To Chance and Dance

The world sometimes is too sharply defined, too dogmatically refined

While people are often far too entrenched, thirst for power unquenched

Sometimes the church bell tolls for the death of a soul while digging the hole

And oftentimes the dirge is played for the living, far too unforgiving

While other play freely in liberty, never minding those in self-captivity

For we are always free to chance, to gayly prance, to wildly dance

Without apologies or remorse to the entrenched for our chosen course


Lessons Along the Nile: Chosen Fear-Frozen

“Ma’at herself came to Djer, not to shame, but with pure aim to reach his heart and teach his mind, and in this the fierce goddess of truth was kind,” Maftet explained as I remained in her arms in the cool, refreshing waters of the jewel of Egypt. “Ma’at came to explain wiser farming and fielding, yielding to mercy in not harming Gaia. She tried to show him how his people cried for honesty and justice, modesty in governance to unharness his subjects from the crushing weight of too great a load of obligation to his crown that would eventually drown his realm.”

Arms charmed over her shoulders, latched at her upper back, I was attached to Maftet — ever-hovering lover — and would not let go even if heaven should beckon me so. “If I reckon rightly, then, Djer did not listen to the wisdom of Ma’at, and must have shot down every lesson offered, though by them he would have profited… But surely Ma’at said more, for she always has in store great treasures of the pleasures of pure knowledge.”

“Yes, of course,” Maftet ran her hand across band of my waist, and slowly continued without haste, “Ma’at tried to tell him stories of the past, and teach him principles that last; what it means to cast one’s mind into the sea of curiosity with humility; to burn to learn without thick hide of pride; to be adept and accept truth wherever it is found without being swept away by stray winds of blind arrogance that bind heart, mind and soul… But Djer would not hear, and it was fear that drove him into an ill-illumined cove of anger; therein lay the danger to his entire empire.”

Maftet led me back out of the waters and bade me slip on thin robe to begin our stroll along the rolling bank of the Nile, from which I no longer shrank. “His mind was closed and opposed to an intrusion or profusion of new ideas. Djer continued to plunder the soil, ripping asunder Gaia in greed for gold and precious stones beyond any need. He would not let his people read for fear of planting any seed of doubt in what he taught them to believe. Voices of reason were repressed and people oppressed, and thus his whole kingdom depressed.” She looked at me, now so intimately familiar, “Sound similar to your own clime and time?”

warriorwomandB“So the more truth neared, the more he feared? He chose to be blind and bind himself to his own notions rather than disturb his emotions?” I had to strenuously try to repress laughter at the pleasantly wry smile of Maftet.

“Ah! You are not so mentally sickly as once you were; you’re learning more quickly. Good for you; what you say is true!” She brushed my cheek with lush-perfect fingers. “What is more tragic still was his shrill denouncement of any deviation from his religion; thus he turned his subjects into compliant pigeons feeding on bits of shallow doctrine cavalierly tossed on the ground for them to eat instead of the meat of unadulterated truth. This more than all else did grieve Dyēus and cause him to leave, while Djer made pretense of worshipping him still, though under different name, but the god he reverenced was no more than hand-shaped sod.” Her face brightened then to lighten the sky. “But Meryet-Nit did sit at the feet of Ma’at, replete with wisdom, and listened and learned. This is why, by and by, she came to be ancient predecessor of Sulaymān the Wise, son of Dawud,  though her reign was ill-fated… Still, she could not be baited by dollops of rancid scallops.”

Maftet laid us down, then, making her body my bed. “When you very first described the realm of Djer, I thought of hell and fire, of … well, shire of Şeytan, muck and mire of dæmons.”

