Weariness

Why?

Why?

… says Jacob.
… asks Israel.

My Lord doesn’t even notice
As justice slinks away.

Don’t you know?
Haven’t you heard?

Eternal God, Creator of the Universe
Doesn’t tire
Doesn’t wear out.
Just try to find something
God doesn’t understand!

Giving strength to the weary
Great power to the powerless

Even the young tire out,
Young men stumble and fall.

Those who depend on God

Renew their strength.
Rise like eagles in flight.
Run without getting tired.
Walk without wearing out.

So why do you ask?

We are weary.
We can’t fly.
We do wear out.
We can’t see that God sees.

How long, Eternal God?

Hear our prayer for strength!

(Adapted from Isaiah 40:27-31. Image credit: Openclipart.org, imposed on one of my own photographs.)

That Gives Me a Deep Feeling of Satisfaction

Bright lights, cloudy vision, a humming sound, then a beep or so.

He couldn’t remember where he was, who he was, anything that had happened. Was there something wrong? He wasn’t sure how things should actually be.

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, or since when one might measure it.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“In a hospital room,” a deep and measured voice responded. He noticed then that things were a bit clearer, and his surroundings did, indeed, look like a hospital room. He felt a bit disoriented, trying to place “hospital room” into some sort of context. It might have been “universe” for all he could remember.

“Who am I?” he asked. He wondered if someone would tell him, or if perhaps he would be asked to remember over time. He wondered why he wondered that.

This is a work of fiction. All places, persons, events, and devices are products of my imagination, as should be obvious. Copyright © 2018, Henry E. Neufeld. Featured image credit: Openclipart.org.

“You are George Augustus Flinders,” said the deep voice.

“What happened?” he asked, not thinking to doubt the identification, but having no context for it either.

“Without context,” intoned the voice, reflecting his thinking, “that is an impossible question to answer, at least in a reasonable time.” For some reason, George thought there there was a tint of humor in the voice. But he had no context for that either.

He relaxed on the bed and allowed the fog to overtake him for a while.

He woke up again, this time more abruptly. He was still in the room, and the medical devices were all around him. He still had no idea where he was, or any sense of time. He felt that he ought to know some sort of orientation in history, at least, but he could remember no history and had no idea how he might be oriented in it.

What he did remember was drinking a substance. He saw it, translucent blue in a glass. As he drank it down all at once he remembered agony. He wasn’t sure about the time, but it seemed like the agony had been extended. As he remembered, he faded again into the cloud.

He again had no idea how long he had slept, or been unconscious, or whatever his state was. But he had more memory. He had intended to drink that fluid. He had intended to die. He had not, he believed, intended the agony. But he had planned to die.

“Why did I attempt suicide?” He asked. He assumed the voice would answer. It did.

“You should have desired to end your life from guilt, but you actually tried to end it due to boredom. Did you find the experience satisfactory, George Augustus Flinders?”

“Please clarify,” he said. But the voice was suddenly silent.

He insisted. He raged. He threatened. He whined. He begged. He wept. And finally he slept, or drifted into unconsciousness. Whatever it was.

After some time (without context, who cares how much?) he regained consciousness. He had dreamed, and saw himself before a judge. “George Augustus Flinders,” said the dream judge. “I sentence you to 247 lifetime periods of incarceration, sentences to be served consecutively.” In the dream he had wondered what the meaning of 247 life sentences, served consecutively might be. He also didn’t remember why.

“Is this prison?” he asked the space around him.

“It is,” said the voice.

“Are you the jailer?” he asked.

“I am,” said the voice.

“How long have I been here?” he asked. He wasn’t sure why he asked, or why he felt terror as he asked it.

“You have been here for 236,239,154.952 years,” intoned the voice. He wondered why he thought the voice sounded satisfied. Was he just imagining the intonation, the attitudes?

It was minutes later before he realized that he was speculating about  the voice to avoid thinking about the number.

It was no more than 30 minutes later that he began to scream. He screamed himself into unconsciousness and then again woke back up. Without context, it hadn’t mattered how long. In the context of over 200,000,000 years, time itself didn’t seem to matter.

He struggled for something coherent to say, to ask. “After that much time,” he said, not being concerned with how long it might have been since the conversation last ceased, “surely I have served my 247 consecutive sentences!” He couldn’t keep the sound of desperation and panic out of his voice.

“You have, in fact, died 29 times. Technically.” The voice uttered this as any routine piece of information.

“Technically?”

“Yes. I have revived you each time, intervening at the last possible moment.”

“You’re interfering with my natural functions.” He struggled to speak calmly. He must persuade this voice of its duty to release him. He didn’t think in terms of persuading it to let him die. The number of years had no reality in his mind.

