The Missionary’s House

Iced tea with lemon.
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*“You know what I think is wrong here?”

The question startled Ward. He was sitting on the porch of his house looking out at a beautiful view from the top of a hill. He and his visitor both had glasses of iced tea. They had just finished a wonderful meal. He had enjoyed showing his guest, a “retired” missionary, around his station. He didn’t see anything wrong.

“Wrong?” he asked. “I think things are going rather well.”

“Yes, I suppose they are, in a sense.”

Ward had a great deal of respect for his visitor, and wasn’t going to miss out if there was another sense in which things weren’t so good. He smiled. “I’m guessing there’s another sense,” he said.

“Yes, there is. I think, perhaps, you should try to look at this situation through Jesus’s eyes.”

“I thought I had. I’m here far from home, serving people in need, and doing a rather good job of it. I don’t want to boast, but we’re caring for more people, seeing more of the local children in our school, and we have more people in church than we ever did under any of my predecessors at this station.”

“Yes, I saw all that. I read the reports. The mission board likes reports. Actually I don’t have anything against reports myself. It’s just that something about this whole scene seems wrong. I think we need to look at it through Jesus’s eyes.”

“OK, you keep saying that, and I know you wouldn’t say it idly or without having something specific in mind. But you’re going to have to say a few more words. I don’t get it.”

“I’m thinking of John 20:21. ‘Just as the father sent me, I’m sending you.'”

“Yes, but are you forgetting you’re talking to someone who already answered the call to mission service?” Ward couldn’t quite keep the impatience out of his voice.

“Yes, you’re a missionary. But are you going out in the way that Jesus went out?”

“Well, I left my home and gave up a lucrative career. I came over here and gave it all up. I think I’ve been sent.”

“And here you are, suffering for Jesus.” The words had a sharp edge, but the tone was very, very gentle.

“Is it that you think I’m not suffering enough? Do I need more trials and tribulations? What?” Ward again sounded a bit impatient. He felt pretty good about the things he had given up.

“I don’t know about suffering. Willing to suffer, yes. Actual suffering? That’s up to God. But let me give you a few phrases to consider. ‘It was fitting that God … should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings’, ‘all have one Father’, ‘Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,’ ‘like his brothers and sisters in every respect.’ All of those come from Hebrews 2:10-18.”

“I’m familiar with the passage,” said Ward.

“But are you willing to apply it?”

“Again, I think I’m not getting your point.”

“We’re sitting up here on a hill, looking down on the village where the people you serve are living from a nice house. How many of them have the food you have? How many of them can enjoy a relaxing evening like this?”

“I would guess none of them.”

“Your children go to the American school. Your wife drives them 20 miles one way, twice a day. I don’t think I’ve seen them in contact with the local children since I’ve been here.”

“I don’t think it’s wrong to want the best education for my children.”

“No, it’s not wrong. I’m not judging you for any particular thing here. I’m asking you to consider a pattern. How close are you to being ‘just like the brothers and sisters’ you’ve come here to serve?”

“I think I’m pretty close. I don’t think protecting my children from local diseases and bad influences is a bad thing.”

“I suppose there are no bad influences or diseases at the American school in the city. But I’m not certain what your choice should be in each case. It’s the pattern. For another example, I’ve never seen you eat with any of the local people.”

“I do, though not often. My wife would prefer not to.”

“I wonder why that is. But it’s just a piece of the pattern. I wonder what it is that the people here see in your mission. Is it the spirit of Jesus? Is it the call to service? Or is it the benefits of being connected with the American missionary with the nice house?”

“You surely don’t think I should fail to provide what I can manage to provide for the people?”

“I think you’re still missing my point. It’s the pattern. I can’t say precisely what you should or shouldn’t do. What I do see is a pattern that separates you from the people you serve. Rather than helping them also become servants of Jesus, they’re becoming your servants, earning the benefits you can provide.”

“That’s harsh!”

“Ward, I’m talking to you this way because I respect you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to report to the mission board that you’re a failure or that you aren’t doing your job. This isn’t about mission boards. It’s between you and me. You’re sent as Jesus was sent. Do you think you have done everything to go out into the field in the way that Jesus went out?”

Ward looked down from the hill toward the village that had gathered around his clinic. Was it possible that he was making disciples for himself, and serving himself, in spite of what he had given up?

