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Under The What?

I’ve got something to share with you I am really excited about.

Back in March when the first round of COVID-19 happened, we stopped having in-person worship services. One of the tools we used to substitute (there really is no substitute for congregational worship, but doing nothing really is not an option) was a podcast feel in which we talked about the material I was planning on preaching. Some of this was on Daniel and some of it was from encounters people had with Jesus.

Those were fun, but they were, intentionally, built like a group sermon experience with no real surprises and not conversational. But what we discovered was we had the technical ability to do it.

That planted in our mind an idea: our small groups are all, for the most part, in a kind of limbo right now — what can we do?

What we decided to do was develop a podcast with me and our pastoral staff talking about Biblical material as you would a small group. The more we planned, the more we decided this was just a good idea all around to supplement our teaching ministry and to provide something that might substitute (again, there is no substitute for real life small groups) during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

We have recorded and published two episodes and will record one weekly for the foreseeable future. We call it UNDER THE WATER TOWER because our church building is right underneath a city water tower. We even have bumper music! How cool is that?

I hope you enjoy it. Click on our artwork below (thanks John Trapane for building it) to listen.

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Free Sermon

I’m feeling a theme for this week’s COVID Chronicles. It is our last week, and the theme is theology. Trust me, no one coordinated this because we’re not that smart. But that is what has happened — Kathy on Monday, Shaw yesterday, and then today Rob Cely does it again.

Click on the garden hose to read his story, “The Last Sermon of Daniel Ramone”.

After you read the story, you’ll see how dark this image choice was. You’re welcome.

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This Free Story Is Daring You To Read It!

I went full on sci-fi spec-fit for this one. I hope you like it.

Remember, these COVID-Chronicle stories are free — no hooks or gimmicks, no paywalls or email’s to give. We just want to give you something to read during the quarantine. Of course, if you like or stuff, feel free to buy something over at the Amazons. I have books over there just waiting for you to read them.


The Parallax

A COVID Chronicle Short Story

Jamie D. Greening

 “The humans are in trouble,” Archon Streegan stood as she made her report. “And the situation has become,” she snorted before continuing, closing all four of her eyes, “worse.”

“We know all about the problems they are having with the malady. My hope is for their numbers to decrease and so too their impact upon the world.” The Exalted Alpha of the Council of Wise Ones was famous for his disdain of humans. Since they exploded atomic weapons he’d secretly itched for their demise. Many of the Nunaki agreed with him, which is why he was chosen as the Exalted Alpha. Sharing the same planet with humanity was a judgment they accepted from The Creator, but it was not one they enjoyed. 

“The good news, then,” Streegan said, “is that very well may happen. Our prediction is ten percent of their population will perish from the malady.”

“That is not near enough for my taste,” The Exalted Alpha hissed. Many of the other council members chirped their approval. “Ten percent doesn’t remove the stench of their combustion engines or cleanse the waves in the air of their perversion.”

Streegan’s face turned from its natural blue to a bright yellow. This quieted the group. “I must present evidence from our science departments about the nature of this depletion and its implications to my brothers and sisters, fellow archons and superiors. Please allow me.” She bowed and tilted her head to the archon side of the room, then to the superior side of the room, and finally to the Exalted Alpha on his pedestal.

“Many apologies, dear sister archon,” The Exalted Leader said. “Please continue.”

“Blessings and thanksgivings to you, O Exalted Benefactor.” Streegan said, still bowed. Then she stood upright again. “The malady is spread by contact with people. This is a situation we do not deal with in our realm, but in the other parallax, this is the way this particular malady operates. Because of this, the common people will mostly be spared because they turn in fewer circles. It is the leaders, heads of governments, the archons, superiors, and exalteds of human society who will expire in greater percentages. Leaders of business, industry, science, and the learned classes will fade away leaving the masses to their own devices. The result will be incompetence. Great incompetence is already occurring. It will get worse. Destabilization will occur. Wars will erupt. Warships are even now being deployed across our seas. Suspicion and paranoia are rampant. Conspiracies are fluid.