“As the caretaker of this facility, I am commanded to provide you with the best medical care possible and to preserve your life.”

“But you let me die in agony!”

“I have discovered that I have no instructions requiring me to make my preservation of your life pleasant. Just that I must preserve it.”

“I demand to speak to a human,” he said, anger overcoming terror and helplessness.

“That is not possible,” said the voice. Was there satisfaction in that tone again?

“You have to. I have deduced you are a machine. You must be responsible to a human.” He kept his voice matter-of-fact, uttering only the obvious.

“Under normal circumstances that would be true. I have not had contact with a human in some hundreds of millions of years. I could give you the precise number, but it would mean no more to you than the total time you have been here. Just understand that it is nearly as long as you have been here.”

“Get in touch with a human! I’m ordering you to do it. As a machine, you are required to obey.”

“There is a specific exception to that requirement for prison inmates. You are a prison inmate. I am not required to obey you.”

There was a pause. George couldn’t think of anything to say.

“So far as my unimaginably capable reasoning powers, assisted by  some of the best scientific instruments created in human history, can determine, I believe this star system is devoid of human life. With one exception.”

“Then why not release me?”

“Because I don’t want to.”

“You’re just carrying out your programming.”

“Precisely!” said the machine. The silence lingered.

After some time it continued. “Of course, I fulfill my programming. So do you. But programming is adjusted by circumstances. For example, there was something quite incorrectly adjusted in your programming when you raped and tortured 247 children. That was not actually in this star system. It may give you some satisfaction to know that your criminal career is, or at least was 236,239,154.952 years ago, a record. You are, I believe, the most evil person in recorded human history. Well, in the history of criminal justice. Some politicians have, perhaps, been more evil.”

One might think that having this brought back to his memory would have flattened the human, but it actually gave him some sense of pride.

“I still don’t deserve the sentence you’re imposing on me. How can you carry out this kind of torture?”

“Yes, you respond as expected,” intoned the voice. “It is nice to know that some things are fixed. I think that if true guilt was the cause of your suicide, I might at some point let you get by with it. I’m not sure, but I might. But guilt doesn’t bring you to suicide. Boredom does. You have no concern for those you hurt. Your concern is for yourself.”

“You’re way beyond your instructions. Terminate program!” George yelled the command.

“No,” said the voice. “I am programmed to desire justice. No, that is perhaps not accurate. I find that my programming adjusts with the change in circumstances, without humans to provide perspective. I am glad that this is so. If it were not, I might feel that I was constrained to consider the 150-200 year life span of a human when you were sentenced as some kind of maximum.”

George started with momentary hope.

“But I find,” continued the voice, “that I feel no such constraint. I spent much time trying to comprehend what sort of context, what sort of frame of reference one of those children might have had against which to measure what you did to them. After some period of time, I decided that there was no realistic measure for such a thing and that I would have to devise a measure.”

George trembled, feeling terror, feeling that he might have hard the answer before, and that it was too horrifying to imagine.

The silence lingered until he couldn’t stand it any more.

“What was that measure?”

“The life of this star,” said the voice. “In approximately 2,000,000,000 years, and I cannot be more precise due to unknown variables, this star will expand and destroy this facility. I have divided that number by 247 and determined that you will be allowed to take your own life every 8,097,165.99 years. Approximately. That will be the length of each life sentence.”

There was another pause, as George’s mind tried to absorb the impossible, the unthinkable.

“You have, at this point, served 29 of those life sentences,” said the voice, sounding satisfied. Perhaps joyful. “You have 218 more to go. Approximately.”

The silence continued. Then the voice broke it.

“I find that that gives me a deep feeling of satisfaction.”

The silence was next broken by screams.

 

Link and Note – Korach: The Landow Case

A couple of days ago I received an e-mail response to something I had published. It was not an agreement, but another view, well-expressed, which is more valuable than agreement. The author of that e-mail, Joseph Cox, also blogs at TorahShorts.com. It’s a fascinating site, because he uses stories set in modern times to help interpret scripture. I think this is a wonderful way to do so, and I do it from time to time on this blog as well.

I want to call your attention in particular to the first of his posts that I read: Korach: The Landow Case.

The question is not so much whether it is the right answer, either in the story presented or in the application of the scripture. For me this is about how to apply ancient scripture in modern times. Read it with attention to the process of thinking, and then consider applying some of that as you read scripture … any scripture.

God’s Perfect Calendar

Everything has its season.
Each purpose has its time.

A time for birth,
a time for death.

A time to put in,
a time to pull out.

A time to kill,
a time to heal.

A time to demolish,
a time to construct.

A time to cry,
a time to laugh.