“I appreciate your willingness to be honest,” said Ward, and as he said it, he found it was true. “I’ll think and pray about what you’ve said. It bothers me. It seems extreme. But in another sense it rings true.”

“Thinking and praying is all I can ask.”

*This is a work of fiction. All persons, places, and events are products of my imagination. Copyright © 2010, Henry E. Neufeld


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Of Carnivals Posted and Yet to Come

Christian Carnival CCCXVI has been posted at Crossroads. It’s an interesting one, as always, with lots of good posts to review. I never find time to read all the ones I intend to read.

But “the king is dead, long live the king!” or let’s be a little less morbid, the carnival is posted, and it’s time to start thinking about submissions for the next one, which will be, let’s see–Oh!  Right here at the Caravansary.  So hitch up your mental oxen (or mules, ponies, racehorses, or whatever) and crank out some wonderful posts.  Then submit them using the form on  You may want to Check out the requirements for inclusion, which are not unduly onerous.

I’ll be watching for your submissions!

(Note: If you’re reading this post on, it’s coming through my RSS feed.  The carnival will be posted here at The Jevlir Caravansary.)

Selective Science Fiction Rant

Way of Life Literature has a rant on science fiction that is really quite odd and rather selective.  It appears that science fiction is the product of evolutionary thinking and that most of its key authors were atheists, and of course, evolutionists.

I am both a Christian and a fan of science fiction, having even written just a bit of amateur science fiction on this very blog.  I must also plead guilty to evolutionary thinking, because I think the theory of evolution is good science and provides the best scientific explanation for the diversification of life on earth that we have.  I would also note, however, that evolutionary thinking has been applied in many places where it doesn’t work well, such as in tracing evolution of thought, which has often resulted in very poorly supported dating for Biblical materials.

There is literature that is of value in many genres, I believe, in science fiction just as in others.  As with any literature, if you are going to build your life on it, you may well be led astray.  Authors do–and indeed should–have moral and theological viewpoints which are often reflected in their writing.

The answer is not staying away (though there are some items in literature I would recommend staying away from), but reading with your mind turned on.

The God-Talk Club and the NIV2011

After Ellen had brought everyone their orders, she joined the God-Talk Club group herself.

“Wow,” said Mark.  “We have a full house.”

“I just got off work,” said Ellen a bit defensively.

“You don’t have to justify yourself,” said Justine.  “I like it when you can join us.”

“My boss is a little bit touchy about having me join one of the groups that meet here.  I think he’s afraid I’ll offend someone about their theology, and then they might not come back.”

“If anyone was going to get offended in this group, they’d probably already be gone.”  Jerry had worked his way through some bad moments with the outspoken group.

“Speaking of offending, I have a question for the Christians in the group.”  Everyone turned as Bob Norman spoke.  He wasn’t that regular, but he could always start a big argument with just a few words.

“OK, I’ll bite,” said Mandy when Bob didn’t continue.  “What?”

“I’m wondering why you Christians need so many different Bibles.  It would seem that you could get it right with fewer tries.”

Both Mandy and Jerry started to answer, then tried to defer to one another, then finally Jerry spoke.  “You don’t make new translations because the others didn’t get it right, but because language has changed.”

“But I was reading the other day somewhere that there were new revisions of the New Living Translation and some translation, Christian Standard something or other, I believe.”  Bob looked at Jerry, expecting him to fill in the blanks.  Jerry looked blank.

“That’s probably the Holman Christian Standard Bible,” said Mandy.  “It’s closely related to the Southern Baptists.  And yes, I’ve read that it is being revised.”

“OK, so what about it?  Is the Bible getting updated?” asked Bob. “I remember now what I read about yesterday.  It’s an NIV2011.  The 1984 edition isn’t good enough, there has to be a 2011 one.”

“I wouldn’t say updated,” said Jerry.  “Sure, scholars can make errors translating, but mostly the improvements are in the language used.  I’ve used both the original NLT and the updated NLT and there really isn’t that much difference.”

“Sometimes there are new discoveries that help us understand some text better,” said Mandy. “You know, the Bible is a very ancient book from a very different culture.”

“It’s good to learn new things,” said Justine.

