Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Sunday of Meatfare/Last Judgment

The following homily is based upon Matthew 25:31-46

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

From Matthew 25 we just heard our Lord’s description of the Last Judgment. This sober passage, always read just before the start of Great Lent, reminds us once again that the choices we make throughout our lives really do matter, because each of us will stand before God on that Great and Terrible Day to be judged for our deeds and for what these ultimately reveal about our lives themselves.

It’s probably true that most people dismiss the idea of a final judgment. In the popular concept, if such a thing occurs, it will only be for the truly evil people and most of us “good” folks have nothing to fear. But the scriptures are clear that no one will be able to avoid "the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” as it is called in Romans 2:5. All people will have no choice but to face God on that Day when the books will be opened and each man’s life will be laid bare.

What Matthew 25 makes clear, besides the fact that this event will be universal in nature, is the fact that the judgment of God will be based upon a judgment of love. In this passage, we see that the Righteous Judge will question people as to whether or not during their lifetimes they had taken notice of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked and desperate, and the sick and those in prison, and made any effort to meet their needs. In other words, He will seek to know if we learned to act toward others out of love. We must understand that in this judgment He is not looking for merely occasional or random acts, but a pattern of love; really, a soul that has been transformed by love into becoming a true reflection of the love of God Himself.

The scriptures reveal to us a great deal about God and His character. Perhaps the most direct and profound revelation of this is found in the First Epistle of St. John, chapter 4, where the beloved disciple of Christ simply writes, “God is love”. The goal of the Christian life is to heal the many corrupted passions of our fallen nature and the unloving actions born from them such as envy, fighting, anger, gossip, greed, selfishness, lack of forgiveness, lack of concern for others and many more, and to replace all these with the love born of God. We are to become like God in His love for humanity, rather than completely centered upon ourselves. St. John also wrote, “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.”

What did Jesus do when He walked upon the earth? Did He not heal the sick, feed the hungry, show compassion on the sinners, and preach the message of God’s love to all? If we walk in these things, which are His commandments to us, we will be found to be both “in Him”, as John says, and engaged in the ongoing perfection of God’s love in us.

The love of God is a constant, being essential to His character. He desires that we have a share in the blessed, eternal communion of love with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and be healed by that. He wants that love to be born in us in this life and be expressed to others through us. He will judge us on the basis of this love. Did we receive His love and allow ourselves to be transformed, or did we reject his love and consistently throughout our lives form ourselves into the complete opposite of God and His love?

In the end, even the wrath of God will be nothing more that an expression of God’s constant love. As St. Isaac the Syrian wrote, “…those who find themselves in Gehenna will be chastised with the scourge of love. How cruel and how bitter this torment of love will be! For those who understand that they have sinned against love undergo greater sufferings that those produced of the most fearful of tortures. The sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love is more piercing that any other pain. It is not right to say that sinners in hell are deprived of the love of God…But love acts in two different ways, as suffering in the reproved, and as joy in the blessed.”

We might say that those who have learned to love “love”, the love that is God, will find the presence of God in heaven to be bliss. Those who, like the devil and his angels, have become twisted and darkened in their essence, making themselves into the very opposite of love, will find God’s love to be a terrible reminder of all they have forfeited and an inescapable torment.

Without a doubt, love is the most powerful force in the universe. Out of love, God created the heavens and the earth and all they contain, including us. Out of love God made us as persons and placed His image in us that we might share in His communion of love. Out of love, God gave His Son to us to redeem and restore us. Love becomes the means of our salvation, as we learn to reflect the love God in the world around us. And love is both the joy of heaven and the torment of hell.

Perhaps we can enter into this coming Lenten season of self-examination and repentance, of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, with an eye toward growing in love. There are so many selfish tendencies that live in us unchallenged and even accommodated through much of our lives. We’re often “too busy” to love and extend help to others, too hurt or angry to forgive, too wrapped up in ourselves to even notice the needs which exist all around us. But if we do not incline ourselves to love now, love itself will judge us in the end and quite possibly not find itself within us.

