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On COVID-19 Vaccines

I plan on taking the vaccine as soon as I can.

Now, being a healthy middle aged person I don’t expect to get one anytime soon. But when I can, I will. I know that some of you are suspicious of it and I understand those sentiments, so I am not judging you or anyone else. I do not believe in forced vaccinations for COVID-19. I am simply sharing my thought process.

For certain this process of thinking about it is skewed by the fact I’ve been vaccinated several times throughout my life. Indeed, I think it would be accurate to say I was vaccinated half a dozen times before I could read. These vaccines have made me and others healthy and made the world safer to live in. Vaccines have saved untold lives all around the world and nearly eliminated things like measles, mumps, rubella, whooping coffee, tetanus, and polio. Without vaccines, we all would know someone who had died of these diseases, or we would now be dead ourselves.

But that is not the only calculus in my head. I’m also factoring in probabilities. The risk of having a negative effect from a COVID-19 vaccine is much smaller than the risk of getting COVID-19, and it is smaller than the risk of dying from C-19. In that sense, I perceive rolling the dice on a vaccine is really not that big of a gamble.

I also think about the effects of a potential vaccine as compared to other things I’ve done to my body. I snorted a whole package of powdered candy when I was fifteen. I had a headache for a week. That was probably worse for me than a vaccine. For a skin cancer they once gave me a radioactive cream to put on my face. That wasn’t very fun. I’ve had fillings, root canals, and all kinds of metals put into my mouth permanently. And while I’m on the dentist side of things, the X-ray they take of my mouth is probably way more dangerous than a vaccine, as was probably most of the food I ate in college.

Pixy sticks, weather eaten or inhaled, are probably riskier than a COVID-19 shot

Now if I compare the vaccine’s risk to other dangerous endeavors, the risk factor becomes even more mitigated. I have flown thousand and thousands of miles in airplanes, often in bad weather. I have shot firearms and disarmed threatening people of their firearm. I have thrown knives, axes, and stood over open pits leading to the abyss. I have been attacked with weapons at church, robbed on the street in Dallas, not to mention driven cross country a half-a-dozen times. I’ve driven in Los Angeles. I’ve been caught out on the lake when a lightening storm sparks to life. I have handled snakes, trod on scorpions, and watched a bear eat through trash. I swam in a lake that smelled so awful from industrial pollution people held their nose when driving by.

I have wrestled flesh and blood as well as spirits in high places.

I don’t think a vaccine is the most dangerous or risky thing I’ve done. Not even close.

Of course, all of this pales in comparison to the greatest single reason I will take the vaccine as soon as possible. I want life to return to normalcy, and my society needs me to take the vaccine to do it. By immunizing myself I lower the risk for grandparents, heart patients, diabetics, and asthmatics. The vaccine will make church small groups, unfettered seating, and hugging at church a part of life again. By taking the vaccine, I make the possibility of watching the new James Bond movie in a theater a reality and then having a giant bowl of spaghetti in a restaurant afterward a definitely doable event. I make it safe for grocery store workers. I relieve the burden on the health care professionals who are currently stressed to the level of near exhaustion. By doing my small part I make the economy stronger. I make America stronger. I make the world stronger.

I am not asking you to come to the same conclusion I have come to. All I ask is that you operate from a place of reasoned thought and logic rather than fear and misinformation. When I do the work of thinking about it and analyzing the risk and benefits, it is not even a hard choice.

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Predictions For 2021

I am not a prophet. If you’d like proof, click here to take a look at last year’s predictions. It was an unusually abysmal year for prognostication, but usually I get about thirty percent. Time will only tell how wrong or right I may be for this year. I will say this, my prayer is for it to be much better for all of us.

And away we go . . .

From an economic perspective, the entertainment industry has been hit hardest by the pandemic. I predict Disney will either sell off most of its component parts (ESPN, Marvel, Lucasfilm, ABC) or simply close down most of is operations.

Democrats Ossoff and Warnock will win the Georgia runoffs on January 5. As an aside, ‘Georgia Runoffs’ would be a great name for a band. Or A Baseball team.

Congress, strangely united from the right by President Trump’s Section 230 rhetoric and on the left by lingering memories of Facebook’s 2016 electoral manipulations, will break up Facebook in the biggest antitrust legislation since the dissolution of Ma Bell and pass tough restrictive legislation on social media and possibly Amazon.

President Trump will not attend the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden on January 20.

A lot of international tension has been ‘on hold’ because of the pandemic. As the vaccine(s) promise a way forward, wars will erupt. The world should expect two or three major conflagrations this year. I mean major.

The NFC East champion of the NFL — whoever that will be — will win a first-round playoff game. While on football, dissatisfaction over the college football playoff will bubble so hot they will expand it to six or preferably eight.

We will still be wearing masks through the summer, but by Christmastime next year COVID-19 will be mostly in our rearview mirror. However, for a variety of reasons, the United States death toll will top out at over a million sometime in March or April. Easter will be tough.

It will be interesting to see what legislative priorities President-Elect Biden will start with, because you really only get one shot at one thing early on (President Obama rammed through healthcare and President Trump similarly rammed through tax cuts). I predict Biden will opt for climate legislation because he is more likely to get bipartisanship on that than healthcare or criminal justice reform. Even some oil companies and many tech corporations are on board.

Given last year’s high numbers of hurricanes, 2021 will see far fewer than average. However, there will be a devastating earthquake in a major urban area.

The Oscars will be moved to the winter, as Hollywood, crushed by the pandemic, scrambles to maintain relevancy. The new James Bond (No Time to Die) will finally be released in theaters in July.

The one thing that hasn’t been touched by the pandemic is real estate. That can’t hold. As the virus wanes, the real estate market will crash. The bubble will burst. Part of this will be fueled by people who have learned to work at home and they will want to continue to do so even after the pandemic abates. Zoom and strong internet connections and apps have changed the work environment and it will not go back. All those office buildings will stand empty.

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This Santa Is Gonna Need Some Alka-Seltzer When It Is Over

Merry Christmas, everybody! Today is the last day of the Fondue Writers Club free Christmas stories, and we finish with a delightful Santa story — a different kind of Santa story — from a man who has tons of experience in the field. Joseph Courtemanche has written us a contemporary drama that speaks to our fears, troubles, and hopes in the furnace of our present.

Click on the giant bowl of Pho to read about Santa John in the wonderful story “Santa Claus is Here”.

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Advent 2020: Revelation 21:22-22:5 (Christmas Eve)

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Thursday 24 December 2020 Revelation 21:22-22:5


The Text

22. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 

23. The city had no need that the sun or the moon should shine upon it for the glory of God illuminated it and the Lamb is its lamp. 

24. The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bear their glory into it.

25. Its gates never close in the day, for there is no night.   

26. They will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. 

27. Nothing unclean, anyone committing abominations, or falsehoods may enter into it, only those people written in the Lamb’s book of life. 

Chapter 22

1. He showed me a river of living water glimmering like crystal coming out from the throne of God and the Lamb.

2. In the middle of the town square, on both sides of the river, the tree of life bore twelve kinds of fruit, producing the fruit according to each month. The leaves of the trees were for the healing of the nations. 

3. The curse, all of it, will be no more. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 

4. They will see his face and his name will be upon their foreheads. 

5. Night will be no more. They will have no need of the light from a lamp or the sun because the Lord God will shine upon them and they will reign forever. 


Commentary

Our Advent readings have come to an end. This is the last one, as today is Christmas Eve. I had to make a choice, because the Christmas Eve reading is different than the one for “Thursday” of the week. I went with the textual conclusion, because the Christmas Eve reading is from Philippians. Besides, having been so long in this subject of Christ’s second advent, it felt right to continue there, and did it ever.

There is so much to say, but not at this present moment. Allow me, however, to make the following brief observations. The idea of light is woven throughout these verses, specifically the idea that lamps and the sun are no longer needed, and indeed, seem to no longer really exist. God and the Lamb — the Father and the Son, now are the light source for humanity. Along with this is the idea that night has been banished. The banishment of night goes along with the banishment of the curse. All bad things are wiped away.

A second big idea is healing. The tree of life somehow is nestled across both sides of the river of life, maybe as a bridge. This scene is located in the town square where everything is transparent gold. The tree produces twelve different kinds of fruits (there is that number again) and the leaves will heal the nations. That is some serious pharmacology there — the medicine we need is from this tree. Healing wounds, hurts, traumas, marriages, relationships, families, churches, and yes, even nations. I am reminded of the prophetic line from Isaiah, that it is by his stripes we are healed. Jesus was crucified upon a tree where his healing blood flowed. The tree of life has some kind of connection to that work.

One more curiosity that has intrigued me since my childhood. The kings are bringing their glory and honor into the city. This sounds like tribute. But that is insignificant. The bigger question is: who are these kings on the outside who are coming inside? Are they the nations needing continual healing? Why are there other kings and kingdoms in heaven? I have to admit, to me, it is a very confusing notion of which I have several possible explanations, but it is not appropriate at this time to share those.

Verse 5, I think, might be the most beautiful words ever etched. God and the Lamb, the Father and the Son, will shine and they will reign forever. Amen. Maranatha.


Questions For Application

  1. How do you think it is that God and the Lamb are the temple? What is the temple of the Holy Spirit right now? How might these two ideas blend into one thought?
  2. There seems to be a coming and going into the city — with gates being opened — and entry determined by registry in the books. How does that challenge your ideas of eternity?
  3. Here at the end, the curse is banished. What is the curse, and where did it start?
  4. What ways can we implement the teachings of Christ’s second advent into our nostalgia filled sappy Christmas celebrations?
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Vanillekipferl Lebkuchen Butterkekse

Today’s free Christmas story from Kathy Kexel is an excellent example of what I’ve been saying all year. The Fondue Writers Club has the best writers. Period. If Hallmark and any sense at all, they would get Kathy Kexel under contract right now to adapt today’s ABSOLUTELY FREE story into a screenplay to show next year during the Christmas season.

Although, I have to admit, I can’t tell if some of the things eaten and drank in here are German or Klingon. They could be both. I think they are German, but in my heart this is a Klingon Christmas story.

Click on General Chang (Christopher Plummer, aka Captain Von Trapp, German or Klingon? — You decide) to read Kathy’s outstanding story “Christmas Fair”.

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Advent 2020: Revelation 21:9-21

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday 23 December 2020 Revelation 21:9-21


The Text

9. One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the last seven plagues came and spoke to me. He said, “Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 

10. He took me away in spirit to a large, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.   

11. The brilliance of it had the glory of God, like precious stones, like jasper stones sparkling like crystal.

12. It had a large and high wall, and twelve gates. Upon the gates were twelve angels and the names of the twelve tribes, the sons of Israel, were inscribed. 

13. There were from the east three gates, from the north three gates, from the south three gates, and from the west three gates. 

14. The city wall had twelve foundation stones, and upon those twelve were the names of the Lamb’s twelve apostles. 

15. The one speaking to me had a golden measuring stick so he could measure the city, its gates, and its wall.

16. The city is laid out as a four-cornered square. Its length is equal to its width. He measured with his stick twelve thousand stadia. The length, width, and height are equal. 

17. He measured its wall at one hundred forty-four cubits, as a human measures, so does an angel. 

18. The enclosure of the wall is jasper. The city is pure gold like clear glass.

19. The foundation of the city all had been adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedon, the fourth emerald,

20. the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh golden stone, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

21. The twelve gates were twelve pearls. Each of the gates was one pearl apiece. The city square was pure gold like transparent glass. 


Commentary

This beautiful text is mostly a description of what the angel shows John regarding the heavenly city, New Jerusalem. It is fantastical to visualize in our mind, but the text is fairly straight forward, but there are three themes I’d like to call your attention to.

The first theme is the number twelve. Revelation is a book filled with numerology and symbolic use of numbers, and here it is no different. We have in our text twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve stones, twelve tribes, twelve apostles, and twelve different kinds of stones. In addition to that we have twelve thousand stadia as the length. I did not render this in miles in my translation — which is a little over thirteen hundred miles — because that loses the twelve mojo. It is twelve thousand stadia. Then the wall is measured at one hundred forty-four cubits — I didn’t render that in feet — about 216 feet — because the point is that the width is twelve squared — one hundred forty-four.

A second theme is the completely outlandish building materials. The gates are each made from a single grand pearl. I do not want to see the oyster that produced those pearls. Then there is the references to gold, pure gold, and what I think is transparent gold (v. 21). I have rendered ‘streets of gold’ as the city square’ because that is what I think is being referenced, the town center, something like a boardwalk of plaza. It is made of something like pure gold. The taxonomy of different precious stones is not only impressive it is dizzying. Jasper is mentioned three times by my count, as well as various other rare jewels. There seems to be some discussion about what exactly is meant by chalcedon–the ESV uses agate–but it is certainly an impressive list. It seems to me to indicate that heaven is such a place of plenty that rare and valuable building materials are used for common every day functions.

The third theme is size and dimension. If I understand it correctly, this city, this New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven is equal in width, height, and length and it is a four cornered square. Heaven is then, a cube city of sorts. I don’t know how that works, but the size is enormous. Thirteen hundred miles long, wide, and high is roughly the size of North America but three dimensional. Heaven, if this description of New Jerusalem is indeed our eternal heaven, will be plenty big enough to house us all comfortably.