“And so it was!” fiercely she struck and pierced my soul. “Evil is pitch dark, leaving no niche for light; wickedness is the blight of unsighted knowledge and wisdom; iniquity is the ubiquity of vain and shallow religion, bane of self-righteous hypocrisy, autocracy of unfounded moralism and ungrounded regulations thrust upon whole nations, an aberration of what is truly good, an abdication of sense and sensibility!” Maftet’s chest was heaving, breast profusely sweating; cheeks burning, her whole body churning … then someone seemed to apply balm of calm.

god-rod[1]“Love drives out all fear, and where there is pure love, wisdom is near. Love and truth from above are open and free, and freely open the hearts and minds of those who lovingly open to love and free their hearts and minds to eat from the Tree of Life, which is free to all who will willingly partake, not for their own sake alone but to be shown and given freely to sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers around the world… Do you see now, my bride, how Şeytan prefers to hide beneath layer of pretentious religion and appear ever-so fair? Therein lies his subtlety wherein he gains custody of so many unsuspecting souls. His dæmons are trolls of ‘right doctrine,’ and thus there are those who, thinking they serve heaven, are evil and but leaven of evil and wickedness … and all in the name of Dyēus.” I felt her tears running between our cheeks, leaking out the sadness that lay within. “Do you comprehend?”

“Yes … I’ve rightly received and believe I now correctly conceive.”

Recapitulation on the Question of Religious Fundamentalism

When people will not weed their own minds, they are apt to be overrun by nettles.
– Horace Walpole

My intellect would wish for a clear-cut universe with no dim corners, but there are all these cobwebs in the cosmos.
– Carl Jung

Often times I rush in “where angels fear to tread,” or speak (or write) before I’ve properly though through the subject upon which I’m commenting, and I’ve ended up unintentionally hurting people’s feelings or making them angry. While I don’t believe this is (or should be) the case with my latest post, “Sloughheart, My Self, and Silly Fundamentalism”, I would still like to recapitulate and make certain I’m being as clear and understandable as possible on this topic. Having said this, then, I’d like to proceed point-by-point, but I will also broaden the scope of fundamentalism to (hopefully) aid in the clarification of my thoughts.

First, using the Oxford English Dictionary, I defined “fundamentalism” in my most recent blog as:

Fundamentalism – 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.

Since I have lately dived into the dark morass of epistemology, skirting the coastlines of the philosophy of language in the process, I’ve become far more sensitive to definitions and the proper use of language, so… Is this a good definition? I’d probably benefit from having an encyclopedist and/or linguist critique it, but I don’t personally know any such persons; we’ll simply proceed to “pick apart” this definition and thereby (hopefully) bring greater lucidity to both what I mean and what I don’t mean. There are two parts to my definition; let’s begin with the first:

  • 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

Upon further reflection, I believe I’d add “unreflectingly” before “upholds.” Fundamentalism is “a form of religion, which unreflectingly upholds belief in … etc.” There are people I know, and have known, who, for example, believe in a literal interpretation of the Genesis (chapter one) account of creation. However, they are willing to say, while they hold the position of scientific creationism, that belief in intelligent design or theistic evolution does not damn one’s soul to hell. Point in fact, they have friends and family members who hold such views, and some of these people I know are willing to admit they may be wrong in their viewpoint. They’ve also spent some time openly and honestly exploring the subject; therefore, I would not label them as fundamentalist. After all, if we’re not careful here, we could end up labelling the vast majority of humanity as fundamentalists, which would then render the term almost vacuous, an otherwise empty word bereft of any substantive meaning … except, perhaps, that it would be indicative merely of someone who believes something more or less definitely.

No, the fundamentalist, by the above definition (first part) would be someone who unreflectingly holds to scientific creationism. In this sense, it’s worth mentioning that not a few atheistic evolutionists fit this description as well, and make no mistake, there are fundamentalist atheists. The man who unreflectingly subscribes to atheistic evolution may be just as guilty of anti-intellectualism, at this point at least, as the proponent of scientific creationism … no matter how good and valid the evidence for biological evolution is (or seems to be.) Along these same lines, let me mention a point C. S. Lewis made in one of his essays concerning the interpretation of scripture: While he admitted he was not, properly speaking, a Bible scholar, he was well-versed in literature and the proper methods of reading, understanding, and interpreting literature (particularly that of Medieval Europe.) He contended that one first has to know the type of literature one is reading before she can hope to properly interpret that literature, and he applies this to Scripture.[1] The fundamentalist would (and does) balk at this, saying in effect that “God says what he means and means what he says, and it’s all clear enough, unless you simply don’t want to believe it. Then you twist it and turn it until it suits you better.” This is the anti-intellectual, narrow-mindedness of fundamentalism. It is not an anomaly, either; one finds this present in Islam, Hinduism, atheism, communism, etc.