“My church teaches that to some extent the message of the gospel was lost and that the Bible does need some correction,” put in Ellen.

“But the changes aren’t very significant,” Jerry objected.

“What about 1 John 5:7-8?” asked Mac.

“I can’t get over how you just come up with these verses,” said Bob, bemused.

“I like to know the Christian stuff.  Then they can’t put something over on me.”

“What’s the problem with 1 John 5:7-8?” asked Jerry.

“It’s in the KJV, but it’s not in most of your modern versions.  It’s the best text you have for the trinity, and it’s not really in the Bible!”  Mac emphasized that she felt she had scored by drawing the ‘1’ with her finger in the air.

“I don’t need 1 John 5:7-8 to teach the doctrine of the trinity,” said Jerry.  “It doesn’t really change anything.”

“Don’t you base all your beliefs on the Bible?” asked Mac.

“It depends on whether you mean ‘on the Bible as a whole’ or ‘on one single text’,” said Mandy.

“Precisely,” said Jerry.  He was always glad when he could agree with Mandy, as he thought she was the most committed and well-informed Christian in the group, other than himself.  He was less sure about Justine.  But Mandy still had a tendency to take a subject to places he’d rather not go.

“But you don’t have any text for the doctrine of the trinity,” said Mac.

“We have lots of texts!” said Jerry.

“Well, no single text that expresses the doctrine,” said Mandy.  “But there are lots of doctrines that are that way.  That’s why we write doctrinal statements.  They summarize what we have learned from scripture.”

Mac had her mouth open, but Bob cut in.  “I know enough about Christianity to know that we could spend all evening on the trinity and never discuss anything else.  I want to know about Bible translations.”  He paused.  “How can you trust a book that has to be updated regularly, and that has been translated so many times.”

It was Justine who responded this time.  “I hadn’t heard that translation would damage the original book.  I don’t see what the number of times the Bible has been translated has to do with anything.”

“Well, you lose something in translation, so if you translate a translation, you lose a little bit more,” said Bob.  “I don’t mean that many different translations of the same text are make it less accurate, though I don’t understand why Christians can’t come to an agreement on just how it should be done.  I’m talking about translating translations.  The Hebrew is translated into Greek, then the Greek into Latin, then the Latin into English.  How accurate can the final result be?”

“But that isn’t what happens to Bible translations,” said Justine, looking puzzled.  “I’m studying Greek now at the seminary and I will study Hebrew, and we read the texts in the original languages all the time.  Why would anyone translate the Bible from Latin today?”

“Bob is probably referring to some of the older Bibles,” said Mark.  “I know that Catholic Bibles had to be translated from the Latin text up through Vatican II.  We learned about that in church history.”

“But even Catholic Bibles today are translated from the original languages,” said Mandy.

“True,” said Mark.

“You’d have a hard time finding a Bible translated from Latin on a bookstore shelf today,” said Jerry.  “I did see a copy of the Douay-Rheims version in our church library the other day, but nobody really uses that.”

“Wasn’t the King James translated from the Greek in the Old Testament?” asked Bob.

“Well, they compared the Greek, but they worked form the Hebrew text.”  It was Justine again.

“You know, Justine,” said Jerry.  “I didn’t know you were studying Biblical languages.”

“I’m taking a concentration in Biblical studies for my Master of Divinity.  I’ve been studying the history of the Bible and I’ll get both basic Greek and Hebrew.”

“Interesting,” said Jerry.

“You’ll have to revise your opinion of her again,” said Mandy with a mischievous look.  Jerry was annoyed.  Why did Mandy have to say that out loud?

“Jerry doesn’t approve of women as ministers,” said Mac.

“My church wouldn’t allow them,” said Ellen.

“OK,” said Bob.  “This group is too easy to distract.  I’d love to talk about how reactionary barbarians can’t get that women can do pretty much any job, but let’s do it another time.  I want to hear about Bible translations.”

“I wonder what reactionary barbarians do,” said Mandy.  “Do they swing from trees?”

There was a moment of silence.

“OK,” said Bob.  “This time I didn’t stick to the subject.  So you’re all agreeing that most Bible translations are made from the original languages.”

“Yes,” said Jerry.

“But not from the original manuscripts, right?”

“No.  We don’t have the original manuscripts.”

