Able Makes Blue Brighter

Able5Blue Poorman was feeling rather unlike himself as he walked through the park, despite the shady clouds moving in on an otherwise fair Saturday afternoon. More would follow, of course, and darker, giving way to needed rain, which somehow always seemed to make Blue feeler bluer despite the fact that he had nothing personally against rain. Why would he? He’d often reasoned with himself, Rain is absolutely necessary and good, so it should actually make me feel good, unless we were caught in a monsoon or something, which is impossible here in Splinterbit.

The clouds moving in could not quell Blue’s uncharacteristic upbeat mood this day, though. For the first time in a long, long time he actually felt inspired. He’d delivered what he considered a fair-to-fairly good sermon Sunday ~ which most of the congregation actually judged good-to-very good ~ and he’d had an awesome conversation with his newfound, younger friend, Able, at his favorite Chinese restaurant. (Forget for the moment that the other two were no more than tiny drive-thru, holes-in-the wall…) And they’d talked on the phone a couple of times since ~ good, hearty discussions ~ and he had been invited to fill the pulpit at St. Gianna again this Sunday.

Blue looked at the magnificent oaks and hickories, the poplars and tulips and all the beauty of nature around him and thought, for all these years working on my ‘magnum opus,’ I’ve missed the one most important element of all in discussing ‘the soul of humanity.’ Blue just shook his head, realizing that his utter and deeply felt disappointment with his still-in-the-works book, The Chords of Cecilia: Aesthetics and the Soul of Humanity, had everything to do with its lack of soul. It was dead, period. Three hundred-fifty pages of scholarly reflection, all nice and neatly tied together, addressing an important subject … but it was dead; no “if, ands or buts” about it.

Able Dilettante had really proven the means of his epiphany. Here was an outstandingly bright, artistically talented, young man from an exceptionally narrow-minded, tunnel-visioned, legalistic background; rather naïve to the ways of the larger world … yet in and through his art, Able expressed some of the most magnificently poignant, stunningly deep and clear aspects of life. Of course, Blue realized that some of the greatest works of art, music, literature and so forth had arisen out of prisons, from within totalitarian regimes and various repressive situations; however, he had never actually met and known someone who could paint so vividly, passionately, and authentically in and through his own world, out into all of life and the total world that even some of the most erudite people fail to appreciate and understand. Yes, Blue thought, he plays the Chords of Cilicia. Long ago Able somehow tapped into the very Soul of Life.

Now this bright, young man was free and in an environment where he could flourish even more, and, indeed, Able Dilettante was flourishing. He was not only maintaining an average GPA of 4.0, he was boldly offering his work to the public. Already he’d sold three of his charcoal sketches and nabbed second place in the Pencil and Charcoal Sketch Division of the County Creative Arts Festival. Far from world renown, at least his name was out now and in an confirmatory way. The Splinterbit Journal, a mostly upbeat features’ weekly, had also retained him for at least four pencil sketches to be completed within the next four months.

Here I am with all my education and, I guess, knowledge of some sort, Blue pondered, yet Able has struck down into the deep soil of life itself with wisdom and discernment. It’s just an astuteness and intuitive insight that has always managed its way through his art, yet not quite to the surface of his heart, mind and soul. It’s always been there, the profound stirrings of the Soul of the Humanity of which we are all part, and which is part of each of us … but for Able it has found, thus far, only one potent outlet. Ah! But Moxie! Blue reminded himself. This Moxie Keener, whom Blue only knew from a distance, is slowly but surely persuading it out of him in other ways, too. I only hope her loving coaching and support doesn’t derail his passionate, psychic-spiritual, life art. That would be tragic … no matter how valuable the romance!

The breeze picked up, scattering leaves and bringing a few drops of rain. Blue’s stroll through the park would soon come to an end … or maybe not. The old, popular song, “Dancing in the Rain,” came to his mind and he laughed, thinking about himself actually dancing anywhere, anytime, much less in the park during the rain. All of this turned his thoughts back upon his own life, but now with an altogether fresh perspective. Maybe his life had not been wasted, after all. Maybe he was not such an absolute failure and perhaps so many family members, who had distanced themselves more and more over the years, were not quite as right as they thought. Just then a silly little ditty popped into his mind that Blue might flesh out into a song later on:


No, I’ve never been up to the stars

But, yeah, I’ve sat in quite a few bars;


Never made that million dollars,

But I’ve worn quite a few collars.


No, I haven’t always been right,

But I’ve never been out of sight.


I’m still here, still walking, still talking;

I’m still dreaming in this bit of a town;

I’m still here, still learning, still burning

As days roll on and I’m not looking down.

It would take some work, for sure, if it were even worth the time and trouble, but it really expressed how Blue felt no matter how silly the ditty. He was still here, and he was still walking and talking, dreaming, learning, growing and, once again in his life, burning inside his soul. It felt great; dynamic, in fact, and this would actually make its way into his book as well. Blue realized it would have to, that is: the whole very personal dynamic … from the first person. Blue smiled. Never before had it occurred to him that he might even be worthy to write himself into The Chords of Cecilia: Aesthetics and the Soul of Humanity, but why not? He was as much apart of the Soul of Humanity as anyone, and really and truly he’d been playing “the Chords of Cilicia” almost all of his life!

The rain came more steadily now, so Blue opted for a nearby gazebo. No storm was on the way in, just this nice gentle rain, and so he decided the outdoors was still more appealing than his apartment … more real, more alive, more inspirational; more like he felt right now, and that was more than good. He felt almost whole, and that felt awesome!


Games, God, and Gratitude: Another Day at the Park

MoxieBall3The “Mox,” as Rue and Bane now called her, had her hair pulled back in a pony tail and was wearing an old, tight blue pull-over, scraggly jeans and appropriately roughed-up sneakers. Her left hand was covered with an experienced leather baseball glove, her left held the ball; the expression on her face was serious – put on for affect, but anyway… — She meant business, and Rue and Bane could tell, as they slightly crouched down, own gloves tight on their hands, ready for the first throw.

They stood about 100 feet apart from each other and about the same from the Mox. (She didn’t want to overdue it; after all, neither boy had much of any experience playing any sport. Moxie started them on baseball last Saturday about like Joy had introduced them to the fine art of tossing the football.) “O.k. Are you ready?” Moxie asked, now with just a slight frown. Both boys nodded yes, although they didn’t know who she was going to throw to first, and they were nervous anyway … but excited, too.

The light was bright from the sun, bathing the park in crystal-like shards from the left-over morning dew. The sky was deep blue with just a few cirrus clouds moving gently, sailing eastward with the prompting of an unobtrusive breeze that made the day perfect for play. Moxie wound up, looked at the two boys dressed in their scragglies, as Effete called them, and pitched clear and straight to Bane. He reached; the ball tipped the end of his glove, and continued on to the ground. “Uh!” the boy grunted.

“Hey! Good try, Bane!” Joy shouted out from the sidelines where she was seated on the ground with Effete.

“Yeah, stinker; you almost had it!” Mox added with a smile. “Remember what I said Saturday. Don’t give up on dropped balls; you drop ‘em before you learn to catch ‘em, o.k.?”

“O.k.” Bane answered a bit sullenly before throwing the ball back to Moxie. His aim was slightly off, but all in all it was a good throw.

“Great throw-back, Bane,” Moxie encouraged. “You’ve got a good arm.”

More people were beginning to mill around the green lawn, but careful to keep some safe distance from the flying baseball. Joy waved at two or three she vaguely knew with a friendly “hello,” and they replied in like kind. Thankfully, as far as Effete was concerned, she didn’t see anyone she knew.

“I just can’t seem to get my brain around it,” Effete ventured as they watched the boys alternate between catching and missing the baseball. “I know I’m a mess, but after all I’ve heard from you, and that astonishing sermon Rev. Brusque delivered, it absolutely floors me to think of how many people buy into some ‘god’ who is utterly cruel. That’s all they think about him, when you get down to it … what he is, what he does, what he wants, what he commands, and all of that garbage.”

“And you know what?” Effete sighed. “I’m still struggling, deeply, with all of this. I mean, it feels like for all of my adult life, God has been nothing more than so many hammer blows from heaven.” Effete rather surprised herself again in being so open and honest, but as always she felt perfectly comfortable with Joy.

