mom, I find that I’m attracted to other women.’ That was because she knew I would still treat her as my daughter and as an important human being.”

“I’m glad there are parents like you,” said Bob. “I have a student who was thrown out of his house after he came out. The things his parents said about him were terrible. He’s living with an uncle and aunt who are somewhat supportive.”

Justine looked back directly at Mandy. “So to you the only response is support. What would you say if your daughter came to you and said, ‘Mom, I find I just have to have cocaine in order to live.’?”

“That would be different, and I think you know it. She was not born a drug addict.”

“But that brings it back to the fundamental issue. I don’t think either Justine or I believe that this is either something someone is born with, nor do we believe it’s harmless,” said Jerry.

Justine nodded. “I know how everyone reacts, but in the end I have to go with what scripture teaches. I don’t think this is something we’re born with any more than any other tendency to sin. I believe it must be overcome in the same way. While I risk making people feel rejected when I reject their sin, I would be doing something even worse if I condone something that is harmful to them and to their immortal soul.”

“I agree,” said Jerry. “It sounds easier to go along with what society is doing. Face it, that’s what’s happening. Society accepts homosexuals, so we in the church decide we have to do it. But it’s not the right thing to do. It’s not the loving thing to do. Even though others proclaim their love for this guitarist in Justine’s church, Justine is the one who really does love him. She loves him enough to rebuke his sin.”

“And this is why,” said Bob, “that I oppose religion so strongly. Even when Mandy comes to a very good conclusion from a human point of view, there’s plenty of scripture to support the much more dangerous attitudes of Justine and Jerry. I just don’t think religion is safe.”

“Even I don’t think religion is safe,” said Mandy. “I think it’s important. I think there really is a God. But ‘safe’ is not a word I’d use for it. Then again, I don’t think atheism is ‘safe’ either. In fact, Bob Norman, you live in a dangerous world!”

“OK,” said Mac. “Let’s not go down that road any further. We’ve already torn up one subject for the day.”

“I want to know what’s been happening in Mark’s life. We haven’t heard from him in two years!” This was Ellen, diverting hostility as she often did.

“Well, I was sent for a year and a half to be an associate in a large church, and then just a month ago, the pastor of a church about 20 miles north of here died, and I was called to take his place. So I’ll be in the area for some time.”

“Excellent!” said Ellen. “Then we can see one another more regularly!”

“Always provided Justine and Jerry want to get beat up,” said Bob darkly.

“You think we got beat up?” asked Justine. “I think it depends on your point of view. Jerry and I have stood for what we believe, based on the Bible, which is the source of our beliefs. So I, at least, am fine with the discussion.”

“And,” said Mark, “that means Justine thinks Mandy and I are ignoring scripture. Each in our own way, of course!”

“You are,” said Jerry, but in the tone of someone who knew the subject had run its course for the evening.

“Same time, same channel?” asked Ellen.

“I’m game,” said Mandy.

And so the revival of the God-Talk Club was accomplished.

 

 

The God-Talk Club and the Gay Guitarist – I

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between the characters, places, events, and organizations and those in reality is entirely the product of the author's imagination. Copyright © 2014, Henry E. Neufeld.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between the characters, places, events, and organizations and those in reality is entirely the product of the author’s imagination. Copyright © 2014, Henry E. Neufeld.

Jerry Simonson lowered himself gingerly into the overstuffed chair. He was wondering whether it was safe or sanitary. He shouldn’t have. The decor of The Roadside Cafe may have looked like a cross between accidental and tornado aftermath, but it was a decor that was carefully maintained. It was more likely that the owner had purchased a new chair and carefully made it look scruffy, without damaging it in any important way, than that he would put in anything dangerous.

And here was the new manager, Ellen, who had been a waitress here since the first time Jerry had been in the place. One of his great sorrows was that she remained a loyal member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints despite his best efforts to witness to her about the gospel in the orthodox form in which he knew it. She personally handed him his drink. She didn’t have to do that now that she managed the place. The owner only checked on her every few weeks. Ellen ran the cafe, and business was booming.

“Hi Jerry,” she said with her usual cheerful smile. She’d gotten married about six months before, and married life clearly agreed with her.

“Hello, Ellen. Still keeping busy around here?”

“Busy?” Ellen laughed. “This place practically runs itself.”

“I doubt that,” said Jerry.

“I’m very good at my job, so it looks that way,” said Ellen, grinning.

“How do you manage to keep this place looking so, ummm, accidental?”

“Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it?”

“Perhaps. I miss the old gang. Everyone moved away bit by bit.”

“Well, not everyone. Justine is still in town, but I think she got too busy. And, I think, afraid to be seen in public. Too many people want to talk to her. But I have news!”

“News?”

“You’re going to see her tonight!” Ellen looked delighted. She had probably forgotten how hard a time Jerry had dealing with Justine, now Dr. Justine Reeder with a brand new diploma from the seminary testifying to the fact that she had earned a Doctor of Ministry degree. And while she had worked her way through the seminary, first earning her MDiv and now this DMin, she had been growing the tiny, independent, charismatic congregation she pastored into one of the largest churches in the city. In fact, the church had moved into a new facility less than a year before.

“How do you know that?”

“She called me. She wanted to get out of the pressure cooker. She wondered if the atmosphere was still the same. I assured her it was.” She paused. “Now don’t you go attacking her because she’s a woman preacher. She’s a godly woman even if she is somewhat misguided.”

Jerry didn’t know exactly how to handle that. To him Ellen was more misguided than Justine, even though he actually found himself more offended by Justine, since, with that Doctor of Ministry degree and at least a passable knowledge of scripture, she should have known better. “It will be nice to see her,” he said after a pause.

“You don’t know what’s been going on?” asked Ellen.

“I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

“It was Justine’s church that fired that gay guitarist.”

