And the Serpent Found a Wife

How can we raise a paean to such a saurian
Without playing the part of the tragedienne?
He is an ugly reptile of grotesque formation,
Curse of creation and symbol of damnation!
But one might rightly suppose that everyone
Deserves an encomium no matter the odium;
‘Give the devil his due’ may be true
But you knew precious little praise
Would be raised up for his person
When you took the bait and sealed your fate
At an altar with many witnesses to tragedy!
Now an agony comes in living your phantasy
Without any approbation for the ruination
Of your life because those who do love you
Esteem you too much to offer such a crutch!
No, there is no commendation
For your double-headed snake,
Only resignation for your sake;
But most of us keep out of sight
To sidestep his poisonous bite,
And you might have done the same but . . .
You’re left alone to hear his seething tone!
So, how can we raise a paean to this saurian
Without playing the part of the tragedienne?
Our only urge is to intone your funeral dirge!


Come out from Fantasia!

Come out! Come out! Come out from Fantasia!
And be done with your aphasia and soul aplasia;
Race toward truth and finally embrace reality!
Life is not a fairy tale, no one to bail you out . . .
See, your Prince Charming is only harming you
While you’re alarming yourself
Over pups ‘n cups and saucers!
And you whistle while you work
In thorns and thistles, do you?
And slaves used to sing to bring some comfort;
Do you really see any difference
If any real difference there be?
Come out! Come out from your fantasy land!
And band together with the warriors at hand
Who will attend you on your trek to honesty
And instruct you in the prosody of real reality
So you’ll finally be able to truly communicate
Without swallowing the bait of dwarfish lies
That fly from small children in men’s bodies!
Come out! Come out! Come out from Fantasia!
Come out! Come out and be free . . . at liberty!

Dread Fate of One Beautiful Rose

Ah! I’m so sorry, my rose, that your gardener knows so little
But tingles with self-ambition from head to toes, though you
Grow best in the garden where you are, with so much sunshine,
Rain and stars, in such lush, sweet garden where lovers meet
And admire your beauty as you abide your duty in lovely glow
To show all passersby just how one flower can flourish despite
Slack care and lack of cultivation by the gardener, who is hard
Pressed to truly impress anyone; you have been rooted in good
Soil with other healthy shrubs and trees and flowers, and from
This you’ve drawn strength and power without allowing yourself
To sour from neglect, misuse and abuse; yes, and you grew into
An awesome rose in all, tall in magnificence without pretense,
But now … ah! but now how the gardener is ripping you up by
Your very roots while sipping on poisoned wine, perfectly fine
With the decision to replant you with scant attention to your
Health and well-being, seeing there is more to gain in another
Garden despite what pain it causes you and how askew the plan
As if laid out by a madman, but can anyone ban the transfer?
Kinsman, clergy or wise man? Oh, but each one tries in vain
As the gardener only continues to lie, claiming the uprooting
Is best and will ultimately invest you with even more charm
And beauty, though we all know it will only harm … only harm;
And I’m so sorry; it breaks my heart, tears it apart! I’m sorry
If I could I would leave you just where you are
And plant the gardener in scant soil instead!

Silly Sally and the Boob

Silly Sally simply abrogated all rights in her own home
To an emasculated boob, who only berates and masticates
Her like cheap food to satiate his appetite for authority
And self-satisfaction in his fraction of life, in which he
Vitiates everything and everyone with which he has any
Prolonged contact; he has no good bait to hook any real
Mate; his half-brain and train of heart are filled with
Rebellion and hate; but silly Sally placates this boob,
Who arrogates to himself whatever he wants, whenever
And however with no pause to consider what trouble it
Will cause; but silly Sally refuses to adjudicate in her
Very own home and enunciate what will be acceptable
And respectable in her domain because she has been so
Tamed by the fear of being alone, so she keeps the boob
Near and pays the high price for pretended peace and
Illusion of love; and what great freight she carries
In and out of the gate of her soul as she continually
Manipulates reality to suit her really twisted fantasy
With the boob she’s enlisted to complete her insanely
Puzzled life so rife with inner pain and never any gain
Of genuine joy… Poor silly Sally! I wonder if God just
Might adjudicate and eradicate the boob … but, then,
Silly Sally would only find another; twill always be
Silly Sally and her Boob!

Sloughheart, My Self, and Silly Fundamentalism

My own background was socio-politically conservative; economically capitalistic; and broadly evangelical, Protestant-Christian. To make some necessary distinction, though, it was not libertarian or hyper-capitalistic, nor was my background religiously fundamentalist. Growing up, I was encouraged to read (and listen) widely, including of course other, differing perspectives. For example, my father handed me The Communist Manifesto to read when I was about 14-years-old (or so), and at some point gave me an interesting introduction to Catholicism entitled, Mr. Jackson Talks to Father Smith,[1] which was written (and presumably published) in Jackson, Mississippi to be distributed there to anyone interested in the Roman Catholic Church. He also introduced me to his friend, the Catholic priest in our town, back in the early 80s, allowed me to visit other churches (and he was a pastor), introduced me to foreign films, notably those of Federico Fellini, an Italian filmmaker “known for his distinct style that blends fantasy and baroque images with earthiness.”

No, not in any sense did I grow up in a legalistic, fundamentalist background. Of course, I was appropriately catechized in the Reformed tradition, even though we attended an independent Methodist church my father pastored, the rationale being that George Whitefield was also Methodist and he was Calvinistic. We were not exactly Calvinistic, but leaned heavily in that direction, so the Westminster Shorter Catechism did nicely for my doctrinal training. However, I was also exposed to the sermons of John Wesley; we did have a traditional, Methodist-type service at our little church; professors from Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi were invited to preach and/or teach, etc. I remember, too, my parents purchasing for me (at my request) a collection of essays by Marx and Friedrich Engels on religion. (It turned out to be a rather boring read, but…) My father wanted me to understand libertarianism, socialism, the New Deal, and the Great Society. My mother particularly encouraged me to read especially C. S. Lewis, but also Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, etc. My father steered me in the direction of Leo Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Victor Hugo and others.

The last of five children, with my closest sibling being eight years my senior, to a certain extent I felt like an only child; however, my (by then older than usual) parents and I had an awful lot of fun. We went camping, hiking, fishing; we loved to grill out and play games, indoors and out; we had pets (always at least one); we loved singing and laughing and watching television (and later movies) together. My parents were by no means fuddle-duds; they were serious when they needed to be serious, but otherwise … fun … and very lovable. Consequently, I don’t know that I have the background necessary to critique fundamentalism – as I did in my last essay, Masculinity According to an Evangelical Woman – yet I don’t know that I can quite apologize for going ahead and doing so, either. Thankfully, my background also included some exposure to fundamentalism early on, and my father was the one who began explaining to me the pitfalls of moral legalism, theological dispensationalism,[2] and the anti-intellectualism that seems to attend both.

I also attended two Independent Bible Fundamentalist (IBF) high-schools – where, let me be quick to say, I met some of the best folk in the world despite the environment – and so I tasted enough firsthand to legitimately say that, despite my upbringing, I do have some experiential knowledge of legalistic fundamentalism. This is the topic I’d like to address now. So far as other socio-political and economic perspectives are concerned, well … perhaps another time. (Suffice it to say here, I have moved to just “left of center” politically, and I also see some redeeming value in socialistic ideology. Hyper-capitalism is no better for people in general, or society in toto, than Marxist-Communism … in my humble opinion.) Why this seems to be such a burning issue for me, I may never know, but it is and it has been for years upon years. One can readily see (I believe) from what I’ve shared that I didn’t get clobbered with legalistic fundamentalism growing up; just the opposite, in fact. Let me go one step further and say with certainty that I would never have read as much and as widely, nor travelled as much, nor frequented art museums, etc. had it not been for my parents. Yes, I have grown up into my “own man,” so to speak, and I know full well they would disagree with me at several points … but I also know they anticipated this with me, as they did with all of their children.

My encounters with fundamentalism and what knowledge I do have of this peculiar life-perspective has significantly factored into what “my own man” is today, that is, the still-maturing individual I am now. For example, I never understood the passionate zeal for altar calls and divinely gratuitous salvation displayed in so many IBF churches on the one hand, and extreme moral legalism on the other. What is the necessity, according to this way of thinking (if I may use the term loosely) for moral legalism if salvation is completely an unearned gift? Gratitude, perhaps? I can’t help but say, though, from my observation, IBFs don’t ordinarily strike me as being very grateful; point in fact, to look at their lives, salvation seems quite burdensome rather than something for which to be thankful. Nevertheless, gratitude may very well be a reasonable answer to my query; however, this only seems to include moral legalism, not charity. Where charity – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, etc. – is concerned, this is all-too-often condemned as “works religion,” something Roman Catholics do; no genuine, Bible-believing Christian would ever engage in works-based religion. There is, of course, an entire breakdown in logic in this line of thinking: If one should show gratitude through abiding by some strict moral standard, then one should also give charitably in order to show gratitude. (After all, it’s certainly commanded in Scripture!) If, however, charity is “works-based religion,” i.e. trying to earn one’s way to heaven, and if this is wrong, then abiding by a strict moral code must also be “works-based religion,” and thereby be wrong as well. Both are of the same species, and what applies to one, so far as life-action is concerned,[3] applies to the other, too.