Questions For Application

  1. Which is more impressive to you, the building materials of this city or the size of it?
  2. Why do you think there is equal representation for the twelve tribes of Israel as well as the twelve apostles? (Side note: Do you think these twelve apostles names include Judas, or has his name been replaced with someone else, say, Paul?)
  3. Do you own any of these precious stones mentioned? Why do humans value these stones?
  4. Can you imagine walking around in this place?
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Grandpa and Grandson

Remember being in school?

I think Paul Bennett does. Today he provides our free Christmas Story from the Fondue Writers Club. Paul paints a scene with words as well as anyone you’ll ever read — the sound of the turn signal, the smell of the pencils, the taste of forbidden ice cream.

To read his story click on the left headlight.

This story is Built Ford Tough

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Advent 2020: Revelation 20:11-21:8

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020 Revelation 20:11-21:8


The Text

11. I saw a great white throne. The earth and the heavens fled from the face of the one sitting upon it, but there was no place found for them.

12. I saw the dead who stood before the throne, both great and small. Books were opened, then another book was opened: the book of life. The dead were judged from what was written in the books based on their works. 

13. The sea gave up the dead in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead in them. They were all judged according to their works.  

14. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death – the lake of fire.

15. If anyone was found not written in the book of like he was thrown into the lake of fire. 

Revelation 21

1. I saw New Heaven and New Earth, for the first heaven and the first earth vanished, and still the sea was not. 

2. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

3. I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne, “Behold, the dwelling of God is will human beings. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and he himself will be God with them.

4. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will not exist, neither mourning, wailing, or pain. They will no longer be, because the first has vanished.

5. The one sitting upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write! For these words are faithful and true.”

6. He said to me, “It is over. I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. I will give as a gift the water of life from the spring to the thirsty person. 

7. The one who conquers will inherit these things. I will be his God and he will be my child. 

8. But those who are cowards, faithless, desecrators, murderers, fornicators, magicians, idol worshippers, and all those liars their part is the lake burning with fire and sulphur. This is the second death. 


Commentary

First, let’s talk about verse 3. There are two textual difficulties and they make the reading of the text challenging. There is also a marvelous word association.

The textual variants are the word ‘people’. It has good authority, so I think it holds, but the meaning of the text is not changed — ‘they will be his’ and ‘they will be his people’ are no different, although I think the people was probably added later by someone familiar with the biblical material in the Old Testament. The real conundrum is an extra phrase ‘God of them’ at the end. The actual text we have goes like this, ‘and he himself will be God with them [God of them].’ I put the variant in the brackets. My gut tells me the harder reading, “God with them” is solitary, and a later scribe has added the ‘God of them’ as a teaching note to clarify anyone who might think human beings become a god alongside the One True God. Therefore, I have omitted the phrase in my translation. Check the study notes in your English Bible for more information on this.

The brilliant word choice is dwelling. Those following these Advent translations will remember I made a big deal about the use of the word ‘skin’ for dwelling in 2 Peter. Well, here, the dwelling of God is ‘skin’ again. In this context, it is definitely a reference to the Tabernacle and God’s dwelling. I think there a Christmas reference as well, as “Immanuel” means God with us, and that is the context of the dwelling of God here. The Lamb has arrived!

I could, I think, spend all day talking about this passage, but let me briefly point out seven things.

One–There are more than one book. There is the book of life, but there are others.

Two–People are judged, everyone, by what they do. I translate it works, the ESV translates it ‘what they had done.’ My translation is better. We are judged by our works. There is no way around it.

Three–Death and Hades give up their dead for judgment, then those two entities are cast, apparently void of people, into the lake of fire. I don’t know what that means, but that is what it says.

Four–People are thrown into the lake of fire after they are removed from Death and Hades.

Five–The old and new are contrasted — as the one on throne makes all things new. There is New Heaven, New Earth, and New Jerusalem. The old ‘vanished.’ I can’t even begin to imagine how that happens.

Six–Jesus says he is the alpha and the omega. These are simply the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet. The interesting part to me, and I don’t know I there is a technical reason for this or not, is that John spells out ‘alpha’ in the text in Greek but he just uses the letter omega.

Seven–Revelation 21:8 tells us who goes to the lake of sulphur and fire, and it is something we should all meditate on. The list begins with cowards and ends with liars.


Questions For Application

  1. Does it bring comfort or fear that there are record books in eternity?
  2. This ‘Great White Throne judgement’ seems to be the very very last, and it seems like it is a different kind of judgment that previous ones. How do you understand it?
  3. It is an unexpected emotional moment when the Lord wipes away tears and ends wailing, pain, and sorrow. How can we appropriate some of that emotional support now?
  4. In what area of your life are you most cowardly? What lies do you cling to?

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It’s Like A Ghost Story, But Not Really

Rob Cely is a delightful maker of worlds. Today he brings a rebuke and social commentary to our Fondue Writers Club free Christmas Story. There will be one every day now right up to Christmas Eve. We do this without gimmick or pay, because we love you all, and we want to entertain you as best we can while so many of us engage in struggles old and new.

To read Rob’s delightful story, ‘The Christmas Spirit’, click on the old Honda.

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Advent 2020: Revelation 20:1-10

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, 21 December 2020 Revelation 20:1-10


The Text

Revelation 20

1. I saw an angel coming down from heaven. He had the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand.

2. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan. He bound him a thousand years.

3. He cast him out and shut him in the abyss. He sealed it from above, so that he might not deceive the nations anymore, not until the thousand years were over. Then he will be unleashed for a little while.

4. I saw thrones. Judgment was given to those who sat on them. The souls of the people beheaded for their testimony to Jesus—because of the word of God, everyone who did not worship the beast or his image, and those who did not receive the mark upon his forehead or hand, these people lived and reigned with Messiah a thousand years. 

5. The remaining dead people did not live until the end of the thousand years. This is the first resurrection. 

6. Blessed and holy are those having a part in the first resurrection. The second death has no authority over those people, and they will be priests of God and Messiah. They will reign with him for the thousand years. 

7. When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison.

8. He will go out to the four corners of the earth to deceive the nations. He will gather together Gog and Magog into war. Their number will be as the sand of the sea.

9. And they went up upon the whole earth. They surrounded the encampment of the saints and the beloved city. Fire came down from heaven and consumed them.

10. The devil, the one who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and sulphur where also was the beast and the false prophets. They will be tortured day and night forever.


Commentary

One of the greatest proofs, in my mind, that the book of Revelation is true is the jumbled grammar and incoherent train of images. The writer of Revelation is clear in his words, it is not that he is difficult and undisciplined to read as say, Peter is. Instead, what I find is the words are choppy and disturbing. They have the feeling of someone reaching for a word to describe something which is indescribable. In other words, you have the words of someone who has seen something that is shaking him to the very core of his being.

Our Advent readings finish up with visions of the second advent, and John is trying to write down what he is seeing, but it is a mess. Take verse four, for example. Most English translations smooth this out, but I have left it intentionally choppy because that is the way it comes off the page at me. It reads like John is trying to say everything all at once: these people are dead but now alive and their on thrones and oh wait you need to know who these people are they are the ones who were beheaded and didn’t cave into the beast and who kept the testimony and they rejected the mark and they will reign a thousand years that is who these people are and you need to know that.

It carries the sense that immediately when he saw them, he knew exactly who they were.

Let’s take a moment and try to reconstruct a timeline of what the author is communicating to us. He tells us 1) An angel from heaven seized the dragon and cast him into an abyss. 2) Martyrs have been resurrected and they are beginning their rule, but everyone else is still dead. 3) These martyrs are priests and hold a special office in the eschaton. 4) After a thousand years Satan will be released to ply his trade of lies once more. 5) He will make war and surround the beloved city, Jerusalem. 6) Fire will come down from heaven and consume them. 6) At this point, Satan is cast into the lake of fire and tortured for ever.

I understand this timeline, but I do have questions. Chief among them: why let him out after a thousand years? This has troubled me since I was a little fundamentalist child reading my KJV Scofield Study Bible. The traditional answer is that children will born to those who survive the period of pain leading up to this wonderful thousand year reign who have never known temptation of trials. Satan is given opportunity to provide one final test of humanity.

Apparently, some, many indeed, take the bait.

The Bible lists Gog and Magog as the chief place where Satan finds an audience. There is great speculation about this, but conventional wisdom places the geography in Russia, although there is also a connection to India. My perception is that it is a borrowing of terms from Ezekiel that simply mean enemies and thinking of it geographically is futile. I could be wrong. Either way, Gog and Magog are funny names.


Questions For Application

  1. Have you ever had to write something down after you were shaken by events? How does that experience help you understand the biblical text in Revelation?
  2. Think about the angel seizing Satan. It is not really even a battle. Who is more powerful, the angel of the Devil? What does that tell us about the limitations of demonic power?
  3. Why do you think Satan will be released?
  4. Why would people listen to Satan and follow him after living in peace for a thousand years? Why does anyone? What kind of lies might he be telling? What kind of lies did he tell Eve and Adam?

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Book Review: Strange Rites

This afternoon was perfect. The morning rain dried up and the sun came out. The temperature was a comfortable mid-60s with only a slight wind. For mid-December, this is as good as it gets. So I made a cup of Darjeeling and finished the last bit of the book I’ve been working on since Thanksgiving. It is titled Strange Rites: New Religions For A Godless World and was written by Tara Isabella Burton.

The premise of the book is people are moving through the essence of religion without the belief in God. She makes much of the Durkheim principle of collective effervescence. What that means is people bond together through rituals that create its own meaning and define what the community is. A common example is an athletic event where people all know the fight song and the cheers and are enthralled as one community for one purpose.

Burton argues this happening in several different ways in our culture right now. The biggest examples she gives are wellness culture, witchcraft, social justice advocacies, techno-utopians, and the alt-right movement which she labels as atavistic.

The strength of this book is the interesting nature of the subject. She is an excellent researcher and every chapter has historical, cultural, and religious background that she brings out in explicit and delicious detail. One of her arguments is nothing new is happening in essence because America has always been ‘intuitional’ at its core. She backs this up with lots of historical figures. At the same time she argues something really big and new is happening, because it is now a much bigger deal with more people.

A second strength of the book is the intellect Burton brings. She is very smart and her vocabulary is impressive. Reading this book will make you far more comfortable with words you don’t use every day.

It has some weaknesses, though. One is she repeats herself. The second is she references a lot of cultural phenomena that I am not plugged into. She assumes I know things I do not know. A third weakness is, and forgive me, she COMPLETELY OMITS GEN XERS! I mean, there is one reference to us in the whole book and it is a throw away. She goes on and on about boomers and busters and millennials and genZ and blah blah blah and she forgets about those of us in the middle here who are paying all the bills and taking care of everything for everyone else. Statistics show many Gen Xers are supporting a child and a parent AT THE SAME TIME.

Okay, sorry. I just had to get that out of my system. Us Gen Xers are used to it. We were latchkey kids, after all. Remember. No, you don’t remember, because ALL 66 MILLION OF US ARE USED TO BEING IGNORED.

Where was I? Oh, right, the book. Burton has taken a deep dive into the history of the internet, and one finds this theme throughout, that the internet is what has created the strength and proliferation of these godless religions. She goes on and on about Harry Potter, including some rather interesting footwork on the deification of Severus Snape.

Is she right? Is America blossoming new godless religions which form communities, liturgies, and belief systems all their own? She may be onto something, but she might also be confusing herself and others. My final analysis of her work is that corporate culture is using religious language for its own greedy gain. People are being used to line the pocketbook of people selling something — whether it is Goop or iPhone apps. What we see is really the success of the Christian church. Everyone uses our words, our models, and tends to parasitically adopt our structures.

Her research is thorough and her subject is interesting. I disagree with her religious assumptions, but her book is valuable in knowing what is going on out there from SoulCycle to The Singularity to Jordan Peterson. I just think her evidence that it is religious is flawed. It is no more religious than Marxism or people who love Superman, and both of those have been around for a long time. Americans are prone to fads, and the internet, combined with great prosperity and conspicuous consumption, have made it seem like these things have more of a pull than they really do.

One more caveat on the book. It came out this year, but before COVID-19 became what is. I have some ideas about how the pandemic has impacted these godless communities, but perhaps that is for a different blog post.

I encourage you to read the book, but watch out. I almost didn’t get past the first chapter. I’m not kidding. It was so bizarre I almost put the book down for good. I’m glad I didn’t, but you might want to skip the first chapter and maybe, read it after the third or fourth chapter. Maybe.

The book is loaded with profanity, and lots of very disturbing language, particularly the chapter on sexual communities. It is not appropriate for teenagers or the who are easily offended.

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Advent 2020: Jude 17-25

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Saturday, 19 December 2020 Jude 17-25


The Text

Jude 17-25

17. But you, beloved, must remember the words which have been spoken by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Messiah.

18. Because they kept saying to you that at the end of time there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires. 

19. These people who are creating divisions are materialists only, having no spirit. 

20. But you, beloved, build up yourselves in the holiest of faith, praying in the Holy Spirit. 

21. You must keep yourselves in the love of God while waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Messiah [to take you] into eternal life.

22. And you must have mercy on some of these who are doubting. 

23. You must save those people, snatching them from the fire, showing mercy, yet still hating the flesh as a stained shirt. 

24. And the one who is able to keep guard over you, to stand surefooted in his presence, in gladness, without blemish.

25. To God our only savior through our Lord Jesus Messiah – glory, majesty, might, and authority before all time and throughout eternity. Amen.   