“We’ve been monitoring humans for millennia and know their patterns better than they know themselves. Wars, violence, and societal dislocation will take another fifty percent. Many who are left will die of other diseases and starvation.”

Streegan could see from the looks on their faces they were unconcerned. Their inability to see the symbiosis of their two races frustrated her. The ancient books were clear about how linked the two were, but since the rise of New Thinking there was nothing but disgust for the humans. 

“If this were the only news I had, I understand why you would dismiss it,” she said. “And I would concur there would be nothing we could do. But there is more to convey. Our analytical team has retrieved a sample of the malady and we have spent considerable energy dissecting it. This is not a new woe. It is old. Very old. We don’t know how the humans reacquired it. It dates back to the Time Before.”

“The Time Before?” Archon Dmnstryn was embarrassed by his outburst, but others chirped. He would not be punished for the breach in protocol.

“Yes, Before. This is the same malady which took our ancestors away forever. It is the same.”

“Are you sure, Archon Streegan?” The Exalted Leader’s color became green.

“Yes. I am sure, and I share the concern.” Her color turned green as well, as did most in the room. We have checked and double checked. It is identical to the First Woe.” She took a deep breath and twitched antennae. “But we have a plan and we have retrieved the remedy from the Holy Place. We should give the remedy to the humans. If we can stop the spread of the malady in their realm it will not penetrate our parallax. Our survival depends upon saving them.”


Superior Ptolmex stepped to the middle of the room and bowed low toward Archon Streegan then pivoted toward The Exalted Leader. Her actions indicated she was requesting to ask a question. The Exalted Leader’s color turned red signaling his approval.  

“How can this be done? There is no place of concourse which now exists between our realms? The last concourse closed when The Flood came.”

“This is partially true,” Streegan said. “Open intersection is no longer possible. Yet there remain humans who still see glimpses of our realm. There is one we have identified who sees well. Our plan is to give the remedy to him. What I need from this council is permission to proceed.”

The severity of the situation and the consequences of inaction overwhelmed the normally slow decision-making process. There were no conventions held or days of fasting and reflection. The Council members all turned ash gray without deliberation. Permission was granted.

***

Sometimes the air shimmered. Other times it folded, the way a meringue folds on itself while being whipped in a copper bowl if it were translucent. Often, he could see shapes moving but mostly he could only hear pleasant tones of beeps and chirps, like birds, but with a sense of grammar. 

 Ezra Feldman tried to explain it to his mother when he was twelve. He was rewarded for his honesty with a year’s worth of visits to a psychiatrist. When he was in college, he shared the experience with a professor. The professor suggested he take LSD to explore the possibilities of opening his mind to what was happening. He followed this advice with his girlfriend one night. They were awakened the next morning by the person trying to clean the bathroom of the Taco Bell. He had “Don’t Fear the Reaper” written on his chest with magic marker and a phone number written on a piece of cardboard in his underwear. 

He never called the number.

After his firstborn entered the world, he developed a good relationship with his rabbi. One night at dinner, he spoke with him about it. The rabbi suggested Ezra might be one of those people who could peer into the in-between space. He encouraged him to open his mind and clear his thoughts when he had those moments and to focus upon the transcendent and endless nature of God. 

“Perhaps,” his rabbi told him as he stuck Peking duck into his mouth with a chopstick, “you are having a philosophical breakthrough into the essence of being.”

“Or,” Ezra said, “I’m a lunatic.”

“It must remain a distinct possibility,” the rabbi laughed.

That was twenty years ago. 

When the air shimmered and folded this time, he didn’t care about existence or lunacy. He only hoped for one thing. He hoped to see Jo. “Maybe if I look hard enough, I can see you,” he whispered.

It was predawn, about five-thirty in the morning. Ezra drank coffee and read the news on his phone. He heard it first. When he looked up from his phone, for the first time in a very long time, he saw the air shimmer. The folds seemed more pronounced, truer than ever. There was color to the moment, but he couldn’t make out what color it was or where it came from. Jo loved color. Everything about her was shining color. Maybe she was trying to speak to him from wherever it was the dead lived.