“Great catch, Rue,” Joy shouted out. “That’s three in a row! Keep it up; you, too, Bane! That arm of yours may turn you into an awesome pitcher!” Both boys looked over briefly and smiled, then turned their attention back to the Mox, who really didn’t like being distracted by her Shepherdess right now; love her as much as she did! Moxie had the kids in a groove now and thought her pastor just needed to focus on Effete and pastor rather than pester. Joy kind of got the drift with Moxie’s hand-on-hip and dead-level stare. “O.k. O.k. No more interruptions from me, coach!”

“Of course you’re still struggling, and you will be for quite some time; that’s to be expected coming out of an ominous, abusive, psychologically and spiritually twisted prison in which you’ve lived for years upon years.” Joy looked over at Effete, finally taking her attention off the game she so desperately wanted to play, too. “You know, though, there is a ‘god’ that fits that bill perfectly; most of the people you’re talking about just don’t know they’ve been hoodwinked by that nefarious deity. And you know what else? He (or she) crops up and lives in every clime and culture of this world, albeit by many different names and images.”

Effete shifted into a more comfortable position on the ground. “Yeah, I can probably guess who you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, sure, but obviously that’s not the God of Christ, the God of the Christian faith,” Joy continued. “He’s not the Jesus who was ‘sent to heal the contrite of heart,’ as the traditional Roman Catholic mass commonly begins. He’s not the One who ‘came to call sinners;’ not the One ‘seated at the right hand of God.’ In fact, there’s an old prayer from the Book of Common Prayer that we use at St. Gianna that expresses quite nicely the God we believe in and worship. It’s a prayer of general thanksgiving. You may remember from your childhood, in fact.”

“In part it reads, ‘We bless you (God) for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and the hope of glory.’ That is the God I have come to know; the God I believe in and love and trust.”

“Yeah, it seems like I do remember that prayer,” Effete responded thoughtfully. “But is that biblical, I mean the part about the redemption of the whole world by our Lord Jesus Christ?”

Joy laughed lightheartedly. “Well, it does depend on precisely how you look at it, I suppose. Theologians have spent lifetimes answering that one, but at least holy Scripture tells us that ‘Jesus was God’s way of dealing with our faults, failings and shortcomings, and not only ours but those of the whole world…’ So, in fact, ‘God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start…’”

“And why? Just because ‘this is how much God loved the world: God gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be ruined; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.’ You see, ‘God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.’”

“And this makes perfect sense,” Joy continued, “because ‘God is love,’ and so of course, ‘God did not invent death, and when living creatures die, it gives him no pleasure. He created everything so that it might continue to exist, and everything he created is wholesome and good…’ not poisonous. More than this, Effete, ‘God created humanity for incorruption,’ that is, to be imperishable, ‘making humanity in the image (and likeness) of his own eternal nature.’”

“This is the heart and soul of the Christian faith, and any other so-called gospel that leads away from this core truth tends eventually to lead to the other ‘god,’ the god of darkness, hopelessness, and death; the god of the Pharisees and the legalistic fundamentalists, like Fen Sloughheart.” Joy paused for a moment and sighed. “Yes, of course, I struggle with my own doubts and questions, but then I seem to hear Jesus say, ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. And I came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly.’” And Joy certainly thought she needed the easy yoke and lighter burden right now … then she looked back at Effete.

“Hey, ole-timers, ya wanna have some fun?” Moxie voice shattered the solemn moment. I mean … if you need help getting up, I’ll come over,” she cackled.

“Who are you calling old … you brat?” Joy laughed as she popped up to her feet like she was ready for the Olympics, and then offered Effete a hand.

“Yeah, you know if you live long enough even you, the great Mox, will be where we are, too!” Effete added with a smile and chuckle.

“If I live long, long, long, long enough … yes.” Moxie laughed again as she trotted to her bag sitting on one of the nearby benches. “Just happened to come prepared in case the geriatrics wanted to toss a few,” she added, pulling out two more baseball gloves.

“Well, Mox, this geriatric’s about to plow you into the ground!” Joy swaggered forward ever so cockily. “Call it a lesson in the virtue of humility; it’ll do you a lifetime of good, my dear.” Joy beamed just at the privilege of finally being able to play… She really felt kind of like a school kid waiting to be called on for her turn, which was a little embarrassing. Not embarrassing enough to keep her from grabbing the glove and running off to her chosen position on the green, though. Effete did the same and seemed to like the prospect of fun in the sun, too. Rue and Bane, now properly dirty, were just laughing at the thought, thoroughly enjoying themselves to the hilt.

Reviewing One Riveting Week

As was her nature, Joy reviewed the week just ending while she ate her last bites of Crêpe Suzette, finely prepared by Effete. She’d never thought of having an exquisite French desert for breakfast, but the tasty treat along with sliced bananas and tangerines, with milk and a small glass of orange juice completed the perfect morning feast so far as Joy was concerned. Not to mention that Effete ascended in her already high estimation of the woman. She was a veritable chef dessus l’excellence! Rue and Bane were already finished and getting ready for the day.

Certainly the last seven days (or more) had been the most hectic, stressful, heartbreaking, hopeful and productive in her life … and Effete’s, too. They retained the services of Justin Case, one of the best attorneys in Splinterbit, who immediately filed a restraining order and requested temporary orders, including primarily child custody, pending the divorce. Case also promised to have the actual dissolution of marriage papers filed by the end of the week. Thankfully, as well, his retainer was quite reasonable. Thank you, again, Lord!

The meeting with Dr. Pert Kibitz couldn’t have been better. Effete immediately felt comfortable with Joy’s warm and affable ole school chum. And just as Joy promised, the time spent was really not an “official” counseling session, just an introduction and acquaintance time during which, somewhat to Joy’s surprise, there was actually a good deal of laughter and no tears. Joy knew Effete was holding back somewhat, but her laughter was really genuine. Thank you again and again, gracious God!  Effete wanted to go ahead and jump in with both feet as soon as possible, so Pert kindly worked her in for a one-hour on Thursday (striking out her lunch break.)

“You full, or shall I fill your plate again, mademoiselle?” Effete asked in a lightheartedly, affected tone of voice. Actually, she sounded quite French, Joy thought, and how appropriate with the French cuisine! Joy smiled, even more amazed at Effete or, really, the authentic Effete beginning to surface more and more right before her eyes. Thank you again and again and again, God! Bless this dear woman… Oh God! I love her!

“Plus ou pas,” Effete asked with a broad smile. Now Joy was really taken back.

“You cook and speak French?”

Effete chuckled. “Only a wee-little, Reverend,” she replied with a wink.

Well, this was undoubtedly starting out a better day than Wednesday, when the Splinterbit Chronicle called wanting an interview with both Joy and Effete. It didn’t come as a complete shock, since Sage Mentor had kindly warned them the media might very well be poking around for a story. After all, both Fen Sloughheart and Joy Brighterday were well-known figures in the community, and Effete being taking from her home by ambulance to the hospital, and then from the hospital to the residence of Joy Brighterday, whom practically everyone knew the Rev. Sloughheart detested, was quite a journalistic “big fish” for the town … if the right reporter could hook and reel it in.

“Oh, no thank you,” Joy said, stifling another of many yawns that morning. “But it was all excellent, Effete. You absolutely amaze me … more and more each day. Merci beaucoup, and I’ll get the dishes, of course!”

“Hey, fair enough! I’ll go check on my little monsters to finish getting them ready,” Effete said as she wiped her hands with a dish towel, “which shouldn’t be too hard since they’re seeing their new hero, the super-amazing Moxie, today.” She laughed quietly and winked before heading down the hallway.

Really, now that Joy thought about it, the fact that they hadn’t been contacted sooner rather surprised her. Of course, the paper ran what Joy called a “skim milk” article the morning after Effete landed in the hospital, but it consisted of the bare-bones police report and a couple of quotes from neighbors, along with basic information about the Reverend Fen Sloughheart that readers likely already knew. The follow-up came when Effete was released from the hospital with, thankfully, no photos or detailed information about her stay (which was legally confidential anyway.) The paper again managed to get some quotes – two from neighbors and two from members of Ebenezer Church.

