Thankful in All Things

In everything, give thanks.

At every time, even when it’s time to do something unpleasant,

In every place, even where you don’t want to go,

In every way, even sometimes in ways you find strange,

For every one, even the people you really don’t like,

For every privilege, even those you’d rather not acknowledge,

For every trial, even when they seem overwhelming,

For every blessing, even the ones so common you don’t notice,

In everything, give thanks.

(A free meditation on 1 Thessalonians 5:18a.)

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.)

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.

You Give Them Something to Eat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where do you go to church?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is anyone with me?”

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

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

“My mom works for …”

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

One of Miriam’s friends started taking notes.

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

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

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

Why Justin Quit Reading the Bible

“I’m wondering why Justin has quit attending Bible study regularly,” said the youth pastor, after he’d settled in at the table with a cup of coffee. Wendy Schermer, Justin’s mother was sitting across from him.

“Attending Bible study has always been voluntary. I know he hasn’t been attending much recently. He doesn’t seem to be that interested in the study any more.”

Copyright © Henry E. Neufeld, 2011. This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of my imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is purely coincidental.

“How long ago did his attitude change?”

“You should be able to figure that out as easily as I can.”

“But you’re his mother.”

“Yes, but you know when he quit attending Bible study on Sunday nights.”

“True.” The youth pastor paused. “It’s odd that it seems to coincide with a time when our youth group has been really digging in to study the Bible. The young people are giving up other literature and focusing on serious study of God’s Word.”

“Is Justin the only one who has quit attending?”

“No, there are about half a dozen young people who quit about that time. I’m guessing they don’t like the new intensity in our study.”

“You really think that?”

“Well, with many of the young people I think it’s possible. These youth are getting rid of their secular literature and focusing in on the pure Word of God. Some of them don’t want to go there. They don’t want their lives to change that much.”

“But Justin was quite ready to change his life as he studied. I can think of many things he did change over the last year or so. Just ask his younger sister!”

“That’s what I was thinking. The others, maybe. But Justin? So I had to ask.”

Wendy hadn’t been very anxious to talk to the youth pastor. She was pretty sure she was going to change churches, and she didn’t like a big argument. But the youth pastor seemed so sincere. “Do you really want to know? You may not like what I have to say.”

The youth pastor paused a moment, startled. “Yes,” he said finally, “I really want to know.”

“Well, you recall that speaker you had a few weeks back?”

“Yes, I do. In fact, it was as a result of his teaching that we started digging into the Word more seriously.”

“That was the very weekend. I don’t interfere with Justin’s study and reading very much. He’s a better reader than I am. But he told me about that weekend. He mentioned how the speaker warned them against Bibles that weren’t really the Word of God. I don’t remember the names, but I think I recall the Living Bible . . . ”

“More likely the New Living Translation,” put in the youth pastor.

“. . . and something called The Message. There were Bibles they were supposed to use instead. But Justin thought they were less enjoyable to read. He also mentioned some of the secular reading your speaker asked the kids to give up. Justin reads science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and a good selection of the great literature.”

“Yes, our speaker asked the kids to voluntarily give up that sort of thing and stick with the Bible, Christian books, and those books required for their schoolwork. That kind of books doesn’t help build character and prepare for the kingdom of heaven.”

“Well, I think Justin doesn’t agree.”

“You’re his mother. Do you agree?”

“Yes, I’m his mother, but I’m not ashamed to admit that in many ways he’s smarter than I am. He reads books I can’t really understand. But many of them I can. I don’t particularly care for science fiction, but I don’t see anything wrong with what I’ve read.”

“But that’s the problem. You don’t see anything wrong with it. But what’s right with it? What good does it do?”

“Well, before you suggested he not read that kind of books he was also attending Bible study.”

“It seems to me that it’s a form of addiction. When he was asked to give it up for God, he just quit reading the Bible.”

“Who said he quit reading the Bible?”

“I thought you did.”

“No, I said he quit attending your study. As far as I know he still reads the Bible.”

“Probably using those paraphrases.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know about that. I think he tried your speaker’s suggestions for a week or so, but he told me that they were just badly written, and he didn’t see any benefit in struggling through mangled sentences so he could be closer to some theoretical idea of God’s Word. Those aren’t exactly his words, but they’re close.”

“The danger I see here is that this is rebellion against God.”

“You mean not attending your study is rebellion against God?”

“Not attending Bible study is a symptom.”

“So if he had refused to switch to one of your favored Bible versions, and had refused to burn his science fiction books, you’d still welcome him in Bible study.”

“Of course we’d welcome him. Nobody’s perfect.”

“And you wouldn’t spend all your time pushing him to go along with your reading list?”

“Is that what he told you?”

“No, he didn’t really tell me anything. I just got the impression that much of the time in your study was now spent ‘encouraging’ everyone to burn their secular books and change their choice of Bible versions.”