The story came back. In fact, his pastor had talked about it from the pulpit, but he hadn’t identified the church. So that was Justine Reeder. Well, at least she hadn’t compromised completely on the issue of homosexuality. He remembered his pastor’s statement. By allowing openly gay people to be members of the church, the door had been opened to more problems. The lesson his pastor had drawn from this was that any compromise just led to more compromise. Jerry was trying to remember precisely what had happened, but he couldn’t recall the details. He didn’t want to ask Ellen. Despite his disagreement with Justine on the issue of women in ministry and the gifts of the Spirit in the modern church, she was an orthodox Christian on the major doctrines—Trinity, Incarnation, bodily resurrection, the inerrancy of scripture, and salvation by grace even if she did put an Arminian twist on it. So he didn’t ask.

“Oh,” he said. “I hadn’t realized it was her church.”

Ellen just looked at him. Sometimes Jerry could be so … so closed and narrow in his vision. Despite their differences in doctrine, Ellen genuinely liked Justine and was disappointed that she had come to the cafe less and less as her church had grown.

“And how’s my favorite killjoy?” Jerry barely had time to recognize the voice before he felt an arm go around his neck and hug him as much as it was possible in that position. Then the woman herself bounced over to a nearby hassock and perched on it cross-legged.

“I’m doing fine,” said Jerry. A woman in her 40s had no business looking that good. Definitely no business perching cross-legged on a hassock. Where should he put his eyes? Staring her in the face seemed to be the only option.

“Ah, ‘fine’ he grates out, not at all happy to see me.”

“I am happy to see you.”

“Ah, I see. ‘By faith Jerry Simonson received Mandy Kelly without insulting her’,” Mandy paraphrased.

Ellen had never figured out whether Mandy knew how much she bothered Jerry. Mandy tended, despite her years, to seem young and innocent. She hardly could be, considering she had four children herself and an apparently happy home. She hadn’t been in the cafe for a couple of years, however.

“So what’s been keeping you away?” asked Jerry.

“Doctoral studies. I’ve been writing a dissertation. I successfully defended it last month.”

“What was the subject?”

“Technology education. I’ve been doing consulting with several companies.”

“Still homeschooling your children?”

“Absolutely! Well, except for Emma who is 19 now, and pretty much on her own. She has already completed a degree with a double major in information technology and psychology.”

“Congratulations!” Jerry was truly impressed.

“Wow! That’s wonderful!” said Ellen. “I’ve always so admired you and the way you raise your family.”

“It works for me,” said Mandy. She was aware that homeschooling didn’t work for everyone, but she had been 100% successful by just about any measure of success she could think of.

“So what brings you here tonight?” asked Jerry after a pause.

“I’m planning to annoy Justine,” said Mandy with a grin.

“Oh please!” said Ellen. “Justine needs some peace.”

“On the contrary,” said Mandy. “Justine is spoiling for a fight. She just wants to do it with folks who are straightforward and friendly, even when they disagree. I’m guessing you’ll be on Justine’s side this time, Jerry.”

“You mean about homosexuality?”

“Yes, the gay guitarist.” Mandy rolled her eyes a bit.

“The gay guitarist?” asked someone new. It was another of the old regulars, Mark Morton. Mark had completed his MDiv, and then, with exceptions made to all the rules, his DMin from the seminary. Then he’d left to take up his first pastoral position.

“Yes,” said Mandy. “Justine fired a gay guitarist from her praise band. Oh, and welcome back. I guess you’re now the Rev. Dr. Mark Morton.”

“Mark will do fine,” said the Reverend Doctor. But one could tell he was pleased at the acknowledgment of his accomplishments.

“Let’s  be accurate,” said Ellen. “Since Justine’s church doesn’t hire musicians, Justine didn’t actually fire the guitarist. She said he could no longer play in the band until he was in compliance with the moral standards of the church.”

“So he can return whenever he’s no longer gay?” It was another newcomer, though Ellen still saw Bob Norman frequently. He just hadn’t been part of their group discussions for some time.

“Actually,” said Ellen again, “it seems none of you have really followed this. Justine’s church does not say that being gay is contrary to the church standards. Sex outside of marriage is. The guitarist admitted he was sexually active and living with his same-sex partner.”

“But of course he can’t get married, so, unlike heterosexual couples, his only option is celibacy. Besides, I wonder if people would have been so quick to gossip about his situation if he had been straight and living with his girlfriend. Would they have even noticed?” This was Mandy.

“Which shows that your religious rules are nonsense.” Bob’s tone was that of one giving the final conclusion. “Why you religious people feel you have to regulate people’s sex lives so much is beyond me. Jerry here probably thinks the kid should be stoned too, and I mean with rocks, not the good stuff.” He laughed at his own joke, but he was the only one.

“Stoning?” It was a slight drawl, and it announced the arrival of Rev. Justine Reeder. “I reserve that punishment for true infidels!”

There were a few more chuckles this time. “Well, with your outdated and unenlightened view of human sexuality, it’s only a small step further.” It was typical of the group that Justine’s gibe about stoning infidels was ignored.

“On the contrary, I think it’s a huge step, and considering there are people who actually advocate taking that step, I think it’s appropriate for me to distinguish myself from them. I asked one young man not to participate in the band at church because he was not living up to the moral standards of our congregation. I didn’t ask him to leave. I didn’t take away his right to free speech, and I definitely did not in any way threaten his life.”

“And if he now spirals into depression because he has been rejected, what then?” asked Mandy.

“I will offer to be there for him at any time. I have told him that I continue to love him as a person and to pray for him. I have admonished our congregation not to use derogatory terms for gays or lesbians, but to treat them as persons Jesus died to redeem. I don’t hate him. I do think he has made choices that will, ultimately, hurt him and others. Those choices are not my doing.”

“So, to summarize, if he commits suicide it’s not your fault,” said Bob.

“It’s not my fault, though it would bother me a great deal, yet that is not the most important thing I said. The most important thing I said was that I would continue to love him and treat him with respect.”

“But he can’t play his guitar, exercise his gift for music, in your congregation. If he stays there, he must remain cut off from part of who he is.” Mandy looked to Jerry more serious than he had ever known her to be. Now he knew where she stood on this issue.

“True. But there I have other responsibilities,” said Justine.