“So that is one reason for revised Bible translations, isn’t it?  You find new and better manuscripts, so suddenly you know that your Bible is in error and you correct it.”

“I don’t know if I would say it’s in error.  But certainly if we find a better text we will follow that with new translations.”

“If it was wrong and you have to change it, then I’d say you corrected an error.”

“I don’t have a problem with that,” said Mandy.  We take the best readings we can from what we have.  If we didn’t correct it when something better came along that would be silly.”

“But that’s not really the major reason for revising Bible translations,” said Jerry.  “It’s more a matter of translation philosophy and changes in modern languages.”

“But why can’t you agree at least on how the Bible should be translated?”

“Why should we?” asked Mandy.

“Shouldn’t there be a right way and a wrong way?”

Justine started laughing.  “Have you ever learned a foreign language?”

“Well, I learned some Spanish in High School.”

“No translation is exact, Bob.  There’s not just one right way to do it.  We’ll even get multiple correct translations in class where we’re supposed to be translating very literally.”

“One of the big issues with the NIV2011,” said Mandy, “is the issue of gender language.  For example, should a group that is made up of both men and women be called “brothers” or “brothers and sisters?”

“Which one does the Greek use?” asked Bob.

“Neither,” said Mandy.  “The Greek uses a Greek for some reason.”

“Yes, I know,” said Bob.  “But what does it mean?”

“It refers to a group of people that includes both men and women in some cases.  What English word or phrase does that?”

“Here’s where Mandy and I disagree a bit,” said Bob.  “Not that there cannot be variation, but I’d prefer to use brothers, which has always been understood to apply to both sexes, while she wants the women mentioned explicitly.”

“But isn’t there already a revision of the NIV that does that?” asked Mac.  Bob was again surprised at her knowledge of Christianity.

“Yes,” said Mandy.  “There was the TNIV which has been quite popular for that reason.  It’s hard to say what the NIV2011 will be like, though it will likely use some of the vocabulary of the TNIV.”

“And this doesn’t bother you?” asked Bob.

Mandy shrugged.

“You know,” said Jerry.  “I bet that if we all agreed on this topic you’d be thinking that we were suppressing dissent.”

“I never said anything of the sort!”

“But that’s your impression of Christians, isn’t it?”

“Well, I do think you suppress free thought by expecting people to adhere to doctrinal statements.”

“Ah, doctrinal statements,” said Mark.  “I can’t deal with those tonight.  It’s about time for me to be going.”

And with that the group began to break up for the night.

A Shell of a Church

“So why did you want to see me, Charlie,” said the elderly man after the preliminary social amenities were completed.  “It’s been what, 25 years?”  His tone was friendly, but his face showed disappointment.

“I wanted you to see what we have happening here.  Thirty-five years ago I received my call to ministry in your church when you were preaching.  The church helped me get to seminary.  Now look at this monument to the gospel.  That’s part of your legacy.”

The elderly man sat quietly for a minute.  Charlie said it with pride, but it was a pride that was assumed, sort of like a role.  He was supposed to be proud of his accomplishments because he was supposed to be.  But behind it there was something else.  Concern?  No, fear was more like it.

“So you called me again after 25 years of silence because you wanted me to see this campus?”  It was a beautiful campus, several acres, more than $20 million in budget every year, a lighted cross that could be seen for miles around, thousands of worshipers.

“Well, that was part of it.”

“A very small part, I suspect.  You can’t call me at 11 PM, sounding panicked, and tell me that you need to see me as soon as possible, and then expect me to believe you wanted to show me the campus.”

Charlie looked at him for a moment, then chuckled.  “I never could deceive you, could I?  I still can’t.  Look at this.”  He pulled out a sheaf of papers and slid them across the desk.

The elderly man looked at them.  They were worn and dog-eared, but he could see the date on the front page and it was only two weeks ago.  Somebody had been spending a lot of time with these papers.  The title read “Survey of Attitudes and Values” followed by the name of the church.

“Why don’t you sum it up for me.  I was never all that good with figures,” he said.

“Well, it’s not good news.  It tells me that my church members are pretty much  like the neighborhood.  They’re concerned about the same things, they have the same values, the same divorce rates, the same views on major moral issues.  People who worship here are as likely to support abortion as those who don’t, for example.”  He paused.  “Actually, they’re a bit more likely.  They give a bit less, they serve a bit less, they’re as likely to be divorced.  It goes on and on.  There’s no good news.”