Ah, but Wednesday morning rolled around and the Chronicle called. It was 7:30 a.m. and Joy was somewhat prepared. Effete would not be speaking with anyone in the media for the time being, but she did have a statement to release via the pastor of St. Gianna Church, Joy Brighterday herself. Actually, it was Joy’s statement; Effete just gladly accepted it with a “thank you” for protecting her from the media … or trying to, anyway.

“Effete Sloughheart is recovering well, thanks to the excellent care she received at our superb hospital, and her two children are also doing well. For the time being they are not living at their residence and, yes, a restraining order has been issued on the Rev. Fen Sloughheart. Also, her attorney, Justin Case, has in fact requested temporary orders, but Effete would rather not say anymore about this at this time. She would like to thank the police who responded to the incident, as well as the hospital staff who treated her so professionally and caringly. Any further questions about this event should be directed to her attorney.”

And that was that, although the Splinterbit Chronicle got wind of the fact that Effete and her two boys were actually residing with the Rev. Joy Brighterday, and did not hesitate to mention the fact in what was finally their “big catch.” Naturally, they also tried contacting Fen Sloughheart, and naturally he was “unavailable for comment.” However, he had his own statement to release, compliments of the Ebenezer Church’s Board of Deacons:

“First, the Reverend Fen Sloughheart would like the public and, in particular, members of his church to know that he loves and cares for his wife and two children very deeply. He is very thankful that his wife received such excellent treatment by qualified, medical professionals at the hospital. They have his deep and genuine gratitude. Second, the Reverend Sloughheart would like the public and, in particular, members of his church to know what is now rather obvious, and that is that he and his wife have been having troubling issues in their marriage for quite some time – issues that he desires and fully intends to address in an affectionate, understanding, biblical manner. To this end, he asks for the prayers of all believers and, again, particularly members of his church. Third, and finally, the Reverend Sloughheart would very much like to address the particulars of this most unfortunate and distressing incident. However, he has been advised not to do so at this time, except to state again unequivocally his love and genuine concern for his wife and two children, adding in his own words, ‘This horrible episode in our lives will pass, by the grace of God, and we will have a stronger and healthier marriage and family in the end because that is what the Lord intends.’”

Well, Joy thought as she got up to start cleaning the dishes, he must have an inside track on what the Lord intends, because so far as I’m concerned the bastard deserves to be publicly caned … and never allowed behind another pulpit again … or anywhere near a woman again … or children!

“Hey! When are we leaving to go pick up Moxie?” the cheerful voice of Rue rang out.

Effete Inspired by Joy’s Take on Inspiration

Tea“Well, let’s take a look at this whole ‘inspiration’ idea then,” Joy said, as she took another sip from her second cup of hot tea. Effete was positioned on the other side of an old, cozy couch facing Joy catty-corner with her own steaming cup. It was early morning, and the boys were still in bed, but why not let them sleep in on what would hopefully be an uneventful Saturday anyway? Besides, Effete needed some “Joy time” all for herself.

“The one scripture verse you just quoted is the penultimate favorite among legalistic fundamentalists, like your husband,” Joy continued boldly. “The problem is – and this is true in many areas – they miss the point, misfire, and misapply. In this case, they focus on one word, insert a period where there is none, and virtually leave the rest hanging … except maybe for the ‘reproof’ and ‘correction’ part, and that they love!”

Both women laughed, Effete nodding her head. “Oh God, how I know!” She took another sip of tea, set her cup down on the side table, and looked serious again. “But I’m having some real difficulties here, especially now that it seems like everybody knows I’ve left Fen. I feel like I’ve been branded an evil wife, or ‘loose woman,’ rebellious, reprobate … you name it, but whatever it is, it seems to come straight from the inspired, infallible Word of God.”

“Well, first of all,” Joy responded as she set her cup down, too, “everybody may know, but not everybody is condemning you; not by a long shot! In fact, even though I haven’t conducted a scientific survey,” she smiled, “most people who know anything at all about Fen Sloughheart just automatically sympathize with you, even if they don’t know any of the particular reasons why you left… But, you know, word does have a way of getting around. In that case, I know most people will, or already do, sympathize with you … greatly!”

“God, I hope you’re right,” Effete responded and instinctively moved closer to Joy. “I’ve tried till I can’t try anymore, and if the Bible condemns me, then the Bible condemns me. What else can I say?”

Joy put one hand on Effete’s knee and wrapped the other around her right hand. “This book of books we call ‘the Bible’ does not condemn you, my love. In fact, it has no power whatsoever to condemn or justify; that falls within the province of our loving, nurturing God. Scripture, as valuable and holy as it may be, does not sit on the throne of the Almighty.”

“Besides, like I said, they focus on one word in one verse – and that verse really refers to what we call the Old Testament anyway, because the New Testament hadn’t even been completed – and they put the rest down on a lower shelf, so to speak.” Joy was gearing up now, doing what she loved to do in offering passionately, positive instruction; she was virtually made for it … and counseling, too.

“So for your entire marriage, and in that church, you’ve heard the same mantra over and over: ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (II Timothy 3.16-17, NKJV) To which you could easily have replied, ‘O.k., then, at least every man should be well equipped.’”

Both women virtually cackled at that, with Effete surprisingly adding, “Well, I know one man who’s not so well equipped!” They doubled over laughing, Joy sporting a look of shock on her face. “Not enough inspiration, maybe?” Effete proffered.

“Oh, no!” Joy answered. “He had plenty of inspiration; don’t ever doubt that, Effete! He just evidently wasn’t up to the ‘good work.’” They doubled over again, both astonished at their risqué repartee. “Oh God! Woman, you’re awesome! And it’s so damn good to see you and hear you like this! Thank you, Lord!”

“So, o.k.” Effete retrieved her calm. “‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ (II Timothy 3.16-17, HSCB) Tell me, my master-teacher, what does this mean? Correct and lead your servant-pupil up and onward to better understanding.”

“Alright,” Joy was still having difficulty catching her breath. “How about we look at that troubling word first. Of course, I’m sure you know it literally means ‘God-breathed.’” Effete nodded in affirmation. “Very important, because the Apostle St. Paul could have said, or written, ‘God spoke it, so-and-so wrote it down.’ Paul did not; instead, he chose the word ‘God-breathed,’ and this makes an indelibly important difference. The Everlasting One breathed.”

“So, how about this paraphrase-type translation that gets to the guts of what the Apostle was telling Timothy? How about, ‘God has breathed life into all Scripture, and it is useful for teaching us what is true. It is useful for correcting our mistakes. It is useful for making our lives whole again. It is useful for training us to do what is right. By using Scripture, the servant of God can be completely prepared to do every good thing.’ (II Timothy 3.16-17, NIRV)  Sound different?” Effete nodded again. “Yeah, well it should, but it is not different from what St. Paul was telling St. Timothy.”

“You see, Effete, the most important part of this passage is not the one word ‘inspired,’ although it is important, of course; it’s the second part … the part about how all of these sacred writings can and should be used. And this is good and positive and uplifting; meant to grow and mature us into the women and men God always intended us to be as humans. Scripture was not given to brow-beat and abuse; it was give to build up and adorn. It was given – and is given – to help us bear what we call the ‘fruits of the Spirit.’”

“Ah, that’s not something we really focused on at Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church.” Effete picked her cup back up to finish off the now lukewarm tea.

“No, I don’t expect so, and how tragic,” Joy instinctively reached for cup, too. “But you know them and, more importantly, you grow them – love, patience, tenderness, goodness, faith, hope, modesty, stamina – and you are an exquisitely gorgeous tree.”

Effete leaned over and placed her head in the crook of Joy’s neck, now one of her favorite spots, and simply said, “Thank you.”

“What’s for breakfast,” came the voice of one bleary-eyed Bane from the mouth of the hallway.

“Something inspired,” Joy replied, and both women laughed again.



Checking the Checklist With Joy

JoySerious4Riding down the road with Effete early Tuesday morning with an important to-do list, Joy was certainly thankful Moxie had volunteered to watch the boys. Able had a couple of classes that day, but hers all landed on Mondays and Wednesdays this term, and Moxie kind of liked the idea of playing around with Rue and Bane anyway. Not that she really knew them – she didn’t – but Moxie could tell they needed some love and attention … and fun. She seemed more than happy to give it. Besides which, she thought she needed some time away from Able, and laughing and horsing around with a couple of kids seemed like an awesome way to spend that time.

