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.)

The Former Youth Group

“Your youth group is a miserable shadow of the one we had when Fred Martenson was our youth pastor!”

The words rang in David’s ears as he stood on the sidewalk outside the church’s administrative building. His next move was to walk to his car, get in, and go home. That seemed like a good idea, but he seemed frozen. The board of elders had just gotten done evaluating his first three months as the church’s youth pastor, and it had not gone well. He had entered filled with optimism. Attendance was up. His youth were getting more involved in the church. There was much left to be done, but he was pleased with the progress thus far. He even had a new plan, initiated by one of the youth, involving the young people visiting shut-in church members, encouraging them, and helping them. All in all, he felt he had done well in just three months in his new position.

But the board felt otherwise. He had spent nearly two hours hearing comparisons of his tenure thus far to the accomplishments of this former youth pastor, Fred Martenson, who had apparently been a paragon of all pastoral virtues, and had only left when the powers-that-be had required his services in a large church that was near collapse. Only the talents of their youth pastor would do to save the large church. So they had reluctantly let their treasure go.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of persons, places, or events to anything in the real world is strictly coincidental. This story was written as a comment on the lectionary, Pentecost + 25, Cycle C. Copyright © 2013, Henry E. Neufeld.

David had never heard of Fred Martenson. He had replaced someone by another name, one he couldn’t remember at the moment and whose name nobody seemed to mention, and that only after a year’s vacancy. He’d heard nothing about this Fred from his young people, though he thought he’d heard the name from one of the older members a couple of times. It really hadn’t stuck with him.

But apparently the man was some kind of wizard at youth ministry, or apparently at pastoral ministry in general, and he was expected to live up to his accomplishments, whatever those might be.

His reverie was interrupted.

“That bad?” said Roger Geoffries.

David didn’t answer for a few moments. He was too surprised. He had not been certain Roger Geoffries could talk. The man was at the church regularly. He cleaned. He mowed the grass. He tended to flower beds. He fixed things that nobody else could fix. But when Roger talked … well, nobody knew. Roger never talked.

“How did you know?” asked David.

Roger Geoffries shrugged. He seem to indicate that it was obvious.

“Yes, it was bad,” said David.

“Usually is.”


“The ghost of Fred.” Was that just a twitch of a grin on Roger’s face?

“Ghost?” asked David.

Roger nodded. “Can’t catch him. Never sure when he’ll turn up. Never sure he’ll stay away.”

“Who was Fred Martenson?”

Roger stood looking at David. David didn’t know why, but he felt he was being evaluated, sort of like someone was doing some new, fancy medical scan on his soul. finally Roger spoke. “Have lunch with me tomorrow. Noon. Down at Purley’s Cafe.”

That caught David by surprise, but after a few moments of reflection, he decided that he’d better take any offer of friendship. There was no evidence that Roger had any power in the church, but he couldn’t refuse any offer of friendship.

“OK,” he said, and then somehow found the will to move. He waved at Roger who just nodded and went back to work.


At the cafe the next day, David was surprised when he found two people already at the table. There was someone with Roger, perhaps a few years older, but not by much. As David approached their table they both rose.

“Let me introduce the Right Reverend Dr. Fred Martenson,” said Roger with what was clearly a grin.

Fred held out his hand, but then looked back at Roger. “Oh cut it out!” he said. “We don’t use those titles, and even if I was in an organization that did, I wouldn’t be entitled to the titles. He enunciated ‘title’ so that it was clear he was enjoying the repetition.

David froze. After the night before, it was like meeting a legend. Or a ghost. He wasn’t sure which.

“Come on,” said Fred. “I won’t break your hand or anything.”

David remembered courtesy and shook hands with the legend. “It’s just a bit disconcerting, meeting a legend,” he said. He thought ‘legend’ was better than ‘ghost.’

“Or a ghost,” said Fred.

They all laughed.

“There are those who are legends in their own minds,” Fred continued. “And then there is something much worse. Legends in a church. You might think I should say ‘in the minds of church members,’ but it seems as though these legends, or ghosts, live in the very structure of a church. They’re at least as hard to exorcise as the demons that come out only by prayer and fasting.”

“But if you did all those things …” David’s voice kind of faded.

“But I didn’t.”

“You mean the board members were lying?”

“I think you have to know that you’re lying for it to be a lie. The board members are just repeating the church’s tradition.”

“I don’t understand.”

Roger interrupted, shocking David again. “It’s the youth group and the youth pastor that existed when I was growing up. Fred was my youth pastor. He’s only four years older than I am. I was one of his senior youth. And he was a good youth pastor. But when he got called to pastor a large church, peoples’ pride got in the way. His story started growing.”

“I met Roger again when he was in college.”

David was stunned again. Roger the groundskeeper in college?

“He was studying philosophy.” Fred paused, allowing David to recover from this next shock. “He discussed some of the questions he had about the Christian faith with me. So we started meeting. We’ve continued to meet since.”

“I saw the legend grow in the church,” Roger interrupted, “and I decided to do my best to remember things as they actually were. It was, indeed, a good time. But to be honest, young man, you have a chance to do even better.”

“But how do I overcome the legend?”

“You have to do that in your own mind,” said Fred. “If you win in your mind, you’ll be fine.”

“But won’t the church fire me?”

“Not hardly,” said Roger. “They didn’t fire the four youth pastors before you. They just drove them off. If you can’t be driven off, you have a great opportunity.”

“This kind comes out only by prayer and fasting,” said Fred. “The board of elders is going to pray, sort of. But the only person who’s going to pray and fast is you.”