God does not inflict torments on people in the afterlife, as some medieval theologians speculated. The torments of hell are those that we bring along with us, contained within our own selfish, spiteful, unloving souls. These are what we must correct through the many opportunities—often disguised as inconveniences—that God allows to occur during our lives. May we take advantage of these opportunities to grow in grace and in the perfection of love in Christ.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Drunken Priest

Somewhere back in the dark recesses of the Abandoned Mind, perhaps in an unused and forgotten side-tunnel somewhere, I hear the echoes of a story I read once. It went something like this…

In 19th century Russia there was a priest who was a hopeless alcoholic. He was often tipsy during services and frequently drunk both day and night. It became so bad that he could barely function as a priest and began to draw the condemnation of his parishioners. Soon his bishop heard of this and called him into his office. “What is this I hear of you?” demanded the hierarch, “Are you a drunkard?” The shamed priest admitted to his addiction, claiming that many times he had tried to stop drinking, but his attraction to alcohol was simply too strong to overcome. “Then you can no longer serve as a priest in the Church of God” asserted his bishop, who promptly removed from him his priestly office.

That night as the bishop lay asleep in his bed, he had disturbing dreams of dead people arising from their graves and appearing before him saying, “What have you done to our priest? Where is he?” For several nights the hierarch had similar dreams of departed souls haunting him and fervently demanding of him, “Why have you done this to us? Return to us our priest!”

Finally the bishop called the defrocked priest back to his office and asked of him, “What have you been doing? Why are the souls of the departed appearing to me in my sleep and speaking of you?” The priest confessed, “For many years I knew that I was a drunkard and unfit to serve our blessed Lord. In despair I began to go out to the graves and pray night and day for the departed, thinking that at least this one thing I could do, and that they would not object to my shameful presence or my prayers on their behalf.”

When the bishop heard this, he was deeply moved and struck by a renewed awareness of the unfathomable mercy of God toward sinners. He promptly reinstated the priest and told him to continue his ministry of prayer for the departed.

Perhaps the message of this story is that our God is the God of redemption and hope. No matter how diminished, sinful or useless you may feel, perhaps there is yet a way that you can serve God and the needs of others in humility. “My strength is perfected in weakness” promises our Lord. Even in the darkest hour of our lives we can still find a way to serve if we do so with a humble heart and compassion for others. God be praised!

The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown's book will soon come out as a movie directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks. The book is filled with many lies and distortions concerning Christ and His Church. No doubt many Christian groups will stage mass protests when the movie comes out. But is that the wisest response, and are modern Christians really equipped to mount a good defense against the Gnostic ideas presented in Brown's book? Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter…

I read "The Da Vinci Code" when it first came out, before I had heard anything about it. I was not familiar with Dan Brown or with his apparent one-man campaign against Christianity evident in previous books by him. Imagine my surprise as the story unfolded and I discovered that it is essentially a thinly-veiled catechism for Gnosticism.

If the movie successfully captures the essence of the book, I think it could become fairly popular for several reasons. First of all, despite polls that claim that 80% or so of Americans consider themselves “religious” there is an incredibly high degree of religious ignorance in our culture. Most people simply don’t study the scriptures, religion, or Church history and have little if any foundation of knowledge in these areas. All those folks who—in our post-literate age—don’t read books but do go to movies, will get to sit through Dan Brown’s cinematic Sunday School cleverly disguised as entertainment and be unwittingly indoctrinated.

These people will likely find many things in the story that appeal to them. Everyone it seems, even many Christians, love to hear stories that denigrate the historic Church. The whole idea of an originally benign and matriarchal religious society that was suppressed and taken over by “evil male church leaders” will certainly resonate with many. No doubt many Christians who are already inclined to demonize the post-apostolic Church will jump right on Brown’s bandwagon in this.