I’m also certainly capable of illogic, perhaps as much as the average Joe or Jane (maybe even more so), but I think the difference is, if someone points out to me the intenability of something I’ve said or written (argued, presented, etc.), then I believe I will usually respond by rethinking my original position (perspective or whatnot) and make whatever corrections need be made, if not change altogether. The legalistic fundamentalist doesn’t typically do this, which is something brought through, at least indirectly, in my Sloughheart Series. On the topic of men and women, masculinity and femininity – gender characteristics, or attributes, I suppose – there is also a definite militation against the legalistic, fundamentalist perspective in the narrative. The character of Joy Brighterday serves as the premier example of this: She is well-educated, cultured, intellectually astute, and well-spoken; she has an affable personality, complete with an excellent sense of humor and deep compassion; physically she is stunningly beautiful, strong, robust, lively, and healthy. One might say I’ve idealized this character, making her an almost demi-god, but that’s probably not quite accurate.

The character has been exaggerated, and purposely so, but Joy Brighterday also has her share of shortcomings, evidenced, for example, in her meetings (along with Effete) with the attorney, Justin Case. Also, she is introduced at the beginning of the whole series struggling in prayer at the altar of St. Gianna’s, where she is the rector (or pastor.) She is unmarried, and in the end this seems to come back to bite her; she is, at a deep level, virtually left alone while those she has helped so much go on with their healing and/or now-very happy lives… All in all, though, the character of Joy Brighterday presents a woman, who is not only physiologically female but very much “in tune” with herself; who is strong, resilient, caring as well as commanding; who possesses upstanding character and integrity, wisdom and discernment, but also some faults, failings and shortcomings, too. And why this character? In order to image an archetype female in both a specific role traditionally ascribed to men and within a general cultural-societal context where women have found it difficult to thrive (and still do).

Along the way, the attempt is made to provide justification for this in the face of condemnation by the character Fen Sloughheart, an independent, legalistic, fundamentalist preacher – the antihero of the story. One episode consists of Joy writing to a young woman considering entering the ministry. Early in her letter, Joy notes:

Yes, even now it’s still difficult for women, especially when you’ve grown up in a tradition, such as your own church, that (paradoxical as it may seem) both honors women and yet bars them from ordination. Have no fear on that point, though; I know you’re not ‘dissing’ your church, as you say! And I’m not going to either, but believe me, I fully understand.

It is still challenging, but not impossible or unbiblical. (Bishop N. T. Wright addresses this issue very beautifully and effectively in an essay entitled, “Women’s Service in the Church.”) This is something completely out-of-bounds for the fundamentalist, though: To completely reconsider long-held perspectives, even by means of utilizing careful exegesis of Scripture. (One could reasonably argue that if they did so, they would no longer be fundamentalists!) The fundamentalist would say, “Thus saith the Lord…” and that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it will be in obedient, Bible-believing churches until Jesus comes back to rapture the faithful into heaven (leaving billions behind to suffer unthinkable atrocities … supposedly.) For some reason, this mentality is excruciatingly difficult for me to ignore; I suppose to some extent, at least, I take it personally, almost as if beloved family are being attacked. Of course, I know very well that the Ancient Near East was a patriarchal society, just as I know the ancient world as a whole was thought by its occupants to be shot through with the numinous, often to be overrun by the dæmonic, full of mysterium tremendum.[4] There are no illusions here, and perhaps this is part of the point.

My ancestors in the faith-religion of Judeo-Christianity may not measure up to contemporary, Western, socio-religious and ethical standards any more than my biological ancestors. There is no pretending otherwise, I suppose, but I’m still in many ways their progeny; consequently, I don’t really appreciate their lives being misrepresented or their teachings misconstrued … or sometimes horribly distorted. That convoluted interpretation of selected portions of Scripture is often used to justify all forms of abuse only makes legalistic fundamentalism all-the-more egregious. One simply cannot cherry-pick juicy bits of an ancient law code of nomadic peoples about to settle into an agrarian way of life and apply those decrees and guidelines – or forcefully impose them like diktats – within contemporary society, no matter how divinely inspired in origin. Besides, we have ample witness from the New Testament that much of the ancient law code would no longer be applicable to Christians – Jew or Gentile – and that was approximately two thousand years ago!

Fundamentalism wallows in shallow, anemic over-simplification, and when challenged, IBFs will (in the greater part of such instances) either try to out shout their opponent(s) with Bible verses and trite remarks, or withdraw into their fundamentalist fortress where they can privately deride their opponent(s) and relish the fantastical feeling of victory. In the meantime, the archetype of Joy Brighterday answers them on a number of fronts, including, for example, the ordination of women to the ministry:

You probably know, of course, some of the common objections to the ordination of women. The Apostle, St. Paul, instructed women to be silent in church, but then he also recommends women as “fellow workers” and even deacons, like Phoebe. Besides which, there were always female prophets, with whom Paul would have been familiar, like Miriam and the four daughters of Philip as well as the prophetess Anna, who openly spoke at the Temple. So, in my estimation, this particular argument is rather weak.

Of course, Paul also instructs women to veil their heads when they pray, yet how many opponents of female ordination actually push this practice? You see, as in so many other cases, there seems to be some inconsistency here, but I think Paul’s words ought to be contextualized anyway … at least, as best we can do that, and only then applied. But there are other arguments, too, like, ‘Christ was male, and so his priests should be male.’

My response to this has simply been the fact that there are any number of qualities we might lay down as restrictions. He was also Jewish, for example, but do we really want to prohibit non-Jewish people from serving in ordained ministry? For that matter, I suppose we could restrict ordained ministry not only to Jewish males, but to virgin-born Jewish males! You see, that sort of argument is not only weak, but it’s anything but helpful.

The question is, how much difference does gender really make in ministry now and why? And is the restriction of this vocation physiologically based? If so, why? Or is there another reason … perhaps psychological and/or spiritual? You see, one either quickly descends into a morass of confusion on this point, or ends up forwarding chauvinistic arguments, such as:

  1. The woman is physically weaker; therefore, she cannot command the respect, much less the following, of adult males
  2. The woman is generally less intelligent; therefore, she cannot reasonably be expected to teach adult men, who are, on average, more intelligent
  3. The woman is more emotional; therefore, she is psychically unstable and, thus, unable to “shepherd the flock”

And other distasteful, reprehensible contentions, all subsumed under the heretical assumption: God created woman to be subservient to the man.

This is not, of course, the only area in which the legalistic fundamentalist perspective is baneful. Another is the fundamentalist’s aversion to the Sacraments – which, naturally, they don’t recognize as Sacraments – thus, their infrequent celebration of Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. Simon Chan explains their excuse(s), then rebuts those reasons quite effectively:

Two reasons are commonly given for infrequent observance of the Eucharist. One is that if the Lord’s Supper were observed too frequently, it would lose its meaning. But according to a Reformed evangelical pastor, Leonard J. Vander Zee, this rationale betrays ‘the old gnostic tendency’ to exalt the ‘spiritual’ and denigrate the ‘material.’ Further, the rationale assumes the Lord’s Supper is another commemorative event, like a birthday or wedding anniversary. But if the Lord’s Supper is indeed a ‘feeding on Christ to eternal life,’ making us into what we eat, then there is no question about whether frequent Communion would cause a loss of significance. No one has ever yet complained that having three meals a day had eroded the significance of eating. (Some even insist on have more!) As Vander Zee puts it, ‘If God feeds and confirms our faith in the sacrament, then we deprive ourselves of the fullness of his grace when we sit around the table only once in awhile. We need every nourishment God provides, and to miss the meal not only snubs his gracious hospitality but creates spiritual anorexics.’

Second, it is sometimes argued that Word and sacrament are merely two ways of communicating the same gospel. If what the sacrament conveys is already conveyed, in fact in a better way, in preaching, then the sacrament is quite extraneous in the regular church service. Sacrament, according to this view, merely ‘portrays’ the gospel – and in a limited way at that – whereas preaching gives almost unlimited scope for the exposition of the gospel. But this is to misunderstand the very nature of Word and sacrament and their distinctive functions in the liturgy. Not only is the sacrament more than the visible form of the Word, but each is indispensable to the other. Sacrament brings the proclaimed Word to its fulfillment.

We come to know the Real Presence effected by the Spirit in the Lord’s Supper. Word without sacrament remains incomplete, and sacrament without Word becomes an empty sign. ‘If one cannot live by bread alone, neither can one live by word alone.’ For just as the Word is completed in the sacrament, so the sacrament derives its meaning from the Word. As Louis Bouyer states, ‘Every sacrament is a verbum visibile, a word made visible, and every sacrament also essentially implies verba sacramentalia, the sacred words which give to the sacred action itself not only meaning but also its own inner reality.’ Word and sacrament cannot be separated. The whole liturgy of Word and sacrament is both God’s Word and God’s action for the sake of the church. Worship becomes less than what it is when one is emphasized at the expense of the other.[5]

Chan states these two commonly given excuses for infrequent Communion quite graciously, wording them far more intelligently than one usually hears them in person. Still, he points out quite well the lack of spiritual depth and theological understanding one typically finds within the IBF world,[6] which reveals an ongoing spiritual abuse-by-neglect in these churches. Bereft of healthful, life-sustaining, divine nourishment, it’s little wonder, then, there is also abuse-by-action. It’s almost as if, being starved within sight of food and drink they cannot get to, they become frenzied and begin cannibalizing each other!