“To protect people from what this young man does in the privacy of his own home?” It was Mac Strong, meaning the whole group was back again.

“Unlike you,” said Justine, “I believe that homosexuality is a destructive behavior that is the result of sin in the world. So I do believe it is important to protect people from it.”

“You think people will be influenced to be gay?”

“I think people will be influenced to give in to impulses to sin. We all have impulses to sin. People have impulses that would lead them to sex outside of marriage. That’s a destructive behavior, I believe, and so our church standards say that sex should be reserved for marriage. Our rules say that if you want to be in a position of leadership, you agree to live up to those standards. I see no reason to treat a same-sex attraction differently.”

“Except that you require that there be no legitimate outlet for those whose attractions are same-sex.”

“Yes, if one has only same-sex attractions, then the call of God is to celibacy.”

“Amen!” said Jerry.

“I knew you’d agree, though I believe your pastor would prefer we kept gay people out of the congregation.”

“He draws the line at church membership. If you are to be a member you agree to live up to the church’s standards. He, and I also, believe that you open yourself to more trouble by allowing church membership to those who refuse to live up to biblical standards.”

“Such as gossips?” said Mandy.

“I don’t know what gossip has to do with it,” said Jerry.

“The gossip that led Justine to discover that her gay guitarist was living with a partner.”

“I don’t see it as gossip,” said Justine. “People who were concerned with the reputation of the church and the influence on the young people informed church leadership of a problem. We dealt with it.”

“Ah,” said Mac, “I think I get it. There’s reporting and then there’s gossip. When you report what someone is doing in order to get them into trouble, you’re doing a service. When you report someone just because it’s interesting, you’re a gossip.”

“I would say, rather, that when one reports things that need to be reported, and does so to the proper authorities, that person is not gossiping. When one simply talks about other people, with no real concern for the truth, then that’s gossip.” Jerry spoke slowly and deliberately, trying to catch the loopholes.

“But what I wonder,” said Mark, “is whether you allow gossips to be members of your church.”

“I know we have gossips in ours,” said Justine, “but if someone persists in such behavior while in a position of leadership, he or she would be removed.”

“And how many times has this happened?” asked Bob. “I’m just checking on your consistency.”

“I’ve had to admonish people for gossiping several times. I’ve never had someone who persisted.”

“So let me get this straight,” Bob continued. “You would have admonished your guitarist, I mean, told him that he had to cease living and/or having sexual relations with his partner, and he decided to ignore you, so he was removed. What if he said he’d stop?”

“That’s more or less it. There’s behavior that is not permitted in the leadership of our church. If anyone says that they will return to complying with our church standards, I believe them. Repeated offenses would be another matter.”

“So, Mark, what do you think about this?” asked Mac. She’d always wondered about Mark, who never seemed to be very rooted. Here he was a pastor, and she couldn’t have told you three things he believed for certain. She even had her moments of wondering whether he believed in God.

“We generally ignore it,” said Mark.

“Ignore it?” said several people at once.

“Yes. We don’t announce that we’re accepting gay people into our church’s leadership, but we go ahead and do it. Under the rules of my church I can’t perform a gay wedding, but I don’t have to take official notice of someone’s sexuality in church.”

“Amazing!” said Jerry. “You just ignore a major swath of morality and pretend it’s not a problem.”

[This is part 1 of a 2 part story. Go to part 2.]

 

Tables of Contents for My Short Story Collections

Cover images for Tales from Jevlir and Stories of the Way

Tales from Jevlir & Stories of the Way

I’ve just posted tables of contents for both of my short story collections, Tales from Jevlir: Oddballs, and Stories of the Way. A number of the stories in both collections were taken from this blog, but there are a few new stories in each book. The Kindle editions are just $0.99. Links to the Tables of Contents are on the Books page.

Genesis Wasn’t Written This Way

After some weeks on the mountain, the Lord looked over Moses’ shoulder.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

This is a work of fiction. Normally I’d say that all the characters and events are products of my imagination, lest anyone imagine they find themselves in the story and not like what they see. But in this case I write in the serene confidence that nothing like this happened anywhere, ever, to anyone. Copyright © 2014
Henry E. Neufeld

“What are you doing, Moses?”

“Well, Lord, I’m trying to write up that stuff about how You created everything.”

“I think there could be a few problems with what you’ve written there.”

“Problems? It’s just the introduction! And You did, didn’t You?”

“Well, apart from the fact that readers many centuries from now are going to debate whether you mean ‘in the beginning God created’ or ‘when God began to create’—this whole writing without vowels thing does leave room for ambiguity—it’s not really balanced.”

“Balanced?”

“Yes, the ‘heavens’ and the ‘earth’ are just not quite of similar size, weight, and importance.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I know you don’t, Moses. Let me explain.” There was a pause. It was not that the Almighty didn’t know what he wanted to say, but even His great servant Moses might have trouble understanding. “Your ‘earth’ is just one tiny world among many. Let’s call it a planet. Your ‘sun’ doesn’t ‘rise’ in the east and set in the west. Rather, your ‘earth’ rotates on its axis. In turn, it orbits—that means ‘goes around in a huge circle—the sun. All those stars in the ‘heavens’ are just like your sun. Many of them have planets themselves. Some of the planets right here in your solar system—that’s all the planets that go around your sun—are bigger than your earth. There are lots and lots of these stars and planets. Your earth is really a very small thing.”

“Lots? You mean hundreds?”

“More than that, Moses.”

“Thousands?”

“More.”

“Tens of thousands?”

“Lost more. I don’t think you know any numbers that are big enough.”

“Oh.”

“You can see that it’s a little silly to refer to ‘everything’ as ‘the heavens’ and ‘the earth’, can’t you?”

There was a pause again. “So what do You want me to do Lord?”

“I want you to explain it to them. You’ll tell them about all these wonderful things, and then you’ll tell them that I created all that!”

Moses muttered something.

“What was that, Moses? I didn’t hear you!”

“Pardon the disrespect, Lord, but I was saying that we’d be lucky if they listened for that long.”