Secondly, much of contemporary Christianity has migrated toward Gnostic thought in many areas and is perhaps ill-equipped to defend against it. Many Christians, while proclaiming belief in the Incarnation of Christ, have essentially denied its sheer and unadulterated physicality by reducing the sacraments to “symbols only”, shifting union with Christ from a direct participation in His glorified humanity leading to the deification of man to a largely cerebral process centered on “bible study”, have rejected the incarnational aspects of the Seventh Ecumenical council and its defense of Holy Images, and so forth. In modern thinking, the sole reason for the Incarnation was simply to provide God a “body” to bear our sins upon the Cross. The greater implications of the Incarnation of Christ, the very union of the Creator with the created and the infusion of the Divine energies of God into man and creation itself are more or less foreign to many Christians today, though they are classic elements of traditional Christianity. The dualism of classic Gnosticism is alive and well in much of modern Christendom.

In the end I tend to think that rather than make fools of themselves by staging mass protests of yet another anti-Christian movie, our faith would be better served if Christians boned-up on these matters and were able to present inquirers with good biblical and historical answers to the foolish claims of Dan Brown. Who knows? Christians themselves may even discover a deeper faith through the whole process and begin to reject their own residual Gnosticism.

Well, I’m allowed to hope for the best anyway…

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What is truth?

Standing bound before Pontius Pilate, Jesus exclaimed, “For this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice”. We can almost hear a bored sarcasm in the voice of Pilate as he uttered his now infamous reply, “What is truth?”

Pilate likely never heard the term “relativism” but he has become for all time the very poster boy of it. “What is truth?” “Who’s to say what truth is?” “Your truth may be different from my truth.” “Truth is relative.” These are among the many catch-phrases we often hear, manifesting the idea that truth is whatever you want it to be, whatever pleases you. According to this ill-thought-out philosophy it is entirely up to the individual to determine his own truth, based on his own preferences and level of understanding.

Recently on a Christian internet forum that I visit, one of the participants posed the question of whether or not Christians feel that they are affected by this philosophy of relativism in the formation of their beliefs. There were over 120 replies to this post, but not one person answered yes. Most did not seem to understand the question; others claimed that liberal churches that have gotten away from adherence to the bible were certainly affected by this. Most posters seemed to agree that if you just study the bible, you will have the truth and will not succumb to this error.

Not one poster seemed to make the connection that the multiplicity of competing and often conflicting denominations within contemporary Christendom, the vast majority of which claim to follow the bible, could be an indication that the spirit of relativism is alive and well in the Christian world. The following is a post that I added to that discussion:

I know there are many Christians who assume that churches which do have a heavy emphasis on bible teaching in their services will be less likely to succumb to relativism in their beliefs. The problem with this is that it simply doesn’t ring true in real life. Even if a particular church’s entire “worship service” consisted of nothing more than one long bible study, the opinions and interpretations given during this homily still emanate from the man at the pulpit who may or may not be correct in his beliefs and teachings.

If Joe Parishioner sitting in the congregation is reading along in his bible and decides that he doesn’t agree with every point that Pastor Pulpit is making because he leans toward interpreting these passages differently, then he may decide to talk with the pastor about these things after the service. Joe presents his position with all his “proof-texts” to support it, Pulpit in turn presents his and, each man being unable to persuade the other to his point of view, they quickly reach an impasse on the matter. So, being good Christians they shake hands and “agree to disagree” and whamo-bamo-bob’s-your-uncle, biblical truth has become relative to the individual who interprets it.

This of course is a “best case” scenario. Pastor Pulpit may decide that Joe’s interpretations are indeed so completely different from his own that he may suggest that Joe find some other church to worship with. Now multiply this times 20 million Christians with 20 million bibles in hand and you wind up with contemporary Christendom awash in a sea of relativism.

This biblical relativism is a funny thing. Christians may be willing to admit that it exists, but it always seems to apply to the “other guy” and never to themselves. The other guy hasn’t read the scriptures enough, he doesn’t study the Greek and Hebrew meanings of the words thoroughly, he’s not allowing the bible to “interpret itself” but is proof-texting rather than taking the whole of scripture into account. There is always some deficiency in how the other guy is approaching the interpretation of scripture which serves to explain why he is wrong and not me.