“Jo, is that you?” His voice lifted at the end. “Please God, let it be her.”

The memory of her crushed him. The virus. The coughing. The hospital. Not being able to see her. Saying goodbye on a phone. The pathetic funeral with no mourners. 

“Jo,” he said again, standing up. He reached out his hand toward the ruffle in space. “I love you. Come back. Please baby, come back.” 

He focused as hard as he could, but he couldn’t hold grab the essence. The shimmering stopped. The color drained. The feeling left. The moment was gone. 

Ezra left his study to take a shower. He was at work by seven. There were two heart procedures he had to perform before noon. It was lighter than his normal workload as the COVID-19 restrictions on surgeries put regular operations on hold. But these couldn’t wait.

By five he was home to his empty house. He ate an apple and drank a half glass of mineral water then decided to go for a walk.

The park was lovely with the leaves golden; it was exactly the way Jo loved it. It was their park. They even bought a row of benches for the alder trees. A bronze plaque with “Ezra and Joanna Feldman: Earth Day 1998” on each one. The autumn sunlight faded as he returned home.

He was as agitated and antsy as he was before he’d left. The pills were in the medicine cabinet. He thought about taking a couple. It would probably help him. He doubted he’d be able to sleep without them.

He didn’t take them, though. He wanted to feel the misery. It was the only thing he’d felt since April. 

***

“We are ready for our next attempt, Archon Streegan.” The keeper of science stood erect on two of her four legs as she waited for a reply.   

“Good. This time, we will succeed.”

Streegan took her spot underneath the ancient terebinth of Avram. The first attempt had taken a toll on her mind and body. The tree too, needed time to heal. The ancient bark had cracked. They mended it with balm and words of love.

One hundred and forty-four lengths away, The Order of Keepers formed a circle around the tree and their archon. When Streegan turned the color of amber, they began to chirp in rhythm the incantation they’d kept for thousands of years. Archon Streegan allowed her mind to rest, then placed her flat face against the knot on the tree. She formed the image of the human in her head then chirped the liturgical response of the keepers. She forced the energy from her feet, through her torso, and up to her brain and out of her antennae.  

There he was. The one named Ezra.

She called his name in her heart. Words would not work. The beautiful clicks and chirps of her language was too different from the barbaric grunts of humanity. She had to make the connection through her soul to his. 

Ezra heard his name.

\He’d fallen asleep in his bed while reading a book. He awoke to the shimmer. 

And the sound. 

“Jo,” he said. “Jo?”

“Ezra,” Streegan called to him.

He sat up. His nightstand light still on, but the light from it danced. The space at the foot of the bed shimmered, and parted. Ezra squinted his eyes at the rainbow colors which poured out of the prism of energy that created the doorway between the two realms.  

“I have something important for you.” Streegan said.

“You don’t sound like Jo?”

“I am not Jo. I am another. We must make haste. I do not know how long we can maintain the portal. Speed and efficiency are necessary. Do you understand.”

Ezra did not, but he said, “Yes.”

Streegan began her rehearsed speech. “You are a healer. We have for you the way to heal your realm of the malady.”

“COVID-19?”

“Yes,” Streegan said. “Open your mind and I will give it to you.”

 “Open what?” The middle-of-the-night visitation made Ezra a literalist as he thought the voice from the rainbow was intending to open his skull. “Are you about to hurt me?”

“No, it will not hurt.” Streegan picked up Ezra’s underdeveloped brain patterns and saw his concern. “We will not touch you. Be calm and let me tell you the balm. Rest your thoughts.”

“You sound like the rabbi,” he said. Then he closed his eyes and thought about the rainbow of light. Streegan found the thought thread she was seeking, then her antennae began to vibrate at supersonic speeds. The crackle came through the portal; it carried in one message the precise technique and materials necessary to formulate a cure.