Effete didn’t seem too sure about leaving the boys with Moxie when she answered the door in her rather scanty, black halter top and skin-tight sleep shorts. And, of course, the heart and thorns tattoo in the middle of her lower back didn’t help alleviate any of Effete’s concerns, but Joy told her Moxie had never been known to sacrifice before sundown, adding with a good deal of laughter that they’d be back well before night. Effete was not at all convinced but agreed anyway. After all, even a tattooed, barely-clothed girl had to be better than the hell they’d escaped. Besides, it was high time the boys got to know people outside of fundamentalist circles.

“Are you o.k., Effete?” Joy asked as they stopped at a red light. “They really will be fine, I promise you. Moxie’ll take good care of them, I swear.” And she couldn’t help but laugh again. “Really, it’s pretty early. She just got out of bed… They’ll be fine, o.k.? While we’re running around they’ll have a blast. Moxie’s just like that… Ha! She’ll probably have them flying off the roof in an hour or so…” Joy caught herself. “Just kidding!” She patted Effete on the leg. “Just kidding, but they’ll be alright and they’ll have fun. Meanwhile, we’ll do what we need to do today … every last, tough, boring, painful thing!” The light turned and she took off again.

“You probably think I’m being a real bumpkin or something,” Effete started. “I guess it’s just, I’ve never really left them with anyone before … not really. And someone I don’t know, or … ha! Never met, and … God! I’ve been in one place for so long … one stinking, super-strict, super-religious prison for so, so long…”

“It’s o.k., Effete.” Joy took her hand and gently squeezed.

“If you say they’ll be alright, then I know they’ll be alright. She just seems so … different than what I’m used to.”

“Oh yeah!” Joy erupted into a good belly laugh. “Yeah, she definitely is!” Joy could barely contain herself. “Moxie Keener is one-of-a-kind, that’s for sure… Oh God! You don’t know the half of it…” Joy looked over at the growing fear in Effete’s widening eyes. “And this isn’t really helping, is it?”

“No.” Effete shook her head slowly. “Not at all.” She shook her head a couple more times. “In fact, I think you’d do better this morning if you played straight-laced pastor … or I think I might jump the car and go back screaming for the very lives of my dear children.”

“Oh good heavens, Effete!” Joy chuckled. “No … Come on, I mean it. They’re alright and so are we.” She patted her leg again. “Now! Our checklist!”

“Ugh! I don’t think I can do this… Not all in one day.”

“It’s really not that much, and it’s necessary. Remember, we talked about this last night … far too late last night!” Joy looked over and winked. “Until you finally  rolled over and started sawing some logs!”

“I don’t snore, do I? Did I keep you up? I’m so sorry!”

“Effete! Quit that!” Joy teased her with a mock frown. “And, no, you don’t snore … much. Anyway! Item number one on the agenda. We’re going to see the attorney, Justin Case – good man, great experience, excellent reputation – and he’s a member of my church. Remember what we went over yesterday? I know you do. ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ Right? Be upfront and completely honest – don’t be afraid, I’ll be there the whole time – but keep it to-the-point. Summary of background and history, then ask about restraining order, then temporary custody, and finally divorce and full, permanent custody. In that order, and we don’t let him stray. Right?”

“Yes… Right.” Effete sounded somewhat uncertain and paused for a minute. Joy was just about to get discouraged when Effete nodded her head and said again, “Yep! That’s the plan. I’ve got it, captain!”

“Well, o.k. then!” Joy felt a rush of relief. It was bound to be a long day; she sure didn’t need Effete bowing out on her this early in the game! “Next, we make our way to Dr. Pert Kibitz – friend of mine from high school, actually – and you’re just going to … really just kind of get to know her today. She may, and I stress may, do an initial evaluation if  you both feel comfortable. But mainly it’s an introduction and opportunity to get to know each other, and you’ll love her! She’s very approachable and relaxing, not at all intimidating. And you’ll know right off the bat she wants you to feel as much at ease as possible… I really think it’ll be good.”

After visiting Effete in the hospital that first night, Joy decided she definitely needed an experienced, professional counselor in the loop. Especially if she was going to play the role of sturdy companion and faithful friend. Like her old mentor, Dr. Sharpman, had told her, it wouldn’t be wise trying to wear the hat of psychologist, too … and she wasn’t one anyway! So she’d called up her friend, Pert – now the respected Doctor  Kibitz – to ask for help.  Of course, Pert agreed and invited Joy to bring Effete over Tuesday morning and, best of all, it would be gratis. No charge, which made Joy’s already strained pocketbook quite happy.

“Are you going to be there?”

“Well, of course…” Joy started to answer. “Oh, you mean in the room? Well … I’ll introduce you, and … I may stay for a couple of minutes, but the two of you need to talk privately. You’ll be alight, Effete, I promise.” Joy rubbed her leg reassuringly. “Pert’s a wonderful person. You’ll get along fine. Just remember what we’ve said. You have nothing to be ashamed of, no reason to feel guilty or down on yourself or humiliated or anything like that, and Pert Kibitz will not  do or say anything  to make you feel that way, either. Promise. She’s very understanding, and not only a good person but an excellent counselor, too. And you need that right now.”

“O.k.” Effete breathed out hard. “And then lunch, right?”

“Right!” Joy beamed. “But not just any lunch. We’re meeting Sage Mentor at that little hole-in-the-wall I told you about.”

“She’s the caseworker, right?”

“Yes, but more than that, Sage is just an all-round good adviser. Of course, she’ll want to set up a time to meet Rue and Bane, probably at home – my home … or, guess I should say ‘our’ home now,” Joy grinned and winked at Effete, who allowed herself only the slightest smile in return. “We’ll want to tell her about meeting with the attorney and counselor – and sooner than later put all three in touch with each other so they’re all on the same team with the same game plan, but anyway – we’ll tell her about the morning, then ask specifically about the boys. All the do’s and don’ts and what to be careful about. That sort of thing. And she’ll have some good advice.”

“I’m already exhausted.”

“Chin up, my dear, it’s still too early for napping.” Joy slowed to a stop at another red light in downtown Splinterbit. They could see the courthouse two blocks down, surrounded by mostly shady pseudo-businesses, like payday loan-sharks and bail bondsmen. It somehow seemed fitting to Joy, though, an uninterrupted landscape of exploitation and injustice. “Anyway, the afternoon’s an easy ride. We’ll go to the post office to have your address changed, but unlisted, and then from there to the grocery store … not  the one you usually go to, of course, but the other one I told you about last night when you were yawning in my ear.”

“I did not!” Effete cackled. “Did I?”

“The one just outside town.” Joy ignored the question. “It’s a fun little place. They’ve got a lot of organic stuff at some pretty good prices.”

“Good. After eating a big, fat, juicy hamburger and greasy fries for lunch we’ll be ready for healthy, right?”

“Right!” Joy laughed as she pulled her car into the left turn lane. “It’s balance. Unhealthy, healthy. Unhealthy, healthy. Unhealthy, healthy. See? You just gotta be consistent. Consistency’s the key, my dear!”  They both laughed, especially Effete for the first time that morning. It felt good.

“Thank you.” Effete grabbed Joy’s hand. “For everything… I don’t know what I’d do without you. Thank you.”

“You’re certainly welcome…” Joy pulled into a parking space in front of an unassuming little office, then looked straight into Effete’s eyes. “More than welcome. It’s an honor to know and love someone as kind and wonderful and beautiful as you, Effete… And I mean that with all my heart.” She smiled. “And no matter how exhausting all this may be for both of us, we’re gonna make it.” Joy leaned in closer. “Now, let’s go in, meet Mr. Justin Case, and get item number one checked off our check list. Okay?”

Moxie and Joy Step Through Able Grief

MoxieSS4“Well, o.k. then! Prepare for incoming missiles of counsel!” Joy shifted on the couch and Moxie just laughed.  “Here it is, straight from Dr. Joy at no charge!”

“Wow! What a deal! Free session in the Brighterday clinic, and all to save my young love life. Can’t beat that!” Moxie leaned back in the recliner then, allowing herself to relax a little as Joy took a deep breath before the plunge.

“Well, first of all, if I had to guess, I’d say Able is going through something like grief. In fact, it’s probably very similar, although the steps, or stages, may be a little mixed up.”