“But you’ll make them understand! You’ll explain it and they’ll listen!”

“But I don’t understand it myself. It’s obvious to me that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and passes under the earth to return to its circuit. Everybody knows that!”

“So what do you suggest?”

Later the Lord looked over Moses’s shoulder.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and empty, and God’s wind was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light!’ …”

“That’s not how I did it,” the Lord muttered. “But I guess Moses knows his business!”

The Man on the Couch

There was this man, sitting on his couch.

He wasn’t sure whether he was awake or not. He might have been dreaming. He might have been in that sort of half-way state some people experience when just waking up. But right across from his recliner, sitting there on the couch, was a man.

The man looked a little bit like his buddy Fred. Ordinary clothes, slouched a bit. Relaxed. His imagination kept trying to tell him this was Jesus, but he couldn’t figure out why.

This is a work of fiction. All characters (except possibly for Jesus on the couch, if that’s who it is) and events are products of my imagination. Copyright © 2014
Henry E. Neufeld

“The problem,” said the man on the couch, “is that you are much too focused on the church.”

“I’m a pastor. I’m supposed to be focused on my church.”

“I don’t mean the people. I mean the building.”

“But the people need the building.”

“Do they?”

There was a long pause.

“Take this new education wing,” said the man on the couch.

“That’s the problem. I can’t ‘take’ it because I can’t get it built!”

“Yes. You’ve been praying about that. You’ve been asking God to help you get the money to start building it. But are you sure you need it?”

“I have new Sunday School classes cropping up. We can actually overbook our rooms just with committee meetings. The church is growing! We need room!” He didn’t know why he was arguing with the man on his couch. He just couldn’t stop.

“There are other times, whole days, when the church is entirely empty.”

“Well, we have to meet people’s schedules.”

“People have homes.”

“You mean we should hold committee meetings in people’s homes?”

“I suppose that would work. You might try less committee meetings. For example, think of the last meeting of the trustees.”

“I’d rather not.” He sighed. The trustees’ meeting had lasted nearly three hours and then they’d agreed to restudy everything and meet again.

“Yeah. It was a waste of time, wasn’t it?”

“I just don’t know how to make it work.”

“That’s true. That’s why you’re such a wonderful pastor. One of the reasons, at least.”

“I don’t feel very wonderful.”

“No. You can’t get things moving. Did you know that you have one of the most active congregations in the city?”

“No. I never checked.”

“Another reason I like you.”

“But I can’t get this new building program off the ground. It’s like we grew to fill the space, and then we can’t get over the next hill.”

“Maybe the next hill is over there.” The man on the couch was pointing out the window.

“Over where?” He looked out the window. The city was out there.

“How many members do you have who have homes large enough to hold a Sunday School class?”

“I don’t know. I’d guess a hundred or more.” He wondered about the non-sequitur. The number of people with large enough houses wouldn’t be a where.

“There.”

“Where?”

“There. Those homes.”

“But they’re all over the city! We have members coming from everywhere!”

“Just so! What an opportunity!”

“Opportunity?”

“They could invite their neighbors. ALL. OVER. THE. CITY!”

He stared blankly at the man on the couch. “I don’t think they’d do it.”

“When you needed to buy instruments for your praise band, what did you do?”

“I prayed. I taught a series on worship.”

“And when you needed people to be more welcoming to those who came onto the church property, what did you do?”

“I prayed. I taught a series about hospitality in the church. Then I twisted some arms.”

“And it worked. You have the fastest growing church of any denomination (or not) in your city. Now maybe you need to teach about hospitality in the home.”

He looked at the man on the couch. “People meeting in their own homes on Sunday morning? But they couldn’t get to church!”

“Ah. They wouldn’t get to hear your sermon.”

“You sound sarcastic. I put a great deal of work into my sermons.”

“You do. It’s commendable. But what would happen if you taught a bunch of those lay people—a hundred or more, I think you said—to offer a message from God’s Word themselves? Do you think you could teach someone else to do some teaching?”

“We could use technology. Pipe the sermon in over the internet.”

“You could. Or you could equip all those people to share God’s Word. Or some of each. You could even do some of the equipping over the internet!”

“I could.”

“Be careful what you pray for.”

“I was praying for a new education wing.”

“Now you’re going to pray for a hundred or more education centers.”

“How do you know that?”

“I know you. Once you’ve got the vision, you just can’t stop yourself, even though you try.”

He looked around again. There was no man on the couch. He wasn’t sure if he was awake or asleep. The idea of merely raising funds for an education wing now looked easy. And he wasn’t going to do that. He could just imagine the trustees’ reaction when he said that people were going to be meeting for church in their homes. Insurance? Budgets? Maintenance? Liability? More than a hundred centers of witness.

Fun, he thought. He liked trying to do something real!

It Got Very Quiet up in the Mountains

It got very quiet up in the mountains.

He was trying to pray, but it wasn’t easy. He’d climbed for hours into the mountains. He didn’t really believe that climbing a mountain would bring him closer to God. At least not consciously. But he wanted to get through. He had a complaint. God needed to hear him and he needed to know God had heard him.

He sat down on a rock. He didn’t know how high up he was. He thought maybe the air was thinner. Had he climbed high enough to notice such a thing? He didn’t know.

He looked up at the sky and started his complaint. He’d worked it out in his mind. It was a complaint, but a very polite one.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of people, places, and events to the real world is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014
Henry E. Neufeld

“Oh Lord, Creator of the Universe, Bringer of all good things, I do thank You for all Your many blessings. I believe Your Word, I trust You.”

“Who are you talking to?” said a voice. It might have been the wind. It might have been in his head. But it was real enough that he looked around. Must be my imagination, he thought.

“I believe that You reward those who do Your will, and punish those who do evil.”

“No you don’t,” said the voice. “And I still wonder who you’re talking to. I hear all those capital letters, ‘You’ and ‘Your’.”

How can one hear capital letters? he thought.

“It’s the way you say them. I can tell you’d capitalize them if you wrote them. You’d see it as a sign of respect. But I notice you didn’t respond to my most important comment.”