Who is left among you who experienced our youth ministry in its former glory? How does it look now? Doesn’t it look like nothing to you? (paraphrase of Haggai 2:3)


A Ripple of Anger

He wasn’t really very angry. He’d call it just a bit past annoyed. The conversation with his wife had gone the wrong direction, and he was angry enough to be tense.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any persons, places, or events to anything in real life is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2013
Henry E. Neufeld

It wasn’t a major incident. The driver at the light had gone through just a little late. Late enough to be going through on red. He’d seen her face looking his way as he raised that middle finger. It made him fell better, or so he told himself.

She was having a bad day. Having someone show her the middle finger put her over the line. She was normally patient, but that nasty man at the light had no business making an obscene gesture at her. She was in a hurry! She hadn’t been very late at the light. And because she was in a hurry, and she was so angry already, when the driver in front of her was slow to get moving (on his cell phone) she laid into her horn and kept it going until the car got moving.

He, in turn, was receiving bad news on the phone. He had taken about all he could take, and that woman behind him laying into her horn was just too much. He got moving, but pounded on his steering wheel and yelled obscenities, which nobody at all heard.

His next turn was onto the entrance ramp to the interstate, followed by a merge. Because he was so angry he was driving too fast. He knew it, but he didn’t really care. How dare that woman rush him! He sped up some more to cut in directly in front of a pickup truck.

The pickup truck driver was distracted. She was saying something to a child in the back seat. She barely avoided a collision. She was angry enough already at the child, and having this driver cut her off sent her over the edge. She knew the offending driver could hear her, so she yelled at the child instead. He started crying.

The child was also angry. He didn’t think he’d deserved all that yelling. He decided to work it out by throwing his toy truck at his mother in the front seat.

His mother was just about to change lanes, and just as she should have been looking in her blind spot, the toy truck hit her. She didn’t see the truck in the lane to her left.

The truck driver hit his brakes. Hard. But the laws of physics were against him and nearly thirty vehicles behind him.

Nobody really understood why the driver of the pickup truck made that turn at that moment. How could they?

“How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” — James 3:5b (NRSV)

How Scrooge Got It All Wrong

Scrooge really doesn’t get it, someone thought. Perhaps he needs a little shove.

It was a fine Christmas Eve, and Ebenezer Scrooge was at home eating his supper. He had done well that day. Corn sold at above the market rate. Debts collected from people who couldn’t afford it. He’d put Bob Cratchit in his place, and he’d get that much more work from him in the coming year because of it. The collectors for charity had been sent packing. Everyone would know that Scrooge meant business, so those with business on their minds would come to Scrooge and Marley. That meant success!

He heard a loud thump on the doorstep. Then there was a rattle. Some clinks. The first could be an accident. The second might still have nothing to do with him. But the third convinced him there was someone at his door, and at this time of night that could only be a thief, though why a thief would make so much noise escaped him.

He grabbed his walking stick and went to the door. He was about to open in when there was another rattle, and then a clunk. (The distinction between a “clink” and a “clunk” is esoteric, but worth investigating.) There was something wrong here. He bent down to look out through the keyhole, but before his eye adjusted to the darkness something slammed into his head and he fell over backwards.

He recovered from that undignified position only to see a largish man. He was decorated with chains of gold and silver. He had two large chests encrusted with gemstones. Scrooge was wondering how heavy they were when the man set one down on a floor. Clunk! Now that was a real clunk.

“Who are you?” asked Scrooge.

“I am Jacob Marley, your late business partner,” replied the man. Scrooge hadn’t noticed until now that the man didn’t appear quite solid. Not wispy like a cloud, but just not entirely there, you  know.

“You do resemble my partner, but what are you doing here?”

“I came to give you some advice.”

“It looks like you might need some advice yourself. Perhaps someone to help carry those chests.”

“Oh, no! I wouldn’t give these to anyone else for the world!”

“But if you’re dead, you’re a spirit. Does a spirit have use for any of those things?”

“Well …” Marley paused briefly and awkwardly. “We don’t actually use them here, but they’re a sign of status. I have very high status in the spirit world.”

“But you don’t use them?” asked Scrooge.

“Status is important,” replied Marley. “And besides. You have every bit as much, or even more, than I have. What good does it do you?”

“I can spend my money. I can invest it and make more!”

“But here you are in a dimly lit room. You don’t want to waste candles. That food you’re eating isn’t that much better than what the poor eat, and your clothes, while not exactly worn and ratty are not excessively fine or comfortable. In fact, other than making more money, I don’t see how you use yours any better than I do mine.”

“I see.” Scrooge paused thoughtfully. “So what was your advice?”

“You really don’t get the possibilities of Christmas.”

“Bah, humbug! Not you too on this Christmas thing. I don’t intend to waste my money making people merry on Christmas!”

“Ah, but you do like making money, do you not?”

“I do.”

“I thought so. And it is well that you do. You will have high status when you reach the spirit realm. You will have even more to carry around than I do!” Marley looked enviously at his partner.

“So how can Christmas make me money?”

“Finally!” said Marley. “You are asking the right question. How can you make money indeed! But that is not for me to tell you. You will be visited tonight by three spirits. They will advise you. Listen well! May you be honored with a heavy load!”

“But what if I don’t want a heavy load?” asked Scrooge, but Marley was slowly fading away.

As the clock struck one in the morning, Scrooge heard a whisper of a breeze run through his bedroom. He would have missed it if he hadn’t been awake worrying about the appearance of the spirits. A man appeared in the room dressed much like Scrooge himself would dress for business.

“Who are you?” asked Scrooge.

“I am the ghost of Christmas past. Or let’s just make it this past Christmas. That’s far enough to go.”

“So what do you do?”

“I show you your past mistakes. Like this!”

There was a whooshing sound, and Scrooge saw various colors and objects he couldn’t identify fly past him. Suddenly he was standing in front of a poulterer’s stand and he recognized himself talking to the owner. The stand was decorated with Christmas candles, quite an innovation on this street, and the owner wanted a loan. He remembered the incident. The owner had requested a loan and he had refused on the grounds that he was wasting money on the decorations. How could he be a sound investment with all that waste?