“We have to encourage the young people in their discipleship,” said the youth pastor.

“I think there you see your problem. If your time is spent telling him to burn books rather than studying the Bible, then I suspect Justin isn’t going to want to attend.”

“But what do you think? Shouldn’t you make the choice here?”

“Well, Justin is 16 years old, and I don’t think I’m going to order him to attend Bible study. But if I was making the choice, I think I’d make the same one.”

“Why? Do you think you’re qualified to make a choice regarding Bible translations?”

“Well, I don’t have a theological education like you do. I’ve never thought I was terribly smart. But I do see what is happening around me. When Justin was 14, he was nothing but trouble. I had to drag him to church. I had to practically sit on him to make him do his homework.”

“Then he started reading the Bible . . .”

“Actually, no. Then he borrowed a science fiction book from a friend. After that he joined the reading club at school, and began to read various other books. Then he decided to get serious about his faith, so he bought a Bible. That was about a year before you arrived at the church. He did some research and made a choice of books to use in studying. He attended Bible study right up until your speaker showed up. He tried your ideas for a couple of weeks, but they didn’t work out.”

“I can understand if he didn’t have the will power to follow through . . .”

Wendy interrupted. “Is that what you think? Justin has plenty of will power. He just thinks you’re wrong, and doesn’t see any reason to spend his time every week arguing with people who think they’re holier than he is.”

“Is that what he told you?” The youth pastor was becoming angry, but he was controlling it carefully. One had to be polite to the parents of the youth, however one might feel.

“No, he didn’t tell me anything. He just quit attending. But I know him, and I know you. I may not be book smart, but I do see things.”

“I don’t want to anger you,” said the youth pastor after a pause. Nonetheless, she could hear the tension and anger in his voice. “But I must tell you that God is going to hold you accountable as Justin’s mother. It’s too bad he doesn’t have a father to keep him straight on these things.”

Wendy stared at the youth pastor for a full minute. He didn’t realize it, but she was getting control of her own temper. “I guess he’ll just have to do with a mother, then. And if I do say so myself, he’s a fine young man. I thank the Lord for him.”

 

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Christian Carnival #375

 

Welcome to the April 13, 2011 edition of the Christian Carnival (#375). In addition, though I’m too tired to create a theme, I’m making editorial comments and even handing out a few awards, for what they’re worth.* The author’s comments are in quotes; mine aren’t.

loswl presents His Thoughts are Higher than our Thoughts posted at INSPIKS, saying, “The wisdom of God is so far above man, it is on a different level altogether. Our intelligence, even at its best, is so small.” He really puts you down, but only in the best sort of way. I give this one the “best downer of the week” award.

Kaleb presents The Case for the Virgin Birth posted at W2W Soul: Windows to The Woman’s Soul, saying, “Clearly depicted in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, the virgin birth is one of the more unambiguous accounts in the Bible yet is met with more opposition and criticism than many of the other miracles portrayed.” I think C. S. Lewis was the one who noted that we swallow the camel of the resurrection and then strain at the gnat of the virgin birth. I’ll probably regret quoting that without going and looking it up. Doubtless someone will correct me in the comments!

Maryann Spikes presents Craig v Harris debate post mortem, audio and video posted at Ichthus77. This is postmortem++ run through a loop, but very instructive.

Leah LaRue presents What is Wrong With the Church? ? 10 Things That Need to Stop! posted at Order in the Church!, saying, “This is my first time submitting; please let me know if additional information is required. Thanks much for your consideration!” Answer? You did it just fine! Welcome to the carnival! Having been in church leadership, I felt some of those points. How about an “ouch!” award?

Nicholas Potts presents The depths of the soul and mind: Supposed Atheistic Neutrality… posted at The depths of the soul and mind, saying, “This article actually got circulated a little bit through some atheists blogs and some people got a little irritated with it.” While giving the word “worldview” a solid workout, Nick launches an all-out attack on the very concept of a neutral position, and even asks how we determine that a neutral position would be the best place to start.

Jason Price presents What is Financial Stewardship? [Christian Financial Alliance] posted at One Money Design, saying, “What is Christian financial stewardship? Learn what it means from several Christian personal finance bloggers.” Do you know what stewardship is? Some folks think it means responding to the most recent appeal for money, such that “stewardship” is a synonym for (generous) giving. You’ll get some ideas on what it really means from this post.

Maryann Spikes presents God (is) the Golden Rule (ought) without offending Hume posted at Ichthus77. OK, I’m letting Maryann by with an extra post, since this one’s so much fun. (Besides, she pointed me to the Christian Apologetics Alliance.) I’m going to make a bet with myself that most of you haven’t asked the question she’s answering. (And no, it’s not my everyday sort of question either.)