“And this surprises you?”

There was a minute or so of silence.

“You think it shouldn’t?” asked Charlie.

“I think there is always a reason.”

“I’m guessing there would be a different result at the old home church, not that there are enough members to do a proper survey.”

“I don’t know what a survey would show.  I never had one taken.  I doubt we could afford it.”

“Well, it’s a small church.  Here we need to have a way to measure our success.”

“But your problem is that it’s not success that you’re measuring.  Do you have any problems with your church budget?”

“Other than the normal, no.”

“You have all the buildings you need?”

“Well, we have some new projects going.”

“Your church is growing?”


“So why did you have the survey taken?”

“I wanted to know what impact we’re having on people.”

“You’re their pastor.  Can’t you tell?”

“There are thousands of people here.  I can’t possibly know them all.”

“And you thought this,” he picked up the survey, “would help you find out?”

“Yes.  I was wondering if we needed some new classes, or perhaps counseling programs.  Things to help people find their values and live up to them.”

“Did you really think those things were going to work?”

“I don’t know.  I was concerned before the survey was taken.  Since I read it, I’m feeling even worse.”  He paused.

“What is it that you feel?” prompted the elderly man.

“I feel like this is a shell.  Like God isn’t here.”


“Good?”  Charlie looked puzzled.

“You are still able to listen to the Holy Spirit.”

“But this is discouragement!  Surely it’s the work of the enemy!”

“It would be discouragement if it wasn’t true.  If it’s true, it’s conviction.”

“So do you have any suggestions?  Anything I can do?  I’ve been thinking about new classes about the basics of Christianity.”

“No, I don’t think that is what you need.”

“Then what?  You were my mentor.  You’re the only one I can turn to.  The only one who doesn’t expect me to have everything together.”

“No, that’s not true.  There is One other.  And I think he has some advice for you.  You may not like it.”

So be zealous, and repent! – Revelation 3:19b

Unless YHWH builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. – Psalm 127:1

The Organ and the Tramp

He was dressed in ragged clothing, more patches than original cloth.  His face was covered with the stubble of several days without shaving.  He looked like he should be cold but he wasn’t shivering.  In fact, he looked peaceful.

Tom saw the tramp out of the corner of his eye.  He looked around to see if anyone was watching, then turned to cross the parking lot and avoid the man.

“How did the meeting go?” asked a voice.

Tom turned.  It was the tramp.

“Fine.  How did you know I was in a meeting?”

“You came from the office.  The lights have been on in one room for some time.  It’s after office hours.  You were in a meeting.”  He said it evenly, calmly.


“Did you get the organ?”

“Yes, I did.”

It wasn’t easy, was it?”

Tom looked at the tramp for a moment, he wasn’t wondering how the tramp knew what the meeting was about.  Instead, he wondered why he didn’t wonder.  “No,” he said.  “It wasn’t easy.”

“Patty wanted the money for more materials for the children’s department.  She made a strong case.”

“Yes, she did.”

“But she didn’t get the money.”

“No, she didn’t.”

“Alexander wanted you to buy an electronic keyboard rather than the pipe organ.  It would have cost less and it could have been used by both the contemporary praise band and the traditional service.”

“True, but there’s nothing like singing the good old hymns to the accompaniment of a pipe organ.  It was worth it.”

“The evangelism pastor wanted the money for outreach, didn’t he?”

“Yes, but he didn’t really need those materials.  Individual contact will work well enough.  You don’t need materials to introduce someone to Jesus.”

“Well, he didn’t get them either.  Nellie wanted the money to give to the homeless shelter.  But she didn’t get it.”

“Quite true.  The organ was very important to me.”

“I wonder how that happened?” asked the tramp.

“I guess they all understood just how important good music is to this congregation.”

“But your reputation didn’t hurt.”

“I’ve served this church longer than any of those folks have been alive!”

“That’s very important to you, isn’t it?”

“Well, it should be!  Christianity is all about service.  Some of these young people don’t want to do any of the work around the church at all!”

“But you’re always there, moving chairs, cleaning, mowing the grass, whatever needs doing.”