The owner argued that more people saw his stand and would buy from him with the decorations. He argued that it wasn’t a waste.

“Christmas is for idle people!” exclaimed Scrooge, refusing the loan.

“Stupid, stupid man!” said the spirit. “Big mistake!”

“But he went out of business within the month!”

“Because he couldn’t get a loan. Let me show you what would have happened if you had loaned him money.”

The scene shifted. Scrooge watched as more and more people went to that poulterer’s stand. By the time the next Christmas came around, he had a storefront rather than a stand. The moving scene slowed and stopped.

“He would have repaid that loan and borrowed from you twice more during the same year, and paid you back on time and with full interest. But you didn’t get it because you were upset about decorations.”

“But decorations are frivolous! They have nothing to do with making money!”

“People buy things. People like decorations. It’s all in how you look at it—or how you present it!”

And with that Scrooge found himself back in his own bedroom. It looked pretty drab to him for just a moment.

And suddenly he was awakened by a gong. It sounded like a very loud alarm clock. The spirit—he knew that’s who it was immediately this time—was a young flashily dressed man. Scrooge knew some younger men of business who would dress this way. He thought them frivolous. He was sure they would eventually fail at business.

The spirit wasted no time. “I’m the spirit of Christmas present. That’s today. Right now. Let’s go.”

And Scrooge found himself on the floor of the exchange where he was negotiating the price of corn.

“You think that was a good piece of business, don’t you?”

“Indeed I do!”

“Wrong! Bad idea! Very bad idea!”

“But I got an excellent price for that corn!”

“And later this year someone will show up and undercut you, and then what will you do?”

“There will always be someone who needs some corn.”

“But you could keep these folks as customers as well.”

“How would I do that?”

“You offer them a Christmas discount.”

“And give away money?”

“You are such a straightforward sort of villain! No, first you raise the price, explaining that you then give them a Christmas discount. You tie the discount to a longer term contract. Or, alternatively, you offer them credit, and make up the difference in the interest. Cornering them on one deal was good. Getting them tied to you as permanent customers who can’t afford to get away. That’s priceless! Christmas has countless commercial possibilities!”

But again the spirit took him by the arm and he found himself watching the Christmas party at his nephew’s house.

“Idleness! Waste!” he muttered.

“But such valuable idleness!” said the spirit.


“You see the drinks? Add up the price in your head. The meat? Bread? New clothes to show off at the party?”

Scrooge’s face fell as he added up the total of the waste.

“Why does your face fall?”

“It’s the waste!”

“But all of that money went to business in this community, and several of those businesses owe you money. In fact, you could get someone like your nephew to help you. He could talk about Christmas to all his friends, while you invest in the business that provide the necessities for celebrating Christmas right.”

“But my nephew really believes in all this. He would never do it to help me make money.”

“He wouldn’t really have to know. He encourages people to ‘keep Christmas right’ and you make money on it. Soon people think that if they don’t have a large enough goose for Christmas dinner, they’re not good people.”

“So I tell them to buy more stuff?”

“You don’t understand. You need to encourage people to have parties. They buy stuff for the parties. That puts money in your pocket. I know you envied the wealth your late partner carries in the next world, and you will have much more. But you could double, triple, or even quadruple that amount!

“About that,” said Scrooge, “I still don’t get what that money does for a spirit in the next world.”

“It makes you wealthy!” said the spirit. And he deposited Scrooge back in his bedroom.

Scrooge never really heard the clock strike three. He was overwhelmed by the sound of a large crowd. People were yelling and shoving one another. They kept running into one another in the aisles. Yes, those were aisles, with merchandise on all sides. He had never even imagined anything the size of this store, for a store it obviously was. At the front there were lines of people waiting to pay for things that they had piled up in little push carts. The lights were not candles, but Scrooge couldn’t identify them.

“Where am I?” asked Scrooge.

The spirit was a woman in some type of uniform with her name on a tag. The tag read “Ghost of Christmas Future.” She looked businesslike and efficient.

“You are in the future of Christmas,” she said.

“The future of Christmas? What does this have to do with Christmas?”

“This is what will happen if you will just follow the advice the spirits have given you.”

She led Scrooge up to the counters where people were, he thought, paying for their goods. He watched as they passed little cards through a machine of some time.

“Where is the money?” he asked.

“Those little cards pass the money through the machine. In fact, most of them are borrowing money to pay for their Christmas shopping. The card automatically borrows it for them.”

“Lending money to buy Christmas presents? Somebody must be insane! You borrow money to buy goods to sell. You borrow money to build buildings. You borrow money to create a business. You don’t borrow money to buy Christmas presents. You would be ruined!”

“Ah, but the people lending the money are doing very well. They make large amounts of money on the borrowers. These people will be paying the bankers for the next year, and maybe the next and the next.”

“But many of them won’t be able to pay the money back and the bankers will lose.”

“But there are increased interest rates, fees for late payments, fees for borrowing more than your limit …”

“Borrowing more than your limit? How is it a limit if you can borrow more than that?”

“The limit is flexible. But if you go over, there’s a monthly fee. Then the payment every month is very small, so once you add up the fees and the interest rates, your balance may actually increase every month even when you’re not buying anything.”

“But then you would never get paid back.”

“But that doesn’t matter. Eventually you can make more money in fees and interest than you loaned in the first place. Then if the people can’t pay, you sell your loan to debt collectors and let them pursue the people for the money. You only get a few cents on the dollar, but since they may now owe you thousands when they only borrowed hundreds, you don’t care.”