Commentary

They told us it would be this way.

That is basically what Jude tells us here. The apostles predicted it. There would be ‘scoffers’. And what is the primary activity of scoffers? Scoffing, of course. Scoffers come scoffing. Scoffing is a word we don’t use a whole lot today. It means to mock or to scorn. Better words might be to ridicule or to bully. Scoffers bully you into submission by using words and social exclusion to make you conform.

Jude says these scoffers, who mock us and deride us, are materialists that do not think about the spiritual implications of life. For them it is only what they can get, what they hold, what and who they can exploit, and who they can manipulate. Scoffers do not live on the spiritual plane.

Textually, verses 22 and 23 cause problems for me. Most English renderings see these lines as being about different groups — doubters to whom we must show mercy, the lost whom we must save, and those on fire whom we must snatch. It could be read that way, but the more I cogitated on it and prayed through it, I think Jude is talking about the same thing to the same group of people — the doubters who are lost and must be snatched out of the fire. This teaches us the work of discipleship and of ministry is to answer the questions of the doubters with gentleness, seek out those who have turned astray, and actively remove dangerous situations. It is a lot like raising children.

The benediction here is beautiful and is a tradition for some at funerals. It is easy to see why.


Questions For Application

  1. Mocking is not always bad. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal. How can you tell when mocking is okay and when it is a symptom of unbelief?
  2. Divisions are bad in the church. Those people who force or create these divisions are materialists who rejecting the spiritual reality of unity and fellowship. Why do you think the church allows itself to be divided the way it does?
  3. Who snatched you from the fire? Whom have you snatched?
  4. If you are able, rewrite the benediction (24-25) in your own words using modern language.
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Advent 2020: 2 Peter 2:17-22

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Friday, 18 December 2020 2 Peter 2:17-22


The Text

17. They are waterless springs, mists driven out by a windstorm, people for whom the gloom of darkness has been reserved.

18. For they talk of empty boasts, enticing people who just barely escaped error with their lives with even more fleshly desire and debauchery.

19. They promised them freedom, but they themselves became slaves to corruption, for anyone who has been defeated has been enslaved.

20. For if, having fled the pollutions of the world by knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Messiah, they then become entangled, defeated again, then they have become at the last worse off than they were at the first. 

21. It would have been better had they not known the way of righteousness than know it and then turn away from the holy commandments passed on to them.

22. The truth of the proverb has happened to them: “A dog returns to his own vomit” and “a washed pig will roll in the mud.”       


Commentary

Again we are given a short reading.

Two different but related things seem to be happening here. The first is condemnation for the false teachers and heretics who have slipped into the church and have continued to ‘entice’ others along the same path. It is a path that leads to slavery, even though ‘freedom’ is what has been promised.

Sound familiar? The cry of modernity is ‘freedom’ and ‘acceptance’, which is supposed to make people happy and lovely and joyful. Do people seem happier to you? Do people seem freer to you? Do people seem more accepted to you? No, because, it is all a lie. Sexual freedom is to be enslaved by the flesh whims. Material freedom is to be enslaved by greed. Of course, realize, neither Peter nor I am talking about political freedom or even religious freedom. We are speaking about the ethical restraints that are in place for a reason.

The second thing going on here is a little more shocking to me. It poses serious challenges to people who argue that people who are ‘saved’ are forever in that secure position. Peter does not agree. He says these people who entice others, they come after those who have just barely gotten out of it, to bring them back again into error. Peter says they are worse off than they were then they started. If we apply that to faith we find he may be saying that someone who is living a destructive life — finds the Lord and reforms — but then experiences recidivism and returns to their sinful ways — they are worse than they were before they were saved.

That might be exactly what he is saying.

The metaphors in verse 22 are hard to stomach, literally. The dog and his vomit is a sentiment from the book of Proverbs and the business about the pig is a popular idiom used in Greek literature and rabbinical writings. The use of dogs and pigs, something our Lord did often, is designed to make the audience groan, for these are two odious animals to the Hebrews and represent so much, and may even refer to gentiles who never were truly transformed.


Questions For Application

  1. The choice of windstorm might not be happenstance. Peter was at Pentecost. How can the Holy Spirit’s wind blow away false teaching?
  2. Our Bible does not think highly of boasting. What are you guilty of boasting about the most? How can you work on that?
  3. Verse 22 is rather disgusting. How does it make you feel?

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Cue The Sappy Music in Three, Two, One

Just when you thought you could count on Joe Shaw to deliver the goods, he goes ands pulls a Hallmark sweet sappy story on us. But man, is it good. I really loved this. It has just enough ‘bad boy’ motif to keep it interesting, and a whole lot of sweet, innocent nostalgia to make the heart melt. But don’t make this a habit, Shaw, we don’t want to read stories from you about young women who discover their true love is really the guy who runs the croissant shop four doors down but who secretly is also the son of the powerful business magnate who is trying to put her struggling Santa Cookie store out of business so he can replace it with luxury condominiums. If you do that, we’re all coming to Florida to teach you a lesson.

Joe’s story, “Charlie Miller Hates Christmas” is the third of seven free Christmas themed short stories the Fondue Writers Club is giving you. We do this, as we say, free of charge with no gimmicks because we love you.

If you love us half as much as we love you, consider going over to THE AMAZON and buying the audio/print/Kindle version of our anthology, ‘The Covid Quarantine Cantina’. You can CLICK HERE to do just that — but make sure and remember to come back and read Shaw’s free story. Click on the second from the bottom golden ring to read it.

don’t click the third ring, or you’ll turn into a toad

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Advent 2020: 2 Peter 2:10(b)-16

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Thursday, 17 December 2020 2 Peter 2:10(b)-16


The Text

10(b). Insolent, arrogant people who do not tremble when blaspheming glory. 

11. Whereas angels, being of greater power and strength, do not bring blasphemous judgment from the Lord,

12. by contrast, these people in their ignorance blaspheme, so that in their state of deterioration they will rot. They are as illogical animals, born in the wild and captured into decadence. 

13. Pain is payment for unrighteousness. They take pleasure in regarding the day as for indulgence. They are blots and blemishes celebrating their deception. All the while feasting with you.

14. They have eyes filled with adultery, are incessantly sinning, enticing unstable souls that have been trained in greediness. They are a curse on children.

15. Forsaking the straight path, they were misled. The followed after the path of Balaam of Bosor, who loved unrighteous wages.

16. But he had his own rebuke of wrongdoing by a dumb beast of burden who spoke as a man and so prevented the prophet’s poor judgment.


Commentary

This may be the shortest reading of the Advent cycle, with only six and a half verses. But man, are they loaded with all kinds of hot language. I translated this section in short, punchy jabs because Peter is all kinds of angry and the lines are tight. “arrogant people who do not tremble”, “captured into decadence”, “pain is payment”, “they are blots and blemishes”, “souls that have been trained in greediness” and so forth are linguistically delicious. Peter is doing his best Hemingway.

He begins with a contrast. Angels, though in many ways more knowledgable and stronger than humans, do not speak against spiritual forces at play but these false teachers do. This verse very much informs my predisposition to not speaking about angels and demons too much, and certainly not engaging in the kind of freewheeling gibberish I hear in many prayer lives about binding and rebuking and standing against. Peter seems to be affirming the sovereignty of God over all spiritual power, even evil. If I may be so bold, Peter is telling us to hold our tongue about things we do not understand.

Peter calls them dumb animals at the beginning, but then he says they are worse than dumb animals, because even Balaam’s donkey knew more than these people.

I chose the word ‘decadence’ in verse 12 because I think there is a word-picture link with decaying dead animals and the word decadence. Decadence feels right, but it is really putting one foot in he grave.

I rendered the ending of verse 14 as ‘they are a curse on children’ where as I think most English translations go with “they are accursed chidlren” or something like that. The more I looked at it and studied, though, I think my view is best.


Questions For Application

  1. Peter says blaspheme comes from arrogance and ignorance. How do these twin vices manifest themselves in your life?
  2. Not all pain is a mark of individual sin. However, it is true we often bring pain on ourselves with poor choices and poor judgment. As painful as it might be, can you name a current source of pain that is the direct result of your sinful choices or of not listening to the wisdom of others?
  3. Do you know the story of Balaam? If not, why not take the time to read up on this fascinating example who is referenced several times in the Bible?
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With A Special Appearance By Suzie Snowflake

Yesterday Derek Elkins got us started with some strong action. Today, it is my turn. This story first appeared as a plot idea in a blog in which I was making fun of Hallmark Christmas Movies. I argued they needed more Zombie.

Well, here we are. I hope you enjoy this bit of frivolous fun. Remember, we are just trying to entertain you a bit with some free stories from the Fondue Writers Club. No paywalls, no credit card numbers, no email lists. Just read.


Banished

Drool ran down the corner of Santa’s mouth and onto his beard. He only did that when he was bone-tired, and he was only bone-tired two days a year. July 16 always found him exhausted beyond measure, because July 15 was elf bath day. As the Chief Elf, Santa’s primary responsibility to the elf community was to make certain all one hundred or so elves who lived at the North Pole got their annual cleaning. It was by far the hardest day of the year for him and it took weeks for the bite marks to heal.

            The second hardest day was, of course, December 24. Delivering toys to every good boy and girl on the planet wasn’t as easy as it once was. Back in the old days, there just weren’t that many children, but now with human population nearing ten billion, Christmas Eve was becoming exceedingly difficult. The result was December 25th always found Santa in his favorite recliner with drool oozing out of his windburned lips and puddling onto his white whiskers. If he was lucky, a pile of cookie crumbs would bounce up and down on his belly as he snored.

            On this particular Christmas Eve, he’d already achieved a level of R.E.M. sleep, so he didn’t hear the door buzz. He did hear the shout, though.

            “Father Christmas, we’ve got to get you to the safe room.”

            It was Dropsy, chief of security. He was a competent elf who had inherited his position from his father, Popsy. 

            “Safe room,” Santa roused himself out of the chair. “What on earth for?”

            “We don’t know exactly, but something is wrong with some of the elves.”

            “What do you mean, wrong?” 

            “No time to explain, Nick. We gotta get you to the safe room.”

            Dropsy escorted Santa from his recreational room and out into the darkness of the North Pole. “Where is my wife?” Santa said. 

            “She is en route as well,” Dropsy said. “Sopsy, is taking her there now.” 

            The wind blew fiercely. Snow swirled around in the darkness. Santa’s brilliant, timeless mind began to wake up as the cold slapped his synapses. His mind reviewed the previous day. It had been a near perfect Christmas, executed flawlessly. What could have gone wrong? He had successfully avoided the Jihad in the Middle East and the sad dark peninsula of North Korea. New York was navigated without difficulties. He couldn’t figure out what the problem could be.

            Dropsy reached out his hand and halted his boss. 

            “Do you see them?” he said. They had just rounded the bend in the trail that went around the Egg Nog Cistern. 

            “Yes, I do,” Santa nodded. “It looks like Raspy and Daspy. Maybe they will have some answers.”

            “I don’t think so. Look closer, sir.”

            Santa squinted. His impish eyes adjusted to night vision. He saw the two people he recognized, but their faces were gaunt. The pupils of their eyes glowed red. Cobalt puss oozed down their cheeks.”

            “They’re sick,” Santa shouted. “We have to help them!” Santa lunged away from Dropsy and rushed toward his friends. “What happened to you?” He shouted as he neared.

            Dropsy yelled, “No, wait!” but Santa was too fast to be thwarted. 

            Raspy and Daspy growled at the giver of gifts and opened wide their mouths to chomp on the pink flesh. Santa was caught unawares. They grabbed him and pushed him to the ground and were ready to tear him from limb to limb. Just before they sank their teeth into him, Dropsy, fired two shots from his service revolver, exploding both of their heads. 

***

            Mrs. Claus rushed toward her husband when he and Dropsy entered the safe room. 

            “Step back, ma’am,” Dropsy said. “I don’t want to break the two of you up, but Papa Noel here is covered in, well, whatever is now pumping through the veins of about thirty of our elves.”

            “Thirty?” Santa whispered.

            “Probably more like fifty by now,” said Smartsy. 

            Smartsy was the chief scientific officer of the North Pole. Usually, that meant he developed toys of a scientific nature. His most successful enterprise of the last half century was the iPhone. He developed it in the late 1980s, but it took almost three decades to find someone to manufacture and market the device. Even then, Steve Jobs almost ruined the whole thing with his perfectionism and insistence upon Apple Music. 

            Mrs. Claus turned to Smartsy, “What is going on?” She raised her hands, palms up. “We haven’t had to come to the safe room since those Heaven’s Gates fanatics stopped by on their way to the comet.” She said comet in air quotations with her long and perfectly manicured fingers.

            “We just rode those out,” Smartsy said. “This time will not be that easy. This will be more like the unfortunate Soviet Incident of 1972.”

            “I wasn’t here for that,” Mrs. Claus said. Smartsy winced. He’d forgotten Santa gets a new wife every twenty-five years.

            Smartsy, demonstrating his smarts, changed the subject by punching up a display on the computer panel that formed the long backwall of the safe room. “It took me and my team a while to go through all the data, but if you will look carefully at this video feed from the rear skid on Santa’s sleigh, you will see just as you took flight over the housetops in this Louisiana swamp, Junior Assistant Elf Flappsy was bitten by what looks like a rabid politician. That politician has since been diagnosed with Zombie and was, as is the custom in the United States for all Zombies, immediately sworn in as United States Senator. It seems like the disease has spread to our peaceful habitat here in the Arctic.” 