Concerning “inherited customs and/or religious traditions,” we might look at the restrictive face-covering niqāb worn by Muslim women in Islamist societies as a strictly enforced adherence to an otherwise outdated custom. The less-restrictive hijab has been worn by women for generations upon generations as a way of showing, or preserving, modesty.[2] One wonders, though, just to what extent the Muslim woman ought to show modesty, even by Quranic standards. Should it be, as Islamists evidently believe, as far as wearing the niqāb? (I’m not an expert of Islam, but I believe the question is valid nonetheless.) Also, one might ask why it is the woman is forced to show such an extent of modesty, but not the man, which all seems a bit misogynistic by contemporary Western standards, at least. However, is the wearing of a hijab wrong, in and of itself? It would be difficult to make such a case; after all, there may be plenty of Muslim women who want to wear the hijab while knowing full-well that it’s not absolutely necessary to modesty and decency.

What about these women? One could hardly contend they’re fundamentalist, at least without (again) broadening the definition of “fundamentalism” to the point that it no longer serves any practical purpose in communication. There are, we should remember, plenty of customs and traditions, religious and otherwise, to which people faithfully adhere. Are they all fundamentalists? Are the people who put on traditional Fourth of July parades in the United States, as well as those who faithfully attend, socio-political fundamentalists? Perhaps some of them are – and they would more properly be called “nationalists,” I believe – but traditional Fourth of July parades do not make them fundamentalists … and I say this as one who’s never really cared much for this type of celebration, not because I consider myself unpatriotic, but simply because I really don’t like parades very much at all. But if we label someone who’s faithful to the tradition, the custom, of such parades a fundamentalist, then it’s only fair to ask whether or not I’m an anti-patriotic fundamentalist for rather decidedly refusing to attend and join such celebrations. I trust the reader will see how, if we’re not careful, use of the term “fundamentalist” or “fundamentalism” can quickly devolve into noxious absurdity.

Let’s now move on to the second part of my above definition:

  • 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, sometimes severely

And I would like to divide this up into portions (a) and (b) so that we’ll talk about “the elevation of particular doctrines and practices … etc.” first, then “the observation and … failure to adhere to this (or these) standard(s) being punished, sometimes severely.” So, as an example of (a) we might look at a favorite among fundamentalist Protestants, an eschatological doctrine: Dispensational premillennialism. This is the belief that “the second coming of Christ, and subsequent establishment of the millennial kingdom,” one thousand years of peaceful, paradisiacal life on earth, “is to be preceded by a seven-year … period known as” the Great Tribulation, “the earthly activity of the Antichrist, as well as the outpouring of God’s wrath on” sinful humanity. (Many, if not most, dispensationalists believe true Christians will be raptured off the earth before the Great Tribulation.) Dispensational premillennialism also “holds that the nation of Israel will be saved and restored to a place of preeminence” during the millennial reign of Christ on earth. “Thus, Israel will have a special function of service (during) the millennium that is different from that of the Church or saved Gentiles.”[3]

For some independent, fundamentalist churches, this is the linchpin of their theology; it is, by analogy, the hub of the wheel, and one cannot be a member of their church without subscribing to the doctrine of dispensational premillennialism (as well as other doctrines.) Examples of proponents of this doctrine are: Timothy LaHaye, John Hagee, Harold (Hal) L. Lindsey, Charles C. Ryrie, Robert (Bob) R. Jones III, Arlin and Beka Horton, and others known quite well within American Protestant circles – ones that agree with dispensationalism and one that vehemently disagree. If you’re unfamiliar with these names, or seem to be, then let me share a bit of information about them. Arlin and Beka Horton were the co-founders of Pensacola Christian College (PCC) in Pensacola, Florida. PCC is, perhaps, most notable for creating a curriculum, named after Beka Horton, widely used among Protestant Christian schools. PCC is also decidedly legalistic in its rules and regulations. Bob Jones III’s grandfather founded Bob Jones University in 1927 in Bay County, Florida. (The university is now located in Greenville, South Carolina.)