Fundamentalism is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “a form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, which upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.” I think I would modify this definition to read, “1 a form of religion, which upholds belief in the strictly literal interpretation and application, sometimes selective, of sacred scriptures and/or inherited customs and religious traditions; 2 the elevation of particular doctrines and practices as being fundamentally important to the religious faith-community, the observation and practice of which are obligatory, with the failure to adhere to this standard being punished, sometime severely.” Robert J. Burrowes offers an apt analysis of the fundamentalist along the lines of this definition:

A fundamentalist is usually considered to be a person who adheres strictly to a doctrine, viewpoint or set of principles that are considered original and ‘pure’; this doctrine might be theological in nature. For the fundamentalist, many of their beliefs and the behaviors that arise from them will, at least in theory, be derivative of their fundamental doctrine. For the fundamentalist, there is no room to consider views that are at variance with their accepted doctrine and contrary views will usually either be dismissed out-of-hand or resisted with considerable vigor and, often, violence.[7]

Touché! Which makes me all-the-more grateful that I grew up in an environment of free enquiry and learning, wisdom and discernment, appreciation for the arts, literature and music, and so much more conducive to a healthy mind, body and soul. Pity the victims of legalistic fundamentalism!



[1] Note: I believe this was the title, though I’m not completely certain. Also, I’m not absolutely sure of the place of publication.

[2] Dispensationalism is a Christian evangelical, futurist, Biblical interpretation that believes that God has related to human beings in different ways under different Biblical covenants in a series of “dispensations,” or periods in history.

[3] In other words, same context, i.e. one’s life; similar scriptural injunctions; same purpose, i.e. to show gratitude; etc.

[4] Rudolf Otto’s classic work, The Idea of the Holy, is an excellent read on the subject and where I got the expression of mysterium tremendum. On this note, I would venture to say we could use more mystery and greater awareness of the numinous in our day and age, if for no other reason than to counter-balance the all-too-often cold and impersonal sciences as well as what has come to be called the “corporate mentality.”

[5] Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community, 65-66

[6] Note: This is not to imply that IBFs are the only ones who partake of the Lord’s Supper infrequently. This, in fact, is Anabaptist in origin, yet no one would say Ulrich Zwingli was cognitively retarded. Also, many evangelical Protestant churches have fallen into infrequent celebration of Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, yet this is not the Lutheran or Reformed heritage. Martin Luther celebrated Holy Communion weekly, if not more frequently, and promulgated the doctrine of consubstantiation. Calvin in Geneva celebrated the Lord’s Supper more often than four times per annum (quarterly,) and believed in the real pneumatic presence of Christ. Of course, the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican churches celebrate the Eucharist quite frequently and most reverently with a far deeper, richer understanding of Communion than one finds elsewhere.

[7] Robert J. Burrowes, “Fundamentalism: A Psychological Problem,” January 9, 2014, as accessed on May 19, 2015


Now and Later ~~ Will Justice Wait?

Grace and Suijnwe both approached Blue and Effete and made their greetings. Joy was sitting upright on the coach, fully alert and looking more her healthy self than she had in quite some time. Angelica and Morris Graver were also there, as well as Able and Moxie. Dr. Sage Wiseman was working late in her office, but told Lucent to please call her immediately with any updates.

“Oh my,” Effete murmured. “And the boys? They got here before we did… Do they…”

“I hope I wasn’t out of bounds, Effete,” Moxie began, “but they could tell something was up, and Rue asked right off the bat, ‘What’s going on?’ So I took them back to their bedrooms and sat them down on the bed, one of each side of me, and … I just told them … as softly and affectionately as I could, but … if I should have waited for you – and I probably should have – please, please forgive me, Effete. I didn’t mean to overstep my bounds.”

“Oh heavens, Moxie!” Effete looked like she was going to fall over. “You’re like their older sister… In fact, if you’ve adopted them, we’ve adopted you, too.” Effete just shook her head. “No, no, no. You had no idea, really, how long I’d be and they wanted to know… They needed to know, and without me here, you were the perfect person to tell them, so thank you, Moxie.” She stepped forward and gave Mox a great, big bear hug, which Moxie returned in like kind. Both were smiling but had tears in their eyes as well. “Where are they now?”

“I told them we’d probably be having some rather serious, adult conversation, mostly what they would consider boring anyway, so I put Bane to the task of cleaning up his side of the room and laying out his clothes for tomorrow while Rue takes his shower, brushes his teeth and gets ready for bed. When they’re both finished with their first assignments, they’ll switch and Rue will clean his side of the room, lay out his clothes for tomorrow, and Bane will shower, etc., etc.” Moxie smiled at her prompt planning and organization. “Then it’ll be bedtime for both!”

“Wow! Job well done!” Effete raised her eyebrows and exclaimed. “But how could I expect anything less from Moxie Keener?” She smiled and they hugged again. “Now on to the serious, adult conversation. Where does this leave us, if it changes anything at all?”

“Actually, it does make some significant difference,” Grace Caring answered, with Morris looking on like an anxious puppy dog. “First, the Honorable Love Fairman was informed of Sloughheart’s worsening condition this evening and the improbability of recovery. She has decided to sign off on your divorce decretal as well as the Riper-Case settlement on your charge of domestic violence, Effete, so this will be over and done with as far as those two cases are concerned. Of course, we were going to meet tomorrow morning with you and Angelica; it is imperative now that the four of us meet with Captain Bernard Ruff at 8:00 a.m. – early, but time is of the essence – and, of course, there will be one other investigator as well as an observatory social worker from the Verdure County Department of Human Resources. Each of you will be deposed separately, but Suijnwe and I will also be in the room with you.”

“We will proceed, of course, to file two separate charges of second degree sexual battery and one first degree misdemeanor charge of criminal psychological manipulation – there is currently no higher charge accessible for criminal psychological manipulation – and if need be, Judge Fairman will put the two cases on the docket ASAP, even if it ends up being, and probably will be, a trial in absentia … that is, so long as Fen Sloughheart lives, in which case his attorney, or court-appointed attorney, would likely represent his interests. This is very touchy, though, and if it comes to it, may very well be struck down by a higher court as violating the principle of natural justice; that is, the right of the accused to be present to answer the charges. Of course, if he dies, well then … the cases die with him.”

“Dies with him?” Morris exclaimed. “What the hell do you mean, ‘dies with him?’”

“Morris, if there is no one alive to put on the defense stand, no one alive to face the charges, whatever they happen to be, there cannot very well be a court case,” Suijnwe tried to calmly explain. “I understand how frustrating…”

“Frustrating! Oh no, no, no, no… Not frustrating, Suijnwe; more like absolutely horrifying and enraging at the same time! Unforgivable, in fact!” Morris looked at Lucent. “Give it to me straight, please. Just what are his chances of pulling though this?”

“They’re giving him, at best, a 30 – 35% chance of living,” Lucent calmly answered. “However, even if he does pull through, there is now a greatly increased probability of some degree of brain damage, which would likely inhibit his ability to testify coherently.” They had all moved into the living room, now dubbed the Keener-Bat Cave, and were sitting in their usual places.

“But … But if he does live, and if the cognitive damage is minimal enough,” Grace interjected, “Fairman is determined to proceed as quickly as possible. No one’s sitting on this … at all, Morris. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have in the situation we’re in, believe me.”

Morris jumped up, flung his hands in the air, and walked out the back door. Blue motioned to Angelica to stay where she was, and he followed the young man out onto the porch. Morris liked Blue and deeply respected him; perhaps he could offer some consolation, or at least bring Morris’ understandable anger down a notch or two. How to do this was another question, but Blue was very much a man who believed that in situations like this, the right words would come … or, rather, be given, and those words would do the work they were meant to do.

“We do have some potentially good news from the around-the-clock work we’ve been doing,” Grace continued.

“And thank you, Grace and Suijnwe, for everything you have done and are doing,” Joy spoke almost apologetically. “You have certainly gone above and beyond the call of duty to help in every possible way … and no few people here appreciate that fact.” Angelica shot Joy a look that seemed to say, If you expect me to jump on the ‘Oh bless your hearts, you’re so wonderful’ bandwagon, count me out! I’m not kissing their feet when I know damn good and well they haven’t really done anything for us yet.