            “What can we do about it?”

            “I have a couple of options, but Dropsy, why don’t you present your plan The Big Guy first?”

            Santa and Mrs. Claus looked at Dropsy, eyes wide with hope. Dropsy pushed a few buttons on his own communications device and the screen turned to a layout of Santa’s compound. “We have gathered fifty-three of the elves who are positively not infected with the Zombie virus in these four holding rooms. Each one is guarded by one of my children. The rest, those wandering the perimeter the way we found Raspy and Daspy, well, they are expendable.”

            “Expendable?” Santa shook his head. “You mean killed?”

            “Yes, in about thirty minutes I can take them all out. It is unfortunate, but it might be the only way we can save everyone else. It is fast, efficient, and one-hundred percent effective.”

            “You’re talking about killing almost half the elves?” Mrs. Claus brought her hand to her mouth. “Half.”

            “Yes, that is true, but Smartsy and I have talked about it, and we can recruit cobbler elves to take their positions and have them trained for toymaking by mid-summer. The following Christmas might be a bit smaller than previous years, but we will survive. Survival is what matters.”   

            “Isn’t there any way to save them?” Santa’s head drooped.

            Smartsy began, “We hypothesize sunshine will do it. Political Zombieism cannot survive the light of day. It is what has cured every other batch in human history. The problem for us, of course, is we will not see daylight here until June. We can’t survive and hold them off that long without killing them, and likewise, they will not survive that long out of doors without shelter or food. At some point they will turn on each other and their death would be horrific.”

            “I will not let them suffer.” Santa said.

            “There is one more option,” Dropsy said. He pointed to Smartsy. “Tell him, Smartsy. Tell him what you told me.”

            “There is another way.” 

***

            “I took the liberty of calling Suzie to confirm it.” Smartsy looked at the ground and then finally at Santa. “Just as I suspected, Suzie Snowflake tells me there is one person who has continually and constantly dealt with this kind of disease that infects the soul as well as the body.”

            Santa stood up and put his hands over his ears. “No, don’t say it.”

            “I’m sorry, sir,” Smartsy said. “But it is true. He can freeze it out of them. Just as light exposes the virus, cold can, like truth, eradicate it.”

            “Okay,” Santa nodded, “I accept that logic. But can’t we generate enough cold around here, I mean, this is the North Pole for crying-out-loud, can’t we get them cold enough to heal them? We don’t need him to do it, right?”

            “All we can do,” Smartsy said, “is make them cold from the outside in. He, and to our knowledge, he alone, can freeze them from the inside out. That is where it has to start. All change, and you know this, sir, all real change starts on the inside. And only he can do that.”

***

            The “Him” Smartsy spoke of was Jack Frost. It was no secret The Man In the Red Suit and Jack Frost were on bad terms. Once upon a time they had been close. Rumor has it they are cousins, but no one has ever come up with definitive evidence or a family tree. As far as any of the elves know, Santa has no mother or father and he and Baby New Year are sui generis. It is accepted fact, though, amongst the elves that Jack Frost is himself elfish, but from a different line of elves who experimented with magic and the taboo elements of nature. Modern elves disdain magic and opt instead for hard work, peppermint, and cheap electronics from China. 

            Another rumor is that Jack Frost had an affair with the thirteenth Mrs. Claus, the one who preferred everyone to call her Veronica. Santa found the two of them in flagrante delecto on a New Year’s Eve where too much holiday wine was shared. The rumor goes further that Santa banished that Mrs. Claus to sell low-grade jewelry on QVC and Jack was never invited back for another party. The rumor further goes that Santa caught them in the Slinky warehouse which is why no one gets a Slinky for Christmas anymore.

            The elves who help Santa in the tropical regions, and who never come to the North Pole, tell a different tale. They say Santa won a game of dice against Frost and the wager was the warm weather climates where old Frozen Jack couldn’t encroach. Jack tried to renegotiate, and Santa wouldn’t let him. This, according to the Caribbean elves, is why they are at odds. It was a favor Santa owed to the pirates who rescued him once when he was stranded asea. It was during that time period Santa developed the “Ho-Ho-Ho Merry Christmas” he is now famous for, which is a slight variation on ‘Yo-Ho-Ho a Pirate’s Life For Me.’

            No one knows if any of this is true or not, but everyone knows what happened in 1986. The facts of that incident are verifiable and undeniable because of the CCTV. Jack Frost crashed the St. Valentine’s Day party. He brought four minions, Frostbite, Windchill, Hypo, and Thermia with him. It is hard to know if Hypo and Thermia count as one or two, because they are twins frozen at the hip. During the party, Jack Frost drank way too much, started cursing, picked a fight with Yukon Cornelius, and urinated in the fruit punch.

            That was when Santa banished him, placing him for all time on the naughty list. It is an oath he swore to never go back on. Indeed, it would take a great team of elfish lawyers to undo the oath. In all of history, only four others have been put on the forever naughty list: Atilla, Henry VIII, Rasputin, and Alec Baldwin.   

***

            Santa took five minutes to change out of the soiled clothes. He traded the soiled flannel shirt and sweatpants he’d been napping in and put on the tan Carhartt heavy coat, Wrangler jeans, and Doc Martin boots which were in the Safe Room. He also armed himself with a Kringle revolver, a set of brass knuckles, and a Tanto knife. One never knew what to expect at Jack’s igloo.

            “I’ll travel by Magic,” Santa said when he came out of the lav. “No sense taking any chances on sleds, sleighs, or snowmobiles.”

            “Do you have any magic left?” Dropsy said. “Didn’t Christmas use it all up?”

            “Most of it, yes. My Magic will not be back at full strength until the Ides of March. But I do have a little in me. I can feel it. There is just enough to get me there.”

            Mrs. Claus eyes narrowed. “What about getting back?”

            “If things go well, that won’t be a problem. If they don’t go well,” Santa looked away, “then it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
            “Don’t say that!” Mrs. Claus embraced him, pulling him tight. “I need you. The world needs you. Don’t lose your focus.”

            Smartsy cleared his throat, “We will send a rescue sled in that direction as soon as you depart, as a backup.” He punched a few numbers on his keypad. “But I’m sure we will not need it.” 

            “Good plan,” Santa nodded. “I guess that is why you are in charge of intelligence.” 

            Santa checked his gear, zipped up his jacket, and then brought his index finger to his nose and wiggled it, while at the same time visualizing in his mind Jack Frost’s igloo.

***

            Frost’s igloo was in Antartica, which was the other side of the world. By sled this trip would take at least two hours. By Magic it took fourteen seconds. 

            The igloo sat on the rim of the large gaping hole that led to the center of the earth. It was from here that elves emerged eons ago, though no one has ever gone back to explore. Some of Frost’s pixies have, over the years, gone down to try and discover the mystery but they never returned. Frost knows what is down there, but he will not divulge that information. He has made it his sworn duty to keep any humans from entering. So determined was he to protect the secrets of the hole he engaged in what could only be described as a war with the United States Navy in 1946 and 47, eventually forcing Admiral Byrd to withdraw. 

            Santa emerged from the stretch of Magic into the brightest of light. He shielded his eyes with his hand. The sun’s radiance reflected off the ice cap. He’d remembered to bring his Ray Bans, and he slid them over his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he surveyed the igloo compound. Frost’s flag, a navy-blue snowflake pierced by a dazzling white icicle, flapped in the wind. Santa sniffed, and he smelled nothing. Just the way Frost likes it. He popped a piece of butterscotch into his mouth to remind him of home. 

            Claus took a step toward the igloo. The proximity alarm went off. The snow around his feet came to life. It crawled up his leg, freezing him in place as it inched up toward his groin. He kicked and fumed, but it was no use. Santa breathed a sigh of relief when the trap stopped mid-thigh. The wind came from behind him and lifted him into the air and towards the igloo’s roof. Three ice blocks slid aside as the wind brought the not-so-jolly soul onto the ice floor. 

            “That was not a very warm welcome,” Santa said shaking his head at Jack Frost, who stood over him. 

            “Warm is not my thing,” Frost said. His deep voice vibrated the ice. 

            Santa’s voice was high-pitched and squeally, and he’d always envied Frost’s resonate bass.

            Before Santa could realize what happened, the floor liquified, then refroze around his hands and feet, sealing him on all fours. 

            “What brings you here?” Frost put his foot on Santa’s back.

            The bearded man took a gulp of air. He spoke the words he’d thought through while changing back at the North Pole. “We are in trouble. I need your help. Only you can save the elves.” 

            “What have you done, old man?”

            “About half of them, around fifty or so, are sick. They have a zombie virus that is transforming them into monsters.”

            “Just kill them. You can always get more elves. That is what you did with the twenty-eight who became Nazi’s in 1938.”
            Santa winced. Yet another old wound Frost never let him forget. It was like Jack was a computer which held all of Santa’s failures. 

            “We’re hoping to avoid bloodshed. Smartsy says—”

            “Smartsy!” Jack shouted. “You still have that nerd around? I thought for sure you’da gotten rid of him after that embarrassing issue with the Segway.”

            Santa ignored the jab. The Segways weren’t entirely Smartsy fault. Everyone thought they’d be a hit. 

            “Listen, Frost. It was hard for me to come here and ask you for help with all we’ve been through. But I can’t do it without you. Smartsy says your ability to freeze them from the inside out is the only thing that can kill the virus. Will you help me? Will you save my elves?”

            Frost circled around his captive, then sat down on the ice in front of Santa and folded his legs underneath him. “What’s in it for me?” He looked into Santa’s eyes and the two saw each other clearly. “You know what I want, Saint Nicholas. You know what I need. I can’t keep living this life of exile and isolation. It has gotten so bad that I have started blogging about shaved ice and snow cones. Can you imagine, me, the mighty and powerful Chieftain of Chill reduced to liking and commenting on SallyScherbertsUltimate blog about where to get the best coconut snow cone in SoCal?”

            Ice pellets fell from his eyes and piled onto the floor.

            “You say you need me, and only I can help. But Kringle, I need something only you can give. Only you can lift the banishment. Only you can bring me home from exile.”

            Santa sighed. “I know. And I’ve been thinking about that, too.”

            Old Man Christmas wiggled his hands and shook his boots which shattered the ice cuffs. He stood erect. 

            Surprised, one of Frost’s guards, a fanged pixie named Tundra lurched at Santa. Before Tundra knew what happened, Santa chopped him into cubes with his Japanese blade. 

            Santa twirled the knife in his left hand and pivoted around the room. “Anyone else want to try me? I’m not in the mood for this and I haven’t had my nap out, so I’m a little spicy.”

            The room was silent. Frost knew he was no match for Santa.

            Papa Noel sheathed the weapon and knocked more of the ice from his hands and boots. “Jack, I’m prepared to lift the banishment. If that is all you want that is what I will give you. But I am also willing to bury the ice pic completely. I’d like for you to come back as a full member of the Elf Community. I’ll reinstate your seat on the Yule Log. It was wrong of me to banish you. It was a kneejerk reaction. We all need each other, as this recent incident has demonstrated.” Santa reached out an open hand in peace, “I was wrong.”

            Jack Frost took Santa’s hand, and they both envisioned the North Pole in their minds.

***

            They arrived just in time. The Elfin Zombies had worked their way into the gymnasium where about twenty noninfected elves had taken shelter. Jack sprang to action and froze them all solid. The zombiecicles were then taken outside and chained together. After they were secured, Smartsy wrapped them all in thermal blankets so they could slowly thaw. It took about fifteen hours, but it worked.

            “No sign of infection or any aggressive tendencies” Dropsy reported to Santa, who was playing backgammon with Jack in the Gingerbread Lodge. “There are two unfortunate side effects, though.”

            “What side effects?” Santa looked up and sipped from his hot wassail.  

            Dropsy frowned, “All the rescued male elves are walking with a limp, and the female elves all think they are Jennifer Lawrence. Smartsy says this should clear up in a week or so, but he also adds he doesn’t really know.”

            Jack grinned, and Santa saw it. “Jack, did you do that on purpose?”

            Frost’s only response was a chuckle so deep the pieces on the board moved.   

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Is Santa Batman or Is Santa Superman? I Can’t Quite Tell . . . You Decide.

The Fondue Writers Club is at it again. This time we are bringing you fun Christmas stories. These are all free — no paywall, no gimmicks, no email lists to sign up for. Just the workings of our imagination to share with you during these days of COVID, and quarantine, and so much troubles in our world.

Derek Elkins, who once weaponized the WeinerMobile, brings us the story of Krampus and Santa engaged in an epic battle. Click on the image of the man hiding in the closet to read “Krampus V. Santa: Dawn of Righteousness”. We’ll be back tomorrow with another story, and every day up until Christmas Eve.

Eugene’s been a bad boy
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Advent 2020: 2 Peter 2:1-10(a)

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020 2 Peter 1:1-10(a)


The Text

Chapter Two

1. It happened that false prophets were among the people just as false teachers are among you. Some of them introduced destructive heresies, even denying the master who brought them, bringing instead destruction on themselves. 

2. Many will follow them into debauchery, which is how the way of the truth will be blasphemed. 

3. They will exploit you with greedy desire and phony words. Their ancient judgment is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep. 