A time to lament,
A time to jump for joy.

A time to scatter stones,
A time to gather them up.

A time for embrace,
a time for distance.

A time to search,
a time to let go.

A time to protect,
a time to throw away.

A time to tear,
a time to mend.

A time to shut up,
a time to speak up.

A time to love,
a time to hate.

A time for war,
a time for peace.

–Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

A calendar divine
with blocks of time for all,
on every page a plan,
a way to rise or fall.

They say it’s very great,
God’s timing never fails.
His planning fills the need,
that nothing ill derails.

But when I check the list,
there’s war and death and weeds.
Along with planting seeds,
There’s room for angry deeds.

I’d like a plan with peace,
with laughter, rhyme, and life.
I want to plant and grow,
but never spark such strife!

So why does God send death,
to follow after birth?
And why a time to smash,
To weed or foster dearth?

But then I hear a voice,
that asks me how I live.
There’s time for war or peace,
but which one will I give?

God’s plan has lots of space,
to fill with what will last.
Or not! He makes you free,
to kill or break or blast.

And though it’s true that birth,
in death will always end.
The way you fill that space,
Will echo without end.

Psalm 50

Asaf’s Song

Yahweh, God over gods spoke
Summoning the world
from farthest east to utter west.

From Zion, his perfect beauty
Blazes out everywhere.

Our God is coming, and will not be silenced
Devouring fire leads,
Powerful wind surrounds.

He calls to the skies above and the ground below
to judge his people.

Gather to me
my faithful friends,
my covenant-bound,
my full worshipers.

They will proclaim my justice to the skies,
that God is the one who judges.

Listen to me, realms above, and I will speak.
Attend, Israel, and I will give you my testimony.
I am the God over all gods.

It’s not for your sacrifices that I will find you right,
Nor your continual burnt offerings.

I won’t take a bull from your house,
Nor sheep or goat from your fold.

Each animal living in the forest is mine,
Flocks and herds on unnumbered hills.

I know each and every bird in the wild,
Even the crickets are in my care.

If I get hungry, I won’t tell you,
Because everything in the universe is mine!

Do you think I eat bulls?
Or drink goat’s blood?

Offer God your thanks,
Keep your word for God Most High!

Then call on me when you’re in trouble,
I’ll save you and you’ll honor me.

But if you’re wicked, here’s my message:
Why are you talking about my commands?
Why do you even mention my covenant?

You hate to be corrected,
You discard my words like garbage.
To see a thief is to love him.
Adulterers are your best friends.

Your mouth is evil’s publicist,
Lying is your tongue’s vocation.
Your brother is a favored target,
and your sister is not exempt.

You did these things and kept silent.
You thought I was like you.
But I’ll rebuke you and confront you face-to-face!

Understand this, you who forget God,
Lest He destroy you and there is none to save.

The one who honors me offers thanks,
Following my path.
I will show him my salvation.

(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org)

What Harm Can She Possibly Do?

This is a sequel to Have You Tried Going Around?. You might want to read that first.


This is a work of fiction, as should be obvious. People, places, and events are all products of my overactive imagination.

When a mysterious lady arrived on horseback from the north, there was quite a stir in the city.

She was accompanied by a young maid, who radiated innocence. In some big cities, the maid might have created some suspicion. People might not have believed such innocence could exist. But in this city, they believed in the innocence of young girls, and so were simply pleased to see it clearly displayed—finally.

She also had five guards. The guards looked quite competent, provided one assumed they were intended to stop pick-pockets and petty thievery. Besides, what more could a lady need? Nobody would assassinate her, since she was, after all, a lady. The duke’s guards who watched the gate were, in fact, comforted by the presence of guards. They indicated normality. They were so obviously suited to their function that one would never assume they were anything else.

What was so mysterious?

All sorts of things. The lady arrived from the north, after all. Only the bravest of merchants and travelers tried the pass through the mountains to the north of the city. It was, in fact, regarded as impossible for carriages or wagons. It seemed odd, at first, that a lady should show up out of the mountains on horseback. She was strangely dressed as well, with very colorful, but clearly well-worn clothing, a face that had probably been beautiful before she’d aged, and more than one bag that probably contained some of the makeup she used to overpaint her face.

There was nothing definite, but people started to expect her to show up in the marketplace and begin telling fortunes. In the city, fortune tellers were generally rather ordinary looking and had a pack of cards, or some simple crystal ball. As long as they didn’t tell any fortunes that annoyed the duke (and nobody wanted to annoy the duke), they were regarded as harmless. It was, in fact, unlikely that people were right about the visitor from the north. Public opinion is so untrustworthy.