“You’re most welcome, and the good news comes in two parts,” Grace looked at Effete. “From our investigations it would seem, from fairly reliable sources and good circumstantial evidence, that Fen actually drew up a simple, straightforward will early on in your marriage, and had it notarized. He allegedly named one Portly Eatmuch as the executor, but Mr. Eatmuch died some six years ago. However, his widow, Willowy Stark, has agreed to allow us to thumb through all of his files, and she tells us he was a very well-organized man. She also vaguely remembers him mentioning something about the will and the fact that he simple proposed to leave everything to his dear wife, especially since he didn’t plan on dying anytime soon anyway, so it wouldn’t really matter. Well, we’ll have two people on it from sun-up to sundown tomorrow, if necessary, and the next day, too, but we will find that notarized will.”

“Wow!” Angelica exclaimed from where she was curled up in one of the easy chairs. “Looks like you might hit the ole jack-pot! Take ‘em to the cleaners!” Effete shot Angelica a look that definitely said, I’ve been through 10,000 times more than you have, and I’ve suffered far more than you can imagine at the hands of that swine, so don’t you dare pop off another smart ass remark about this, bitch! By the look on her face, Angelica got it and kept her mouth shut.

“Also, Ms. Ileana Glumsurf, secretary at Ebenezer Bible Church, evidently gave quite a long and revealing statement to the investigators today. When it all finally came down to it, precious ole Glumsurf knew an awful lot and was downright frightened by just how much trouble she might end up in for not coming forward to someone sooner – the church or law enforcement or both – and, of course, she was right … which Captain Bernard Ruff made quite plain to her. At any rate, her affidavit statement is quite revealing to say the least … just one more nail in the coffin lid, no pun intended.”

“We may as well tell you, too,” Suijnwe picked up, “that we have reason to believe Fen Sloughheart has been … shall we say, ‘squirreling away’ funds under an assumed name, evidently with the help of an unsavory, disreputable ex-FBI agent, who happens to be a member of his church. Of course, this fellow got his piece of the pie, but what was left for Fen might turn out to be rather substantial… We’re only just beginning down this investigative track, so no one hold their breath.”

“Speaking of holding our breath, it seems like most of us have been doing that for days upon days now. Maybe it’s time to exhale, you know?” Joy took the lead now. “Let it all out … try to center ourselves and calm down… I think we’ve all needed this for quite some time now, in my professional, pastoral opinion,” Joy smiled kindly, “especially as we continue wading through thick, traumatic waters, in the dark of confusion, on the threshold of despair. Now would be an excellent time to pause, take a step back, and prayerfully re-commune ourselves.”

“An excellent and, may I say, inspired suggestion,” Suijnwe agreed, while everyone else in the room assented with at least a nod of their head, except for Angelica. She got up and headed for the back door to join Morris and Blue, but Suijnwe quickly turned her plans around. “Yes, please ask Blue and Morris to come in and join us, Angelica. We all need to be together now.” Angelica did not look at all pleased, but she complied.

When everyone was inside and seated, Joy simply asked them to close their eyes, inhale and exhale, slowly and deeply, while focusing on something, anything peaceful and pleasant. After some time passed – who knows how long – Joy began praying intentionally, thoughtfully, tranquilly, and melodically:

“Great and ever-present, mothering God … Everlasting One …
“Spirit of wind and rain, earth and fire … Creatrix Eternal …
“Christ Lord and Redeemer … Food Angelic and Living Water …
“Come … Come spread your wings round about us …
“Come … Come overshadow us by your almighty hand …
“Come … Come drive all darkness, doubt and fear away …
“Fill us … And in your light let us see Light …
“Fill us … And in your love let us live Love …
“Fill us … And in your life let us love Life …
“Majestic and nurturing God … be for us what we cannot be …
“Mysterious and cherishing God … help us be what we can be …
“Mighty and adoring God … work with us in the work we do …

…   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …

“Mothering God … Shepherd Son … Sweet Spirit Holy,
“Ever One God … world without end … come to us in this hour …
“Do for us exceedingly, abundantly more than we can imagine …
“For your honor and glory … for the good of your people …
“For the blessing of the world … for the great benefit of those here …
“Great Physician … graciously work healing in our lives …
“Crystal Stream … mercifully feed the roots of our lives …
“Noble Captain … kindheartedly lead, guide, and direct us …
“Yes, this night … this night … and tomorrow … and tomorrow …
“And in all of our tomorrows …

Calm permeated the room. All was silent.


The Tarnished Angel in Angelica

Rue and Bane were having an after-school blast playing at the park on every piece of equipment available for fun. Their squeals of delight could probably be heard from one end of Splinterbit to the other, and Effete couldn’t be happier. She was sitting against an old hickory tree, with an old plush pillow under her buttocks for added comfort, holding an old book in her hands that she was only casually reading as she watched the two greatest blessings in her life having the time of their life. It was an extraordinarily beautiful day – not too warm, not too cool – with wispy cirrus clouds meandering across the pale blue sky. What an enchanting, peaceful day, she thought. Kind of like a good, ole-fashioned family movie after watching some grotesque horror-thriller.

Morris was with Grace and Suijnwe in the chambers of Judge Love Fairman, along with Captain Ruff, the district attorney and Sage Wiseman. Morris had opted against having his mother present at this particular meeting. He said he would rather her talk more extensively to Grace, Suijnwe and Dr. Wiseman first, and then to the authorities. Everyone concerned agreed that this would be the better, healthier course of action for her; besides, Morris wanted to walk into the court and judge’s chambers without seeming like he had to have his mommy with him. So…

Able, Moxie and Angelica were making their rounds on the walking path bordering the boundaries of the park. Blue had opted to stay home for some “alone time,” as he said, but Able and Moxie knew he felt jilted and offended during their late-night dialogue, and really Moxie felt badly. She knew Blue could be overly sensitive, but he also deserved courtesy and respect. If she had disagreed with him as passionately as she apparently did, then they should have had an unobtrusive tête-à-tête on the back porch, or somewhere out of the way. After all, Blue was only answering Morris’ question, and he answered honestly and intelligently according to his convictions, and did so without insulting her. Why the hell do I pull that kind of shit? She shook her head, which the other two noticed even though they didn’t say anything. What the hell do I feel like I have to prove, anyway? Why the hell do I turn into the intellectual bitch ready to put somebody’s head on a platter? Moxie felt like kicking herself, and Able knew and he knew why … but it would be o.k.

“You know, you kind of know us, but we really don’t know you,” Able turned to Angelica. “It may sound rude, or something, to just up and ask you, but we’re interested in, you know, the life and times of Angelica Graver.”

Angelica bent over and laughed. “The life and times of Angelica Graver? Oh my God! You must be desperate! I hope to hell you’re not planning on making this a feature piece for the newspaper, or something, because it’d definitely go in the bottom of bird cages!” She laughed some more.

“No, really,” Moxie chimed in, especially since she wanted to get her mind off of Blue. “We’d like to hear more about you … honestly.”

“Hmmm, do I have to be honest?” Angelica smirked and winked at Mox. “That’s really boring, ya know? But o.k. What the hell?” She sighed and looked up at the sky just a bit before continuing. “I love this park. It’s the closest place around here to reminding me of home… I grew up out in the country about, oh, five miles or so west of Grand Oak. So not exactly out in the boonies, but it was definitely country. We had a few acres of land, three or four head of cattle, a couple of horses, and chickens. My folks never wanted anything to do with hogs, but anyway… We had a fair-sized pond, pretty well stocked. Sooo, this girl grew up gathering eggs, horseback riding, fishing, pond swimming, even doing some trapping with my grandpa and dad. And, oh, I had one brother and one sister; the brother was older, my sister younger… Guess I should say I have one brother and one sister; they’re not dead!” Angelica laughed again. “Neither are my parents, for that matter.”

“Any-who, I went to the little country school down the road and loved it and did well. In fact, believe it or not, I was an A/B student all the way through my senior year in high school.”

“Wow! Good for you,” Able remarked.

“Yeah, two thumbs up for Ange!” Moxie threw her hands out, thumbs pointing up.

“Yeah, yeah, right! But anyway, I was kind of a tom-boy, obviously, but I also loved reading. One of my favorite things was when the mobile library would come by. You could check out up to three books for two weeks, and I always did…” She shook her head at the nostalgia created by the memory. “Yep, I read and read and read. Somehow, before and between and after all my other chores and activities, I read. Ha! The Wind in the Willows, Five Children and It, The Secret Garden, The Heart of a Dog, The Hobbit … oh my gosh, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Angelical laughed an infectious laugh now. “And, oh, Black Beauty, Heidi, and The Jungle Book. Wow! Damn sure wish I could go back to that… Oh well, never mind. I also liked going to the ‘big’ library in Grand Oak anytime we had a chance, and the museum there fascinated me. It was a long time before I realized just how small the place really was, but at least the city upgraded and expanded it instead of just tearing it down! I’m glad for that… I just really need to take Morris sometime.”

“Well, what else? Hmmm … you probably know my name hasn’t always been ‘Graver.’ Duh? Right?” They rounded a bend in the path just then and caught sight of Rue and Bane. The two boys looked like jack rabbits on the sky-builder max-play. Moxie smiled widely and was tempted to run over and join them. “My name, which I’m probably going back to, was Gaieté … French, of course. I was Angelica Céleste Gaieté.”