Timothy LaHaye, along with Jerry Jenkins, authored the infamous Left Behind series, which centers upon the apocalyptic end of the world after, of course, Christians have been raptured up to heaven. The series included 16 installments, all best sellers, and led to the production of several movies, video games, paraphernalia and whatnot – an abominable billion-dollar industry unto itself. Hal Lindsey authored the mega-best seller, The Late Great Planet Earth, back in the early 1970s; it had sold approximately 28 million copies by 1990.[4] He went on to write such books as Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth and There’s A New World Coming.[5]

On the obligation to adhere to certain practices – rigid rules, unyielding standards – with the failure to do so resulting in sometimes (oftentimes?) harsh punishment, there is no shortage of examples. The fundamentalist mentality is arrogant, concretized narrow-mindedness that demands conformity of its subordinates; thus, the legalistic fundamentalist (private Christian) school teacher beats a boy’s naked bottom for letting a “darn” slip through his lips, and his father (or mother) might very well reinforce this discipline at home by exacting the same punishment. This is certainly not unheard of; in fact, it might be all-too-common. Husbands demand silence and complete, abject obedience from their wives and children.

Pastors verbally pound their congregations two or three times each week for being wicked sinners in need of repentance, which is, frighteningly enough, one of the expected practices within typical independent, fundamentalist churches. Boys and men must have their hair cut short, above the ears and tapered in the back. Women must not cut their hair, beyond slightly trimming, perhaps; they must also avoid hair coloring and make-up. Jewelry is not allowed for males, of course, and often not allowed for women, either. Everyone is barred from listening to any contemporary music; sometimes everyone is discouraged from even listening to classical sacred music, i.e. they are limited to songs from the old hymn book and Gospel music. The list goes on and on, but the result is the same: There is some price to pay for failure to comply.

This is even more noticeable in Islamism; individuals can lose fingers and hands for stealing, or their very lives for what might be considered blasphemy, even if it is not so according to Qur’anic standards. The news around the world is packed full of horrendous stories of the extremities to which Islamists are going in order to enforce compliance to their exceedingly stringent, narrow version of Islam. People are being murdered, children are being ripped away from their parents, homes burned, sometimes entire villages destroyed. Adherents of other faith-religions are in constant danger… All of this militates against the mainstream history and heritage of Islam, which many in the West no longer know, as well as the basic attitude and perspective of Muslims round the world.[6] This is the ugly face of fundamentalism. It crops up, too, in Hinduism,[7] which seeks to recover “an original Hindu empire.”[8]

In Christianity, much of the problem with fundamentalism stems from an inappropriate interpretation and application of the scriptures, historical ignorance, and a gross under-appreciation for catholic (universal) growth and maturation. As stated before in previous blogs, I am no Bible scholar, but in the study of Scripture it seems to me an excellent approach would be as follows:

  1. Learn as much as possible the historical context of the passage, i.e. the social customs of ancient Israel, the Ancient Near East in general, Hellenization, the political situation, the early Roman Empire, concurrent religions, etc.
  2. Utilize basic study aids, such as: Dictionaries, Bible encyclopedias,[9] lexicons, concordances, etc. as well as at least three reputable translations[10]
  3. Consult commentaries, ancient and contemporary,[11] varied in theological perspective.[12]
  4. Take notes, discuss with others (intelligent and serious), meditate (prayerfully), etc.
  5. Consider what contemporary application – via (perhaps) appropriate re-contextualization[13] – the passage might offer, beneficially of course.

Fundamentalist rarely do this, or if they do, then it’s quite narrow. They might, for example, use the Scofield Study Bible, extremely popular among dispensationalists, or the Ryrie Study Bible; maybe Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the King James Version translation, and the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary published by Moody Press. They’ll rarely venture out in Bible study beyond the narrow confines of dispensational, fundamentalist theology, though, and so while they learn, they really never mature intellectually. Their vision remains tunneled, their understanding very myopic. And this is why, in my previous article, I said:

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.