“But what happens if people start to realize what’s going on and quit borrowing, or they all fail to pay and end up in debtor’s prison. What do you do then?”

“Well, we don’t have debtor’s prison any more, but I get your point. It can all collapse when people start to get worried about how much they owe. But what you do is prepare a golden parachute for yourself.”

“What’s a golden parachute?”

“A golden parachute guarantees that while your business goes bankrupt, you yourself get paid a large sum of money and can continue to live comfortably and even start a new business.”

“How … No, I don’t think I want to know. I’ve been such an amateur at business!”

When Scrooge woke up in the morning he called a boy to go and get the biggest goose from the poulterer. He paid him an extra shilling, explaining that it was Christmas. He sent it to his nephew with a note.

“My dear nephew,” it said. “I want to make sure you make the right impression with your Christmas feast. I think you know how to keep Christmas. Stop by the store tomorrow. I have a proposition for you.”

From now on, thought Scrooge, I’ll keep Christmas right!

But I Was Just Witnessing

“Hello Carl. I’m Victor, Pastor Victor.”

“Thanks for coming to see me, Pastor.”

Victor sized up the man across the table from him. He could see the young man’s eyes flicker around the room, noting the watching prison guards and the other signs that said, “This is a jail.” It was a county jail, but still definitely a jail. Victor saw an odd mix of defiance and serenity, determination and fear in the young man’s expression.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any persons, places, or events to those in the real world is strictly coincidental. Copyright © 2012, Henry E. Neufeld

“The Sheriff said you wanted to see a pastor. What can I do for you?”

“What church are you from?” asked Carl.

Victor was surprised. When someone asked for a pastor and didn’t specify which, they normally went straight to their problem. It might be help with their bail, contact with loved ones, or some kind of spiritual counseling.

“My church is called the 10th Street Gospel Fellowship. It’s non-denominational. But why don’t we discuss your problem here.”

“I need to know who you are. Are you born again?”

Victor paused. He was surprised by the question, but he had asked it of many who called themselves Christians himself. Every Christian should be born again and willing to say it. “Yes, he said. I’m a born again Christian. What about you?”

“I am too,” said Carl, looking neither surprised nor offended. It appeared he expected to be asked as well. Then he added, “And do you believe the Bible? The whole Bible?”

“Yes, I’m a Bible believing Christian.”

“Good,” said Carl, and then he paused a moment, as though he found it harder to ask his next question. “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? Do you believe God can speak to us today?”

Victor was still puzzled. But again it was a question he had asked many times himself. “Yes,” he said, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe He will speak to you. But we will only be allowed a limited time for this visit. Perhaps you need to tell me what you need.”

“I need to talk to a born again, Bible believing, Spirit filled pastor. What did you think I needed?” It could have been belligerent, but it just sounded puzzled, as though there was only one possible reason for this visit.

“Well, I’m used to being called here by people who need bail money …”

“I don’t plan to post bail.”

“… or need me to contact their loved ones …”

“I have nobody who would be interested.”

“… or perhaps have other financial needs …

“I think they provide my needs here.”

“… or who want spiritual counsel.”

“Well, I don’t know if it’s ‘spiritual counsel’ I want. I just wanted to talk to someone who would understand. Then maybe you can pray with me.”

“Well, how can I help you then? Would you like to explain why you’re here?”

“I’m being persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”

Victor couldn’t keep just a bit of tension from his voice. He was unaware of any outbreak of persecution in his Christian community. Apathy, false doctrine, worldly living, yes. Persecution, other than a bit of ridicule for those who were truly committed Christians, no. “What particular form of righteousness are you being persecuted for?” he asked.

Carl didn’t seem to notice any veiled sarcasm. “I’ve been arrested for witnessing,” he said.

“Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

“I would have thought you’d have some idea, if you are truly born again, Bible believing, and Spirit filled. If you are being a true witness for God in this place, you will likely be arrested.”

“But what specifically happened to you?”

“Well, I came into town, and I heard the Lord saying to me, ‘Chamber of Commerce’. I knew that meant that I was to witness to the business people of the town. I had already seen several shops involved with pornography, so the business community here is certainly corrupt, or they wouldn’t allow such things. When I got to the Chamber of Commerce I found that the parking lot was filled. There was a meeting going on. The Lord had gathered people together to hear from me.”

Victor was listening with ever increasing horror. He was afraid he knew where this was going. Carl continued.

“I went into the meeting and waved for attention. They ignored me. Then I shouted. Finally I went up on the platform and grabbed the microphone. I told them that they needed to repent for the sins of this city and invite Jesus to come in and rule in the businesses, the school, and the government.”

“And then you were arrested.”

“Yes. There were deputies right there in the room. Apparently the meeting was about businesses working with law enforcement. So I was arrested for disturbing the peace and brought here.”

“Are you surprised they arrested you?” asked Victor.

“I was just doing what God told me to do. I even told them that God had called me to speak to them. But they still arrested me.”

“You can hardly be surprised. You could have chosen a better time.”

“But God told me to do that. When Peter and James wanted to preach in the temple they just went ahead and did it. They said they had to obey God rather than men.”

“But they didn’t go and interrupt a meeting of the Sanhedrin in order to witness. They preached to people in the courtyard. You went into someone else’s building, someone else’s conference room, and interrupted their activities.”

Carl looked surprised and puzzled. “I thought you were a Bible believing Christian,” he said. “Surely you remember Paul preaching on Mars Hill. That wasn’t a church. Or in cities like Lystra and Derbe, where he was persecuted. He didn’t ask permission.”

“But Paul was invited to speak on Mars Hill, and when he spoke in the Synagogues, he was invited to do so.”

“But God told me to do this. You said you believed God speaks to people today. He spoke to me. He told me where to go to preach.”

“Are you sure he didn’t mean you should start a business, join the Chamber of Commerce, and reform them from inside?” asked Victor.