“You mean, like, the stages of grief. Denial, anger, sadness and whatever else?”

“Yeah, whatever else.” Joy laughed. “Honestly, if he hasn’t hit them all, he probably will, because if you think about it, it really is like he’s lost somebody … in fact, a whole lot of somebodies, including his own life, in a way.”

“I get that…” Moxie turned it over in her mind. “Not that I’ve thought of it quite like grief over losing a loved one … but I guess that’s really kind of what’s happened. I knew it was serious when he decided to move out, leave his church, and essentially bid farewell to so many people he’s known for most of his life… Guess it really is  like death.”

“Yep, it is. And so don’t be surprised if you find him going through some denial, just like people do when they’re grieving. You know, the whole world suddenly seems emptier, and confusing, maybe even senseless. Of course, early in the whole process, denial is a kind of God-given survival mechanism that kicks in to help us cope. All the emotions raging around inside are just too much for us to take all at once and, so, we only let in a little bit at a time.”

“So…” Joy continued. “One day pretty soon – maybe even tomorrow, who knows – Able may wake up flying high as a kite, saying, ‘Oh my God! Everything’s wonderful! Life is great!’ But then, you’ll know everything’s not  wonderful, and that’s where you’ve gotta be careful. Take it as it comes, of course, but soberly … almost with a grain of salt. This early in the game everything is far from being wonderful. It can’t be; not quite yet.”

“Then there’s the anger, I suppose,” Moxie anticipated the next stage. “Like we talked about before.”

“Yeah… And Moxie, that could end up being the most difficult for you. Not to scare you off, o.k.  Please believe me, I don’t want to do that, but… He’s feeling adrift right now, or to use an old cliché, like a ship without a rudder. And like we’ve talked about, too, he’s probably dealing with some fear… Well, eventually you get to the point where denial’s not enough; it just doesn’t cut it. One very natural reaction is anger.”

“And with this, you sometimes get some fist-shaking, which is what you’ve got to be ready for.” Joy leaned forward. “Mox, I’m just telling you this so you can be on your guard, or … bolster your heart, so to speak. Because we humans have an innate tendency to blame, especially when we’re uncomfortable and everything seems chaotic and confusing, or just not-right. You know, it’s the old story of Adam blaming Eve, and Eve blaming the snake.”

“And that’ll be Able blaming me, of course.” Moxie sighed and rolled her eyes. “Great! So I get to play Eve now… Ha! I may end up being the subject of some fundy’s sick-ass sermon!”

“Yeah, that might happen,” Joy eyeballed Moxie seriously. “And that’s what I mean. Feelings can be overwhelming, no doubt about it, and disorienting. Able may wake up tomorrow feeling great, then he may wake up next week wondering what the hell is going on and asking whose fault it is, and when he rolls over in bed, who’s the first person he’s gonna see? The very one he left home, church and family for… You. Moxie Keener.”

“The Jezebel. The serpent. The great temptress. Yeah, I get it!”

“Maybe. But, then, maybe you and other people, too. Maybe you and his parents and the church and the college and God, along with his … first grade Sunday school teacher, who knows?” Joy threw her hands up. “It may not be very logical, o.k. But all of the stress and confusion and feeling disoriented could send him into a kind of tailspin. And anger is … well, how do I put it? Strange as it may sound, it’s like a strengthening … like you’re muscling up your inner core.”

“Ha!” Moxie’s eyebrows shot up. “Never heard it put like that before!”

“Well, yeah.  I know it sounds crazy, but anger can make you feel strong … sort of.  God, if I had the words.” Joy shook her head. “But it’s like you’re pulling all of those different, warring feelings together into one emotion and giving it direction.  And for awhile, at least, this sort of grounds you … which, when you think about it, is necessary … especially in the grief process. Now, of course, anger’s not a good place to stay! But at some point, it can be healthy…  It’s just in this case, it may be pretty damn miserable for you!”

“Yeah!  I think I got that, Dr. Joy!” Moxie chuckled sarcastically. “Me bad; my fault… Burn the witch! Great, but let’s just say I survive, and move on to the next stage, huh?”

“Moxie Keener,” Joy smiled and wagged her head. “You’re the one who drove into this thing a thousand miles an hour. I’m just trying to put some road signs in place to hopefully keep you from driving headlong over a cliff… You’re not  bad, o.k.? Moxie Keener is not  the wicked witch, or the serpent, or any other nasty character.” Joy laughed now and shook her head again. “But you are unique … and  exciting and beautiful and intelligent, all rolled into one.”

“Thanks.” Moxie had to look away, but Joy could just see her barely blushing. “Hope Able still feels that way,” she almost whispered to herself.

“And, you know, after all is said and done,  I really think he will.” Joy scooted over on the couch closest to where Moxie was sitting and leaned toward her. “But … we said something before about him possibly going back … and that’s part of this process, too.  Maybe it’ll happen; maybe it won’t.  But at some point, especially when he’s exhausted the anger – and that happens, by the way, because sometimes you just get plain tired – then he’ll start bargaining with himself.”

“Bargaining? Like making a deal? Hadn’t heard that one before.”

“Yep. Deal-making’s a pretty good way of putting it, actually. He’ll start reasoning with himself. You know, like, ‘maybe things weren’t so bad after all. Maybe, just maybe, some little changes here and there would have been enough. Maybe leaving and cutting ties was too radical. Maybe it wasn’t necessary, and I just jumped the gun.’  And, of course, the big one, which is something like, ‘Look! I’m worse off than I was before…’ Even though it’s not true.”

“You really think he could forget that easily?”

“Of course. Remember what we said about comfort in the familiar? His life in his world … the only world he’s known? And now he’s out in a much bigger world, totally different, with all these conflicting thoughts and emotions whirling around inside, and anger only gets him so far… Yes. Hell yes! He could very easily sit down one day, totally spent – and I mean exhausted, wiped out – and start asking these questions, seriously thinking about a return voyage.”

“Convinced it’ll be much better and brighter, I’m sure, but making a goddamn fool of himself!” Moxie was practically in tears again just thinking about the possibility. Joy reached out and put a hand on her knee.

“Moxie,” Joy leaned in a little more and spoke softly. “It may happen; it may not. All you can do is prepare as best you can … be there for him, love him, encourage him … but also keep yourself steady and healthy.  This is big.” Joy paused for emphasis. “Right now … at this point in time, difficult as it is, you’re the anchor…  If he’s at all like a ship without a rudder, he damn sure needs an anchor and Mox, you’re it… But there’s danger there, too.”


“Well, this pendulum can swing from one extreme to the other, my love. One day he may be angry and blaming you; the next he might be clinging to you for dear life… It’s turbulent waters you’re sailing right now, and there’s no way around it, Mox. Both of you will drive straight through, or he’ll turn around and head back for the home harbor. But if you make it through the worst of the storm, the quieting down could be a very sad time for Able.”

“When we’ve made it through, he’ll be sad?” Moxie sounded perplexed.

“Not necessarily, but it could happen, just like in grieving.” Joy took Moxie’s hand and gently squeezed. “When he realizes that there’s no going back, or at least no good reason; that that life, that world is truly behind and he’s out on the open sea, so to speak, charting an unknown course, well… at first it may not matter how calm the waters are. In fact, the relative calm and quiet may actually seem … melancholy, you might say.”

“I think he’s already there, actually. Like I said, he seems down all the time now.”

“True, but … that may be – and I’m saying may  because none of this is written in stone – but it may  be just the beginning. And, anyway, remember that none of what we’re talking about right now is an exact step-by-step process. These are just things to be aware of and prepare for, at least as well as you can, so you’re not caught completely off-guard … for your sake and  his.  But, hey,  if that ship sails through the storm and you make it through the melancholy waters, too, the last is the best.”

“And what’s that?”

“Living. Call it ‘resurrection.’” Moxie looked up at Joy and Joy smiled. “Life after death. And that’s not like saying, ‘well, o.k.’ or ‘it’s alright.’ No. Able may still have a sense of loss, maybe some sadness … but you’ll turn that ship toward the setting sun to chase the light into the dawning of a new world, the world you call your own … together.” Moxie’s eyes watered and her lips trembled. Joy gently placed a hand on her cheek. “Are you ready for this, Mox?”