No one ever seems to consider that maybe it is the insistence on private and personal interpretation of scripture that is at fault here.

When individuals feel free to read and interpret the bible for themselves, error, division and relativism are the natural result. Is this not the heart of the matter that [the original poster] was getting at in his question about Christian relativism? It isn’t just the Christians who are indifferent to the scriptures or seldom read them that lead to this problem. Just as often, maybe more so, it is those who read the bible but insist on their “right” to interpret it for themselves and formulate beliefs and doctrines on the basis of their own understanding.

That was the heart of my post. Obviously we Orthodox support the reading of the bible. Our churches publish a daily calendar of scripture readings specifically to encourage people to read the bible at home. But we do not encourage people to formulate their own doctrines based on how they read the bible. This approach is sectarian and divisive, and renders biblical truth relative to the person who interprets it. The connection between an insistence on the individual believer's "right" to private interpretation of scripture, a cornerstone of Protestantism, and the rampant division and denominationalism inherent in Protestantism should be obvious to all. Yet the cornerstone is accepted as a given, is never scrutinized as being faulty, and the resulting collapse of the structure is instead blamed on others who simply aren’t reading their bible enough or interpreting it the right way.

But what is the right way? If the bible is true—and I believe with all my heart that it is true—then in 2000 years of Christianity can there not be found a mainstream of historic Christian orthodoxy of belief by which to interpret and understand our bibles? Why are so many people led to follow blatantly faulty Protestant models rather than the ancient and more traditional mainstream of Christian Orthodoxy?

I think these are good questions, worth considering. What are your thoughts?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Homily (02/12/06) The Pharisee and the Publican

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

In our Gospel Lesson this morning, the emphasis is on humility as our Lord concluded the story of the Pharisee and the Publican by saying, “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

God is humble, and nowhere is this revealed more completely than in the Incarnation of the Son of God. By His voluntary self-emptying to assume our humanity forever, Jesus becomes the very embodiment of the perfect humility of God. God shows His humility by becoming a man. Man, on the other hand, shows his arrogance by imagining himself to already be a god. He does not pray, he does not repent, because he does not believe that he will answer to any god greater than himself. Humility does not come easily to such a “little god” as this.

I thought I knew something about humility—at least in theory—until I went to Mt. Athos and met many monks who truly were humble and reflected God’s humility so well in their own lives. I felt something like the guy who got dressed in the dark, and only when he got to work discovered that his shirt was badly wrinkled, his pants had stains on them, and he was wearing mismatched socks. Whatever had passed for humility in my life previously was exposed as little more than an outward affectation in the light of such truly and deeply humble men.

But this was not a bad experience entirely; it was actually a very good one. It helped me to again realize that we live in a world in which people habitually tend to define themselves by externals. By what we own, where we live, how we dress, we present a carefully crafted illusion to those around us of who we imagine ourselves to be. But it doesn’t end there. Also by many outward mannerisms that we have adopted, we create a public version of our personality, displaying virtues or characteristics that may not even belong to the real person on the inside.

Sometimes we know that we’re faking; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we succeed in fooling ourselves into thinking that we really are the person we appear to be on the outside. This is why we often come to confession and say, “I don’t know why I did that!” Could it be that we don’t really know the person we truly are?

It isn’t that we are malicious in this, like wolves in sheep’s clothing. It just may be as simple as the fact that we don’t particularly like the person on the inside that we have seen in glimpses now and then. That guy is lazy. He doesn’t love God very much. He likes to go to In-N-Out on fast days. He doesn’t pray enough for the people he loves, and in fact he often acts mean toward them far too much of the time. He isn’t very spiritual. Why would anyone want to admit to being someone like that? It’s better if that one is kept locked in the basement with the windows boarded up and the much better Mr. Phony takes his place in the outside world.