“You’re mocking me. Get thee behind me Satan! Quit tempting me to doubt!” Carl was standing up and shouting. Two guards were running over.

As Carl was being led away, he heard the words “apostate” and “persecutor” amongst the many thrown at him. “But I was just witnessing!” was the last thing Carl shouted. What a fool! thought Victor. No common sense at all.

It wasn’t until he was halfway back to his church that he began to wonder. What in the way I teach the Bible and listening to the Holy Spirit would prevent someone from doing what Carl did? Have I taught them any discernment? Any good sense?

It was a sobering thought.

Which Is the Patriot?

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters, places, or events to anything in the real world is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2012, Henry E. Neufeld

Jeremiah, known just as Jer for short took in the scene in an instant. He was a sheriff’s deputy, and a good one. He could write the story in a moment. He instantly also regretted not calling for backup before he got out of his patrol car and walked into this field. But he had recognized his friend Billy amongst the young men in the field, and he had been certain he could handle whatever Billy got into. Billy got into little trouble, not big.

Had been certain. Not now. The body lying on the ground didn’t look good. He thought he’d seen movement in the moment he had to take in the scene. He didn’t have his gun out. He didn’t see any guns on the young men there, but he was certain there was one under Billy’s jacket.

Before he could say anything, Billy spoke up. “It’s not what it looks like,” he said. “He’s a terrorist, … a Muslim terrorist. We caught him and he attacked us.” Jer considered the half a dozen young men and the slight figure on the ground. The scenario was unlikely.

“You’re going to have to come with me,” he said, looking at Billy, but taking in the group.

“Listen, Jer,” said Billy. “You don’t have to do this. You’re the first on the scene. Let the others go, then I’ll claim self defense. He is a terrorist. We heard him talking about Allah and all that and how bad things would happen to this country. He was going to blow things up!”

“Yeah,” said another of the young men. “We’re patriots! We’re defending our country!”

Jer could see Billy watching him, hoping he’d be distracted. But even though he’d managed to get himself into this bad situation—why hadn’t he called it in!—he knew how to handle himself.

“No, you’re not,” said Jer. “You’re breaking the law.”

“I can’t believe you’d get soft on these terrorists,” said Billy, looking shocked. “I always thought you were a patriotic American!”

Jer saw the slight movement of Billy’s right hand. Billy thought himself fast. He thought himself quite a marksman. But his expertise was largely in his own mind. Before his hand was halfway to the open flap of his jacket, Jer had his gun in his hand.

“Don’t go there!” he said firmly.

“You wouldn’t shoot your old friend Billy, would you?”

“Put your hands on your head, or you’ll find out,” said Jer. His look and tone took in all the young men. A couple of them moved as if to run. “Don’t even think about it! Get down on the ground!” he said firmly, and just loud enough to make everyone hear.

With everyone on the ground he made that call for backup.

As Billy was being placed in the back of one of the cruisers, he called Jer over. “You’ll see! He’s a terrorist.”

“No, Billy,” said Jer. “He’s just a student with some opinions you don’t like. He was walking home. He lives just a block from here. Luckily for you, he’s going to live.”

“But he hates America,” said Billy. “Some time soon he’ll blow up one of our schools, and then you’ll be sorry you stopped us! I’m a patriot!”

Jer just turned away. Someday he might just have to stop a terrorist. He figured it could happen. Or it might be one of his colleagues. But he was pretty sure it would be someone like him who did it, not someone like Billy.

Which of us is the real patriot? he thought.

Can Either of You Recommend a Church?

“So how have you enjoyed our church?” asked Pastor Fred. He was the evangelism pastor for First Community Church, and he was out following up with recent visitors.

“It was interesting,” said Ed noncommittally. Ed had taken his family to First Community Church two out of the last four weeks, and had said that any Saturday afternoon would do for a visit when he filled out the visitor form.

“We were delighted that you chose to come back and visit us a second time,” said Fred.

“I like to get acquainted when I’m considering any major purchase, whether it’s a new car, a club, or in this case a church.”

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any characters, events, or places to those in the real world is strictly coincidental. Copyright © 2012, Henry E. Neufeld.

There was an pause as Fred tried to absorb this. He knew people shopped for churches. He just wasn’t used to having anyone put it quite that bluntly. Just as the pause was becoming awkward, the doorbell rang. Ed got up and soon returned with Pastor George, the associate minister at First Fellowship Church. Fred and George were friendly rivals. Both churches were large and growing. This was the first time they’d ended up visiting a prospective member at the same time.

“I didn’t mean to intrude,” said George. “I can come back another time when you’re not occupied.”

“I don’t see why I can’t talk to both of you at once.” Ed looked puzzled that anyone could see a problem with this. “I’ve visited each of your churches twice. I didn’t plan to get you here at the same time, though I suppose it was always possible considering I put Saturday afternoon as the best time to visit.”

Fred and George looked at one another and then shrugged. “I guess it’s OK,” said Fred with a slightly forced smile. In fact, he was thinking that he would have to watch some of the things he usually said about First Fellowship. George might take exception!

“Where’s the rest of your family?” asked George.

“It’s hard to get this family in one place. My son’s at a school fundraising project, and my wife and daughter are at swimming class. Don’t worry, they’ll have their input. I’ll tell them what you had to say.”

Fred saw his opening. “One of the reasons I felt that your family would fit well at First Community is his community involvement. His Sunday School teacher mentioned to me that he knew many of our young people from various activities.”

“Yes,” said Ed, “he did mention how many of the young people he knew. My wife and I knew many people in our class as well. We would certainly see plenty of people we already know if we join First Community.”

“We like to encourage networking through the church. Many of our people make the church the center of their social and business life. We like to think we’re a church for all your family’s needs.”