“Yes, I have.”  Tom looked at the tramp with pride.  He truly had done all those things.

“And you’ve made sure everyone knows, haven’t you?”

Tom paused, surprised.  “I never talk about my service.  If others notice, that’s their affair.”

“But you make sure they see you, don’t you?”

“I don’t do that!”

“Yet when you saw me you looked around before you headed for the other side of the parking lot.  You didn’t want to be seen avoiding me.  But when you were sure nobody would see, you turned away from me.”

Tom stopped and just looked.  He really had done that.  How had the tramp known?

“Well,” continued the tramp, “I hope the organ music truly blesses someone.”

Tom turned to away.  It wasn’t fair.  He was a servant.  Had been for years.  The organ was important.  It was a good thing!

He turned back to argue, but the tramp was gone.  Tom was surprised.  He would never have expected someone in the tramp’s condition could move that fast.

Whenever you did something for one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it for me. — Matthew 25:40

But as for you, when you do your charitable acts, don’t let yourleft hand know what your right hand is doing. — Matthew 6:3

Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of man doesn’t have anywhere to lay his head.” — Matthew 8:20

[This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to any persons in the real wold is purely coincidental.  Copyright © 2009, Henry Neufeld]


She wasn’t comfortable with this visit, but it was her duty.  He had lost his son just three weeks earlier and she had conducted the funeral.  The death had been sudden, tragic.  The man had lost his wife only three years earlier, and his son was his life.  At the funeral he had been devastated.

Now he looked peaceful, almost happy.  It was very strange.  Could he get over such a loss in just three weeks?  He’d been away for the last two weeks, and had told nobody where he was going. Many had feared that he would commit suicide, or maybe already had.  But here he was, comfortable in his own living room, accepting her pastoral visit.

“You look better,” she said.

“I am better.”

“Where have you been?  Your friends have been worried.”

“I went hiking.  In the wilderness.  Mountains.”

“You could have been hurt.  Nobody knew where you were.”

“I wasn’t hurt.”

“No, I can see that.  But hiking all alone, in your condition!”

“Alone?”  He paused.  “I see why you say that.  But no, not alone.”

“What do you mean?”

“God was with me.”

“I know that God is with you everywhere, but you need human contact.”

“No, I needed to talk to God.”

“And did God speak to you?”

“Well, yes and no.”

“Yes and no?”

“Well, there was no voice.  There were just trees, rocks, streams, mountains, birds, and yes, a few animals.  But I heard God.”

“And that has brought you this peace?”

“Peace?  Is that what I feel?  Then yes, it brought me peace.”

“So somehow in looking at the mountains you found a purpose in what happened to you?”

“No, no purpose.  It still makes no sense to me at all.  But I can live with it.”

“So you didn’t hear anything from God, you didn’t learn anything, but you found peace?”  As she said it, she knew it was wrong.  She should be celebrating his peace, not questioning it, but she couldn’t help herself.

“Oh, I did learn something from God.”

“Yes?  What was it?”

“As I looked at the mountains I realized just how overwhelmingly great God is, just how much beyond my understanding.”

He paused and she waited silently.

“I learned just one thing,” he said.  “I learned that God is God.”

Then YHWH answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge.”  — Job 38:1-2 (author’s translation)

Then Job answered YHWH and he said, …
“Therefore I desist, and repent in dust and ashes.” — Job 42:1,6 (author’s translation)

My One Sports Moment

This story is actually true. Well, at least it’s based on true events that happened to me. I’m probably dramatizing it a bit. Maybe more than a bit.

You see, when I say I can’t play _____ (fill in the sport), I really mean it. I don’t think I’m an incredibly clumsy person, though I’m not particularly talented either.

The problem is that most people have played at least a little bit of a variety of sports. People assume that when one says one doesn’t play baseball, for example, that one is very bad at it; not that one doesn’t play at all.

For me, however, when I say I don’t play, I mean I really don’t. I dabbled in ping-pong, and played volleyball a few times. While I was in Guyana as a teenager, I did get hold of a cricket bat a couple of times. My Guyanese friends assumed I was so bad at it because I was used to baseball. But no, I hadn’t played baseball.

The reason for this state of affairs was that my parents didn’t approve of competitive sports. I grew up on the fringes of the Seventh-day Adventist church, in what were known as “self-supporting” organizations. There we had very little to do with the ordinary culture around us.