He was startled that he got an answer when he just thought. “But I do believe God rewards good and punishes evil!”

“It’s interesting that you speak so courteously, and yet you’re not afraid to lie to me.”

“I’m not lying!” He hesitated. “Are you claiming to be God?”

“Who’s claiming anything? Do you see anyone around here other than yourself? You left the sane people behind several miles back!”

He looked around. Indeed, he saw nobody but himself. Even the trees were sparse and stunted. He must have walked further than he had planned. “But you said I was lying!” His voice hardened with anger.

“Aha! Honest words! Honest emotion! I said you were lying because you were. You do not believe that I reward good and punish evil. In fact, that’s why you’re up in this God-forsaken (you should pardon the expression, but you were thinking it!) place. You think you have been treated unfairly.”

He forgot to argue about who the voice was. “But I have been treated unfairly!” he exclaimed. “All my life I have done what was right. I have submitted to the authority of your ministers. I have lived a good life. I have caused no trouble. Yet I have next to nothing. No reward. I’ve been a good man. I should be rewarded!”

“Well, that’s more honest. Not actually honest, but better. It might seem that with a wife, four children, a dozen grandchildren, a successful business, and the acceptance of your neighbors you would be satisfied.”

“How do you know all those things?”

“I’m just a voice in your head, after all.”

“I didn’t say that!”

“You were thinking it.”

There was a pause. He wasn’t going to win that one. He had been thinking it was just a voice in his head. “And my neighbors don’t just accept me. They respect me.”

“No, actually they don’t. I would say you’re lying, but in this case you’ve lied to yourself so often that you think you’re telling the truth. Your neighbors just think you’re safe. That you won’t do anything unexpected. That you won’t rock the boat.”

“Well, doesn’t that make me a good neighbor?”

“Sometimes the boat needs rocking. Sometimes it needs to be turned over.”

“That sounds dangerous.”

“Actually living is dangerous.”

He was thinking this conversation was dangerous, and he didn’t like dangerous things. He had a habit with conversations like this. He’d direct them to what he called “the subject at hand,” which was always something safe. “In any case,” he said out loud, “I came here to pray and I was trying to pray.”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Holding a conversation with a voice,” he said testily, then went on. “But Lord, you rule the heavens, and I need you to look at my enemy, my nemesis, Jason. He’s a troublemaker, yet he has a major following. He has a good job and lots of money, and people follow him. In fact, he’s trying to change my church …”

“My church,” said the voice.

“Yes, my church.”

“No,” said the voice. “It’s My church. Hear the capital letter in my voice. My church. Mine. All Mine! Not yours.” Somehow the voice didn’t sound petulant saying it. Just calm and factual.

“I’m trying to pray here,” he said.

“And I’m trying to answer a prayer,” said the voice. “Like I said, look around. Who’s making claims?”

“Are you God?” There was a pause. “Speaking to me?”

“What do you think?”

“I think I’m crazy.”

“You could go talk to a counselor. Get the voice suppressed or removed.”

“What? Go to a counselor and say, ‘A voice told me to come to you so I wouldn’t hear it any more?’ Wouldn’t that be crazier than average?”

“You’re the guy who’s climbed a mountain for hours and brought himself close to a heart attack—you ought to exercise more—in order to get closer to God. And you don’t even really believe in God.”

“What? I’m a believer. I’ve believed all my life!”

“In God?”

“Of course, in God.”

“And what have I done, according to you, up to now.”

There was silence for several minutes.

“Can’t really think of anything, can you?”

“Well, you’re the creator of the universe, right?”

“I am. Do you really believe it? Or is it just a default that you know you’re supposed to believe.”

“I never really thought about it. The pastor preached it, I believed it.”

“The pastor preached it, you ignored it.”

“What was I supposed to do about it?”

“What about when the creation care folks came to the church. What did you do?”

“Are you on the side of the creation care people?”

“I’m not really on anybody’s side. I ask people to be on mine. Answer the question! What did you do?”

“I proposed the compromise vote by which the church agreed to pass a resolution saying that we should take care of God’s world.”

“But your resolution didn’t involve doing anything, right?”

“Well, no. That was the point. Anything we did would cause a fight in the church. So I made peace. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, right?”

“‘I came not to bring peace, but a sword’.”

“You wanted a church fight?”

“I’m asking the questions. Most of them, at least. So what about when your church voted on the new building project? What did you do then?”

“I suggested that we wait until we had the funds.”

“And did the funds ever come in?”

“No.”

“So you killed that one too.”

“Did you want the church to add on a building?”

“No, not particularly. I can answer that one. But you didn’t pay any attention. Now Jason. He led the fight for the extension.”

“Yes, and people loved him for it. They wanted that building and he was their leader.”

“People respected him, loved him.”

“Yes! That’s the problem, Lord. I believe in you. I do good things. Yet Jason gets the rewards.”

“What do you believe about me? What good things have you done?”

There was another pause. He was trying to think of what to say. Obviously, keeping the peace in the church didn’t work.

“What you have,” said the voice, “is the natural result of the way you lived your life.”

“Isn’t it your blessing or curse?”

“Only in the sense that I created everything, and quite often, you reap what you sow.”

“But what about Job? Did he reap what he sowed?”

“No. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you reap what others sow. Sometimes you don’t know what’s going on in the background. But you’re not Job. You’re not suffering.”

“Yes I am! Just look at what you’re doing for that Jason character, and he’s  even been in prison before. He gets the respect, the money, the easy life, and I don’t. He’s a sinner, a troublemaker, and you keep blessing him!”

“So your problem is not what I do for you, it’s that you think I’m doing better things for someone else?”

“Yes! No! I mean I’ve been a better person than Jason, and he gets the better blessings.”

“So, let’s say that Jason falls on hard times, would that make you happy?”

There was another pause.

“You don’t want to say it, but I can hear it in your mind. You’d deny it, but you’d gloat if Jason fell on hard times.”

“But he’s a troublemaker.”