George thought he saw an opening. It was his chief objection to his friendly rival’s church. What about spiritual needs? In fact, since both churches claimed to be Christian, what about Christ? He was about to open his mouth to say this, despite how confrontational it sounded, when Ed spoke again.

“But what about our spiritual needs? Our Sunday School class discussed building a house for Habitat. That’s a good thing, but I’m already involved. My son’s class talked about toleration and how to get along with others at school and at work. Your senior pastor’s sermon had to do with facing life’s problems, but I heard something like it at a sales motivational meeting I attended recently.”

George was feeling pretty good. It was what he wanted to say, but much more direct and complete with details.

“We definitely believe in Jesus as our Savior at First Community,” said Fred, “but we think it’s important to be active in living out God’s kingdom in the world. We’re about action and the way that real people live their lives. We try to have messages that will help you make it through the next week.”

George couldn’t leave this alone. “At First Fellowship,” he said passionately, “We are interested in messages that will help you live for eternity. We think that if you make Jesus Christ first in your life, these other things will come along quite well.”

“But they don’t happen by themselves,” said Fred. “You have to be active. Just saying that Jesus died for our sins over and over every week doesn’t tell people how they’re going to deal with being laid off, finding a new job, raising their kids, or helping their neighbors.” He knew he should keep calm and be gracious, but he felt that he was under attack, and quite unfair attack.

“Actually I’m quite satisfied that both your churches are very involved in the community. I did my research before I took my family to visit. I know you’re both involved in missions. You both do local service projects. Members of both churches are very much involved in the community.” He paused a moment.

“But what good is all of this if we don’t preach Christ?” George regretted this as soon as he had said it. He’d say something like this to Fred over lunch, where he’d joke about Christianity Lite, but this was not a debate to have with a prospective member, especially one who didn’t seem to have any solid theological commitment.

“That’s my question about your church,” said Ed, looking at George. There was stunned silence. Nobody questioned that Christ was preached at First Fellowship. They might complain about a certain doctrinal narrowness, and perhaps even a bit of evangelistic shrillness, but they wouldn’t say Christ wasn’t preached.

“I don’t understand,” said George.

“Well, the first time we visited was just before the ruling on the Affordable Care Act was announced. Our Sunday School class was supposed to be studying Romans 6, but instead we discussed the health care bill.” Fred was happy to note that Ed called it the Affordable Care Act. George was worried that he hadn’t called it Obamacare. “We didn’t really get around to discussing Romans 6 at all.”

“The second time we visited,” he continued, “we were supposed to be on Romans 8. I can only imagine they just continued moving through the book even though we hadn’t discussed it. But now the Supreme Court had ruled, and we discussed the ruling. I had done my reading and I wanted someone to explain how Romans 8 related to Romans 7. Instead I got a critique of Justice Roberts’ logic in the decision. I didn’t say anything, because I gathered that someone who thought the ACA was a good idea wouldn’t really be welcome.

“In the youth class they talked about homosexuality and how wrong it was. It was not done too badly. They spoke out against bullying and told the youth to treat their gay friends well, pray for them, and hope to save them. I’m not sure what was up in my daughter’s class. They did an art project relating to the name ‘Jesus’, but she couldn’t tell me what she had learned.

“Then there was the sermon, which was supposed to be from John 15, but quickly go derailed onto politics. I quit counting the number of times the pastor said he wasn’t telling us who to vote for, but he clearly didn’t mean it, because we could definitely tell we were not to vote for President Obama’s re-election.”

“I’ve frequently pointed out that First Fellowship tends to be politically narrow,” said Fred. “If you don’t accept the politics of the church you won’t be welcome, even if you agree with the theology.”

George wanted to be angry, but he realized it was no more pointed than what he had said about First Community.

But Ed wasn’t nearly as kind, apparently. “I wouldn’t put it that way,” he said. “Even though we didn’t discuss the ACA in class, someone brought it up in the hall and when I mentioned a question I had about the constitutionality of the individual mandate, several people turned away and didn’t want to talk to me any more. At my work place we debate this kind of thing all the time and we stay friends. Couldn’t we do the same thing at church?”

“We really should,” said Fred. “But people are people.”

“But why are they more tense at church then they are in the workplace?” asked Ed.

“I don’t know,” said George. “But you do have a point.”

“My problem,” said Ed, “is that I’d like a place where my children could learn about what Christianity is about without either having it rammed down their throats or having it ignored. I’d like a Sunday School class where I could find out just what Paul was up to moving from Romans 6 to 7 to 8. It doesn’t quite make sense, and I’d like to figure it out. Romans 8 sounds exciting!

“I’d like to find a church that was involved in the community, but that didn’t expect my whole life to center around what the church was doing. My whole family gets involved in community service. The church doesn’t have to own everything. I’d like to be able to talk about ethics and spiritual things and how they would impact my vote without having people condemn me if I end up voting differently than they do.

“Can either of you recommend a church to me that will meet those needs?”


A Great Disappointment to Me

“You’re a great disappointment to me.”

Jay’s father’s words hit him harder than when his boss fired him, or when he’d been expelled from his high school. He was still a teenager, and already he was practically unemployable. It wasn’t that he was stupid. He simply had a serious problem with the truth.

This is a work of fiction. All persons, places, and events and products of my imagination. Copyright © 2012, Henry E. Neufeld

He sat around the house for a few days, avoiding his father, who no longer tried to tell him to find a job. Where would he find one anyhow? He wondered when his father might tell him he was no longer welcome. The man did believe in the maxim, “He who does not work should not eat.”

Then the impossible happened. Out of the blue he got a call. One of his friends had mentioned his name for a construction job. He was a little bit young for the job, but the contractor told him there were ways around that. That concerned him a little. How did one get past regulations on what a 17 year old could do on a construction site?