Now, again, for what and whom I do not mean to indict in all this: I do not mean by “fundamentalist” merely someone who is theologically conservative, or more traditional – after all, I consider myself to be for the most part a consensually orthodox-catholic Christian – and I do not mean someone who stands confidently upon what she believes. None of this is, properly speaking, fundamentalism. Hopefully, my above comments will clarify any misunderstanding arising from my last article, or the one before: “Masculinity According to an Evangelical Woman.” Although I really should have entitled that article, “Masculinity According to a Fundamentalist Woman,” but alas, I did not, so I will simply have to proffer an apology here for that mistake.

Any other points that may need clarification will have to wait for someone eager enough to ask, which is certainly welcome, of course. Otherwise, we venture forth into other subject matter!



[1] I believe the essay is entitled, “Historicism,” and is found in Christian Reflections, 124-140. An interesting, and perhaps informative, essay on the topic of C. S. Lewis and proper interpretation of Scripture is offered by David Williams in “C. S. Lewis on Scripture: God’s Word in Human Words,” as accessed on May 20, 2015

[2]Women and Veiling: What is the Hijab and Why Do Women Wear It?” accessed on May 20, 2015; cf. Qur’an 24. 30-31; 33. 58-59

[3] “What is Dispensational Premillennialism/Premillennial Dispensationalism?” on GotQuestions?org, as accessed on May 20, 2015

[4] Bart D. Ehrman, MDiv, PhD. Historical Jesus. ‘Prophet of the New Millennium.’ The Teaching Company, 2000, Lecture 24.

[5] As an interesting aside, Lindsey evidently required help writing his first two books, Late Great Planet Earth and Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. What makes this so interesting is the fact that at least the first was actually ghost-written by Carole C. Carlson, a woman! David Jeremiah has also used her talents in writing a good many books. Cf. “Carole C. Carlson, The Mother of Modern Prophecy,” accessed on May 20, 2015; also, the Wikipedia article for “The Late Great Planet Earth.”

[6] Some will disagree with me on this point; however, I am not proselytizing for Islam, nor am I making outlandish claims for Muslim faith and practice. Cf. Professor Huseyin Algul, faculty member specializing in Islamic History in the Department of Theology at Uludag University, Bursa, Turkey, “Islam is a Religion of Love and Peace,” accessed on May 20, 2015; also, perhaps,the Islam Is Peace (British) web site.

[7] An interesting article to read on the topic of Hindu fundamentalism, and how it ties in with Indian nationalism, is “Outlines of Hindu Fundamentalism” found on the University of Idaho web site by an anonymous author, accessed May 20, 2015

[8] See above reference

[9] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia published by Eerdmans and edited by Goeffrey Bromiley is an excellent choice.

[10] Fundamentalists are notorious for the practical veneration of the King James (Authorized) Version; however, although this is one of the most beautiful classics of the English language – certainly appropriate on one’s bookshelf – it is based upon the Textus Receptus, the Received Text, which is outdated now. Better English translations include, but are not limited to, the Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New American Bible (Revised Edition), English Standard Version, and (from what I’ve been told by those who should know) perhaps the New International Version.

[11] The Church’s Bible series published by Eerdmans offers an excellent source of Patristic understanding of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.

[12] Background commentaries are also very useful, and several publishing companies, such as IVP (mainline conservative), offer such.

[13] An example of re-contextualization can be found on the Defeating the Dragons blog, specifically the article, “The Prophecy of Amos, Revised.”


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


Joy Brighterday Back at the Altar

“Dear God, now I know far more about that man than I ever wanted to know … and yet, there remains the question: Who or what twisted and perverted him into such an angry, hideous, and tyrannical demoniac? His father? Yes, he was surely one factor, but there was also his loving and nurturing mother on the other side. His church? Yes, the legalistic fundamentalism, but surely he met others and your Spirit, too. His whole environment? Maybe, partly, but Splinterbit is, all in all, an excellent and warm, friendly community, and he had dear Effete and two precious sons… You? But you ‘take no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ for ‘you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made.’ So … I still do not understand. Did it really all come down to his choice, then?”