Ezra opened his eyes and stared into the rainbow. His bond with Streegan was strong enough now to see her on the other side. He saw the tree she stood under, her four legs, four arms, horse-like torso, hard angular face similar to an ant, blue color, glowing antennae, and four eyes.

Thinking of his grandson he asked, “Will the cure you gave me hurt the babies?”

“No,” Streegan said. Her tone reminded him of his grandmother. She sounded very old and wise. “The unborn will not be harmed. Larvae are precious in the eyes of The Creator. It is not necessary to destroy life to save life. The malady itself is alive and has agency. To destroy its evil, you must use the essence of new life which has not seen the corruption wrought by freedom. Purity is needed to remove and replace the impure.”

Ezra said, “I am only a surgeon. I don’t treat this kind of illness.”

“You must find a way. Two realms depend on you.”

“I’ll do my best.” His eyes widened, “Did Jo send you? Is she with you?”

“None of your kind are here.”

“Why are you helping us, then, if Jo didn’t send you.”

“The malady, what we call The Old Woe, affected our realm a long, long time ago when the two realms were closer together. In those days we had concourse with your kind. Your people were just beginning, and the pestilence did not cause as much damage to humans as it did to the Nunaki, but it did indeed come to us from you. I remember, I was a pupa then. To prevent your filth from repeating the same contamination of our realm, we have decided to help you in order to preserve our way of life.”

“I thought Jo sent you. This seems like the kind of thing she would do.” Ezra shook his head. “Do you know where Jo is? Do you know where the dead go?”

“The dead go Beyond to the Ultimate Realm.”

“Will I ever see Jo again?”

“I cannot answer that. But I can tell you, in our realm, we do not live for those who have left. We live for those who are to come.” 

The rainbow disappeared. 

Streegan squeaked. “I am growing weak. The link must end. Make haste, Ezra Feldman.”

“Wait,” Ezra said, but Streegan was gone. He was alone in his bedroom again with only the Wisconsin murder mystery book to keep him company. And his tears. 

Time vanished as he cried. At some point in the night he stopped crying as a thought came to him. An old friend from med-school was his friend on social media and that friend worked at a pharmaceutical lab which he believed had a contract with the CDC. He grabbed his phone and sent his friend a message detailing the cure which was shared with him.

\He put on his walking shoes and walked to the park again, in the dark. He didn’t need light; the harvest moon was up high and bright. He sat on one of their benches and listened to owls talk to each other. At dawn he walked home. His feet were cold, but his heart strangely grew warm. 

When he walked in the door his phone chirped. His friend had replied, “This is brilliant. How did you figure this out?”

Ezra typed out, “I saw it in a dream. I think Jo sent it to me.”

***

“Archon Streegan, how are things with the vexatious humans?”

“I am happy to report, Exalted Alpha,” Streegan bowed low and turned blue, “our plan has prospered. The malady has been healed and a woe has been averted.”

The archons and superiors all turned yellow. The remainder of the meeting consisted of issues from other archons and superiors such as food allocations and education. When the meeting ended, Archon Streegan went to the Cave of Memory. She found the alcove her tribe and then the stalagmite with her clan. There she saw the names and images of her larvae and their offspring for numerous generations. Then she came to the name and images of her father and mother. They died in the Old Woe. She remembered, and her color turned to ash. “Where do the dead go?” she asked. 

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Free Humus — Another Outstanding COVID Chronicle Story You Don’t Have To Pay For

It is a word a lot of us have wrestled with in the past six weeks: Essential. What is essential, and what can wait? And who gets to make these decisions.

In my state knee replacement surgery is not essential, but liquor stores are. Think about that for a moment.

Along these same lines, Rob Cely has really pushed us to imagine a world where ‘essential’ takes on a whole new meaning; inside that meaning we find a shocking truth that speaks to our hearts about who we are.

As we are accustomed, Rob has shoved some theology in here for you. Enjoy his story “The Unessential” absotively free. Click on the disgusting bowl of humus to read it.

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