4. For if God did not spare sinning angles, but bound them to gloom, sent them to Tartarus, and gave them over to be kept for judgment,

5. and since he spared not the ancient world, but protected the preacher of righteousness, Noah, and his eight, then brought on the deluge upon the godless world

6. and ruined to ash the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He judged them to set an example of what is to be for the godless.

7. He rescued righteous Lot, worn down by the undisciplined debauchery of their behavior.

8. The righteous person living among them, seeing and hearing their lawless work, kept being tortured in his righteous soul.

9. The Lord knew how to rescue the godly from temptation and how to keep those being punished until Judgment Day.

10. Especially those following the flesh, following polluted desires, despising the Lordship. 


Commentary

The text changes abruptly at the end of verse 10. The lectionary follows this change by breaking up the reading mid-verse. It is a curious choice, but this is a good time to remember there were no verse divisions or chapter breaks when Peter wrote it. So, really, nothing to see here with that issue.

What is to be seen is the breathtaking argument Peter makes. We have to remember his target is false teachers. These false teaches have snuck into the church and spread heresies. Peter says God knows exactly how to deal with these people. We know how God deals with them, because of what he has done in the past. What has he done in the past? Peter is happy to explain it to you.

First, he punished the angels who went astray. This probably is a reference to Genesis 6 and is certainly a reference to the inferred but not definitive moment when angels rebelled against God and were smote down with the evil one. Peter says God sent these angels to gloom and destruction, a place called Tartarus. I gave the transliteration here, because it is significant. Tartarus is a synonym for hell, but it carries with it a different feeling than Hades or Sheol. Whereas Hades is kind of a shadowy murky place where people live and exist but without the hope of life on earth, Tartarus is a dungeon prepared for the Titans after the Olympians defeated them and banished them. Peter is linking the angels fall to the Titan’s fall, which is not something to glance over. It is an amazing bit of comparative religion that could inform us of how the early Christians understood the pagan world around them. To contextualize it in the modern sense, perhaps UFO’s, ghosts, and the legends of Zeus, Thor, and Thunderbird have more in common with demons and the devil than most of us think.

God knows how to handle rebellious spiritual beings, so he very well knows how to handle false teachers in your church.

But wait, there is more. He also knows how to punish them, because he did so in the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. The deluge is literally a cataclysm, that is the word Peter uses. The ruined ashes of Sodom and Gomorrah show us he knows what to do with a city and a people who have rejected right and aligned with evil and exploitation.

So let’s review Peter’s argument: God knows how to put rebellious beings in dungeons, he knows how to drown wicked people, and he knows how to burn unrighteous heathens to a crisp, therefore the false teachers in your church will be no match for him.

Textually, verses 4, 5, and 6 are not a sentence in English, but it makes perfect sense in Greek. I left it the way it is because you get more of a feeling for it this way. At least, that is what I think.

I have to tell you, as a pastor who has fought continually one false teaching after another including but not limited to prosperity gospel, faith healers, political allegiance, and sexual debauchery this kind of affirmation of hard punishment brings a tear of joy to my eye. Burn, baby, burn.

We can’t leave this text, though, without thinking about Lot. I have serious problems with Peter’s understanding. He refers to Lot as ‘righteous’ and as someone who was ‘tortured’ in his soul. I’m not buying it. I’m not saying Peter is wrong, I am saying he gives Lot far too much credit. the Genesis account shows us a greedy compromised man who is willing to throw his daughters to a pack of sexually depraved wolves. If Lot was so tortured, he would have moved. But he didn’t, because he pitched his tent in that direction. He chose Sodom. He chose Gomorrah. He chose them because it is what he wanted.

I am not saying Peter is wrong, but Peter is wrong.


Questions For Application

  1. A heresy is not something you just disagree with, but something that is doctrinally incorrect, like saying Jesus is not the son of God or he was not born of a virgin. What heresies do you think the church is particularly vulnerable to right now? Which ones are you a little too dangerously fascinated with?
  2. How does debauchery (sensuality, sexual sin) lead to blasphemy?
  3. What do you think a gloomy dungeon would be like?
  4. Peter is speaking here about judgment. Do you think about judgment on God’s enemies very often? Is it possible to oversell forgiveness and love and neglect the doctrinal necessity of judgment?
  5. We are very much like Lot, living in a an age of apostasy and debauchery. The question for us is, are we tortured or do we like it? Do not answer that question too quickly.

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Advent 2020: 2 Peter 1:12-21

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, 15 December 2020 2 Peter 1:12-21


The Text

12. It is my intention to remind you always about these things which you have known, and to be steadfast in the arrival of truth. 

13. I consider it proper that as long as I am in this skin, to rouse you with reminders

14. because I know I will lose my skin soon, just as our Lord Jesus Messiah showed me.

15. I will be diligent so that at any time after my exodus you will be able to remember these things.

16. For we do not follow cleverly made myths. Having become spectators of his majesty, we then made known to you the power and presence of the Lord Jesus Messiah.

17. For he received honor and glory from Father God when the voice was carried as it were from majestic glory – “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

18. We heard this voice from heaven when we had been brought to be with him on the holy mountain.

19. We have the prophetic word, which is even firmer. You would do well to hold onto it as a shining lamp in a gloomy place until the day should dawn and the daystar may rise in your hearts. 

20. First, know this – that all prophetic scripture does not become open to personal interpretation. 

21. No prophecy was brought by a person’s will, but by the Holy Spirit carrying what they spoke from God. 


Commentary

It seems to me Peter views his primary task as that of reminder. He thinks it is proper and right for him to remind them of things, and as long as he lives he will do it. He even goes so far as to say that long after he is gone, he wants what he says to still be a reminder. The word he uses to describe his existence in this world is ‘tent’ or sometimes ‘tabernacle’. Many English renderings use ‘flesh’ but I think ‘skin’, which a tent was a skin of animals, because I think it works well in the parlance of tent making. What’s more, the first four letters in Greek word for ‘tent’ are roughly analogous to the four letters s-k-i-n. I always try to keep cognates if I can.

There is a strong connection in my mind, and if I were preaching this I would pull this out in a very long and probably boring way, with the biblical imagery and metaphors Peter is using. First, he says he is in a tent, and he will soon have an exodus out of that tent. The word exodus means departure, but I chose to keep the transliteration of the Greek here because it should remind the reader of the tents of the Israelites in the desert and also fo the tabernacle for God’s dwelling. Second, later he will reference the Mount of Transfiguration where the glory was revealed. It was there that Peter recommended, according to the Gospels, the erecting of tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. Third, Luke tells us that it was on that mountain that Jesus spoke to the two Old Testament heroes about his upcoming exodus, or departure. Fourth, the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle but it was present in Jesus. Peter calls it majestic glory. What a beautiful phrase.

This is the kind of thing Peter is reminding them, and us, about.

As powerful as that memory is for The Fisher Apostle, he puts it behind the prophetic word. The truth of this concept cannot be delineated. Our experiences are interpreted by scripture. We do not interpret scripture by our experiences.


Questions For Application

  1. What thing or things do you continue to keep doing until you ‘lose your skin’?
  2. Once you have your exodus event, what do you want the memory of you to remind people about their own faith journey?
  3. What do you hold on to that is like a lamp in a gloomy place?
  4. What is your favorite part of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)?
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Advent 2020: 2 Peter 1:1-11

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, 14 December 2020 2 Peter 1:1-11


The Text

2 Peter

Chapter One

1. Simon Peter – a slave and apostle of Messiah Jesus – to those sharing our privilege by receiving faith through the righteousness of God and our savior Messiah Jesus.

2. Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and our Lord Jesus,

3. who has bestowed on us all, everyone alive, his divine power and godliness through knowledge. He has called us to his own glory and virtue.

4. Being given the precious and greatest promises, that through this, we might share in the divine nature and so escape the coming evil desires of the world.

5. For this same reason, with all diligence you must supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge,

6. knowledge with self-control, self-control with patience, patience with godliness, 

7. godliness with kindly affection, kindly affection with love. 

8. For if these things are a part of you and multiply, you are not idle nor fruitless. It is a consciousness of our Lord Jesus Messiah.

9. To anyone where these are not present, he is blind and has closed his eyes, oblivious of his old sins being cleansed.

10. Therefore, all the more, brothers and sisters, you must be diligent. Make your own calling and election steadfast, for in doing so you will never stumble.

11. For such people, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Messiah will be richly afforded.


Commentary

The lectionary goes from the cataclysmic Thessalonians to the equally cataclysmic 2 Peter. So many interesting and theological discussions emerge in this book. I don’t know if we’ll have time for them all, but we spend all week here.

Let me begin by saying this is not easy to translate. Unlike Paul, who uses a very linear thought process, Peter feels more to me like word salad. I think this betrays a Hebrew mindset, because that is the way I found Biblical Hebrew — just nouns thrown down with the verb hidden in there somewhere.

Peter lays aside his privilege, a very 21st century thing to do, by affirming that all those who have faith in Jesus share in his privilege of apostle and slave of Jesus. He is not claiming any authority greater than that of follower of Jesus. There is a humility in this approach that I find attractive. It makes the power of his rhetoric that much more convincing.

And his rhetoric is powerful. The ladder of virtues he employ is a classic ancient world concept. Verses 5-7 start with faith and end with love, and in between we find many of those spiritual fruits we are accustomed to partaking of. Take note, however, the big finale. He uses two different words for love. The first is brotherly affection, phileo. The second is agape, covenantal love. In its poverty English doesn’t have the flexibility to describe these different aspects of love, but both should be present in followers of Jesus. It is not enough to love someone at a deep level commitment, we must love everyone with kindness, with affection, with affirmation, and with respect.

If we think about verse 8 long enough, our brains explode. It appears to me what he is saying is these virtues, if we work on them and implement them, will give us an awareness of Christ’s presence and of his will. Maybe we can connect this thought to Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2 — letting our mind be transformed, and through that process we can discern God’s will.

Perhaps those people who say they do not hear from the Lord or do not perceive his will are those who give no attention to these virtues, thus, as Peter says here, they are blind and cannot see.

Verse 10 brings a smile and a tear to my mind. In the first church I pastored there was a very kindly man who quoted this passage all the time — in almost every conversation — “make your calling and election sure,” he would say. This man was wise to emphasize these two paradoxical aspects of our life in Christ. On one hand, we are called and elected by him. On the other hand, we have a powerful obligation to tend to that election and to confirm by choosing to engage in the virtues with all diligence.


Questions For Application

  1. Privilege is a hot button issue right now. What privilege do you enjoy? Who else could you extend that privilege to as an act of inclusion?
  2. Agape love is something we hear a lot about at church, but how do you work on phileo love, which is sometimes understood as brotherly or familiar kind of love?
  3. Read over the virtues again. Which one do you really need to work on?
  4. Have you made your calling and election sure?
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Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Saturday, 12 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18


The Text

6. And we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Messiah, avoid any brother or sister walking without discipline and not in accordance with the traditions you received from us.

7. For you yourselves know how necessary it is to imitate us, because we were not undisciplined among you. 

8. We ate no one’s free bread. Instead, we worked in labor and toil night and day to not be a burden to you.

9. Not that we do not have the right, but we gifted you an example in how to imitate us. 

10. Indeed, when we were with you, we commanded this to you; if anyone doesn’t want to work, neither shall he eat.

11. We hear about some among you who walk around idly working at nothing and bothering those who are working. 

12. To those doing these things, we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Messiah that they work quietly and eat their own bread.

13. Brothers and sisters, do not grow tired of doing what is right. 

14. If anyone does not obey our word in this letter, you must take note not to associate with him so that he may be ashamed.

15. You must not consider him an enemy but as a brother. 

16. Now may the Lord of peace give you his peace through all time and in all places. The Lord be with you.

17. This greeting is in my hand – Paul – it is the signature in every letter I write.

18. The grace of our Lord Jesus Messiah be with all of you.  


Commentary

The Thessalonian correspondences end with a shocking turn. Way back in the beginning of 1 Thessalonians (1:3), Paul commended their hard work ethos. It was one of the attributes he was thankful for and that helped the Thessalonians become so famous. But now, things have changed. Reading the text it becomes clear that A) Some people are not working. Paul calls this ‘undisciplined’ behavior. B) These people are begging for food (and money) from others who are working. C) The people who are not working are disturbing the labor of others. D) This behavior is contrary to what Paul taught and demonstrated when he was with them and it has made him angry they are using his words to justify their laziness. To show this frustration, verse 8 has two words that both mean work and taken together kind of mean something like “we worked our tails off” I modern vernacular. I used ‘labor’ and ‘toil’, but you get the drift.

The question for Bible students is, “What happened at Thessalonica?” The answer seems to be theological in nature. It appears that people had come to the conclusion that since Jesus was returning very soon then there was no sense or need at all to work and prepare for the future. It is the, “If I knew I was going to die next month, I’m going to quit my job and spend as much money as fast as I can” kind of thing. This is the plot to more than one book or movie.

Paul calls them out on this and tells them, in no uncertain terms, to knock it off. One of my favorite lines in all the Bible is found in verse 10: “If anyone does not want to work, neither shall he eat.” Within the community of faith there is zero tolerance for freeloaders. This is a different from helping the poor or needy. We are not talking about that situation or benevolent needs. What we are talking about are brothers and sisters who can work, should work, but instead choose not to and rely instead on others hard work.