The first day of work he was met by the contractor himself. “Just tell everyone you’re 20,” he said as he presented some job forms that had already been filled out. “Just sign where the arrows are.”

Jay knew better, but he could sense that he wasn’t supposed to actually read the forms. He’d tried to slip something by his teachers too many times to miss the look the boss was giving him. So he signed the forms.

He expected that he’d be out doing the hard work of hauling cinder blocks or something like that. He had no building skills at all. In fact, it was very strange that he’d been called for this job in the first place. But Jay was used to suppressing thoughts like that. They got in the way of getting what he wanted.

But instead of the hard manual labor he’d expected, he was sent to ride with one of the truck drivers who picked up supplies and delivered them to job sites. The work was hard, but not nearly as hard as he’d expected. The driver told him to pay attention and learn where the various job sites were and where the suppliers were located.

“Before long you’ll be driving,” he said.

Jay knew that at 17 he could not get the sort of commercial license required to drive the sort of truck used for those deliveries. But he decided that he’d better not ask, because he’d been told to say he was 20.

He soon noticed something odd about those deliveries. Somewhere along the way the driver was swapping forms. He’d only got a glance, but he was pretty sure that what was on the purchase orders was not what was delivered to the job sites. Then there were extra stops at some warehouses. It was clear they were buying more materials than they were delivering to the job sites, and then delivering the rest to those warehouses.

After a couple of weeks, the contractor told him it was time for him to take the delivery route himself. He handed him a fake driver’s license. “You’ll need this to identify yourself when you pick up the supplies,” he said.

“What do I do if I’m stopped by the police and they check the computer?” asked Jay.

“You drive carefully and don’t get stopped by the police,” said the boss.

He handed Jay the paperwork. Jay leafed through it. He could see the two copies of each of the purchase orders and the list of sites and deliveries. The boss watched him carefully.

“I think you know what to do with those,” said the boss. “I think you’re an observant young man.”

Jay nodded. He wanted to feel proud as the contractor called him “observant,” but hard as he tried he couldn’t shake the feeling that the look the boss was giving him was one of contempt and not congratulation.

He’d never been worried about lying before, but now he had a job and was making his own money. He’d felt pride that he could get the job, even through the slight discomfort he had about the lie regarding his age. He had told himself that was just concern over getting caught, but this was something more.

The deliveries were not that hard. He didn’t find it difficult to keep the paperwork straight so that each job site received what their paperwork said they should, while there were always materials left over.

But each day he couldn’t shake the feeling that the boss looked at him with contempt. He’d never caught on to the problem of lying when he did it at school or at home, but now each time he told someone what his job was he felt guilt rather than pleasure. In school or at home, the only reason he’d seen to tell the truth was what might happen if he got caught. Now it was his life. And he found he wasn’t comfortable with his whole life being a lie.

He spent a little time on the internet and located the contractor licensing and fraud unit of the Sheriff’s office. But for a couple more weeks he couldn’t bring himself to take any action. He realized that there would be no way he could prove the contractor had told him to lie about his age. Those forms in the employment office probably lied about his background, and he’d signed them without thinking. It was just another little lie, but now it was a weight around his neck—his life, in fact! He probably couldn’t even prove that the contractor had provided his fake ID.

Each day that his boss looked at him with that look of contempt made it harder to continue the next day. How could his boss, who was ordering him to cheat, have contempt for him because he did it? Then one day he realized that the boss had contempt for himself as well.

So late one afternoon after he left work he got together with the fraud investigator. “I can’t prove the contractor is involved in any of this,” he admitted. I have a history of lying and cheating. I signed the employment documents. I’ve been using this false ID. But I’m done.”

The investigator didn’t go easy in questioning him about every detail. But when he was done he said that most people would have shown up with an attorney and demanded immunity in exchange for their testimony. “We were already watching your boss,” he said. “What you can’t prove, we can, and you’ve given us the last piece. I don’t know what will happen to you, but you can be sure I’ll put in a good word. Keep working and we’ll take care of the rest.”

It was a week later when the deputy showed up as he started his route. He confiscated the papers and arrested the contractor and several others. But he didn’t arrest Jay. “You’ll have to testify,” the deputy said.

“OK,” said Jay.

As the contractor was being led to the waiting cruiser, he turned to Jay. “You’re a great disappointment to me,” he said.

But this time what the boss said about him made him feel proud.

(This story was written for the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival – Disappoint.)


A Fresh Perspective – II

(See also A Fresh Perspective I)

The church council didn’t know what to do. Well, that isn’t precisely true. Individually they did know what to do, but they didn’t all know the same thing, and no one plan of action was acceptable to all the members.

This is a work of fiction. All persons, places, and things are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance of anything or anyone in the story to anything or anyone in the real world is coincidental.
Copyright © 2012,
Henry E. Neufeld.

Here was their problem. They had dozens of young people coming to events at the church. They played basketball in the gym. They played softball on the softball fields. Many of them even went to Sunday School.

The power bill on the gym was going up, and there was no money to pay it. The softball fields needed more and more maintenance, and there was no money to pay that either. The Sunday School classes needed more materials, but there was no money for that. They needed more teachers, but there were not enough volunteers.

Some thought the problem was that the church didn’t trust in God enough. They proposed a month of fasting and prayer that God would provide the money.

Others thought that the problem was that these were children whose parents didn’t go to the church. They wondered why they had to spend money on children whose parents weren’t interested enough to support the church with their time and money. They suggested the children should go to church wherever their parents did. They just looked blank when someone mentioned that very few, maybe none, of those parents went to church.

Some thought they should try to get a grant somewhere, they weren’t sure where.

Then one retired lady who had spent her entire life working with the children started asking questions.