In the monastic environment, there are no In-N-Outs. If you sleep through Matins, everyone knows about it. You can’t avoid confession just because you might prefer to. It is much harder to live an illusion there, and thus you are left with facing the reality of who you really are. By contrast, we have far too many escape routes available to us; far too many ways to hide from the truth. And we run to these over and over again to avoid the hard work of repentance and of facing and reforming the person inside by God’s grace.

What shall we do on that Great and Terrible Day when all else is taken away and that sorely neglected inner person is left standing naked before the Judge? Will Mr. Phony come to his defense saying, “Judge me! I’m the good person that everyone saw!” It is that hour of our death, when there is nothing between the sinner and God, which the monastic life so well recreates on earth. That desperate, restless, sometimes even bored feeling that often overtakes visitors to monasteries is exactly due to the fact that there is so little there to satisfy the soul, except for God. Stripped of illusion, like a soul stripped of its body, the monk is able to see himself as he truly is before God. This leads to the deepest kind of humility, the deepest repentance, even as it leads to the deepest communion with Christ Himself.

You can see what we are up against. Because we desire so much to flee from the truth about ourselves, and have so many opportunities to do just that, our Orthodox life, our repentance, our communion with Christ in fact, can become very spotty. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can begin to acknowledge that the relative independence we eagerly allow ourselves from accountability to the Orthodox life, to our father-confessor, even to one another in this community, is in fact death to our souls. When we try to keep a comfortable distance from such accountability, what we are really doing is keeping a comfortable distance from ourselves and refusing to repent, refusing to change. There is no humility in such an action as this.

You don’t have to be self-righteous like the Pharisee to be arrogant. You can be fully aware of your sinfulness, yet unrepentant, and be equally as arrogant. Such unrepentance is a slap in the face to the humility of God, and the complete opposite of it. It might even be worse than the sins of the Pharisee.

We love the Publican in this story because we think that we can identify with him. He saw his sinfulness as we see our sinfulness. He beat his breast as we do, and he said, “God be merciful to me the sinner” just as we also do so many times each day. But these actions alone did not justify him, just as they alone cannot justify us. If this was just a story about a man who had a momentary twinge of guilt before God and then hurried home to put it out of his mind later, it wouldn’t have been a story worth telling. Lots of people do that every Sunday.

Instead, the implication here is that this man finally decided to do something about his life. He decided to hold himself accountable to God and submit to Him, rather than just live any old way he pleased. Do you see the essential humility in this action? He abandoned the arrogance of living like a “little god” and began to answer to the big God. It’s as if he said, “This day, O Lord, I will no longer pretend to worship You, while secretly I worship myself. I will offer you the true worship due to You alone, by offering You my true self, and bettering my way of life with Your help.”

Can there be anything greater in this old world than the man or woman who makes this self-renunciation and submits fully to God in His Church? May this be our prayer, and our choice as well, that we may return to our homes justified and full of grace.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, February 06, 2006

In the "Spirit"


A new multi-tool from Victorinox.

Most people are familiar by now with the Leatherman tool, a pliers-based multi-tool that provides you with a pocket-sized toolbox you can wear on your belt. These have been around since Tim Leatherman invented the concept and began marketing them as an alternative to the Swiss Army knives that many people carried. Recently, the original Swiss Army knife company, Victorinox, has answered back with a new tool called the Spirit, a LM Wave sized multi-tool with a number of very cool features.

The Spirit is a first-class tool, very beautifully finished, and with comfortable “ergonomic” handles that do not bite into your hand when you have to really squeeze down hard on the pliers. This was a real problem with the older LM tools. Like all multi-tools, the Spirit comes with an assortment of smaller tools which unfold from the handles, but the tools in the Spirit are well chosen and very useful. It comes with a knife blade, saw blade, file, bottle opener, can opener, box cutter, mini prybar, scissors, regular and Phillips screwdrivers and several other tools. Each folding tool opens easily and separately, without the “clumping” that the earlier LMs were infamous for. Each tool also locks solidly in place so that the knife blade or whatever won’t fold over on your fingers as you use it. The lock is safely and smoothly released when you want to close the tool back up. The Spirit comes with a leather belt pouch and is backed by Victorinox’s 100% lifetime guarantee.