“Very beautiful name, Angelica,” Moxie said sincerely. “By all means … I wouldn’t blame you a bit for going back to that name, not at all.”

“Well … when I have the chance. Anyway, there’s not too much more to tell, really. I got married when I was 16-years-old to my lifelong boyfriend, I guess. He was 18 and we had our first and only child the same year. We got along well enough … but, then, it wasn’t really ever a marriage anyway. We were two adults who lived together and were able to cooperate, and … that was it. He worked and did his part, I guess, and I did mine, including taking care of Morris as best I could. Two years and some odd days ago, he died. We had a short, non-descript funeral without any tears, and that was that, as they say. Since both of you are in college, and so obviously intelligent anyway, maybe it’s worthwhile mentioning that I graduated high school cum laude and went on to earn an Associate of Arts Degree in Home Economics. Not much to brag about, really, but hey! There ya have it! The life and times of Angelica Céleste Gaieté!”

The three companions opted to rest at the next park bench, nicely positioned beneath two oak trees offering plenty of shade. They stretched and sat silently for a few moments, simply enjoying the peace and beauty of the day.

“So, if you don’t mind my asking, how did you and Morris get caught up in Ebenezer Bible Church?” Able had been chomping at the bit to ask for quite awhile, so now he just plunged ahead.

“No, I don’t mind. Really there’s not much to tell there, either, at least in the beginning.” Angelica raised her eyebrows and thought for a moment. “After my husband died, three families brought by food and sympathy cards and, of course, invited me to their church. Now, I’m upfront and honest with folks, so I thanked them for their kindness but told them we probably wouldn’t be coming to church. Hell, I even held their baskets, or whatever, back out to them so they could take back their food. They didn’t. They just smiled, offered their sympathy again, and went on their way … except the third couple.”

“The man kind of threw out some bait when he said, ‘Well, that’s o.k. But if you ever get bored, and especially if you like learning, we have a deacon in our church who’s going to present an eight-week series on the Middle East during the time of Jesus. He’s an excellent speaker, who won’t bore you a bit, and educated. He earned an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Zion Christian University and an M.S. in Biblical Archeology from the John Phagee Institute for Christian Studies. Anyway, he’s spent I don’t know how many years trooping around the Middle East, mostly in Israel, but he knows an awful lot, and every time he makes a presentation it’s enthralling, just enthralling, so … it’s not a church service, really, and so … maybe something you might enjoy.’”

“That grabbed me, because I really wanted to break my routine and I loved learning and the folks I’d met so far seemed warm and friendly enough, so guess what? I went for it! I took the bait! After that, it was young people being especially friendly to Morris, which didn’t last a helluva long time, but it was damn nice and worked its magic well enough. And so, since Morris decided to start going to some of the youth meetings, I thought I’d try their Tuesday morning Martha Guild meetings, even though it meant getting up an hour earlier! But it was coffee and donuts, or bagels, and other little pickings along with nice, fluffy, meaningless chatter … but friendly enough, and I thought I needed that kind of socialization for my own good. And actually, this is how it was for about a year… I mean, that was really the extent of our involvement in Ebenezer Bible Church.”

“But then…?” Able couldn’t help pursuing.

“Morris got ‘saved,’ and that was pretty much it,” Angelica threw up her hands. “I had grown up nominally Catholic, so I didn’t really understand everything that was going on, but… Well, he then got baptized and, all of a sudden, he was a full member of the church. After that, what can I say? Morris was at Ebenezer every time the doors were open, and I felt compelled to at least go each Sunday morning to support him and … well, to pick up the pieces when it all fell apart, like I knew it would. The whole hell-fire and brimstone, come to the altar, pray the ‘sinner’s prayer, and get-ye-baptized thing seemed hokey to me from the get-go. You know, getting together with some quirky but friendly ladies each Tuesday morning for coffee was one thing, and Morris making some friends and participating in activities was o.k., too, as far as I could see. All the rest, though? I guess I made a really damn big, fat mistake ever getting us involved at all. Period! But I did and, well, the rest is history. Right?” She hung her head and started crying. “Or really it’s still history in the making…”

Moxie pulled Angelica into a warm, strong hug, and Able reached his arm around Angelica’s shoulder.

“You know, most of what you’ve shared with us – I mean, your ‘history’ – is really interesting and good,” Able offered. “And the history that’s still in the making’s not something you’re writing alone; you’ve got an awful lot of people who love you and Morris with pens in hand ready to help you guys write one of the best, most exciting, rewarding chapters ever! And you know what? Every one of us want you and Morris to help us write our histories, too.” Angelica looked up and both Moxie and Able smiled.

“I wish it were that easy,” Angelica whispered through tears.

“Yeah … we do, too,” Moxie, now crying as well, softly answered, “but we’re with you all the way… all the way.”


Sloughheart Continues Quick Slide, Others Baffled, Talk

“He came through but with the side effect of secondary dystonia in the cranial-facial region, most likely caused, of course, by the head injury followed by the stoke. Initial analysis indicates that the dystonia is severe enough to warrant his immediate transport to Glendale-Virginia Apgar Memorial Hospital for brain surgery involving the deep nuclei,” Lucent conveyed the latest news to her growing family. Even Grace and Suijnwe were there now. “They may even implant electrodes that stimulate the deep nuclei artificially, which would ideally provide relief by neuronal depolarization. However, during the surgery he also experienced an episode of subito-ignota spasms in the medulla oblongata, which is sure to complicate matters.”

“Ugh … my poor head,” Joy moaned from the couch. It was now just after lunch, though she hadn’t eaten yet. She hadn’t even left the couch. Instead, when Morris got up to stretch and walk around, Joy stole his space in the middle for her legs and feet, and then nestled down more into a lying position. Angelica had looked at her almost pathetically, smiled, and then pulled her feet into her lap with a groggy “thank you” from Joy. “Can you for once, just once, speak straight English? I mean it all sounds very impressively ugly for the swine-brute, but I’d like to actually understand what’s going on with his … body or whatever… And, my heavens, my head really does hurt, like an entire high school band is practicing inside my skull… And my feet and ankles hurt, too…”

“Ha! You big baby!” Angelica retorted. “You’ve got to be kidding me, right?” She laughed and started massaging Joy’s feet. “Of all things … after being tortured I’m sitting here giving a foot massage to a preacher!” She laughed again along with everyone else. “Nothing could be crazier … at least, I hope to hell not!”

And I’ll be more than happy to speak straight English to you now, Joy Brighterday,” Lucent gave her a dead-level stare with hands on her hips. “If you want me to take care of that little headache of yours, you will first eat something, no ‘if, ands or buts’ about it! Period! Even if it’s just a cup of broth with three saltines … o.k.? Along with at least six ounces of purified water. We’ve got to get something into your system and keep you from getting dehydrated. Deal?”

“Ah … yeah, o.k.” Joy answered through half-opened eyes. “I don’t know why I hurt more now than I did before; it seems crazy … but the massage sure feels good.”

“Don’t get used to it, Dragon Sage – I think I’ll change that to Dragon Prophet or, no, Dragon Priest … that’s it – so don’t get used to me being your personal masseuse, Dragon Priest.” Angelic said this, but it actually made her feel good inside to somehow be helping someone else, especially someone who’d already helped Morris and her so much.

“I’ll go get the broth heating up and bring in the water,” Effete said. “I’ve been floating around here long enough doing little to nothing!”

“Well, I guess that’s kind of all of us,” Moxie inserted. “We’ve just been waiting for updates. Of course, it is unusual not to be talking about something somewhat substantive when we’re all together like this.” Everyone chuckled. “Maybe a nice break, I don’t know … but I’m kind of getting bored. I mean my brain feel like it’s going numb.”

“Oh no! I highly doubt that!” Morris exclaimed. “At least not in such a relatively short space of time. No, your brain is fine, I’m sure. But anyway, what in the world would you want to talk about? Hopefully something that would be a diversion… I mean, I could really use a break from … well, this whole traumatic mess, you know… Not that I deserve a break, but…”

“Hey, Morris, you stop that, my friend,” Able piped up. “I mean it; and, yes, you do deserve a break, most assuredly, both you and your mom … and Effete, too.” He looked over at Effete as she helped Joy into a slightly sitting position so she could dutifully drink her water and he smiled. The beleaguered but stately woman smiled back. “You’re our friend, and you’re welcome here; we want you here, and we want you to be comfortable here. If you – all of you – need a break from the whole Sloughheart muck and muddle, then a break it will be!” And given the authority in the tone of Able’s voice, everyone knew that was final.

Lucent brought in the broth, Joy handed her the empty glass and began obediently sipping on the steaming liquid. Joy had to admit it was refreshing; she hadn’t eaten all day, but she was also glad that Lucent had apparently let the saltines go. The broth would be sufficient … in her estimation anyway. The dutiful nurse practitioner stood by her side with two pills in her hand while the others chattered away about this, that, and really nothing at all. Joy wasn’t paying too much attention anyway, and neither was Lucent. Instead, when Joy had disposed of about two-thirds of the broth, Lucent handed her two two-mg tabs of hydromorphone. Strong medicine, to be sure, but Joy hadn’t been sleeping or eating well, but she had been pushing herself, so…

“So why did you decide to pursue another degree in Social Work, Lucent?” Grace politely asked.