“Jason is a man of action. He’s often wrong, but never quiet, never apathetic.”

Another pause. “And me?” He almost said “Lord” after that.

“You? You’re boring. You avoid trouble even when trouble is needed. Then you complain about the people who are making a difference.”

“So you think Jason is right more often than I am.”

“Quite the contrary. You’re often right but never active.”

“So right and wrong doesn’t matter?”

“Oh, it matters. But what matters first is caring and acting. If you’re right but inactive it’s not much good. Oh, and people don’t always get what they deserve. Remember that. It’s just that in your case, you’ve pretty much gotten what you deserve, just proving that humans will complain about fairness too.”

“So I really did hear from God up on this mountain?”

“You don’t need to believe that,” said the voice. “Maybe you just got too high up and the air is thin. Why don’t you hike down a ways. But slowly. Your heart isn’t really up to all this.”

It got very quite up in the mountains.

Can We Trust Him?

The old woodsman held out his hand. The village chief looked at it, looked at the river. Looked at his wife, his children, and the villagers behind him.

It was raining. It had been raining for days. The waters were rising. Not even the oldest villager could remember when the river had been this high. And it was dark. He couldn’t see the other shore. In fact, he could barely see the woodman himself. If he let himself, he could imagine that arm attached to nothing as the man himself faded.

On the other hand, the village was on a small island in the river.  Its people lived off the river. The island was rocky. Perhaps if they went to the highest rock in the center, they would be able to stay above the water level as the river continued to rise. It had worked in previous floods.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to people, places, or events in the real world is strictly coincidental. Well, except for the scripture on which it is based!
Copyright © 2014
Henry E. Neufeld

And who was this woodsman anyhow? They all had seen him. They knew of him. He lived out with the animals in the woods. He had no family. Nobody knew who his parents were. He was dirty and rough. The villagers weren’t rich, but they were respectable. The river provided a good living fishing for them. They sold the fish downstream. They were businessmen. Respectable. Anchored. How could they trust this nobody?

And that rope the woodsman was standing on. The one he held. Were they well attached? It was all well and good for an unattached woodsman. If he went into the river, there’d be nobody to mourn. So what did it matter? Could he be trusted?

The chief wanted to send someone else, to claim that, like the captain of a ship, he should be the  last off the island. On the other hand, he wanted to send his children first, so that they’d have the best chance of surviving. He wasn’t sure which of these thoughts was the most noble, and which the result of cowardice. Should he go first to show the way? Should he stay last so that others had the best chance?

He looked at the woodsman with a question in his eyes, with all these questions together. But the woodsman only thrust out his arm. He’d already told the chief about the logjam up the river. It could break at any time. When it did, everything would be swept from the island. Anyone on his rope bridge at that point would be swept away as well.

But the chief wondered if he could trust this nobody. Would it really happen? Would safety not be found in the same place it always had?

The woodsman thrust his arm toward the chief again.


What would you do? (Be honest with yourself!)

(Though the details are somewhat distant from it, this story was suggested to me by the Lectionary reading, Proper 14A, Matthew 14:22-33. You can ask yourself some of these questions, and others,  by placing yourself in that story as well.)

You Give Them Something to Eat

The first pastor was annoyed and impatient during Miriam’s visit. He had a large and active church, and had thought he was making an appointment to talk to a member about some church problem. When she asked for the appointment, Miriam had said, “It’s about a problem and what the church can do about it.” The secretary had written “church problem” in the little text field on her computer marked “Reason for Appointment” and that was that.

“I was reading in my Bible,” said Miriam, “and I came to a story. It says here that Jesus fed 5,000 people.”

“It’s good to read your Bible,” said the pastor in a neutral tone of voice. He claimed to want people to study their Bibles. In fact, he thought the ones that did it on their own, apart from church curriculum, came up with too many weird ideas. The girl in front of him (what had possessed the secretary to give him an appointment with a teenager?) looked like weird ideas, probably wild ones, were very likely. She had several extra piercings in her ears, one in her lip, and a tattoo on her shoulder that he couldn’t identify, but which gave him the feeling that it was unchristian. She was considered pretty conservative by her crowd at school, but the pastor was unacquainted with her crowd.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters, places, events, or stereotypes to the real world is purely coincidental. (Well, perhaps the stereotypes are real. I’ve met some of them.)
Copyright &copy 2014
Henry E. Neufeld

“Yes,” said Maria. “It’s been helping me in my study of English literature, but that’s not what I’m here about.”

The pastor was a little annoyed. Literature? Then why’s she seeing me? he thought. But he pasted a questioning look on his face.

Encouraged by this, Miriam continued. “But in the middle of the story, Jesus tells the disciples to give the people something to eat. Now either he was screwing with their heads, or he thought they should have been able to do something about it, if they just wanted to badly enough. Maybe he thought they should have planned ahead to bring enough food. I don’t know.

“But he says it, ‘You give them something to eat’.”

“Jesus could perform a miracle and feed all those people. We can’t. It would take resources.”

“Yes,” said Miriam. “I can see that. You think Jesus was screwing with their heads.” The pastor couldn’t control the look of distaste that crossed his face. Using the phrase “screwing with their heads” in connection with Jesus just didn’t sound properly respectful. Miriam continued, “I don’t think Jesus was screwing with their heads. I think he wanted them to think about things like that. I think he wanted them to be ready to feed people.”

“You’re not a member of our church, are you?”

Miriam paused and looked puzzled at this apparent non sequitur. (She knew what a non sequitur was. She’d looked it up in English class.) “No,” she said. “I’m not.”

“Where do you go to church?”

“I don’t. My parents aren’t church people.”

“Well, perhaps you should. Then we could teach you how to understand these difficult passages of scripture. Then you could take these questions to your pastor.” He emphasized the pronoun slightly. On the one hand, he wanted to bring in new members. On the other, he thought this one was a troublemaker, and perhaps someone else could be her pastor. He wasn’t sure how old she was. He guessed 16 or so.