Moxie Presses Joy on Relationship

MoxieSS3a“Of course I love Able to death,” Moxie explained from the recliner in Joy’s living room. “It’s just, he seems so conflicted and depressed since he broke it off with his parents and that … his church.” Moxie remembered her pastor’s whispered admonition to avoid any mention of the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church. Joy had said just enough to let her know the two little boys in her home were somehow connected.

“Well, yeah, he probably is  conflicted and confused, even afraid, Moxie.” Joy eyed the normally very lively young woman. “I mean … Moxie, he’s taken a really, really big step.  And even if it was necessary and ultimately good and healthy – and I certainly think it was necessary and good – still, this is huge.  It’s like you said just awhile ago, he’s leaving behind an entire world, his world. For good reason, sure, but still it was his life in his world, and that can be traumatic.”

Moxie had called Joy Brighterday not long after morning service at St. Gianna’s, not only to find out why she’d “gone AWOL,” but also to see if she could stop by to talk. And while her pastor failed to satisfy her curiosity about being absent that morning, Joy had invited her over to her house. So after Moxie sent Able on his way to dinner with Blue Poorman, she drove to Joy’s place, feeling a little guilty about having a clandestine meeting at which Able was the subject but knew nothing about it. Still, she had to talk to someone…

“Yeah, I know that. I mean, I really do, but…” Moxie paused, obviously frustrated, then looked back over where Joy was perched on the couch. “I’ve tried and tried and tried everyway I know how to make him happy again, and laugh like he used to… You know, to see life like an exciting adventure, to relax and have fun, and not be so serious all the time. And especially not be so hard on himself… God! It’s like every time I turn around he’s beating himself up about something. I just… Jesus! I don’t know anymore. I mean, I’m really starting to think maybe it was a mistake.”

“What exactly?” Joy frowned. “What are you thinking might have been a mistake?”

“You know… us being together.” Now Moxie sounded like she could cry, which was unusual for Moxie Keener. “He’s always told me I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to him in his life, but he sure as hell doesn’t act like it! He acts more like he’s ready for the grave … and it hasn’t even been that long, you know?  I mean, my God, is it that difficult for him to cut the umbilical cord? I mean…”

“Moxie,” Joy sounded stern. “Stop. Just stop … take a deep breathe, and listen to me.” Moxie complied. “Let’s take a step back and look at this again … a little more sympathetically. O.k.? Able has just left behind his whole world, as we’re calling it, and cut all ties … at least for the time being. But not only that, he’s moved into another, very different world … your  world. And that may be an exciting, fascinating, wonderful world, but … it’s also very new, very different, and so it may be very frightening, too … at least sometimes, especially at first.”

Joy paused and both she and Moxie could hear delighted shouts and squeals from the backyard where Rue and Bane were playing some made-up game with the football and frisbee.

“And anger,” Joy continued. “Don’t be surprised if he sometimes seems angry. All of the confusion and fear and other emotions whiling around inside, and not knowing what to do with them, can easily lead to an awful lot of frustration.”

“Yeah, he definitely seems frustrated … frustrated with me.”

“No, actually, probably not, Mox. Remember what you’ve told me about Able. Remember that he’s not coming from a home and church that’s built him up his entire life; just the opposite. He’s coming from a background of, at the very least, emotional and spiritual abuse. He’s coming from a world, like we’ve said, where he’s been torn down and ripped apart. He’s just now coming out from a community in which he was taught, first and foremost, that there’s nothing good about him and nothing he can really do to change that fact.”

“Able’s just now leaving an environment that cultivates continuous, ongoing self-doubt and guilt … so, of course, he’s doubting himself now and probably even struggling with guilt feelings, and by the way,” Joy arched her eyebrows, “he may – and probably will at some point – feel a tremendous pull back to that environment.” Joy thought of Effete just then and, once again, steeled her mind against the very real possibility that even a woman so abused and broken could very well feel the same tremendous pull. “It’s been known to happen.”

“I don’t understand. I really don’t.” Moxie ran fingers through her long reddish-brown hair. “How he could ever be attracted to that … that garbage … hellhole again.”

“Safety. Security. Or at least feelings  of security, no matter how detrimental it may actually be… Some people – and I know you know this because you’re really intelligent – some people will choose an environment that’s familiar, even if it’s miserable, over the unknown precisely because it is  unknown, and it’s frightening and they can’t seem to get their bearings… They go back to what they know, even when they know it’s bad, just because it’s known, you know?  They know what it’s all about – kind of, sort of – and they know where they fit in.”

“Yeah.” Moxie leaned forward and stared blankly at the coffee table. “Safety and comfort in the familiar … and I’m not familiar enough, not yet anyway … so he may go back after all. And if he does, he’ll probably blame me for all the trouble, too.”

“Well, if he goes back, and I’m by no means saying he will, but if he decides to go back he’ll have  to blame you. It would practically be required in order for him to be accepted again and reintegrated into that community … that world. You know, condemn and totally renounce the evil influence that led him astray – you, of course – with the added commitment never to have anything to do with you again. Unless, of course, you decided to convert, and then…”

“Ha!” Moxie came alive again. “Not a snowball’s chance in hell, pastor dear! They’ll just have to plug a stake in the ground and light the fire, cause this witch damn sure isn’t giving up her broom!” Joy practically doubled over laughing. “No way! It’s hard enough for me to keep up the ‘Christian’ part of ‘Christian agnostic,’ much less going fundy! No … we’ll just have to work on keeping Able on my side of the tracks.”

“Yeah, o.k. Well let’s do that, then.” Joy was still laughing. “So, o.k. there’s a few things I think you gotta know – even though I’m not  an expert here, and please keep that in mind – still, there’s just a few things I think I need to mention.” Joy leaned forward and assumed an ‘affected,’ humorous tone. “For your erudite consideration, my bright and talented, Christian agnostic philosopher.” They both laughed.

“Yeah, alright… Hit me!”

Able, Blue Talk Fundamentalism Over Chinese

chinese-food“No, you’re right, Able. An awful lot of people naively criticize without knowing what they’re really talking about, but…” Jim Blue Poorman interrupted himself to take another bite of egg foo young while Able nibbled on the last of his spring roll. “I think using words like ‘conservative,’ or ‘militant,’ or ‘rigid’ in any definition of fundamentalism is really not helpful. In fact, it may actually say more about the people using those words than it does about the term itself.”

“Well, yeah, that’s what I mean,” Able agreed. “Not that I even consider myself ‘fundamentalist’ anymore – and maybe I never really was, but anyway – I know I was never militant  or rigid.  At least,  I don’t think I was… O.k. maybe rigid, but not  militant.”  Able chortled at this. “Moxie’s always telling me I’m not assertive enough, let alone militant.” He laughed again as he took a spoonful of won-ton soup.

Able had met Blue Poorman that morning at St. Gianna Church, where he attended service with Moxie, who was disappointed to find out that Joy Brighterday had gone “AWOL,” as she put it. Even still, it was a new and somewhat gratifying experience for Able Dilettante, who’d never seen the inside of any church other than the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church. And he immediately liked the “substitute preacher,” Jim Blue Poorman, which is why he’d spent a good half-hour talking to him after church, which is why they were now eating dinner together at a local Chinese restaurant.

“No, you certainly don’t strike me as the militant type,” Jim chuckled. “Anyway, fundamentalism in any form can be militant, and often is, but I think a better and more applicable description would be ‘defensive.’ In fundamentalist groups you often find a kind of ‘fortress mentality,’ but even this really doesn’t get at the heart of fundamentalism.  I mean, my grandmother, God rest her soul, was not militant and I don’t think she was even particularly defensive, certainly not in a mean and nasty way. In fact, she was one of the kindest, sweetest, most generous people I’ve ever know… ‘salt of the earth,’ as some would say; a real saint.”

“Well, o.k. then, how do you define ‘fundamentalism,’ and why aren’t you one?” Able smiled and continued, “I know you’re not a fundamentalist, of course … but why? I’d like to hear your … take on it all. What’s the real heart of the problem with fundamentalism and the church I’ve left? Too narrow-minded and restrictive, I know, but…”

“Oh, well, wait a sec,” Blue Poorman cut in. “There’s nothing wrong with restrictions, generally speaking. I mean, my God! One of the most restrictive books in the world is not the Bible, but the dictionary, and we would hardly call the dictionary ‘evil.’ No … there are plenty of restrictions in life, necessary restrictions. We couldn’t live without them, at least not very well, so I don’t think it’s restrictiveness, per se,  that’s really the problem.”  Blue lifted his tea cup and took a sip of steaming chai.