“Isn’t there something in the church budget we could give up?” she asked. “Perhaps we don’t need new hymnals this year.” Everyone was so stunned at this suggestion that silence fell, and she was able to continue. “Surely the children are more important than the appearance of our hymnals!” she continued.

“And to all you praying folk. Are you going to show up to help? Will the money you save by not buying food while you fast help the budgetary problems?”

“I know my granddaughter loves to work with children, but nobody has asked for her help. I’m told she’s too young, but is she really?” Again there was silence.

“And has anyone considered contacting these parents? You seemed surprised at the suggestion they might not attend church. Most people in our community don’t—attend church, that is.”

After a short pause she finished. “The only new thing I think we need here is a fresh perspective!”

(This story is an alternative to the one I wrote for the One Word at a Time blog carnival on the word “Fresh.”)


The Stairway Going Down

He stood looking at the hole in the ground. He could feel his hand trembling. He knew he was terrified and was embarrassed, even though there was nobody there to see.

A stairway going down.

That phrase was loaded with all the psychological freight of his own claustrophobia, heightened by his choice in literature, which tended to feature terrifying places, and by hundreds of dungeon adventures from fantasy role playing. The adventure party would be practically out of supplies and wounded to the point of death. Then the gamemaster would intone: “You see a stairway going down.”

They’d pretend to lack imagination and tease one another about using the last of their power to climb down the stairway into the darkness.

Dim. Dark. Dank. Damp. Dirty.

This is a work of fiction. All persons and places are products of my imagination. Copyright © 2011, Henry E. Neufeld.

All connected to “down” and all seemed to apply to the stairway in front of him. But this wasn’t a game. This wasn’t fantasy. He was actually standing in front of a stairway. It went down. It was dim. No, that wasn’t adequate. It was dark, it was damp, it was dirty.

I could just go back to the car and call the police, he thought. I could get help. But the image was still in his mind. The light flashing to the sky as though someone had fallen holding a flashlight, or perhaps dropped one. He’d actually stopped to go and investigate. Then he was sure he heard crying, or perhaps moaning.

The wisest course of action, he knew, was to get help. Why did he think it was urgent? What good would it do to get injured. Then he could easily end up way down some hole and nobody would know he was there.

On the other hand he heard the words of his parents, his brothers and sisters, and associates. “A hero in his own mind.” “He can handle the fantasy world; the real world is beyond him.” “The more heroic the character, the more cowardly the player.”

He had to go down that stairway.

The first step was the hardest. No, that wasn’t right. It was the second. Or perhaps the third. Actually, it was always the next step. He hated the word “down” more with every step. He had even forgotten why he was trying to go down this stairway. He just focused on the next step.

Suddenly he slipped. He threw up his arms, and hit something, then he was sliding, and he could hear rocks, or perhaps bricks falling around him. Then he landed hard. He was in complete darkness. It was bricks, not rocks. He could feel them all around him.

It was his worst nightmare. Underground, in a cramped area, and finally buried alive. And here he was, living it.

There was a moment when he thought he couldn’t think. He thought his mind and body were both frozen. Then he realized he was thinking about not thinking. Then he realized he was thinking more clearly than he had ever thought before.

While he could feel bricks around him, he was still breathing easily. He felt that he was bumped and bruised, but he didn’t feel like he was bleeding. He didn’t feel any dampness. If he was really buried under a pile of bricks he wouldn’t be in as good shape as he was.

He tried to move, and found he could. There were quite a few bricks around him, but only a few on top. It was painful to move, but not so painful that he couldn’t do it. He suspected nothing was broken, or it would hurt more.

My mind has been making all this worse than it really is, he thought.

A few moments of movement and tossing bricks, or rather mostly pieces of brick to the side, and he was able to stand again.

Now where was he? He looked back, and he could see that there was still a small hole, but it offered plenty of room to crawl through. He should have a flashlight with him, but he didn’t. He did have a lighter. Why he carried a lighter, he could never explain. It was one of the things he kept in his pockets, most of which were not very useful. He wondered if he’d done it because he was so afraid of being buried underground.

He lit the lighter, and saw that he was very near the body. Hardly had he thought “the body” than he realized that this was even more of his own nightmare scenario. It occurred to him to wonder if he was dreaming.

Then he saw the flashlight several feet further on. He walked over and picked it up, flashing the lighter a couple of times to light the way. It was a waste of time. The flashlight was history.

Then he went over to the body. He felt around the man’s neck (at least he thought it was a man), and thought he felt a pulse. Then he realized he really knew of nothing to do, and couldn’t really be sure he’d know the difference. He’d just heard you should be able to feel a pulse at the neck.

Now was the time to do what he should have done in the first place, and call emergency services. “What goes down must go up,” he said, laughing as he mangled the common saying. Then he crawled up through the narrow hole and onto the stairs above.

He was standing at the top of the stairway going down before he realized that he was no longer trembling. I could go right back down there, he thought. But he knew he needed to make that phone call. Where was his cell phone? Oh. Right there in his pocket, next to the lighter, complete with an app that would turn on the little LED light.

I won’t mention that part to anyone, he thought, as he dialed 911. It wouldn’t do to have them realize he could have called the police at any time.

The police wondered why he had gone down the stairs at all. “How was I supposed to know whether there really was anyone down there? I hadn’t really seen anything,” he explained.

They explained to him that the “body” was a local gentleman who had gone for an evening walk and gotten lost. There used to be a few houses here with basements, and this was one of them. It’s a good thing for him you saw him drop that flashlight.”

“Yeah, it is,” he said. But he didn’t mean for the guy who had fallen.

He felt like a new man. He could handle reality, even in down in dim, dark, damp, dank spaces.

Maybe next time he’d even remember he had a cell phone!

(This story has been submitted to the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival – Down)