“Well, really, it’s rather simple – certainly not to have another piece of paper to hang on my wall – but to broaden my horizons in an area that means a lot to me, something I’m very passionate about, and that’s basically just helping people to the best of my God-given abilities. Of course, you could say I was doing that by working hard at the Hart Clinic in the capacity of nurse practitioner, but I wanted to be able to do more… Now I am. Now I can go somewhat beyond the … umm, strict confines of medical treatment into actually connecting patients with very basic necessary resources that, hopefully, will enable them to live fuller, better, all-round healthier lives. And I can, with their consent of course, keep up with them … for awhile, at least.”

Joy’s eyes were completely closed now and she was, thankfully, snoozing nicely. Effete couldn’t help but gaze at her shepherdess-savior friend and smile. Really, everyone was packed into the Keener household because of this one very special woman. In that moment, Effete could not doubt God; no, it was just God in and through Joy Emmanuella Brighterday. As so many people had said, “Emmanuella” was the perfect name for her, despite very normal and completely tolerable faults and shortcomings; she was “God with us.”

“You know, it seems as if professional studies have become so divided from one another that they barely touch,” Suijnwe remarked. “Sociologists have little, if anything, to do with anthropologists; medical doctors have little, if anything, to do with pharmacologists; attorneys have little, if anything, to do with ethicists. Or am I overstating the case?”

“You may be overstating somewhat, Suijnwe, but not terribly so,” Sage Wiseman answered. “We seem to live in a very pigeon-holed culture, where everything is so splintered into specialties that there is very little overall cohesiveness among the various disciplines.”

“Ah! And this brings to mind another question, my dear Dr. Wiseman!” Grace interjected excitedly. “A little birdie whispered in our ears the other day and told us something about you pursuing another doctorate! Is this true … and, assuming it is, then you have to tell us the ‘what’ and ‘why?’ Please!”

“Ha, ha! I should shot that little bird!” Everyone laughed. “I won’t ask though … No, really, it’s not something that I’ve advertised, and I guess my answer would be like Lucent’s, you know? It’s certainly not to have another piece of paper hanging on my wall, but like we said just now, it does seem like so many disciples are … far too disconnected from other disciplines, and I don’t like that, really. It makes me feel limited, especially in my passion-area of life, which is helping people, too. You know, I’m not at all ashamed of my achievements; I love being a psychologist and the work I do, but sometimes … I don’t know, it gets a little frustrating that I’m just a psychologist… Not that there’s anything at all wrong with that, but sometimes I feel limited, stifled, or whatever.”

“So what have you decided to do about it, Dr. Wiseman,” Able pushed for the answer.

“Hmm … o.k.” Sage shifted around in her seat. “You know I’ve been doing quite a bit of research in the area of religion, religious groups, and specifically legalistic, fundamentalist groups and/or cults.” Everyone nodded their head. “This has interested me for a very long time, really – not just religion, per se, but the power of fundamentalist, cult-type religion and its impact on the larger community, or society – so about two years ago, I contacted an old professor of mine, now at the University of St. Edmund in Victoria, and talked to him about my then-nascent research and my passion for pursuing this further. He was elated, to say the least, and thankfully very supportive, so much so that together we outlined an original, combination  curriculum for Socio-Psychology of Religion, which is now a non-traditional degree offered at the Master’s and Doctorate levels at St. Edmund. About seven or eight other universities are looking hard and seriously considering adding this non-traditional degree to the similar programs they already offer, too.”

“Wow!” Blue piped up. “Impressive, for sure, but how does this really differ from simply doing post-doctoral work in the same area, or pursuing either psychology or sociology of religion without combining the two?”

“Good question and the answer is that there is no ‘area’ such as this, per se … at least not as particularly structured and intensely focused as this program. Yes, of course, I could have continued my research completely on my own without even making it ‘post-doctoral’ work, for that matter, or earning another piece of paper. But you see, this is another important reason for doing what I’m doing. First, I know I need structured guidance, direction, and advice from a wise and trusted counsellor. Second, I know I am doing this ultimately, hopefully, for the benefit of others, both psychologically and sociologically. Third, and finally, if the program is worth anything at all, and I fully believe it is, then I want it to be available to other students, who can then go out and benefit many more people than I can possibly reach alone. Besides all of this, I believe a well-structured and intensely focused program in the socio-psychological dynamics of religion, and perhaps specifically fundamentalist cult-types, will prove inestimably valuable in our understanding of families, communities and the overall, multifaceted nature of society and culture.”

“Sooo … I’m guessing you’re really into finding out what makes fundies tick?” Angelica asked through a nice, long yawn.

“Sounds boring, huh?” Sage chuckled. “Yeah, I guess so, but more than that it really has to do with helping people. Lucent is helping people even now through her medical practice and social work, combining the two very, very nicely. I want to do the same. I want to continue helping people through counselling, in general, but I also want to reach out to a specific group – or groups, I should say – of people where you find an awful lot of … well, pain and suffering.”

“Sounds great, Dr. Wiseman…” Just then the phone rang, and Lucent promptly answered.

“Hello? Tiger?” Everybody looked at each other at the mention of “Tiger,” except for Moxie, who explained that “Tiger” was an RN and good friend of her mom’s. “Oh God, really? That’s really a humdinger…”

“No, doesn’t sound good for the ole boy, to be sure! But how weird? Who would’ve expected? Anyway, what’s the plan now?” Lucent listed while Tiger conveyed what she knew, quietly and quickly so she wouldn’t get in trouble, and then it was farewell-till-later.

“O.k. Tiger, thanks! Take care and God bless… Yeah, talk to ya later. Bye.”

“Well?” Three or four voices chimed.

“Fen Sloughheart seems to be having another rather curious reaction, or side effect, now. He seems to be experiencing an eczematic-psoriasis, or in English, an inflammation covering at least 2/3 of his body along with large, reddish, circular splotches rising in different places sporadically. Three of psoriastic patches have … cracked and issued some mild bleeding. All of this could be an allergic reaction to one or more of the medications, or the combination of medications used. However, Tiger said the physicians are leaving the cause as ‘undetermined,’ and they’re not really certain how to proceed from here, although a medicinal, therapeutic bath followed by some form of detoxification is probably in the works … however that may help.”

“So it’s happening…” Joy mumbled without opening her eyes.


Oops There He Goes … And What’s Going With Him?

“He had a major stroke caused by a subarachnoid hemorrhage.” Lucent Keener informed her audience. “And what is that, exactly? Well, while I’m no expert, it basically is a bleeding into the subarachnoid space in and around the brain. Causes? I believe, though it may occur spontaneously, often times it results from a ruptured cerebral aneurism, or … may result from head injury.”

“And from what we’ve heard, he entered the hospital after having two minor heart attacks accompanied by a nervous breakdown, during which he evidently sustained a head injury,” Sage Wiseman added.

The Keener house was packed full this morning. Both Moxie and Able had decided to skip morning classes, something they rarely did, and Effete was grateful for their presence. They’d been practical miracle workers in getting Rue and Bane ready for a day with Dr. Pert Kibitz instead of going to school, where they’d likely be bombarded by questions. Kibitz said she had a light schedule that day, and really had wanted to spend a good deal of one-on-one time with the boys anyway … so it worked out perfectly with Able and Moxie dropping them off at her home.

Blue Poorman was slouched in one of the recliners, his favorite, while Sage sat upright in another. Even Angelica and Morris Graver were there, each sitting on the couch, and of course Joy Brighterday. Lucent couldn’t sit down. Tense medical situations, no matter who it involved, always got her blood pumping too much to relax. She was in nurse practitioner mode now and wanted to talk medical science, symptoms, care and treatment, and whatnot. “They’re transporting him ASAP to Grand Oak, of course, where they’ll likely assess whether or not they’re capable of performing the neurosurgery  so immediately needed… I don’t understand that decision in the least, to put it mildly. Following a subarachnoid hemorrhage, treatment absolutely must be almost instantaneous; they should have fast-tracked him to the Glendale-Virginia Apgar Memorial Hospital.”

“Umm … so we care now whether he lives or dies?” Angelica wondered from where she was curled up Indian-style in the corner of the sofa. “Really, I’m kind of having a hard time digesting the feeling that … you know, that like … something awful’s happened to poor, ole Fen Sloughheart. Am I just off and awful, or something … but I kind of want him to die, ya know?”

“Not exactly bad, Angelica,” Joy answered from the other corner of the couch. “It’s just if he dies, well … what dies with him? That’s a pretty serious consideration … at least for me.”

“Do you think they’ll be able to perform the surgery,” Moxie asked her mother. “Or, at least, adequately?”

“Well, ‘adequately’ is probably the key term, my dear,” Lucent answered, taking another sip of her hot Earl Grey. “They might pull him through, but what will be the after effects? All of this could, of course, have great cognitive and physiological implications; in fact, this stroke is certain to have severe repercussions.”

“So, where does that leave us?” Blue ventured.