“I don’t see what’s so difficult about it. It seems that Jesus doesn’t like people going hungry. It seems like he told his disciples to feed them. When they didn’t, he made it happen. I understand it’s just a story, but stories have meaning too.”

“Well, you can’t take these stories too literally.”

“I’m not taking it literally. I don’t believe that Jesus actually miraculously fed 5,000 people. I don’t believe in that sort of miracle. I believe in the story. ‘You give them something to eat.’ I thought you would too.”

“I would really like to have a chance to teach you some more about the Bible,” lied the pastor. In fact, he really hoped someone else would deal with this girl. “For example, Jesus really did feed 5,000 people. It happened! But right now I don’t have the time. I have another appointment coming up.”

Miriam knew he was lying. She knew how to make appointments and had specifically asked for half an hour. “So,” she said, “you do believe in the miracle, but not in the story.” She jumped up and was gone in a moment.

The second pastor was a known activist. She thought he was more likely to be sympathetic. She’d had some idea that people might not like the fact that she didn’t believe the miracles. Didn’t, and couldn’t. She just couldn’t make herself accept the supernatural. But she was surprised that the first pastor didn’t believe the rest!

“It’s a complex issue,” said the pastor. He was not put off by her clothing or manner. He did, in fact, associate with people her age. Like her crowd at school, he thought she was a bit conservative.

“What’s complex about it? ‘You give them something to eat.'”

“Well, that’s the story, that’s the myth. It drives us. But when we are driven toward the right goal by the story, we discover that there is much more to it than that.”

“So Jesus was a bit simple minded? I mean in the story. You know I don’t believe in the miracle.”

“Simple minded? No! He was pointing the way.”

“But a way that doesn’t really work, right?”

“No, it can work, but it’s more complex. You wouldn’t understand these things yet. You’re young and idealistic. That’s good! Enjoy it while you can! But when you start working on these problems in more detail you’ll find it’s much more difficult than just saying ‘give them something to eat’. There are structural issues, the way that the entire system is biased in favor of the rich over the poor, the way food is produced and distributed. One person or one church cannot solve the problem. We need society-wide, even worldwide solutions for problems like this.” He could remember when he had felt much like the girl did, but thousands of disappointments along the way had polished off the rough edges. He much preferred “polished off the rough edges” to “made him cynical.”

“I see. The bottom line still seems to be that the story doesn’t work.”

After that the conversation dwindled, though they parted more amicably than she had with the first pastor.

The third pastor didn’t like the idea of feeding the hungry that much. Of course he gave it lip service. His congregation would provide food for the needy at Christmas. They had lunches to give out from time to time to homeless people, but the general idea of feeding the hungry, especially if one didn’t limit it properly, didn’t sound right. Besides, his task was to spread the gospel.

“You have to understand that this is a metaphor,” he told the girl.

“You mean you don’t believe it either,” she replied. He was surprised at her look of disappointment, and by the suggestion that she had asked others.

“Of course I believe it! Jesus performed miracles. Never doubt that!”

“Actually, I don’t believe in the miracle. I believe in the story. ‘You give them something to eat.’ That’s where it leads me every time I read it.”

“Well, yes, but the miracle is required to fulfil that command. How could the disciples have fed all those people?”

“So you also believe Jesus was screwing with their heads.”

“Jesus did not mess with people’s heads!” declared the pastor. He wasn’t going to use the word “screw” in connection with Jesus. Miriam just sat there with raised eyebrows.

“As I said, it’s a metaphor. Even the miracle is a metaphor. It really happened, but it’s pointing to something else. That bread represents God’s word that we give to the people. ‘You give them something to eat’ means that we’re supposed to give people the word of the gospel, the good news that Jesus died to save them from hell.”

Miriam looked at him for a few moments. “I really think you ought to read your Bible more,” she said. “I think you’d find out that Jesus screwed with lots of people’s heads!”

And she was up and out the door, waving and saying a friendly sound “bye!” as she stepped out the door.

The pastor shook his head. “Young people today!” he said to the empty room.

The fourth pastor called Miriam the whore of Babylon, but he didn’t count.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh wanted her to invite her parents to church. If she could only get her parents to attend, they would be glad to get her in touch with the right committee — well, the sixth pastor called it a team — who would be happy to work with her on a mission project, one suitable for the youth, of course.

The eighth pastor referred her to the youth director who invited her to youth sports night. “You could make some friends, and then maybe you could think of a project together. We might even be able to deliver lunches to some shut-ins.”

Miriam thought delivering lunches to shut-ins sounded like an excellent idea, but couldn’t figure out why she had to go to sports night and make more friends before she did it. She had lots of friends.

And that was her moment of epiphany. She had lots of friends. She made them easily. She wasn’t an obvious social leader, but lots of people listened to her, because they thought she often had good ideas. She knew how to have fun without getting into trouble. Not that she didn’t cross the line, but she seemed to know how to do it without getting caught or, if caught, getting into too much trouble.

So the next day as lunch hour was about over, she jumped up on a table at school and yelled, “Listen up, everyone!”

This started a chain of events with the staff, one of whom decided not to try to deal with this herself, and so called in the assistant principal.

Silence descended on the lunch room, which was, in itself, a miracle. This occurred to Miriam and she grinned before she started to speak.

“I’ve been reading my Bible, because it relates to literature class.”

Oh no, thought the one teacher in the room. She’s become a religious nut and she’s going to preach, and we’re all going to get into trouble.

“I came to this story about Jesus feeding 5,000 people. Now I know some of you believe and some of you don’t. As for me, I don’t really, not in the miracle. But the story is good. In the story Jesus cares about those people and he tells his disciples — that’s followers — ‘you give them something to eat.’ Now I’ve been talking to pastors around town, and it seems that they think this is all crap as well. The story, I mean. They believe in the miracle, but it’s just this thing that happened. I believe in the story.”

The assistant principal walked into the room. He was trying to decide what to do, but the nature of the speech shocked him.

“Now some people think it’s too hard. We can’t feed people. All the people. Everyone who needs it. But look around. We’re going to throw enough food away to feed a whole other school. This is a good neighborhood. Most of our parents have money. Those churches I visited, they have big buildings, lots of resources.