I really like this tool and carry it daily to handle all sorts of chores and minor emergencies. It’s hard to imagine how useful one of these tools can be until you’ve carried it for a couple of weeks. Then you’ll find you just “can’t leave home without it”. If you’re thinking about getting a multi-tool, check out the Spirit. I think you’ll be as impressed with it as I am.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Where Have all the Protestants Gone?

It’s a name few wish to claim. Many of today’s Evangelicals and Charismatics balk at being classified as “Protestant” though their beliefs clearly place them within that doctrinal camp. What has happened to cause so many believers to be uncomfortable with claiming the “P” word?

Often in my conversations with fellow Christians, the question is asked of me, “Where do you fellowship?” I suppose that’s the modern way of asking “Which church do you attend?” which has in turn replaced the even older query of “What is your denomination?” People today don’t like to think in terms of denominations or even in terms of churches, necessarily. The word “Church” has in fact nearly disappeared from the Evangelical/Charismatic lexicon, unless it is used to describe an alleged “invisible body of believers, enrolled in heaven”. People don’t even belong to churches anymore. They attend “Fellowships” or “Chapels” or “Christian Centers”. The word “Church” as a name applied to the local house of worship has almost vanished.

What also seems to be vanishing is the classification of “Protestant”, at least as a descriptive classification that folks are willing to accept. Whenever I refer to Evangelical/Charismatic beliefs as Protestant, the response I frequently receive from those who hold such beliefs is, “Oh I’m not a Protestant; I’m just a Bible-believing Christian”, or again, “I’m not protesting anything; I just believe in the Lord Jesus”. People are often entirely sincere in making this claim. Many of them aren’t even sure what a Protestant is exactly. Does this indicate a refreshing break from the tradition of division that haunts modern Christendom, or does it only serve to demonstrate the rising level of ignorance of Church history and doctrinal development among today’s believers?

I vote for the latter on the basis that every new “non-denominational” church (or “Fellowship”, or, or…) that is formed, eventually develops beliefs, practices, or an emphasis that separates it from an otherwise similar “Fellowship” just down the street. If it grows to sufficient numbers in membership, inevitably it will suffer its own breakaway group, led by a new pastor with a different set of doctrines, practices, or “a fresh, new emphasis”. Thus, simply claiming non-denominational status really does nothing to prevent division among Christians, and even promotes it.

But at the heart of the claim that one’s church is non-denominational, or that one himself is not a Protestant, lays the deeper truth that this same person is simply unaware that many of the contemporary beliefs and doctrines he holds to as “plain Bible teaching” are in fact based entirely upon modern, uniquely Protestant traditions of men that color his interpretations of the Scriptures and effectively separate him from the mainstream of historic Christian belief and practice. He becomes a Protestant without really knowing it, based on beliefs he accepts as “Biblical” which may not be at all.

The Evangelical/Charismatic so closely associates his beliefs with the Scriptures that to him they are essentially one and the same. When he wants to define one of his beliefs in conversation with another Christian, he does not generally begin with the somewhat more humble lead-in of, “As I interpret the Bible, my belief is…” Rather he simply claims, “The Bible says…” and then offers his view as if it were the very Word of God itself. He may even provide support for his opinion with several “proof texts” to indicate how biblical his belief is. But his understanding of those texts are so heavily influenced by pre-existing beliefs he has already been taught and accepted—beliefs that have been defined by modern Protestant thought and traditions—that he often winds up interpreting them in a way exactly the opposite of what they really say, and the opposite of how Christians since New Testament times have always understood them.

Thus Evangelicals and Charismatics truly are Protestant in their essential beliefs, though they often do not accept that classification as readily as, say Lutherans or Baptists. In successive posts here I will attempt to demonstrate this further by citing examples of Protestant beliefs that they hold to, and contrast these beliefs with those of traditional, historic Christianity.