“So … what words come to mind, then? What’s the ‘Poorman definition’ of fundamentalism, and why’s it so bad?” Able lifted his own cup then and waited.

“Well, really the one word that’s always come to my mind – and I think it’s a good place to at least begin some kind of definition – would be ‘oversimplification.’”


“Yes, oversimplification,” Jim Blue answered before taking another drink. “Religious fundamentalism really comes down to … to an aversion, or even loathing the idea that an infinite God cannot be fully understood by a finite mind, that … things divine are really rather mysterious and to some extent, at least, beyond the grasp of earthly creatures, you might say. It’s … well, an attempt to fit all of reality into nice, neat little boxes, so to speak. So – and I know you’ve seen this, you’ve experienced it – the mistake of fundamentalism is, at heart, really an intractable kind of oversimplification.”

“You know,” Jim leaned back then, clearly enjoying conversation with his newfound friend. “The fundamentalist gets some ideas in his head … usually just a few.” They both laughed. Able could scarcely disagree. “And, of course, he just knows these ideas are very obviously true, and he interprets all of reality according to this narrowly defined ‘truth.’ For the Christian fundamentalist, this usually involves only a select number of scriptures or, more importantly, the interpretation of those scriptures, even when other scriptures seem to teach something different.”

“You see, even though she may not consciously realize it – and most fundamentalists probably don’t – she, or he, has been … well, indoctrinated to believe that … hmmmm, that specific interpretations of only a portion of Scripture is definitive for all of life and the whole world. It’s the fixed  idea, or ideology, that becomes an inalterable lens through which he looks at everything, literally everything. And this is the downfall of fundamentalism – again, in whatever form or fashion, wherever you find it. It’s not only an oversimplification; it also rests on a very, very shaky foundation. And from what you’ve told me, I take it you’re finding this out … or, I guess, you already have!”

“Yeah,” Able looked down at the table now, pondering. “Yeah… It seems like my whole world, or the life I’ve always known, has just been blown away.  I mean, I haven’t really liked church, the preaching, fundamentalism or whatever for a long time now, but … when I finally decided to leave it all behind, you know, for Moxie and her  life and her  world… I don’t know.  I just feel so lost, crazy as that may sound.” Able grunted out a low harrumph. “I mean, it was my world … my family, my friends, church… Sometimes I wonder how my folks ever got sucked into it.”

“So you weren’t always in that church?”

“No, actually we didn’t go anywhere when I was really young. Then suddenly we started going … but come to think of it, I don’t remember my mom or dad ever saying why.”

“Maybe it was security,” Blue offered. “It’s not unheard of … people attracted to fundamentalism, or cults, because it feels safe and secure, and it feels this way precisely because it is simple and seems so solid, even though it’s really a house of cards just waiting to crumble. For awhile, though, some people enjoy feeling … protected, and they enjoy the usually tight-knit community, which makes them feel even more secure. Could be something like that was going on with your parents, I don’t know.”

“Me either.” Able looked back up at Jim Blue. “But I know I’m glad I decided to go to college, because I’m glad I met Moxie. God! She’s like an angel … little rough around the edges, mind you, but…” They both laughed. “Well, o.k. Maybe she’s not ready for the wings, but I think she’s saved my life. And I’m really thankful for that, even if it is kind of uncomfortable and scary and confusing.”

“Well one thing’s for sure,” Blue widened his eyes and smiled. “You didn’t just leave one world for another. You left for love, too … hers and  yours.  From what I’ve seen and heard, which is admittedly not a lot, it’s genuine love and genuinely shared in really healthy companionship – or, some would say, communion – and that’s pretty damn important.” And something for which Jim Poorman had longed his entire adult life. “So it may be scary, I don’t doubt it, but  probably worth every damn bit of it!  Just hang in there… Oh, by the way, you never told me why she couldn’t make it this evening.”

Joy Nurses Headache, Lots of Worry and Old Scratch, Too!

PlaygroundEffete would be released the next day. She was well on the mend … physically. There were much deeper wounds, Joy knew, wounds that wouldn’t heal quickly. Effete was a shattered woman. She had been for many, many years. And she was mother to two shattered lives … two precious boys who’d never known what it meant to be whole and healthy and happy. Joy looked up from where she sat on the park bench. Rue and Bane were playing on the monkey-bars like any nine and eleven-year-old should, and they were laughing. They were happy.

Joy smiled. Sitting underneath the bright afternoon sun, listening to the voices of vibrant children echo through the air provided her a much needed respite from the day’s activities. After her early morning theology session with Rue, she’d fixed them all some breakfast. They all pitched in to clean up the dishes, then showered and dressed. Of course, Joy made sure the boys brushed their teeth and ran a comb through their hair for good measure. Then they went to the hospital for a nice, long visit with momma, had lunch in the cafeteria, then visited some more.

All in all, it had been a good day, but Joy was already exhausted. The mental, emotional and spiritual strain of it all had quite simply worn the usually lively, energetic pastor down to a frazzle. She could only imagine how Effete felt. At least Rue and Bane seemed alright … for now, anyway. And what about Fen? Joy couldn’t help wondering if he’d gone to his fundamentalist cult shop that morning to preach as if nothing had happened. Or maybe his congregation had heard? If so, had he preached some sick sermon justifying himself and explaining it all away?

Joy felt dizzy. Her mind flew in a hundred different directions. The devil himself may as well have been sitting next to her … or maybe it was God. Joy was having some trouble telling the difference anymore. Some of the worst relationships in the world were also the most religious. Why? Some of the most horrific abuses occurred in ostensibly “christian” homes. Why? So many preachers, evangelists and counselors touted the glorious ideal of “biblical” marriage and family, yet faithful church-goers divorced as much as everyone else. Why?

Joy pressed her fingers into her temples and began rubbing in circular motion. Damn!  She silently cursed the approaching migraine. Maybe it is the devil!  But whether or not the devil had anything to do with her headache, Joy knew he couldn’t be blamed for the nearly-ruined woman now lying in a hospital bed, and he couldn’t be blamed for the deeply hurt, terrorized children she now watched playing on the playground. “Nope! Old Scratch didn’t earn any points with this one!” Joy emphatically whispered. “The ‘man of God’ played it all, from start to finish!”

But I’m a ‘man of God,’ right? No, o.k. woman of God, but damn! Am I in the right profession?  Joy closed her eyes and kept massaging her temples. The headache was starting to nauseate her, which made her worry she might up-chuck right there in the middle of the park!  Great! Just great… I’m sure Rue and Bane would like to see that! Yeah! She’s taking care of us! Oh wait a minute, she’s chocking on her puke! Call an ambulance! Yeah … maybe I can bed down with Effete!  Joy breathed in deeply, and forced a full-stop to the tirade in her mind.

Movie. What movie would they see? Joy had already decided the boys wouldn’t go back to the Ebenezer church school ever again, if she could help it, and the attorney in her church had at least agreed she’d be alright keeping them out for the time being. So … they could afford to stay up a little later than usual, and Joy desperately wanted the day to end on a high note. The Stone of Iblis  was still running, and seemed like a decent sci-fi, action, fantasy-type that might appeal to a couple of rambunctious boys … or, well, boys that should  be rambunctious.

No, it did no good to blame the devil for any of this, or really much of anything at all. “Yep! Old Scratch has a damn easy job, I’d say!” Joy opened her eyes again to make sure no one was near enough to hear her talking to herself. “He just sits back while we do all his work for him and then collects the pay… Ha! He may as well be in Congress!” Joy laughed at herself. “Hell! Maybe he is! But what about you?” She looked up at the blue sky above and squinted. “Yeah … probably isn’t easy running the universe, but you know…”

“Joy! Look at me!” Rue called from the top of the monkey bars. He was standing straight up, waiting for her to notice.

“Hey, yeah! I see you,” Joy called back. “Just be careful, buck-o! Can’t have you getting hurt on my watch!”