“So far as I can tell, basically in the same place we were before,” Wiseman answered. “Angelica, Morris, Grace, Suijnwe and I will meet with Judge Love Fairman in her chambers tomorrow, along with Captain Bernard Ruff, one of his colleagues, and the district attorney. Phoenix Rising is hoping that, after issuing an arrest warrant for Morris, which is inevitable, Fairman will then immediately issue an injunction to stay any judicial proceedings upon the case pending further investigation into Sloughheart and his alleged, gross criminal activities that certainly, directly impinge upon Morris and his actions … indeed, his whole life, not to mention that of his mother. Of course, if she does this – if she’s able to do this – Fairman will probably also put Morris under house arrest, in which he’ll only be allowed to leave home for work, school, medical treatment, therapy or counseling, and so forth.”

Joy was in the room. She was interested. She was listening and, of course, she was especially concerned for Morris, Angelica, Effete, Rue and Bane. Yet part of her mind couldn’t help considering what was happening to Fen Sloughheart. The reality of it all gave her chills. Was she being superstitious? Was the living, terrifying God confronting Fen Sloughheart … punishing him? Would the God in whom she had believed all of her life act so … what? Arbitrarily? Haphazardly? Striking one wicked man, while allowing thousands upon thousands go on untouched? Bringing justice to bear for five people, while denying justice to five thousand … five million? Was God erratic? Impulsive? Volatile? What would her guardian say? Again she longer for his presence.

“Well, hey, at least that’s moving in the right direction,” Able said almost too cheerfully while looking at Morris. “I mean, whatever ultimately happens to Sloughheart, the investigation is moving forward, the truth will eventually come out, and people – probably multitudes of people – will be helped and eventually enabled to heal.” The normally melancholic young artist was trying desperately to put an upbeat spin on the situation. “Sloughheart has been, and really still is, an aggressive and hideous monster, but the monster’s finally being caged … one way or another!”

“Yeah. Yeah, he’s an ugly monster, alright,” Morris somberly replied, staring at the floor. “He just happens to be the ugly monster who tore apart my mother and me, and now … now it seems like he’s getting away with it. I mean … yeah, he’s suffering, but … will he ever have to stand trial for his grotesque cruelty and wickedness? Will he ever have to really pay?”

Silence hung heavily in the room. No one seemed to have an immediate answer. It was an important question. If Fen Sloughheart lived, would he be in such a condition that he would simply be confined somewhere under constant medical care? Would that be punishment? Would that kind of outcome be authentic justice for his victims? Angelica and Morris would just as soon the medical professionals leave him be and let him die … in agony. Effete felt almost the same way, though she might be merciful enough to have him injected with something that would simply put him to sleep for good, but she wanted him out of the picture, too. Sage and Lucent were both professionals in the care of people, and somewhat more removed from the evils of Fen Sloughheart, so there hopes and prayers were strictly for justice to prevail. Moxie and Able were confused on the point – unusual for these two very bright, young minds – and though Blue Poorman genuinely wanted full justice, he did feel just a twinge of pity for the man. And Joy?

“You know, I do fully believe he will have to pay,” Joy broke the silence. “Either now or in eternity, and you can throw whatever you want to at me. I am an ordained minister, after all, and I believe what I believe. It may be confusing at times and certainly disconcerting; nevertheless, for all I admittedly don’t understand, I do believe there is God and that this God is not far removed from our pain and suffering, and not unconcerned about fairness and justice, and not impervious to the evil and wickedness of monsters like Fen Sloughheart!” Joy surprised the others with the choler of her reaction. “God will have his day,” she nearly whispered. “God will have his day.”

Angelica couldn’t help it. Looking at Joy in that moment, she had to raise a hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh. There was the great Reverend Joy Brighterday with naked feet on the sofa, one leg straight up with the other down to form a 90 degree angle; she was decked out in baggy, black night pants, an extra-large V-neck that came down to her sternum, with no bra because of the discomfort it caused. No make-up covered her regal face, and her wavy, dark hair was, oddly enough, attractively unkempt, but like she had just gotten out of bed … which she had!

“Well, I’m sure glad to know you’ve got some real fire in your belly!” Angelica risked an appraisal. “Makes me feel good!” She winked at Joy. “I think I’ll nickname you the Dragon Sage.” Morris just chortled and shook his head at his mother’s penchant for fantasy.

“And methinks she needs some more coffee in her belly, too!” Effete added without hesitation, “or the dragon’s gonna start breathing fire and we’ll all be crisp toast!”

“I’m on it,” Lucent said, marching over to the side table where she retrieved Joy’s empty mug.

Joy looked taken aback somewhat, but everyone else just chuckled. They loved her and she knew it. Very likely, she also knew she hadn’t had quite enough coffee in order to make good conversation. Joy took it in stride, then, and laughed. “O.k. you guys, remember, I’m still a patient in recovery. You’ve got to treat me nicely.”

“Ha! You won’t have that excuse much longer, preacher!” Angelica beamed at Joy, then turned to Moxie. “Hey, they tell me you’re quite a cuffer. What do you make of all this, especially what Joy just said? Morris tells me you’re quite the young and brash philosopher.”

“Brash? Me?” Moxie’s reaction brought another round of laughter. “And I don’t know about ‘cuffer,’ either, but since you asked…” Smiles lit up the room. “I claim to be an agnostic Christian, so my approach to the whole subject will be from that vantage point. Having said this, let me begin by admitting what any agnostic would, and that is that I have no proof, no concrete evidence, for the existence of God. However, I believe in the existence of some higher power – let’s call it the Supranatural One to make some distinction from any particular religion – and there are three fundamental functions I attribute to the Supranatural One: 1) Creation, 2) Maintenance, or Subsistence and 3) Superintendence, or Governance. This is more or less the general framework from within which I ‘understand’ the Supranatural One.”

“I do not directly attribute either moral evil or goodness to this One, nor do I believe the Everlasting One – another term I use – very often intervenes in the day-to-day affairs of humanity. If you ask me what basis I have for this view, then I will probably disappoint you. I will say that in humanity’s … relationship with and discourse about the Divine, we find myriad varieties of thoughts, ideas, feelings and perspectives; enough to lead one to believe that no one religion or spirituality or school of philosophy has ‘cornered the market’ on God. This has led me, personally, to simply ask, out of all the religions, with any attendant philosophy I suppose, which is the best … the most suited, or fitting, to life and the world in which we live? My answer has been that of Judeo-Christianity tinged, perhaps, with neo-Thomist philosophy.”

“Of course, I highly respect and absolutely adore my Joy Brighterday,” Moxie reached up from where she was seated on the floor next to Joy to give her a bear hug and kiss. “So I don’t know about God having his day. If Joy says it so dogmatically, I’m very tempted to believe it, but… really, all in all, so many people give the Supranatural One a helluva time because we live in an imperfect world filled with an awful lot of pain and suffering and, of course, horrible injustice. From my vantage point, though, we really don’t know enough about the Divine to be angry… I mean, the Supranatural One can very easily carry out the three functions I’ve just enumerated and yet not be at all personal, at least in the sense in which we mean personal. It may be, after all, that the Supranatural One is more the creative, sustaining, governing factor, or principle, of the Cosmos than otherwise. We want someone higher, bigger, brighter, stronger, kinder, and whatever to whom we can relate; it’s a deep, burning desire … very human, I think, but… the Everlasting may not provide this for us. The Supranatural One may not be able to provide this for us.”

“Which leaves us with us,” Effete chimed in. “And whatever else I might believe – whether I completely agree with Moxie or not – I sure am glad and thankful for each and every person in this room… Really, although it may sound crazy, if God is present here right now, I’d say God’s present in and through each one of you … for me, anyway.”

“We always seem to delve into the philosophical and theological,” Blue observed. “And I’m certainly one of the main culprits for this, but this time I’m going to make a pragmatic observation.”

“Really!” Both Moxie and Able were shocked.

“Yes, really, and here it is,” Blue continued from his favorite, old easy-chair. “Anyway we cut it, whether there has been direct divine intervention or not, several facts remain true that we need to lay out on the table, so to speak, very clearly and concisely. First, within a shockingly short amount of time really, Fen Sloughheart has lost his marriage – his wife and children – and he has lost his church, school, and entire ministry. Peripherally, in terms of importance, he has lost a great deal of time, effort, and expenditure, and will continue losing finances in making reparations. Second, he has suffered two heart attacks, one nervous breakdown, and now one major stroke for which he is probably even now undergoing radically important surgery. Third, and finally, Fen Sloughheart is still the primary subject of an intense ongoing investigation that will continue, no matter his outcome at Grand Oak. Now, if he comes through well enough, then he will be facing very serious charges that will inevitably lead to more material loss, of course, but also further reputable loss to his already greatly damaged character. This will leave him in quite a purgatorial quandary, if I may put it as such. At any rate, all of this taken together certainly ought to leave us – this morning, at least … at this moment – with a sober gratitude for what assuredly appears to be pure justice.”