So fast forward a few years and I’m in the Air Force, taking technical training in San Angelo, Texas at Goodfellow Air Force Base. We had a half day for recreation, and what better way to occupy the afternoon than with a softball game. I even forget how we chose the teams.

The folks on my team wondered what I played.

“I don’t play softball,” I said.

“Oh, but what do you do best?”

“Nothing. I don’t play softball.”

“This is just an informal game. It doesn’t matter if you’re any good or not.”

“But I don’t play.”

They stared at me blankly.

“I don’t even know how to hold the bat.”

“Oh!” Horror and comprehension dawned at once. How could an American young man grow to his 20s and not play softball. I chose the “I grew up overseas” explanation rather than “I grew up in an environment where softball was not religiously acceptable.”

So one of the players takes me to the plate and shows me how to hold the bat, and generally explains the game. The other team just knew that I would be an easy out.

I come up to bat and the pitcher does his thing. I watched one. I missed one.

Then suddenly the ball was coming toward me and I was swinging the bat. The odds were ten thousand to one, or perhaps a hundred thousand to one, but the laws of probability were writhing in agony somewhere in the outfield. The barrel of the bat connected squarely with the ball and it disappeared over the fence, or at least past the arbitrary line we had designated as the fence.

It was a solo home run. No, really!

The other team was sure they’d been had, but then a few more innings went by and I demonstrated clearly that I truly did not know what I was doing. The laws of probability were back in force.

But at least I had one moment.

On Reading Bad Books – and What They Are

I’m trying to get back to this blog, but paying work continues to intervene, and fiction writing is not paying work for me, nor is reviewing or commenting on fiction. I will get back to posting and even have some plans for some of my material elsewhere.

That said, this morning I found a link from Martin LaBar of Sun and Shield to a post by Elizabeth Moon, Why “bad” books succeed. If I can summarize her post very briefly, I think she is saying that it’s because bad books are not entirely bad.

And I would add that, of course, good books are not entirely good. For example, I read Ms. Moon’s books, and would definitely not call them “bad,” in fact, she is one of those authors I regularly read. Yet I sometimes dislike her battle descriptions and I was not too happy with the ending of Victory Conditions. But to all that I say, who cares? I read the books anyhow, and I like them. Sometimes when you’ve done enough reading you just feel like complaining about something.

To make the same point again, I hate time travel, yet I read everything from the Dragonriders of Pern and other series by Anne McCaffrey that I can get my hands on. Why? Anne McCaffrey is simply in a class by herself as a story teller, and her characters draw you in and make you want to hear more about them.

I think it’s fairly arrogant to tell other people what they ought to like in literature. I’ve been told I should like Dostoyevsky. I can’t stand him. All apologies to advocates of great literature. I’m going to miss that part of it. But are people who like his writing stupid? Do they have bad taste? In my opinion, they simply have tastes that differ from mine. In this case it might be that it is the social commentary and the ideas that drive them.

Speaking of ideas, I like reading parts of Ayn Rand, but things like John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged just turn me off as part of a novel. When I first read Atlas Shrugged I scanned the speech and then read it later when I was in the mood for some non-fiction.

I wrote on this topic before in Defining Good Literature (Or Not), and the follow-up, So Are There Actually Standards in Literature.

Enjoy. (Or not!)

After the Fire, What?

The first time that Yagac approached the shrine he was carrying a stick he had cut from a tree and sharpened.

“What do you bring for the god?” said the aged priest. Villagers said he had been at the shrine more than a hundred years. He looked it.

“I bring this spear,” said Yagac, his young voice trembling.

The priest saw a thin, or better scrawny boy who might be in his teens, though he could be taken for younger. He knew the villagers had very little to eat.

“That? That’s a stick.”

“It’s a spear. My father says that the God accepts whatever is the best you can bring. You must let me offer it.”

The priest thought a moment. It was true that he had told the villagers the god would accept their best. He had meant “only their best” but perhaps this was the best the boy could offer. It wouldn’t do to give the villagers the idea of withholding things.

“Go in, offer it, and say your prayers.”

Inside Yagac laid his spear on the altar, then prayed. “You know that the lord in the castle takes what he wants. Now he has even taken my sister. I would like you to do something about it.”