I see two very practical applications here. The first is the obvious economic incentive that teaches us labor and work is good. Work is not bad, and we were made for meaningful productivity. The second, though, is a little more nuanced to get at. Dare I even say, it takes a little work. Just as a person who is lazy and uses theology to justify it is wrong, so too is it an abrogation of our commitments to not take work and care for things because we think the end is near. I’d like to point out the general feeling among most Christians in the 1970s and 80s was that Jesus would soon return and therefore, things like saving money for the future, environmental care, and debt spending were ignored. What did it matter if Jesus was coming soon?

Well, Jesus didn’t come.

To be sure, he will someday, but the result was ill prepared people, a decimated environment, and debt as a way of life.

Oh, you want another example? How about this one: Since God will take care of me and protect me (a theological excuse) it doesn’t matte whether I wear a face covering to protect others from COVID-19. After all, I don’t have a spirit of fear (theological excuse). Meanwhile, people are dying and hospitals are full. You see the connection here? A person’s lazy theological excuse which justifies their inaction has caused a great deal of labor and strife (even death) for someone else. This is the opposite of loving your neighbor as yourself.


Questions For Application

  1. Can you think of someone who has used theological justifications to not do something difficult?
  2. Would you work if your livelihood (food on the table paying bills) didn’t depend on it? If yes, what kind of work would yo want to do?
  3. Paul writes, ‘Do not grow tired of doing what is right.’ This pandemic has worn me down and worn me out — I find myself weary. If you are like me, what we do to maintain our spiritual stamina?
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Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Friday, 11 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:


The Text

13. We owe it to God to give thanks always for you beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord. God chose you as first fruits in salvation, sanctification of spirit, faith, and truth,

14. into which he called you by our gospel to acquire the glory of our Lord Jesus Messiah. 

15. So then, brothers and sisters, you must keep the traditions and stand firmly in what you were taught by us; whether by word or letter.

16. Now, may the Lord Jesus Messiah himself, and God our father, who loved us, give unending encouragement, hope, love, and grace. 

17. to encourage your hearts and to strengthen every good work and word.    

Chapter Three

1. Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the word of the Lord might run and might be honored just as it has with you, 

2. and that we might be delivered from perverse and evil people. For not everyone is faithful. 

3. But the Lord is faithful. He strengthens and guards you from the evil one. 

4. And we are persuaded about you that what we command in the Lord you do, and you will do. 

5. May the Lord straighten out your heart in the love of God and patience of Messiah. 


Commentary

It is a little unusual to have the chapters broken up in this way, and it is even more unusual in that it makes very little logical sense with the text. However, that is what the lectionary did, and that is what we have.

The end of Chapter two is a behavioral exhortation in light of their redemption. Since they have been saved from all the gloom and destruction mentioned earlier, they should have a corresponding faithfulness. This faithfulness is a call to keep the traditions. Paul doesn’t take the time to spell those out, but we can assume the Thessalonians disciples would have known exactly what he meant. Likely these traditions are the teachings of Christ, the practice of baptism, communion, and of interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures through the life, death, resurrection, and eventual return of Messiah Jesus.

I find the appeal to tradition appealing. This appeal is, I admit, biased with the weariness of a lifetime of being sold the latest innovation in church life. Innovation is not evil, but the addiction the American church has to innovation, faddism, and the ever growing desire to be in the cool crowd is tiresome. It is enough, I think, to hold to the tradition, the New Testament tradition.

I wrestled with the grammar of verse 16 for much longer than I should have. The “may” in the verse comes with the verb “encourage” and is difficult to place. The whole thing is made that much harder because Paul treats Jesus and God the Father as one rather than two. To make the English smooth I really wanted to render it, “The Lord Jesus Messiah and God our Father, may they encourage …” But I did not. I think it would be justified to keep the verb tense together, but it reads clunky.

Chapter three begins with a request for prayer. It is an interesting prayer in that it is for deliverance from people seeking to thwart the work. He adds, almost as a throw away, “for not everyone is faithful.” That is when I stand up, applaud and say, “Preach it, Paul. Preach!” It does not take much imagination to think of someone who has abandoned the work and is yet throwing darts at Paul and the ministry from a distance. Paul is asking the Thessalonians to pray for him to overcome this kind of adversary. I wonder if this is the Satan from 1 Thessalonians blocking him.

I don’t know that I do enough specific praying in my own life about people who stand in the way. I tend to pray specifically for people, but I rarely pray specifically that problem people would be removed as an obstacle. I probably should work on that more . . . although I may enjoy a list of people to pray against far more than I should. Lord, help me.


Questions For Application

  1. “To acquire the glory of Jesus” is a great mission statement. What would the glory of Jesus look like in your life?
  2. Paul prays for God to give them encouragement, hope, love, and grace. I honestly tell you right now encouragement is what I feel I need most. What do you feel you need most?
  3. Paul seems very preoccupied with heart and emotional issues. He asks for the Lord to straighten out their heart. What in your heart needs straightening out?
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Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Thursday, 10 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12


Chapter Two

1. Now, brothers and sisters, we ask you, as it pertains the coming of our Lord Jesus Messiah and our gathering together around him

2. to not be hastily agitated in your mind nor be disturbed in your spirit about the Day of the Lord, especially not by any word or letter passed off as if it were from us.

3. Let no one deceive you. In no way will it come except the apostasy comes first. Then the man of lawlessness, the very son of perdition, shall be revealed,

4. the adversary, the one exalting himself over everything called or worshipped as god, so much so as to sit himself in the Temple of God claiming that he is god.

5. Do you not remember I kept telling you these things while I was with you?

6. Now you know what is restraining the one to be revealed until his own time. 

7. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, until the only one restraining him is out of the way. 

8. When the lawless one is revealed, the Lord will kill him by the breath of his mouth and annihilate him in the manifestation of his coming. 

9. Him who is by his actions, power, and marvelous lies the coming of the Satan.

10. Every deception and wickedness of those being destroyed is for those who did not welcome the love and truth that would save them.

11. Because of this, God sends them an effective error so that they will believe a lie.

12. Such that everyone who doesn’t believe the truth and who takes pleasure in wickedness shall be judged.


Commentary

Four things stand out in this tight section of amazing prophecy.

First, we are told to not be agitated by any kind of discussion regarding the end of all things. If only the people of God would listen to the Bible on this issue, for our history seems to be one of constant agitation about these things. Paul gives us the amazing stuff, but he couches it with the encouragement we need to just go on with our peaceful lives and not be bothered by it. These are things Jesus will take care of and he doesn’t need our help.

Second, the break in the levy is not the coming of the evil one, the antichrist, but instead it is the apostasy that seems to give him oxygen to operate. Not to be too wound up, but we live in a age of apostasy — ever increasing apostasy. People are walking away from the belief systems of the historic faith in favor of selfishness, sensuality, or down-right occultic practices. I am not saying the antichrist is imminent, but I am saying the cultural soup we live in is the perfect environment for one such as him to thrive.

Third, Jesus will kill this man of lawlessness, this son of perdition, the denizen of destruction. He will kill him with the breath of his mouth. That reminds me of Jesus saying, “I am” in John 18 and the guards falling down. It also reminds me of the image of Jesus with the word coming out of his mouth as a sword in Revelation 19. Jesus needs no army to accomplish is goals and to set things right.

Fourth, God is the one who will send a lie to the people who rejected him. I translate this as ‘effective error.’ The ESV talks about a ‘strong delusion.’ Either way, the Lord himself will bait the trap and then spring it. If you are concerned about this apparent duplicity in the Lord’s behavior, don’t be. This seems something closer akin in my mind to the decision the Lord made in Romans 1 where he let people who chased after idols and lies have their way and so he, ‘gave them up’ to their own desires. If people want to follow a lie, then he will let them follow it right one the cliff.


Questions For Application

  1. Are you agitated about world events? How can faith help you?
  2. Apostasy is all around us. Who do you know that has walked away from the faith? Assuming they are gone, what can you do to help others not make the same awful mistake?
  3. God’s word is a sword — cutting and piercing. How might this idea of Jesus cutting down the antichrist be about the proper application of the scriptures?
  4. How can you sharpen your skills to detective errors in the way people think and live, and also keep them from infecting your heart and mind?
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Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12


The Text

2 Thessalonians

Chapter One

1. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy: to the Thessalonian church in our Father God and Lord Jesus Messiah. 

2. Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Messiah.

3. We owe it to God to give thanks for you, brothers and sisters, which is proper, because your faith thrives and the love you have for each other always increases. 

4. We ourselves brag to the churches of God about your patience and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you endure,

5. evidence of the righteous judgment of God to consider you worthy to suffer for the Kingdom of God.

6. Since it is righteous to God to repay with afflictions those afflicting you,

7. and to relieve your affliction along with ours at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels 

8. coming in fiery flames punishing those who have not known God and those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 

9. Whoever these people are being punished, they will pay with eternal doom from the face of the Lord – from the glory of his strength.

10. When he shall come, he will be glorified among his saints and marveled at by all those believing, because our testimony about you was believed on that day. 

11. Our prayer always for you is that you might be worthy of the calling of our God and desire goodness and faithful work in power. 

12. So that the name of our Lord Jesus might be glorified among you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Messiah. 


Commentary

The same three who were behind the first letter have written this second one. After spending a couple of verses (3-4) rehashing how great a church they are and how all the churches know about them, Paul moves on to the subject at hand: Judgment.

Jesus is coming to settle the score, to ‘afflict those afflicting you.’ This sentiment is not something we generally associate with Christian motivation, but revenge is certainly involved. It should call to mind the wonderful verse we often quote, “vengeance is mine, says the Lord” from its original context in Torah, Deuteronomy 32:35 and repeated by Paul himself in Romans 12, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” Paul is spelling it out here–this is exactly how he will repay. When Jesus returns he is going to do some serious smoking of those who have harassed, harmed, and hurt his people, his church. Vengeance is not bad, what is bad is when we seek revenge because we can’t do it without the problem of our own sin and guilt. The Lord however has no such hindrance and he is able to dish it out. This is a part of eternal justice.

The scene is like something from a science fiction movie. Jesus returns from heaven surround by the host of angels. Try as I might, my imagination cannot grab what that would look like. I feel it in my heart, but I can’t creatively work it out. But the scene is accompanied with fire.

Out of this free comes punishment. The punishment is for two distinct kinds of people. First, those who do not know God. This term feels nebulous to me and woefully unspecific. I would prefer here if Paul, Silvanus, or Timothy would have spelled it out that it is those who do not know Jesus as Lord. God is a looser term and may mean something less than the specificity we often give. The second kind of people he is after are those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus. This is more specific, but not enough to provide comfort. The gospel of Jesus, the good news of Jesus, in this context might mean the good news Jesus preached about repentance, kindness, and love. As a Baptist, I would really like for this to be about believing in the gospel, but it is not. It is about obedience. That means, as uncomfortable as I may be, some who do not know or believe could be obedient to the essence of the gospel while those of us who do believe, and know, may yet still be found disobedient.

I am no universalist, but in the depth of my soul I am certain we will all be surprised by who the Lord accepts and whom he rejects at his great day. That Paul feels this urgency is apparent in verse 11 — “our prayer is that you might be worth” — Yeah, when the stuff comes down, Paul is praying that the church might not be the ones receiving this judgment. Let that sink in a moment.

The punishment is a separation from the face of the Lord, from his presence into ‘eternal doom.’ A question we have to ask is this: is the doom one that lastings for eternity, or is the doom such that it has eternal consequences.

You’re on your own as you grapple with that.


Questions For Application

  1. Verse three indicates Thanksgiving is owed to God, like a payment, or honor, or worship. What thanks do you owe to God?
  2. Who is afflicting you, and do you want them punished by God? Now turn that around — are you afflicting someone else, and how exactly does God feel about that?
  3. Can you imagine the scene of Jesus’ return?
  4. I was once scolded by a parishioner for preaching about ‘doom’ — I was told that message was positive enough. Do you agree with that parishioner, that doom(ed) topics should be avoided or do you think folks should know all the possibilities?
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2020 Advent: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28


The Text

12. We ask you, brothers and sisters, to appreciate those working among you, leading you, and advising you in the Lord.

13. Have immense regard for them in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

14. Brothers and sisters, we encourage you that you must warn the undisciplined, cheer up the sad, hold onto the weak, and be patient with all. 

15. You must see to it that you do not return evil for evil, but always pursue good for one another and for everyone. 

16. You must always rejoice.

17. You must constantly pray.

18. You must give thanks in all things. This is the will of God in Messiah Jesus for you. 

19. You must not quench the Spirit. 

20. You must not despise prophecy.

21. You must test all things. You must hold fast to the good. 

22. You must avoid every form of evil.

23. May the God of peace himself make you holy through and through – in spirit, soul, and body – that you may be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Messiah Jesus. 

24. The one who called you is faithful to do it.

25. Brothers and sisters, you must pray for us.

26. You must greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.

27. I solemnly charge you in the Lord to read this letter to all the brothers and sisters.

28. The grace of our Lord Jesus Messiah be with you. 


Commentary

Appreciation for Christian leadership is absent in our culture. I continually speak to ministers and one after the other share with me how miserable their life is. I am in a great situation, but I am worried about my brothers and sisters in other environments.

The sad thing is, this was avoidable. For the last generation preachers and church pontificators have turned worship and church into a spectator sport geared toward gaining the largest possible marketshare regardless of the consequences. The result is a fanbase and not a fellowship. This is at best a fickle faith that says when the pastor no longer says everything I agree with or who tells me something that challenges me, well, fine I’ll go somewhere else where they will tell me what I want to hear.