The Reverend Joy Emmanuella Brighterday knelt at the altar of St. Gianna Church praying and meditating, mulling and contemplating … questioning. She stared at the attractive, rustic altar cross surrounded by primroses, courtesy of Mrs. Featherwit. Joy couldn’t help but smile. “Primroses again … and I could never be more thankful,” and I’m very thankful that so many of us still have something for which to be thankful, maybe even much for which to be thankful … I’m certain I do.”

Three months ago to the day, the same evening Joy lead everyone at Lucent Keener’s home in brief meditation and prayer, the Reverend Fen Sloughheart breathed his last. They found out the next morning. Emotions were mixed, though no one cried for his demise. Effete probably cried more from a deep sense of relief and final closure (of sorts), and the boys, Rue and Bane, just cried from youthful confusion, mixed emotions, and in solidarity with their mother, whom they adored more than life itself. At first, at least, Angelica and Morris cried out of anger; they cried for justice denied; they cried out of their own still-inadequately addressed, unrectified pain and suffering. Joy simply cried for everyone, in each of their unique situations.

Phoenix Rising presented their very well packaged, completely up-to-date booklet of investigation on Sloughheart – supplemented nicely throughout with excerpts from Dr. Sage Wiseman’s socio-psychological studies on legalistic fundamentalism, especially where it focused upon Ebenezer Bible Church and the Reverend Sloughheart – to Judge Love Fairman. She was impressed, to say the least, with the sleekly, self-published 123-page manuscript, and this most admirable woman read every page within 24 hours of having it in her hands.

Since Joy had adamantly decided not to press any charges against Morris Graver whatsoever, and considering all else in this sad, suffering young man’s “relationship” with Sloughheart, Fairman dismissed everything pending against Morris with the clear (and legal) understanding that for the next twelve months, he would continue counselling with Dr. Pert Kibitz on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for one hour each session. He would also volunteer eight-hours each Tuesday and Thursday with the Verdure County Civilian Core and, since his sessions with Kibitz would be early in the morning, he would also begin taking basic courses at Splinterbit College to the tune of at least 15-hours per term, with the goal of at least earning an Associate’s Degree.

From all reports, which hadn’t been many, he was doing as well as could be expected. The same was evidently true for his mother, Angelica, who was seeing Dr. Kibitz on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, all expenses (including Morris’) covered by Effete, who felt a deep, moral obligation to help the two anyway she could … and, indeed, she could. After all of the court expenses, taxes, fees and legalese, she was now worth around $400,000, thanks in large part to Phoenix Rising. Grace, Suijnwe and associates had rather quickly uncovered Sloughheart’s unethical, illegal stash of cash and investments, and they asked for precious little in terms of compensation. Angelica had also picked up a couple of evening courses at the college both to work toward her bachelor’s, but perhaps even more so, to travel the road of academia with her son, which was important right now.

Blue’s book, with Able’s illustrations, had been published. The Chords of Cilicia enjoyed a grand first showing and book-signing in a nice, little corner of the park last month. Of course, Effete was privileged to buy the first copy – and she insisted on the purchase – and to be the first in line to have it autographed by both men. With tome in hand, she practically glowed in Blue’s presence, and he in hers … but the two were taking it slowly. They both knew and respected the fact that Effete had a long road to travel in healing, so they opted for close, somewhat affectionate friendship right now, and both were very satisfied with that relationship.

Joy was fairly well out of the loop now. For three months, only Lucent had shown up on a handful of Sunday mornings. From what she understood, on Sundays Blue and Effete worked together on her classes, now that she, too, was enrolled in the College. By supplementing courses from Grand Oak, she was able to now pursue her Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion and Ethics. Blue was also helping her put together her book, The Devil is the Shepherd: My Life in the Hell of Fundamentalism. This was good, Joy supposed, all good … but she missed seeing Effete and the boys. In fact, she missed seeing Blue Poorman, Able and Moxie. Pert Kibitz had visited a couple of Sundays, and even Sage Wiseman had popped in once. Suijnwe and Grace were evidently very busy and found it more convenient than ever to hop down to the nearby, country Methodist church, so she hadn’t seen them either. And is this the new Splinterbit? It’s still stunningly beautiful, warm and welcoming, yet at the same time it feels mighty, mighty empty. And the key in my possession? What was it, exactly? And was this, all of this, meant to happen this way? Did I, in fact, unlock that gate? Where now is my Guardian to answer my queries?