“Well, that’s very well stated, indeed; very succinct, Mr. Poorman,” Angelica remarked. “And I guess for right now – at this moment, as you say – I am … soberly grateful, I guess, but not at all satisfied… I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to forgive that man, no matter what the Good Book says, or however psychologically important it may be for my overall health and well-being.”

“Not that I even begin to think you should forgive Sloughheart right here, right now, even if you and Morris possessed that capacity … but at some point … at some point down the road, it will need to be part of your healing. After all, I believe it was the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who taught so wisely, ‘We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive (even in the worst of situations), for he who is devoid of the power to forgive is also devoid of the power to love.’ And that, my dear, is simply a deficiency with which we cannot truly live.”

“Well, maybe one day,” Angelica considered Blue’s wise counsel. “But you know, I think before that day comes, God will have to have his day with Sloughheart, just like Joy was talking about … whatever exactly she meant. Cruel-sounding and bitter, maybe, but so much has been ripped away from Morris and me … and, well, Effete, and others, too, I imagine that … yeah, God will have his day.”


Fen Moving Forward With Recovery?

Fen Sloughheart lay upright in the hospital bed typing away on his laptop. Luce didn’t realize it, but what he meant for good, Fen Sloughheart was desperately trying to turn into as much of a salvaging program for himself as possible. He had resigned the pulpit, and any and all positions, at the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church and School, but he felt compelled to offer more than some short and vague explanation to his followers … and to the community, for that matter. Consequently, he was carefully wording what would be first his letter to the congregation, then his press release to the public; after all, he would no longer be broadcasted on television and radio either.

Sloughheart thought that, if he played his cards right, he could possibly come out of this whole mess nearly unscathed, such was his delusional thinking. He had been informed that morning that the Verdure County Ministerial Association wanted nothing to do with any joint-operation of the school, despite the offer of 50% ownership. Their counter-offer was 100% administration of the school with 65% ownership of the property. The church would still be allowed, at specified times, to hold events and generally make use of the facilities free-of-charge; otherwise, Ebenezer Bible Church would forfeit any and all input into the school. Since Sloughheart still owned the property and, for all practical purposes, completely ran the school, he could acquiesce without asking anyone else, and so he did with only the briefest of explanations to the Church Council:

Brothers of the Council,

I know this will come as an unbelievable shock and disappointment to each of you, and so first let me apologize and ask for both your mercy and understanding. In my present condition, as well as considering the future stability of the church, it is incumbent upon me as I resign and withdraw from Ebenezer Church and School to consider what is first and foremost important, and then to make the best decisions accordingly. This has not been especially difficult because, of course, the Church has always been of primary importance and concern. The ministry of the Church is what God first called me to, and my father, and the Reverend Charger before him. Between the two, then – that is, the Church and School – the Church must come first. Therefore, if I have been put in a position of having to relinquish 65% of the property rights of the school, instead of the originally planned 50%, to the Ministerial Association, and also to turn over complete administrative operation to the same, then I am in no position to do otherwise … and realistically, neither is the Church. It could be that at some point in the near future the Church could possibly sell its remaining interest in the property to the Association. That remains to be seen, but it would certainly benefit Ebenezer. Just remember our high calling in the Lord Jesus Christ, brothers, and press on as faithful servants, as I am always…

Truly Yours in Faith by Grace,

Rev. Fen Sloughheart

Really, Sloughheart didn’t give a damn now about the school or church. Point in fact, it didn’t bother him in the least that the Association had already moved to scrap the entire curriculum, replacing it with the more highly-academically focused, vaguely Christian curriculum offered by the Carmichael-Aquinas Institute for the Advancement of Learning and Achievement (CAI-ALA). Of course, the school had already applied for preliminary membership in the Independent School Association for Better Private Education (ISA-BPE), and the Ministerial Association had promptly secured the services of an independent accounting firm as well as, separately, one of its own members, who happened to be a still-licensed CPA in good standing. All of this simply rolled off Fen’s shoulders now like so much extra and unneeded baggage.

As a matter of fact, the rumor that the Association planned to rename the school Spivey Sharpe Memorial Community School, after the first woman mayor and legend of Splinterbit (and really of all Verdure County and the surrounding area) did not bother him in the least. No, he had other more important considerations to attend to now. Thankfully, he’d been able to get ahold of Grim Brusque to proffer an apology. Fen explained his emotional, psychological, spiritual turmoil with the appropriate amount of crying and so, of course, Brusque forgave him for his unseemly, public remarks. It only bothered Sloughheart minimally that Brusque still seemed somewhat cold, distant, and even chary. But he had to move on. If Brusque had forgiven him, then Brusque had forgiven him; after all, if his old friend was anything, he was honest. So, as Sloughheart calculated, he had effectively neutralized Brusque. Also, the Reverend Brusque was kind enough to put him in touch with a Christian counsellor in his congregation, someone by the name of N. Ept Shrinkton. He would begin seeing Mr. Shrinkton – the man, thankfully, had no degrees beyond one from an unaccredited Bible college – about stress, depression, and anger management. Of course, if need be, Fen might open up confidentially about his struggles with the sin of lust … without, of course, going into any details. All of this seemed to bode well for Sloughheart, at least in his desperate and medicated mind – he pushed the pain pump again just for good measure – and then returned to the public version of his superlative statement. Fen almost felt like an old hero bidding farewell to an audience of exultant-but-sad admirers; he was offering his last “fare-thee-well,” and could just imagine the tears flowing and how much his presence would be sorely missed throughout the larger community. He looked back to his statement. Perhaps he should make it more MacArthuresque since, like the famous general, he was being a good soldier now and “just fading away.”

To my wonderful church family, and those of you who have listened and so faithfully supported my ministry on television, radio, and in the newspapers, as well as the good community of Splinterbit and surrounding area:

Doubtless, you have already heard of my abrupt resignation from the ministry and all positions at Ebenezer Bible Church and School. The short explanation for this is that due to my impending, tragic divorce – something that not only tears at my heart, but has ripped apart my home and family – and due to increasing physical health problems, I simply am no longer able to shoulder the responsibilities incumbent upon the pastor of the Church and administrator of the School.

This is a very sad time in my life, but I believe and know that God ‘works out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.’ The Lord is faithful. The Lord has walked with me for all of these years, and He has not failed me, and He will not fail me now. Of this I am certain! Praise be to the God of All! In the meantime, I have had opportunity to reflect upon my life and ministry, and I thank the Lord for all of the good He was worked in and through the ministry to which He called me years ago. At the same time, I fully recognize and confess the truth of His infallible Word that we have ‘all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ No, indeed, ‘there is none righteous; no, not one.’ And this includes me. I have not been perfect. I have made mistakes over the years. I have made mistakes recently.

Through much prayer and meditation – often agonizing – I have come to realize that there are apologies I need to offer, amends I need make, and reconciliation I need to seek. This is a work, which by the grace of God and the power of His Spirit, I have already begun and shall continue. At this time, however, in such a general letter to the public, I would like to make a broad sweep, so to speak, and say that if I have sinfully mocked, ridiculed, criticized, or otherwise needlessly hurt individual people or groups of people – straying away from my mandate to faithfully preach the Gospel of Christ and walk in obedience to the Lord – then I do repent and ask your forgiveness. More than forgiveness, though, I ask for your prayers on my behalf. Pray that the Lord God will continue teaching me, leading and guiding and directing me to become an even better, more faithful servant of His.

Now in closing, I can only add what most of you have heard so many times before, but it’s true, and that is: Though I know not what the future holds, I know who holds the future. Hallelujah! And God bless you in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fen re-read his public epistle again and again, and each time smiled more broadly than before. In his estimation, it was perfect. The letter could not possibly be improved even by the best of authors. Point in fact, it struck him as being so effective, he thought surely he would first receive a plethora of “get well” cards and phone calls, flowers, and balloons; then, some key people in the area would want to talk to him. Would he consider taking another, smaller church, one without so much responsibility? Would he consider teaching an Old Testament and/or New Testament elective at the Splinterbit College? He was certainly qualified, and might actually end up having a more effective ministry in the long run! He thought about it: Preaching one morning service at some small church each Sunday, and teaching two courses twice each week at the college. With the investments he had stowed away, he’d make it just fine, and after an extended period of time would probably enjoy a better, more respectable reputation than he’d ever enjoyed before in his life!

Just then, Fen felt rather odd. His head started swimming and his vision blurred so he couldn’t make out the words of his precious public epistle anymore. His head started pounding so hard it felt like someone had a jackhammer inside his skull, so he tried to lift his arms to massage his temples, but his right arm was numb and wouldn’t cooperate. In the few seconds all of this happened, one of the bed alarms sounded, piercing the quiet of his room and making his headache all the worse. He thought he might throw up… Before the nurses could get to him, he did upchuck.

The nurses quickly removed his laptop, of course, but strangely enough Fen Sloughheart distinctly saw two or three sheets of paper – his letter – slide off the bed and gently settle on the floor where his attendants proceeded to walk and work … not noticing how they were smudging and soiling and obliterating his remarkable work. He tried to warn them, but he couldn’t speak coherently…

And there lay his self-made redemption, tattered and sullied on the floor.