Church is not a consumer good, and communities are not interchangeable. Treating it as such demonstrates infantile behavior.

Itching ears always want to be scratched. By contrast to this itching playing to the crowd, verse 14 teaches something which would make a great four point sermon. First, warn the undisciplined. Given the earlier verses, we can assume this is a warning against their lifestyle of selfishness that has them teetering on the edge of destruction. Second, cheer up the sad. The sad are those who are suffering loss. This is about grief ministry revolving through our hope of eternal life. Third, hold onto the weak. These are no doubt weaker brothers and sisters in Christ whom we must hold close to and drag them along the walk of faith. Fourth, be patient with all. This probably is a reflection on the tension he felt earlier in the letter about whether or not they had walked away from the faith. Patience is an important part of any relationship.

Most of the verbs in this section are imperatives, like verse 13 where the teaching to be at peace is not a suggestion but an imperative, literally “you must be at peace”. But beginning with verse 16 there is a series of eight imperatives with two more in verses 25 and 26 that ratchet up the intensity. Most English renderings drop the imperative feel with things like “pray continually” “Do not quench” or “greet”. However, I feel like as Paul is winding this down he wants that urgent feel of command. This is not optional. In light of issues like life, death, defection, and the return of Messiah these are vital nonnegotiables. We must do these things.


Questions For Application

  1. What have you done to demonstrate appreciation for your spiritual leadership?
  2. Which comes most natural to you — warning others, cheering others, holding others, or being patient with others?
  3. Which is hardest for you — warning others, cheering others, holding others, or being patient with others.
  4. Among those ten imperatives, which one do you need to focus on most right now?
  5. Is there another ‘must’ you feel is missing from your life that is not on this list?
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Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, 7 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 5:1-12


The Text

Chapter Five

1. But brothers and sisters, you do not have a need for me to write about the times and moments. 

2. For you yourselves know full well the Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night.

3. Right when they shall say, “Peace” and “Security”, suddenly destruction then will come upon them just like birth pangs come. They shall not escape it.

4. But you are not in the dark brothers and sisters, therefore that day will not seize you like a thief.

5. For you are all children of light and children of day. We are not of the night and darkness. 

6. Consequently, we should not sleep as everyone else, but we must be watchful and sober.

7. For those who sleep, sleep at night; those who get drunk, get drunk at night.

8. But we, being creatures of the day are putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of hope for salvation. 

9. God did not put us here for wrath, but to acquire salvation through our Lord Messiah Jesus,

10. the one who died for us, so that together we might live with him whether we are awake or asleep. 

11. Therefore, continue as you are doing, encouraging one another and edifying one by one. 


Commentary

The twist in verse three should get our attention. The text reminds us that when people thing all will be well, when people are saying “we have achieved peace” and “we are all secure” that is when the Lord will come. It reminds us what every good storyteller knows: right when things are going too good to be true, that is when the bottom falls out. I am fascinated by the echo of Babel (Genesis 11) here. It might be a reach, but it was right at the height of human achievement when human beings thought they had achieved peace, unification, and power that the Lord came and confounded everything.

The two images of what the day is like are also gripping. One is birth pangs. Birth pangs are severe, and when things go well, it ends in something wonderful: new life. But, the pangs themselves start relatively mild (ADMISSION HERE–AS A MAN I DON’T NOW THIS FIRST HAND, BUT I HAVE OBSERVED IT FROM VERY CLOSE QUARTERS) but then the intensity increases with each successive wave. We can expect some sense in which the end will be like that — pangs, waves of problems that ebb and flow, but each wave is successfully worse.

This gradual onset of increasing pangs seems at odds with the other visual put forth by Paul — the thief in the night. There is no preparation, no warning, and usually no awareness of the event until after the fact. How do we square these two? One solution is to think not of the entire birth pangs, but of the sudden onset of them. A woman may know her time is near, but the uncertainty of the exact moment (unless induced) still lingers over her and her family. Another solution is perhaps to view it like a thief coming in the night at the start — but then the pangs come in successive waves until it is over.

Either way, it doesn’t seem very pleasant.

For verse 8, consider the longer treatment of this theme in Ephesians 6:10ff. The exhortation here to be awake and be sober is not about abstaining from drinking, unless one is prepared to argue we should abstain from sleep as well. These are examples of when we are not alert. Spiritually, we must not fall asleep on our obligations and our community, and we must not become intoxicated with either the world or ourselves. These will cause us to not be ready when the the first contraction hits.


Questions For Application

  1. If you were awaken in the middle of the night to the presence of a prowler, what would your first thought be? Now, apply that to the coming of Jesus?
  2. When the birth pangs come, what is the greatest fear a woman has? Now, apply that to the coming of Jesus.
  3. How exactly are you watching? What proactive steps are you taking?
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Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Saturday, 5 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


The Text

13. Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to not know about the ones who have fallen asleep, that you might not grieve as everyone else who has no hope. 

14. For we believe that Jesus died and rose, that God, through Jesus, will then lead out with him those who sleep.

15. We say this to you as a word from the Lord, those of us left living at the coming of the Lord will not arrive before those who are sleeping.

16. The Lord himself will command the archangel sound the trumpet of God, then he will come from heaven. The dead in Messiah will rise first.

17. Then, those of us remaining alive will be seized and carried off together with them in the clouds, meeting up with the Lord in the air, and we will be with him always.

18. You must comfort one another with these words. 


Commentary

Saturday’s reading is not long, but boy does it pack a powerful punch.

I usually read these verses at gravesides for funerals. They don’t have the same ring in the chapel or the worship center as they do right beside the grave. For our faith teaches us that the dearly beloved we are laying to rest, if they have faith, will come up out of this very grave and meet Jesus in the air before those living do.

Verse 14 is an interesting grammatical pretzel for me. In the GNT there is an “if” in the text that should read something like “If we believe that Jesus died and rose” but then the “if” doesn’t fit the rest of the sentence unless something is supplied — like “If we believe that Jesus died and rose, then when we are asleep God will lead us out (of the grave) through Jesus.” That kind of construction is the only way I know to make the ‘if’ feature work, but I want you to know there is an ‘if’ there. Paul means this kind of redemption over death is contingent upon our personal beliefs. What we believe matters. If.

This is the essence of the comfort, and it is only for us if we believe and if the dead believed. We need to be careful to not preach or talk as if dead people who didn’t believe have this same assurance. They do not.

Paul seems to see an order that goes like this: The Lord commands the archangel to play the trumpet, Jesus comes from heaven, then the dead rise up. After that, and lastly, the believing community alive are caught up with Jesus in the air as he is en route to the earth to bring all things to an end.

Death is a fascinating subject, but I have always interpreted these lines to mean that for me, as a believer, when I die, the next moment after my death is the coming up into heaven with Jesus in the clouds rather than entry straight away into heaven.

That’s my take, anyway.


Questions For Application

  1. Believers are not devoid of grief, but our grief is different. How so?
  2. Do you believe Jesus died and rose again and is coming again? (I do)
  3. Which do you believe — that we who believe go straight to heaven when we die or that we awake in the clouds as Jesus is coming back? Why?
  4. These are advent verses precisely because Jesus came the first time and promised to come again. How can you incorporate the promises of a second advent into your celebration of the first?
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Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Friday, 4 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12


The Text

Chapter Four

1. Therefore, brothers and sisters, finally, we ask and encourage you in the Lord that it is necessary for you to walk just as you received from us, and that you walk to please God more and more. 

2. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

3. For this is the sanctifying will of God, that you abstain from fornication. 

4. Each of you know how to control his own vessel in holiness and honor,

5. not in passionate desire as the Gentiles, who have not known God.

6. Not to transgress in the affairs of or defraud a brother or sister, for the Lord is a punisher of those who do these things. Just as we forewarned and solemnly swore to you. 

7. For God called you not to impurity but holiness. 

8. Consequently, the one who disregards this does not disregard man, but God, the one who gave his Holy Spirit to us. 

9. But about love for brothers and sisters, you have no need to write about. You are taught by God to love one another. 

10. For you do – all the brothers and sisters in the whole region of Macedonia – and we encourage you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more. 

11. Make it a core value to be tranquil, to mind your own business, and work with your hands just as we commanded you

12. so as to walk properly with those on the outside and that you might not have any need.


Commentary

The verb in verse 1 is “walk”, and I have translated it that way but that is a metaphor. It would be just as appropriate to translate it ‘live’ for that is what it means. I like, though, the idea of my life is as walk. That is religious jargon, I admit, but it is meaningful jargon for this GenXer who views life as a journey — a walk along a path that leads me closer to the Lord. If I choose improperly, I can walk away from him and travel the wrong path. Paul encourages to walk along the proper way.

“Vessel” is a provocative word in verse 4. The word could be translated ‘pot’ as in a clay pot. Some may render it as body, which is fine but I decided to leave the double-entendre, because Paul may well be referring to the sex organ itself. Controlling that bit of our life — our passionate urges — is clearly what he has in mind. It gets more pointed when he tells us we must be careful to not ‘defraud’ a brother or sister. This could literally be a command to not sexually abuse or sexually harass someone else. Purity and holiness is as much about how we view and treat the bodies of others as how we treat our own. There is surely a powerful lesson here about objectification culture, as well as a solidarity emotive with the #metoo movement. Violating others is never okay, and it is a sin against God, and he is a punisher of those who engage in it.

The transition from verse 8 to 9 is stark. Sexual abuse and self gratification is the farthest thing from real love that can be imagined. One is about self while the other is about others.

Before this section concludes, The Apostle reminds us again about the importance of hard work. By working hard, earning an honest living, we pave the way for us to live in tranquility, minding our own business. How much better would the world be if we all made our goal to be quiet and mind our own business? Infinitely better.


Questions For Application

  1. What instructions has Jesus given (v. 2) us?
  2. Sanctification is not a popular topic these days. What is it, and more specifically, how do you make certain you are engaged in it?
  3. We are not called to impurity. It is easy to name sins of intimacy here, but there is more to purity than fornication. What impurities have you tolerated?
  4. Would you describe your life as tranquil?
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Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13


During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Thursday, 3 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13


The Text

Chapter Three

1. Therefore, enduring it no longer, we determined to be left behind alone in Athens. 

2. We sent Timothy, our brother and coworker in God—in the gospel of Christ—to strengthen you and to encourage your faith 

3. so that no one be disturbed in all these troubles. You know yourselves that we are destined for this. 

4.  When we were with you, we told you beforehand we were about to be persecuted, which as you know is what happened.

5. Because of this, when I could no longer stand it, I sent to know your faith, whether the tempter had tempted you or not, and whether our labor became in vain.

6. Now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought good news about your faith and love, and that you have remembered us well, always longing to see us just as we do you. 

7. We are encouraged by this, brothers and sisters, by all your faith in our distress and persecution.

8. Because you stand firm in the Lord, now we live.

9. How are we able to return thanks, a thanksgiving to God for you, for all the joy and rejoicing for you before God? 

10. Begging, pleading night and day to see your face, to complete what is lacking in your faith. 

11. May Father God himself and our Lord Jesus straighten out our road to you. 

12. And may the Lord increase your love and make it sufficient for one another and to all, just as he has for us to you 

13. to strengthen your blameless hearts in holiness before God our Father in the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. [Amen.]


Commentary

As is my custom, let’s first speak about the textual variant in verse 13. The concluding ‘Amen’ is hard to cipher. Metzger summarizes it nicely by indicating it is difficult to know whether it was dropped by copyists who didn’t think it fit or was it added as a liturgical response to the soaring language of verse 13? I have taken the GNT’s lead and included it in brackets, however, to me it seems inauthentic. The text reads better without it.

What grips me most about the opening verses is Paul’s fear. He is terrified someone has soiled the Thessalonians discipleship while he was away. He refers to a ‘tempter’ who, probably is Satan from chapter 2, the same Satan that blocked him, but I do not dismiss the possibility Paul has some human being in mind who is working on the Thessalonians and trying to lead them away with a watered down false gospel. I don’t know who that person might have been, but let’s call him Joel Osteenus bar Orellus Robertus.

Whoever it was tempting them, Paul was worried all the time and effort he had spent would be wasted if they turned from the true faith. Is it wrong if I confess to you I am comforted by this? Why does it comfort me? Because I often fear those I have led, taught, and instructed in the faith will fall away (indeed, some have). That Paul had a similar fear makes me feel better about my own failings.

Verse 10 gets to the issue: Paul had some things he still needed to teach them. He refers here to what is lacking. I use the rendering “complete” as in complete a course where the ESV and NIV uses the word “supply” as in a good to be delivered. The thing is, I have been at this Jesus-following thing for decades and I still don’t feel complete.

Paul finishes the chapter with two requests. He asks God to straighten out the road that leads back to Thessalonica because he wants to visit, and he asks God to increase the love they have for everyone. The road business is self evident, but the idea of God making us love better is fascinating because Paul qualifies the object — Love for each other and love for everyone. So there you have it in black and white, the idea we should increasingly love one another and the whole world; everyone! However much you love right now, it can always be more and it can always do more (sufficiency). In Romans Paul says it like this, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8). You never pay off love, it is always a debt because God holds the mortgage.