“But none of them believe. They don’t believe this can be done. Well, I believe it can. Just for our town. Maybe even for this county. We could have a whole county where nobody went hungry. And even if these other people are right and we can’t take care of everyone, we can make sure it’s a lot less. Less hungry people, I mean.

“Is anyone with me?”

The assistant principal just kept watching. On the one hand it was his duty to keep students from disrupting the school. Miriam was definitely out of line. Based on what he had heard and what the teacher had whispered to him, he wasn’t sure whether he was going to be accused of attacking religion or promoting it. On the other hand, he had been called out of a session with a couple of students who didn’t care about anything. Wasn’t this something good?

“My dad owns the grocery store down on 10th Avenue,” said one student.

“My mom works for …”

“My grandfather was talking just the other day about how hard it was to find a place where he could be sure his money would be spent well if he gave it …”

One of Miriam’s friends started taking notes.

The assistant principal wasn’t sure if he was witnessing a miracle, getting himself and the whole school into incredible trouble, or letting his authority seep through the cracks, never to return.

Suddenly Miriam looked at the clock. “Lunch hour’s over,” she said with another brilliant smile. Then she looked at the assistant principal. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll go to your office peacefully!”

You give them something to eat. — Matthew 14:16 (from Lectionary Proper 13A, Matthew 14:13-21)

Coming of Age

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters, places, or events to anything in the real world is strictly coincidental.
Copyright © 2014
Henry E. Neufeld

“We can’t let Sam turn 16 without the proper ceremony,” said Elsa. “A young man’s 16th birthday is a very important event. It must be done right.”

“We can’t afford much,” said Zeb.

“There are certain things that must be done, no matter what the cost!”

That silenced Zeb. “Things that must be done” were beyond argument. So he started to work on the list.

And the day of a young man’s 16th birthday was very important in their town. It was a coming of age. People would judge the young man by the quality of the ceremony. If the day passed unnoticed, so would the young man. Or at least that’s what Elsa thought. No, “thought” was not a strong enough word. Elsa knew this. It was engraved in her mind and her heart. She felt it in her bones. She must put on the proper ceremony for Sam. Anything else was unthinkable.

So the tension in the household grew. Elsa was unable to conceive that Zeb might consider something other than the full ceremony she planned for her first born son’s 16th birthday. Zeb simply looked at the diminishing size of his purse and wondered how they were to pay for food for the rest of the year. His reserves were gone. The slightest reverse in his business and he’d be gone. He tried to tell Elsa that there was no more money.

She took the money he had provided for food for the coming month and threw it at him. “Even if we don’t eat for the rest of the year, my son will have a proper ceremony for coming of age.”

The husband and wife looked at one another across their small living room, neither capable of understanding what the other was saying.

Into this brittle silence walked Sam.

He looked from one parent to the other. He saw that something was wrong, but he wasn’t sure what it was. He had paid little attention to the coming of age party. Yes, it was an important step, but he hadn’t thought about costs. He had been busy …

“Mom, Dad,” he said, “I’m leaving tonight. I have an apprenticeship with a blacksmith who lives across the mountains.”

… coming of age.

Lost and Found, Found and Lost

When he turned 40, Kenneth began to feel that something was missing in his life. Oh, he wasn’t a lost soul. He didn’t feel a need to find himself, whatever that might mean. He just felt that there was some thing, or perhaps some person, which (or who) would make his life more complete. Something was missing and he needed to find it.

It took him months to come to what was, for others, the obvious conclusion. He needed to find his birth father. Now Kenneth had a good life. His parents were loving. He had not lacked for anything. He wasn’t enormously rich, but he was well off, and didn’t feel any financial needs. He was married, and his wife and children constituted, as far as he could tell, the perfect family. Yes, there were conflicts. There was drama. But everything always worked out in the end, and he thought that was fine.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between characters and events in it and real life and purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014,
Henry E. Neufeld

His parents — he didn’t think of his dad as a stepdad, though he was — were involved in his life, but not too involved. They seemed to be careful to behave in just the right way for parents of an adult son with his own business and his own family. Yet when he mentioned searching for his birth father they seemed stressed, even though they didn’t tell him not to do it. So he decided to make the search quietly.

The story he had known all his life was that his father abandoned him as an infant and had never been heard from again. His stepdad had stepped in, as his title implied, and had provided for Kenneth all his life.

The search itself took months. You may think that all the fun in this story would happen during the search. But it was really quite uneventful. Private investigators interviewed people and found documents. Nobody tried to kill them. Nobody threatened anybody. His parents didn’t come and tell him not to look.

In the end, however, the search ended with a birth record in a small hospital and the name of a man who was now dead. There was no information even on where that man might be buried.

Kenneth still felt that something was missing. And now he was sure it was his birth father. Why couldn’t he even find a grave marker?

*****

A continent away in the penthouse suite of a luxury hotel, Gary looked at another report. (He hadn’t been called by his first name for years. He was Mr. Adamson to everyone. He was a powerful man.) He too had been searching, and since he was very, very rich he had more resources at his command than Kenneth. For nearly 40 years he had wondered where his son was. If his wife had lived, the search would have been a priority, but the police had searched diligently at the time, and he hadn’t seen any reason to try some more. Doubtless little Vincent had been killed years ago. His wife had also died a couple of years after their son went missing.

For weeks Gary had known where his missing son was. But when he’d looked at that perfect life, he had wondered whether he had a right to change it. His wife would have had no doubt, he knew. They’d be on the private jet that was waiting at the airport as fast as they could pack an overnight bag and they’d be talking to that son. But he wasn’t sure.

But this report changed things. His son was looking for him. His son wanted to know who he was.

He pressed an intercom button. “Get the jet ready …”

*****

And now the question: Who was lost, and who was found?

(This story was written while thinking about Lectionary Proper 12A, which will be discussed in the Bible Study my wife Jody and I host on July 21, 2014 at 7 pm.)