“No, wait!” Joy could see Rue gleaming, which meant he was about to do something, which meant she should probably switch into frantic-mother mode. “Watch!” And before Joy could open her mouth to protest, Rue was flying through the air and down to the ground where he rolled over a couple of times before hopping up again with the biggest grin an eleven-year-old boy could plaster on his dirty face. “Did ‘ya see that?”

“Uh, yeah I saw it!” But she sure as hell didn’t want to see it again. What? Am I getting squeamish in my old age? But, hey, I’m not old! And I’ve done the whole jump thing a million times! Still… “Wow, that was great, Rue!” But don’t you dare go back up for another! “Hey, it’s about that time, guys… The movie?  Come on and we’ll grab some ice-cream before show-time; what d’ya say?”

The broad smiles and elated answers of both boys was enough to let her know they wouldn’t miss the playground … not with ice-cream and a movie, probably with plenty of popcorn and soda, ahead of them. And Joy wouldn’t have to worry about any broken legs, arms, or collarbones either. Or bloody noses, cracked skulls… Joy stopped herself, grabbed Rue and Bane in a big bear hug and twirled them around three or four times, which they both answered with delighted squeals.

When Joy put them down, Rue held on long enough to give her a quick peck on the cheek. Joy returned the affection, then reached over to give Bane a kiss on the head, too. Bane smiled and looked kind of embarrassed, but Rue was practically glowing.  “You know,” he said cheerfully, “if God were anything like you,  I don’t think I’d mind going back to church. In fact, I’d love praying and singing, too!”

And for one fleeting moment, Joy thought she could hear a barely audible whisper in the gentle breeze.  I’m here, right here … I Am.

Joy With God, Creation and Rue

JoyContemplate1“Can I ask you something else?” Rue shifted and adjusted himself in Joy’s lap.

“Of course you can, anything.” Joy ran her fingers through his hair and smiled.

“How could everything be created in 24-hour days when the sun, moon and stars weren’t created until fourth day? And what about plants and animals being created before Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter one, but after Adam and before Eve in chapter two? It just doesn’t make sense … especially if the Bible’s not supposed to have any mistakes.”

“Ah … hmmm.” Joy leaned her head back, pondering just how to carefully answer important questions being asked by a child, whose whole life and world seemed to be falling apart. She knew there was far more at stake here than the inquisitiveness of an exceptionally bright, little boy. No, he was questioning everything he’d been taught by a man he’d learned to despise – the “father” he never wanted to call “father” again – yet it was his whole life and world.

“Well … you know, Rue…” Joy faltered. “Let me see, how can I explain? Well, first of all, those are really good questions, and I think you’re right to ask them. But you know what? I think I … look at those chapters a little differently than maybe what you’ve … heard before.  Actually, those … stories are very beautiful and very powerful. And when those stories were told long, long ago – and I mean way  back – people didn’t think quite like we think today.”

“What d’ya mean?” Good question. Difficult to answer for an eleven-year-old boy?

“Well, I mean … when people told those stories, they weren’t thinking like scientists or historians do today. Like the first chapter of Genesis,” Joy waded in cautiously. “You know, it was told, or actually recited, before it was written down – maybe around a campfire or after dinner, and maybe by the grandfather while everyone else, especially the children, sat and listened. And it was … well, poetic. Not poetry like we think of poetry, but it kind of had that ‘flavor,’ you might say. This made it easy to repeat and easy to remember.”

“Anyway, even when it was written down, it kept some of that ‘poetic flavor.’ You see, this was a powerfully beautiful way those people understood how … well, how the world was born, how everything came into existence. And so, you know, they didn’t really get upset by what we call ‘scientific’ or ‘historic’ details. No, they just … told the story, or recited it, or maybe they even chanted or sang it, who knows?”

“Does that mean it’s not really true?” Rue didn’t sound upset. “It’s not inspired?”

“No, no, I’m not saying that, my love.” Joy smiled again. “In fact I think it was inspired … and inspirational, too!  No, Rue, poetry and art and stories can be inspired but not be … an exact  science or history. In fact, maybe even more so.” She laughed at this, thinking back about how boring math and science had always felt when she was in school. “Anyway, the first chapter of Genesis is pretty unique. It begins with the ‘big picture,’ you might say, and then narrows it all down, but it does this in a really neat way.”

“How?” Rue looked a bit confused.



“Yeah,” Joy laughed. “You’re really smart, I know, because you’re already asking good questions, and you’re asking them because you’ve paid really good attention, so … here’s one for you. Have you ever noticed how similar the first three days of creation are to days four through six, the second three days?”

“No,” Rue frowned, thinking about it for a moment. Joy took another sip of coffee and put the cup down again. “No, I don’t guess so.”

“Day four goes with day one; day five goes with day two; day six goes with day three,” Joy explained. “These are parallels. And this is part of the … ‘poetry.’ This is how they understood and … talked about, or explained, the beginning of life and the world.” Joy paused for a moment to let Rue mull that over in his mind, hoping she wasn’t making amok of it all. “Yeah, so these folks start out painting the ‘big picture’ in the first three days, then they go back and … flesh out, or add more details, in the second three days.”

“Really?” Rue didn’t look quite convinced. “You mean, like, God creating light on the first day goes with creating the sun and moon on the fourth day?” Maybe not convinced, but at least Joy knew he understood what she was saying.

“Yeah…” Joy shifted and leaned forward. “Hop over for a minute and let me get something.” Joy stood up and headed for a bookshelf on the far side of the room. “It’s probably easier when you actually put the days together … you know, because we do  think differently than those people from way-back-when.” Joy chuckled at the thought. “And we think we’re sooooo much smarter, but we tend to box in our minds.” Now she was enjoying herself.

“Ah, here it is!” Joy pulled out an old, three-ring binder. “We’re so scientific now, we’ve completely forgotten how to think creatively… In fact, we’ve almost completely forgotten the metaphorical nature of language…”

“Huh?” Now Rue looked completely perplexed as Joy got carried away with herself.

“Oh, sorry, Rue.” Joy sat back down with the three-ring binder. “I mean ‘picture thinking…’  Language is like painting pictures … analogies, metaphors. Well, no, never mind about that right now. Let me see.” Joy turned page after page. “Here it is! This was something I jotted down in seminary, but I can’t remember exactly why… But anyway, here it is, the picture being ‘painted’ in Genesis chapter one. Ready?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Rue laughed. “So this is the Joy Brighterday version?”

Joy laughed, too. “Yeah, o.k. I guess it is… Don’t tell King James, o.k.?” They both cackled, then Rue promised he wouldn’t breath a word. “Alright. Here it is, Genesis chapter one according to the JBV!”

God said, “Let there be light.” And light suddenly flashed out from the darkness as the sun, moon and stars appeared; and the light was beautiful and good, and so God separated the light from the darkness, and commanded the sun to rule the day and the moon and stars to rule the night. And God was pleased.

And then God said, “Let there be a vast expanse in the middle of the waters. Let the waters above part from the waters below. So God parted the waters and formed sky and sea; and the sea God filled with living creatures and the sky with all the birds; and the birds and sea creatures were magnificent, so God blessed them and God was pleased.

And then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be collected together so that dry land may appear.” And God called the dry land “earth,” and commanded the earth to give life to all kinds of animals and reptiles; and then God said, “Now let Us conceive a new creation, made in Our image, fashioned according to Our likeness.” And so God created humans – women and men – and God blessed them and made them caretakers of the earth; and God was very pleased.

Joy closed the binder and looked at Rue. “This, really, is probably more like they thought about it all … you know, those people who lived long, long ago. They weren’t even trying to give a detailed, scientific  account of the origins of the universe.”  Joy chuckled then and shook her head. Rue smiled and moved back to his place on her lap.

“Not like some boring, classroom lesson or something. Again, it’s inspired, for sure! An inspired, beautiful, powerfully poetic way of understanding and explaining how God, the greatest artist of all, created a really very beautiful, fascinating world… Well, and how this God put very special people in this very beautiful world to take care of it, which includes you and me.”

“Wow.” Rue yawned, reached up and put a hand partway around Joy’s neck, then laid his head back down on her chest. “I’ve never heard any of that…” He stifled another yawn. “So what about chapter two? You gotta JBV for that, too?”

Joy threw her head back and laughed. “Maybe so, Rue! But not this morning; I’m starting to get kind of hungry.”

“Yeah, me too,” Bane said from the mouth of the hallway. “Real hungry!”