Philip Carlson presents A Lesson from the Qur’an posted at Science and Theology in Apposition. I’m going to suggest a provocative question that might be answered in this post: In what way might the Qur’an tend to be better than your Bible? (Hint: The Bible I carry to church is not deficient in this area.)

Tyra Ronan presents 40 Best Web Resources for Bible Study posted at A Blog of Biblical Proportions, saying, “You don’t have to be a Bible student, or planning for a career in the ministry, to benefit from the online Bible resources available. Anyone can find greater enjoyment and enlightenment from the holy scriptures when they look to using web resources. Whether you are looking for personal edification, or whether you are preparing a lesson for Sunday school, here are 40 of the best web resources for Bible study.” Who couldn’t make use of 40 links to Bible study resources? I just have to give this the “most links in one post” award for the week.

CChisholm presents Six Biblical Easter Facts You Should Know posted at The Chisholm Source, saying, “Crucifixion is primarily an extreme method of torture/punishment and is not necessarily synonymous with death. Death normally resulted from crucifixion, but in history there are cases where a crucified man survived on the cross for a few days.” Most of these are about the crucifixion. I give this the “most gruesome post” award, but it’s still edifying!

Ridge Burns presents Perspective posted at Ridge’s Blog. Different perspectives are rather helpful in coming to understand an issue. Good essay project: compare and contrast “worldview” (see above) and “perspective.” Why might one not wish to abandon elements of one’s worldview in discussion, yet value differing perspectives?

Cameron Cloud presents Ring and Run: Missing an Eternal God in Prayer posted at Nephos. I give this one the “short and simple but challenging” award for the day!

michelle presents committed? posted at going into all the earth…, saying, “the Radical Experiment…” OK, this post gets the “sneak attack” award. She starts with the “c” word and ends up on the “m” word. (Read it to find out …)

Barry Wallace presents A gifted writer examines Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” posted at who am i?, saying, “Tim Stoner, author of The God Who Smokes, has written an excellent series of posts on Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins.” … and Barry provides us with some samples. This gets the “no carnival can be without it right now” award for today.

Jeremy Pierce presents Evangelical Scholars’ Self-Esteem posted at Parableman, saying, “a look at the possible motives of evangelical scholars who leave behind evangelical convictions that are embarrassing in academic circles.” I was once told to go ahead and take a position and just not talk about those of my beliefs that didn’t accord with those of my potential employer. I think Jeremy outlines the situation with admirable clarity. I had to say ‘no’.

They didn’t submit it, but I’m going to include a link to a post of links to this weeks posts (I’m not sure I made it through that. Is it grammatical?) from the Christian Apologetics Alliance. Thanks to Maryann for pointing this out.

And just because there must be one of mine, I present A Misuse of the Word LITERAL from my Participatory Bible Study Blog. I further grant myself the “only post called ‘nonsense’ in the first comment” award. I know I ranted a bit, but nonsense? You be the judge. Not that I won’t argue with you!

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of The Christian Carnival using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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* Not much. More like nothing.

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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.

“Oh.”

“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]

Book: Pilate’s Wife

This book is well out of the norm for my reading, but the topic caught my attention, as well as the dearth of information with which the author had to work. It is hard to write a good novel about a historical character when almost nothing is known about that character. It doesn’t really matter what you write, somebody is not going to like it.

The first thing to note about this book is the subtitle: A Novel of the Roman Empire. Those who are expected a Biblical novel, one primarily oriented toward Biblical characters, themes, and goals will be sorely disappointed. The setting is primarily Rome and Roman social life in the provinces; Palestine only plays a small role when Pilate is sent there. In a Christian novel, Biblically based, one might expect a great deal said about Jesus and other Biblical characters. That is not the case here.

Second, one should be aware this is written about a woman by a woman, and it focuses on the woman’s perspective. In historical novels of this period that is not all that usual, because it is hard to keep things interesting when men are running the show and all the chief characters are women. I got the annoying feeling that the lead characters spend their time largely being pushed around by other people, with only brief moments when they can be themselves. Of course, that feeling is probably an accurate reflection of what it was like to be a woman at that time.

For historical connections, the author uses a couple of less probable reconstructions about Jesus, but those elements are not impossible, merely not proven, so that can be forgiven. It does make for some added interest in the story.

I have to rate this book at 3, because I found it interesting but not exceptionally so. I must note, however, that this is not due to any weakness of the book, but rather to my limited interest in the subject matter. Within its necessary constraints it is a good book.

The New Judge

[Note: This is one of my attempts to tell either a different part of a Bible story, to tell the story from a different perspective, or to get a similar point across in a different way. I will quote the related scripture passage at the end. Besides the general fun of setting myself the assignment and trying to write it, I hope these stories will help someone think about the scriptural passage in new and creative ways. This is a work of fiction. All places, characters, and things are products of my imagination and any resemblance to anyone or anything real is purely accidental.]