One might ask what is the point of all this. Why is it important for someone to be convinced that he is Protestant as opposed to simply a “Bible-believing Christian”? To my way of thinking, it is helpful toward opening an honest dialog between Christians with an eye toward establishing a greater unity with one another. All Christians must “put their cards on the table” and be truthful to themselves and to others as to where their traditions of Biblical interpretation and doctrinal formulation come from, before we can establish which of those traditions most closely aligns itself with the genuine teachings put forth in the New Testament. It is not helpful to such a dialog to have such major groups of believers as the Evangelicals and Charismatics insist that they are only following the Bible and everyone who disagrees with them follows “traditions of men”. They must begin to see their own traditions and where they originated and recognize in turn how these affect their understanding of Scripture, if we are to truly begin our discussions on a level playing field.

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Short Story

My son recently had a college assignment to write a one-page fictional story. His story involved a fat man with a sledge hammer. I was so inspired by such an obviously lofty theme that I decided to take a stab at writing my own story using the same elements. This is the result...

Walter was a man like the rest of us, or at least he would have been if the rest of us had been raised in the low-rent “Desert Queen” trailer park by an abusive mother whose favorite hobby, besides getting the name of her latest boyfriend tattooed someplace on her body, was using a blunt household object to strike her slow-witted son on the head to help him “think straight”. Walter loved his mother and knew she only meant the best for him. He had always been rather slow at putting things together in his mind, he knew, and her loving blows to his dented cranium did seem to help him clear his thoughts, at least until the pain subsided. Even these many years later he still wrote to his mother at her new home in the Chino State Correctional Facility for Women, a definite step up for her from the trailer park where Walter still resided.

Perhaps Walter’s slowness was due to a cholesterol blockage in his brain from a childhood diet of cold Spam, eaten straight from the can with a spoon, which he still maintained daily. His mother never had time for cooking as she was usually on a date with her latest beau in the backseat of his car, or off to the tattoo parlor having his name and something like “Forever Love” inscribed on one of the few remaining unlinked portions of her anatomy. That was alright; Walter liked Spam, and when his mother came home and hit him over the head with the remaining carton of it for forgetting to take out the trash or some such thing, he was at least grateful that the carton was nearly empty. Tasty Spam!

Despite the many good things that had happened throughout his life, Walter was unbelievably still a man with a problem. He often found he retained a certain difficulty in thinking straight unless he picked up the nearest household object in his chubby hand and struck himself repeated on the head until the desired clarity of thought could be obtained. He started with cans of Spam since they were always in abundance around the trailer and handy. But soon their lack of mass failed to produce the necessary result. He had then progressed up the scale to using hammers: light tack hammers, then ball-peen and claw hammers, and finally resorting to heavy-duty construction hammers. These either provided him the necessary clarity of thought or a good night’s sleep, depending on how vigorously he applied them. Eventually, even his prized 21-ounce Vaughn framing hammer was failing to shake his brain clogs loose to grant him straight thought. What else was there to do but pay a visit to Home Depot for a bigger hammer?

Walter found himself in the “Tool Corral” at the Depot, joyously eyeing some wonderfully massive tools until his eyes fell on the Holy Grail of blunt instruments, a “Big Buster” sledge hammer! He hefted the huge tool in his hands and knew instinctively that this would be the implement that would grant him straight thinking like never before. He might even become the next Einstein or solve some age-old dilemma like how to work the buttons on his shirt! Wielding the tool with practiced precision, Walter aimed it straight at his forehead and brought the “Big Buster” up with all his considerable might.

Store employees heard a loud and revolting “Pop!” akin to a very wet coconut being dropped from a great height and bursting in two. Walter’s body was found on the floor, his hands still grasping the bloody sledgehammer. A strangely satisfied smile adorned what was left of his face, as if the very last impulse that shot across the synaptic nerves in Walter’s big fat head was, “Clear thought at last!”