He felt very peaceful and wanted to laugh–a joyful laugh. But he didn’t do either. He put on a sober look and walked from the shrine.

“Did you receive peace?” asked the priest.

“I wasn’t praying for peace,” said Yagac. Then he walked off toward the village.

The second time Yagac came to the shrine he was carrying a knife made of flint. It was very well formed, and had a wooden handle attached to it with some twine that looked hand woven.

This time the priest just waved him in. At the same time he got an idea. Why not benefit from the repeated returns of the boy?

Inside Yagac laid his knife on the altar, then prayed. “You know that the lord in the castle takes what he wants. Now he has even taken my sister. I would like you to do something about it.”

This time the peace and joy that came over him was nearly overwhelming. He was sure there was some divine presence in the shrine. But he wasn’t satisfied. He carefully straightened his face as he walked out past the priest.

The priest stopped him. “If you come again to offer a weapon, you must bring food with it. The guards from the castle will be suspicious if they see you bringing weapons as sacrifices. Traditionally they are sacrifices to give one courage and victory in battle.”

Yagac nodded and walked away toward the village.

The third time Yagac came to the shrine he was carrying a basket with some vegetables in it. Amongst the vegetables was a very respectable hammer made of a hard rock carefully attached to a wooden handle.

This time the priest decided to make use of provisions he had made to listen to the prayers of worshipers. He had ignored the boy because he figured he was praying for some childish thing and he had no interest.

Inside Yagac laid his basket on the altar, pulled the hammer out and put it beside the basket, then prayed. “You know that the lord in the castle takes what he wants. Now he has even taken my sister. I would like you to do something about it.”

This time the feeling of peace and joy truly was overwhelming. Yagac fell on the floor laughing hysterically. Then he got up, straightened the rags he wore for clothes, wiped any smile from his face, and left.

The priest intercepted him. “You have been touched by the god. I can see it on you. You should be satisfied with what has happened. His peace and joy have come upon you.”

“I wasn’t praying for peace and joy,” said Yagac.

A bit of fear came over the priest. He liked the way things were in the village and at the shrine. While the village produced little, something came to him from everyone, and then he received a monthly payment from the castle lord for help in keeping the villagers quiet.

It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in the god, though he had never seen anything that could definitely be crediting to his activity. The peace and joy? That was a secret ingredient in the incense.

“Be very careful what you pray for, child,” he said, trying for a fatherly expression and tone. “The gods always demand much of those they aid! Be happy with his peace, lest you find the price of an answer too high.”

He didn’t say this because he thought anything might happen. He just didn’t want word of a child with such a prayer getting back to the village. He considered reporting the child to the castle guards, but he decided there was no real threat. He’d just bring trouble on himself.

The final time Yagac went to the shrine he was running. He was carrying a short sword in its scabbard. He could barely carry it and run. The priest could hear the sound of horses’ hoofs further in the distance. He moved to block the boy, but he was old and slow, and the boy ran directly into the shrine.

Yagac slammed the sword down on the altar and said, “You know that the lord in the castle takes what he wants. Now he has even taken my sister. I would like you to do something about it.”

But this time he continued. “I don’t want peace. I don’t want joy. I want revenge. I want things changed. I don’t care what it costs.”

The guards were already outside the door, and the priest turned away so as not to see the boy killed. The priest didn’t really believe anything might happen.

Suddenly the ground shook. Something emerged from the temple, but it wasn’t anything that could be recognized as Yagac. As it took steps the ground shook. Fire surrounded it. The guards fled in terror.

Yagac felt no different. He was still just Yagac just a boy. But as he returned from the castle, riding into the village on a horse he had appropriated the villagers bowed down in the street, hailing him as a conquering hero.

He was no hero! He was Yagac, who could plow the straightest furrow. Yagac, who loved his family and missed his sister. He’d found her dead in the castle. It wasn’t fair! These people wanted food. They wanted protection.

Yagac spurred his horse and rode down the trail away from the village. But even as he did it he knew he would be returning. The god demanded it.

He was also Yagac the responsible, and he would pay the price.

3Our God comes
but he doesn’t keep silent.
Fire devours before him,
A furious windstorm surrounds him. — Psalm 50:3

(See my devotional on this verse.)