Carl, now Sir Carl, made a bit of a stir when he arrived in the tiny village of Felidol. He rode his horse right across the small bridge across the creek (or river, as the locals would have it) and through the gate in the wooden palisade that surrounded the town. Farmers in their fields looked up and then continued to stare as he went by on his white horse. He did indeed cut quite a figure with shining armor, a quite long sword at his side, and fine cloak over it all, and expensive boots on his feet.

The villagers stared, but they were less impressed by his fine figure and equipment than they were frightened to see anyone like that here. The citizens of Felidol and the surrounding countryside didn’t like important people all that much. Important people wanted to get things done, and it always seemed that what they needed in order to get things done was the farmer’s money, food, and sometimes even their property.

Carl was completely oblivious to all this. He waved at the villagers in a friendly way as he rode past. He didn’t want to seem aloof or unsociable. He didn’t seem to realize that with the way he was dressed and equipped, the villagers had a hard time seeing him as anything but aloof. They hoped he would be aloof, and thus wouldn’t get them involved in anything.

On the other hand, he knew something they didn’t. In spite of his young age, and his knightly appearance, he was actually the new circuit judge, to be based in their village. Carl knew very well that he had gotten the appointment only because his father was one of the richest merchants in the city. He was fairly sure that his father had bought him this appointment for his 20th birthday, along with a knighthood. But that was alright with him, because he knew enough about the law to do the job, and he intended to do right by these people.

###

Carl’s first day in the courthouse was a disappointment. There were a couple of weddings to formalize, something that went without ceremonies in these parts. The feasting and celebration would take place elsewhere. There were some documents to formalize, ones that required the seal of a king’s officer. Carl was the only king’s officer in many, many miles. But nobody came to petition him for anything. He couldn’t imagine that none of the small farmers in this area had any complaints against the more important landowners. He imagined that the townsfolk had complaints against farmers, and farmers against townsfolk. That was how he had heard things always were.

Continue reading “The New Judge”

Book: Unashamed

My wife handed me this book because she has been trying to get me to read one of [tag]Francine Rivers[/tag]’ stories about various Bible characters. I’m generally a bit slow to pick up this sort of book because production of a good story is very difficult. On the one hand you can stick closely to the [tag]Bible story[/tag] and ignore any problems that may cause for your story. On the other you can ignore the facts and create a story, but for me that doesn’t work because it isn’t consistent. Why write a story about someone with the name of a Biblical character if you are not actually going to use the Biblical character?

My preference is that someone create a story about a person consistent with the characteristics of that person as claimed in the Biblical text. If one has to play with the facts a bit, that’s OK. What is invented to fill in the blanks is fine, as long as it stays consistent with the character.

Unashamed takes on the story of Rahab, and I consider that a daunting task. First, Rahab becomes an exception to the order to destroy all the Canaanites, and the explanation given in the Bible doesn’t cover it. The spies swear an oath, and thus the Israelites keep that oath. This is consistent, though they seem to do so ungrudgingly, quite unlike their response to the oath they swore to the Gibeonites, which was kept only with great reluctance.

Second, Rahab is a prostitute who becomes part of the genealogy of King David. That is an unusual thing and any proposed understanding requires some imagination.

Rivers doesn’t really try to deal with the oddity of allowing a Canaanite to become part of the congregation. What she does manage is provide believable story elements to explain the position [tag]Rahab[/tag] was in so as to hide the spies, and how she might succeed in that. I find Rahab’s attitude toward her own people just a little bit cold and bloody-minded. Simply because they don’t grab hold of the God of Israel as she has, she shows very little sorrow for their deaths. She truly goes over to the side of the enemy. While that kind of cold-blooded attitude is a bit hard for me to accept it is quite realistic. To survive and have her name remembered favorably on the Israelite side, Rahab must have truly turned with vigor to the Israelites.

I didn’t find the story overwhelmingly exciting. That is probably unavoidable in a story that connects to the Biblical story at all possible places. It’s hard to get into the tension of waiting in Rahab’s house while the Israelites march around the city when you know precisely what is going to happen! But that same characteristic makes this story an excellent example to use in studying the Biblical story. One of the procedures I suggest in the participatory Bible study method is to try to retell stories from different perspectives. People often find that hard to do with Bible stories. We are often afraid to let our imaginations work, but if you want to get the full benefit from a story, you need to think about that person’s attitudes and feelings, and that is going to require imagination. In my article Interpreting Stories, I try this process from the point of view of Ahab.

If you have a study group and would like to try working more effectively on Bible stories, and by this I mean learning from the stories and making them relevant to your life, this little book would be a valuable contribution. Read it, think, imagine, and imitate.