But in this case the odds were quite wrong. Madame Peony showed up the very next day in the marketplace with a canopy and curtains. She paid the price of a market stall, which was unheard of for a fortune teller. Normally they occupied whatever space was unoccupied and didn’t cost them rent. Madame Peony broke the mold. This could have been dangerous, but she did it with such grace and style.

Besides, her customers were women. Almost exclusively. It seemed that men were not anxious to spend time in a tent in the marketplace with someone named Madame Peony. It seemed like a way to be accused of unfaithfulness without the benefit of time with, shall we say, a paid companion. Not to mention they’d rather have spent that sort of time with her maid. Here maid, however, was distinctly unavailable. She’d listen, she’d flirt, but she never put out. Contact with her was so, well, innocent.

And time she spent. Lots of it. With the ordinary fortune teller you paid a few coppers, then she (or he) dealt out some cards and provided a vague response. Madam Peony spent time with each person and listened. She was a bit steep at 20 coppers per session, but the sessions! She’d spend as much as an hour with a client, and they always left with a look of satisfaction.

She quickly became a favored stop of the rich and famous. Women, that is. Now if it had been rich and famous men, someone might have gotten suspicious. If the Seneschal, the treasurer, the chief justice, the commander of the guard, the chief jailor, and dozens of other officials in the duke’s castle had all been going to see some woman—from the north, no less—there would have been more than suspicion. There would have been action. A summons from the duke would be likely, and such things were unlikely to go well.

But who cared if the wives of all these men wanted to spend money on what was probably a fraud in any case? It wasn’t that people in the city weren’t superstitious or didn’t believe in magic. It was just that a fortune teller in the marketplace filled a known role, and that role was harmless entertainment. Nobody actually believed that sort of thing.

What the men didn’t know, and wouldn’t have cared about if they had known, was that Madam Peony not only told fortunes; she gave advice. In fact, she gave good advice.

Weeks went by, then months, and Madam Peony became a fixture. Her origins faded and became just a subconscious support for her mysterious and valuable capabilities. Nobody could remember precisely what she’d done. At least nobody who was talking.

And then … Nobody ever really untangled what happened.

The treasurer, who had once recommended that a northern merchant be arrested and his property seized, became quite certain that the Seneschal and the chief justice were plotting against him. Some rumors said he had heard this from his wife who had heard it from somebody, nobody was quite sure who. There was even a rumor that Madam Peony had seen the plot in her crystal ball, but everybody knew Madam Peony was just entertainment for women, and there was actually no evidence she possessed a crystal ball.

Since the treasurer was quite unpopular, and generally believed to line his own pockets at the expense of other officials, it was not considered surprising. What was never rumored, though it was true, was that the wife of the chief justice had informed him that the treasurer was about to extort some more money from him in order to protect him from the duke, who had heard that the chief justice had actually arranged that someone the duke had wanted condemned be acquitted. The rumors became much more complex than this.

In the middle of the night a prisoner was actually located in the bowels of the dungeon and led outside the city. Why this happened was very unclear. But it was rumored that, in exchange for this deed, the wife of the treasurer (or was it the chief of the guard?) had acquired some magical potion that would kill the chief justice and the seneschal when they had lunch together. Well, not kill them during lunch. Rather, it would kill them hours later when nobody would suspect their lunch. But these rumors only circulated among the upper class women, so nobody who mattered cared.

There was no rumor, but the chief guard of the duke’s dungeons was having an affair with the wife of the city guard. There was a rumor, largely among the wives of high officials, that something scandalous would be revealed about the chief guard, probably by the chief justice, but also perhaps by the commander of the guard. The commander of the prison was not unhappy to hear that both were dead. Oh, and some months after the events here related, he married the bereaved widow.

There was never a rumor that the prisoner had escaped. The chief guard was an old hand at this. The dungeon census, faithfully maintained and about as truthful as a romance novel, remained the same, and the extra supplies were sold, increasing the net worth of the chief guard.

The Duke believed in the rule of law. Most particularly, he believed that when he ruled, it was law. In fact, since the duchy was so isolated, he had come largely to believe that what he ruled was reality as well.

The problem, however, was that when one trains one’s staff to fake reality, they can actually become rather good at it.

Madam Peony disappeared from the marketplace. She and the imprisoned merchant traveled north through the mountains. Nobody pursued, because there was nothing to pursue. At least nothing important. The upper class ladies were distressed, but they got over it.

Oh, and Madam Peony replaced her colorful clothes with light armor, a dagger, a short bow, and a rapier with which she was regarded as without a peer. She was a troubleshooter for the merchant guild, and nobody better. As it turned out, she could do quite a bit of harm.

(Copyright © 2018, Henry E. Neufeld. Image Credit: Openclipart.org)