Mrs. Ileana Glumsurf had managed to escape any charges, but the old lady was summarily “retired” by the church, with an appropriate end-of-service appreciation party following one Sunday morning service. She hadn’t gone back since, from what Joy understood; someone had offhandedly mentioned her possibly attending Grim Brusque’s church which, interestingly (and happily) enough, was hardly an independent, legalistic, fundamentalist Bible church anymore. With approximately 500 members now, they had changed their name to The Word of Life and Hope Community Church, and had joined the North American Association of Non-Denominational, Evangelical Churches (NAA-NEC). Of course, Joy thought, Glumsurf was not without her own pain and suffering, and in all likelihood desperately needed help as well. Maybe, just maybe, the new and far more gracious Grim Brusque could administer some healing in her life. Joy prayed so, “and in mine, too. My God, you know I feel betrayed, and it hurts to the core of my heart.” And why am I hurting so much when those I helped are doing well … or at least, well on their way to doing well? Feeling sorry for myself, perhaps?

Of course, it also bothered Joy that she hadn’t ever been able to answer all of the tough questions posed throughout this blood-and-guts tribulation: Questions about the presence of God in pain and suffering; about the effectiveness of prayer … or the worthwhileness of prayer at all; about any real changes the death and resurrection of Jesus, if the resurrection even occurred, had made on the whole in life in this world, presently and not in the “sweet by-and-by;” evidence of the cosmic governing of an allegedly good and just God in the face of overwhelming oppression, victimization, marginalization, and injustice; about the seeming lack of any tangible presence of the God who is Love in the life (or lives) of individuals desperately reaching out to the divine…

“Yet here I am, Lord, at your altar once again. Why? Will you answers any of these questions now?” She paused and reflected on just how the ordinary primroses beautified the old, rustic altar cross as if for the first time. “Have you answered some of these questions already, and I’ve just been blind? Are you, maybe, continuing to answer, and I’m just not really paying attention … maybe because my own self-centered feelings have been getting in the way?” Effete and the boys were now definitely free of Fen Sloughheart, living their brand new and much better life in their own, brand new home. Blue’s book had finally been published, with Able’s illustrations, and was doing well, and Blue was on top of the world with his new, very real, and healthy relationship with Effete (and her two boys). Moxie and Able, now second-term sophomores, were doing extraordinarily well and even seriously talking about an official engagement (finally!). Angelica and Morris were both receiving the help they needed, and even beginning – just beginning – to enter into an authentically new and truly more enjoyable life filled with good people, including Moxie, whom Angelica especially liked and had formed an agreeable bond.

Fen Sloughheart had been buried rather abruptly, with only the graveside service, presided over by three of the deacons. Since the newspaper published absolutely as much as it could the morning after Sloughheart’s death, the Ebenezer Bible Church was quite ready to distance itself from his person. The article went into some detail about the conditions leading up to and probably causing death, then went on to review the divorce and charges of domestic violence. Effete allowed the paper one comment: “The charge was certainly not superfluous; in fact, it is one that could have been made long ago. I only regret that I did not make the decision to leave the marriage sooner, with full custody of my children. Fen Sloughheart was definitely not the righteous man so many of his congregants sadly imagined him to be in real life.” The paper then wrapped up its article by mentioning the beginnings of an investigation into at least two other cases of abuse, but with no further information, and also the report three unidentified individuals provided that Sloughheart had evidently been unethically, if not illegally, ensconcing funds away in various investments under an assumed name and, somehow, free of taxation. Other than this scanty mention of the fact, the paper could offer no more … and no one seemed willing to offer the paper any more details.

Alone in the sanctuary, Joy Brighterday suddenly shivered, and turned around to look over the room. Had someone come in? She felt an ominous, unnerving presence that sent chills up and down her spine. She hugged herself and whispered the ‘Our Father’ before getting up to walk around. No, she was not alone after all … but no one was visible. The air only cooled more until she was genuinely cold.

Well, if the atheists and skeptics are right, and there is no God … there certainly is the devil.

Finale … Magari


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.