Questions For Application

  1. If a tempter was seeking to derail your faith, how would he or she come at you? How would you deflect it?
  2. Paul longed to see the Thessalonians. Who do you long to see?
  3. Do you feel like there is anything lacking in your faith? What is it, and how will you complete it?
  4. Paul prayed for a straight path to Thessalonica. What do you pray for the Lord to straighten out?
  5. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians to have sufficient love — is there any way in which your love is deficient?

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Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20


The Text

13. And for this we ourselves give thanks continually to God, that you welcomed what you heard from us not as human words, but as it truly is – the word of God – that is active among you who are believing. 

14. Brothers and sisters, you became mimics of the churches in Messiah Jesus in Judea, because of the things you suffered from your people, just as they did from the Jews.

15. And these people, the ones who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, are not trying to please God. They are against humanity. 

16. They hindered us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they might be saved. The fullness of their sins always comes, which will be wrath to them at the end. 

17. But we were orphaned from you, our brothers and sisters, for a little while, physically but not emotionally. We eagerly desired to see your face more than ever.

18. We wanted to come to you, I, Paul, tried one and twice, but was blocked by Satan. 

19. For what is our hope, joy, or crown of boasting if not you, and you before our Lord Jesus at his coming? 

20. You are our glory and joy. 


Commentary

The theme of mimicry emerges again, a holdover from 1:6. The difference is who is imitating whom. The church in Thessalonica is imitating, not by choice or pleasure but by necessity, the mother church in Jerusalem. Just as that church was persecuted by Jews, by their very people, so too the Thessalonians were persecuted by their own people. I wonder if this stung Paul to write, because he was the Jew of Jews who took such zeal in persecuting the primitive church? Was there a similar Paul-figure who ferociously persecuted the Thessalonians but then, saw the light, and turned, and became a Christ-follower? That would be some serious mimicry.

Paul describes these persecutors as being against humanity. The text is literally “all people” or “all human beings” with the word ‘anthropos’. I almost translated it as “against everyone” but decided humanity had a nice ring to it, for they are not just opposite of an idea, they are against human beings.

Paul wants to visit them, but Satan has blocked him. Satan has blocked Paul. That sounds incredibly personal. There is a school of thought out there that teaches evil is not a personification, that it is a great power but it is impersonal, like gravity or friction. But Paul did not see the universe that way. He understood there was an adversary who had lined up against him to stop him from doing certain things. I agree with Paul. I know there is an enemy out there and he is in stark opposition to me.


Questions For Application

  1. Is the word of God active in your life? Serious — does it have verbal powers to move and to change you, or is it just a noun that lies there?
  2. If you could imitate any church you’ve ever seen, which one would it be? Why? Now that you’ve done that exercise, how much persecution and pain has that church gone through? Are you wiling to go through that, to suffer, and to sacrifice?
  3. Is Satan blocking you right now? What are you going to do about it? (Note: Paul wrote this letter as a solution)
  4. Who is your glory and joy?
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A Book Review — A Book To Make You Smarter

Some books you read for the joy of it.

Some books you read because you want to learn something.

Sometimes, a both does both. That is the case with Christopher Manske’s excellent new book, The Prepared Investor. It was an unexpected pleasure.

I was eager to read The Prepared Investor because I wanted to learn. Markets, investing, and financial planning are all things that I, as a middle-aged person, need to start thinking about a little more seriously. It started as a learning project. As I read, it turned into a joyful experience. The Prepared Investor is a guide to financial planning and investing, but it is really about human nature and history.

Manske indicates in the book it took him a decade to write it, and the research and skill at storytelling show he did his homework. He is as comfortable telling about Napoleon’s escape from Elba as he is referring to tables and charts of marketplace indices. But more than this, he shows how things such as leadership (Napoleon), terrorism, or social unrest play a very important role in financial stewardship. Take for example this excellent observation from 1970.

While it is easy to find articles about the Kent State shooting itself, its much more difficult to find the Wall Street Journal’s description of the stock market published the day after the tragedy: ‘Stock prices took their steepest dive since President Kennedy’s assassination.’

P. 160

The Prepared Investor is filled with this kind of cause-effect analysis. Without giving too much away, the point of the Kent State example is observing how markets react to unfamiliar actions of a dramatic nature. The lesson to be learned is an investor, regardless of ideology or politics, should recognize the responses people and markets make to various stimuli and then, knowing what history says will happen next, make appropriate investments to capitalize on it.

Manske is talking about wealth. I read the book, however, and thought about spirituality and maturity. We live in very unsettling times where something dramatic happens almost daily, and everyone knows about it instantly. Recognizing their patterns of behavior can help me identify how these variations impact my daily life and work. People respond spiritually much the same way they respond financially — when uncertainty comes, they withdraw to ‘bunkers’ of safety. Manske spends a lot of time on analyzing 9-11. I remember those days well. I never saw as many people in church as I did the month after 9-11. But, when the crisis abates, people return to their normal patterns. Within two months of 9-11, church attendance declined to below numbers of what it had been before the crisis. We held several special prayer services right after 9-11 and the church building was filled with people, elbow to elbow. A year later, we held a special one year anniversary service and only about fifteen people showed up. People return to normal, and sometimes it is a new normal, and that normal comes much quicker than most people anticipate.

It is human nature at work, and that is the background for Manske’s work.

There are three features of the book that were helpful.

  1. The outline is easy to follow, and he uses “Action Steps” as a checklist for those wishing to implement what is being learned.
  2. Charts and graphs. Then more charts and graphs. And now some charts and graphs about the charts and graphs. The Prepared Investor is loaded with this kind of data, and if you like that, there is plenty to enjoy.
  3. My favorite part was the long chapter near the end as a timeline of Manske’s own notations in real time about the spread of COVID-19. As a reader, I would be interested to see his contemporary notes right now as we spike. If for nothing else, this part of the book documents in historical fashion what has already happened, because people forget and they bend their memories toward ideologies and preconceived notions rather than reality.

The Prepared Investor is a quick read coming in at 209 pages. I read it in one week, and a big part of my leisure time during that week was making pies and chicken and dressing.

Who would like this book? People who love history will want this book, so too would someone who has a little bit of savings and is wanting to invest it well, People who are interested in human behavior will like it as well. Manske is well read and references everyone from Yuval Noah Harari to Henry Kissinger to Quentin Tarantino.

Who should read this book: I think every graduate of high school and certainly college would benefit. It would make a great Christmas present or graduation gift. In fact, it probably should be on your list of books to read this year simply because the knowledge, though fine tuned to finance, is really universal in nature. This book will make you smarter and wiser.

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Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12


Chapter Two

1. For you know yourselves, brothers and sisters, that our introduction to you was not in vain. 

2. And, as you know, we had the courage to speak of our God to you, the gospel of God in great opposition, after having suffered and been insulted beforehand in Philippi.

3. Our appeal to you was not from error, duplicity, or subterfuge. 

4. But, just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so also we do not speak so as to please people but God, who is the one proving our hearts.

5. Just as you know, we came neither with flattering words nor with a pretext for greediness. God testifies to it. 

6. Nor glory seeking from people, not from you or from anyone,

7. although we had the power of authority as Christ’s apostles. Instead, we became as infants in your midst, like a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 

8. So, longing in this way for you, we determined to share not only the gospel of God with you, but our very souls. That is why you have become beloved. 

9. You should remember, brothers and sisters, our labor and effort, working night and day so as to not be a burden to anyone as we preached the gospel of God to you. 

10. You and God are witnesses to how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we behaved to those of you who are believers.

11. Indeed, you know, like a father to his own children were each one of you, 

12. Urging you, consoling you, affirming you to walk worthy of your God, who is calling you into his own kingdom and glory.


Commentary

First, a textual note. For reasons I can’t understand, English renderings tend to put the opening phrase of verse 7 with verse 6, where it would read “Nor seeking glory from people, not from you or from anyone, although we had the power of authority as Christ’s apostles” as all verse 6. All my editions of the Greek New Testament list that phrase about authority being the first part of verse 7. It doesn’t change the meaning, but keeping it in the structure of the GNT allows for that great imagery of authority and power contrasted with being an infant.

Paul claims the gospel came from them not with error, duplicity, or subterfuge in verse 3. If we examine those we get three important claims for ministry. Paul says he was not in error. What he means is not that he doesn’t make errors, but the gospel he preached is not a mistaken one. Often it was claimed of Paul that he was preaching the wrong gospel or an altered version of it. Here he affirms he was not mistake about Christ, salvation, or the way of discipleship. he also claims that he did not have mixed motives. This is important, because a person could preach the right (no errors) but have duplicity. My reading of many churches, ministries, and pastors informs me some of them have sound doctrine but their motives are mixed in that they say it is all for the Lord but in reality they are promoting themselves. Subterfuge is a different kind of impurity Paul says is absent from his preaching. He never tried to trick the people. He was open, honest, and transparent. Any church or ministry that fudges numbers, lies about attendance, or plays politics to curry favor with a certain demographic is engaged in subterfuge.

I am fascinated by the use of infants as a metaphor. If you read it closely, he is not saying the Thessalonians became infants as he was the father. He is saying the opposite, he was like an infant, weak and lowly to them, rather than bossy and pushy. He waited for them to take the lead. I don’t know about you, but it is hard to do this. It is hard to wait, slow down, and allow others to lead. It must have been really hard for Paul. But that is what he did. No wonder he was able to write elsewhere, “I am crucified with Christ.” Crucifying our desires to control, frame, guide, and dominate is vital to spiritual leadership. And here, I would like to note, this is the opposite of what they teach in seminary and what the world defines as ‘real’ leadership. Paul says real leadership is celebrating how others grow into their role rather than grabbing all the headlines and sucking all the oxygen out of the room. I confess, I am a work-in-progress on this one.

There is a joke buried in verse 10. Paul outlines how devout, righteous, and blameless they were toward ‘those who are believers.’ Does this mean he was ungodly, wicked, and guilty to those who were not believers? I doubt it, but Paul’s choice of language is fascinating.


Questions For Application

  1. Paul says he was insulted in Philippi, but that didn’t stop him in Thessalonica. What insults and crude attacks have you worked through? How did it make you stronger?
  2. Paul lays it all out there that he wasn’t in it for the applause, the payday, or the recognition. What was his goal, and, more pointedly, what is your goal in the Christian life? At work? At home?
  3. Who do you share your very soul with? Why? Can a body of believers be called a church if the souls are not shared? Can a pastor or leader lead a church where the souls are not connected?
  4. What does a walk worthy of God look like in 2020 and in your world?
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Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

During the season of Advent I am translating the weekday epistle readings from the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, 30 November 2020 1 Thessalonians 1


Chapter One

1. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the Thessalonian church: Grace and peace to you in Father God and Lord Jesus Messiah.

2. We always give thanks to God for the memory of you, continually making our prayers for you. 

3. Remembering before our God and Father your faithful work, the labor of love, and hopeful patience in our Lord Messiah Jesus.

4. Knowing he chose you, our brothers and sisters who have been loved by God.

5. Because our gospel came not to you only with words, but with great conviction, in power and the Holy Spirit. You know so much of what happened to us while among you, all on account of you. 

6. You became imitators of us and the Lord, welcoming the word with the joy of the Holy Spirit in the midst of great distress.

7. So that you might become an example to all those believing in Macedonia and Achaia. 

8. For the word of the Lord has resounded from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has gone. There is no need to have you speak anything. 

9. For they tell about you, about what kind of welcome we had from you, and how you converted from idols to serve the living and true God.

10. And to wait for his son out of the heavens, the one whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, the one who will rescue us from the coming wrath. 


Commentary

Whatever else the Thessalonians may have gotten wrong, they clearly impressed not only Paul and his traveling companions but also the other churches with their readiness and eagerness. It is locked up in the idea of welcome. For Paul this has a powerful meaning, as any student of the letter to the Romans can attest to. It is not merely perfunctory. It is a spiritual reality.

Verses 2 and 3 focus on remembering. In verse 2 it is a noun — “our memory” of you. Paul remembers them, and what they mean to him, and this focuses his prayers. Then in verse 3 he uses memory again — this time a participial verb where Paul remembers what they had done when he prays to the Lord. He remembers to pray for them.

Look carefully at the list of three things in verse 3: faithful work, labor of love, and hopeful patience. We can see our old friend the triad of faith, hope, and love, albeit it slightly dressed up and modified. Faith is about the work–commitment. Love is now also about the work, the reason we work is not the work itself or ego driven success but our love for others. Hope is what keeps us at it without giving way to our lesser nature. The idea of work weaves itself throughout both First and Second Thessalonians. Here it is a commendation. By the time Second Thessalonians closes, it is a rebuke, as if these once hard working people had lost their way with poor theology.

The most powerful idea here is that of conversion in verse 9. Converting from idols to the One True God and with that conversion begins the waiting game: waiting for Jesus to rescue from wrath.

The coming of Jesus is the theme looming over the entire epistle but he dallies around before he gets to it. I think there is a reason for this. It presents a certain clunkiness to the text; like someone beating around the bush before he gets to the point, which doesn’t emerge again in fullness until chapter four. I have some ideas about that but I will save them for later.


Questions For Application

  1. When was the last time you welcomed someone into your life? Home? Church?
  2. Who do you imitate? Why?
  3. The Thessalonian disciples threw down idols to follow Jesus. What are you still clutching ahold of that keeps you from following Jesus fully?
  4. Who should be locked away in your memories to pray for, but you have forgotten?

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If I Close My Eyes I Can See The Sunset

This is the perfect story to finish the free Thanksgiving stories from the Fondue Writers Club.

Paul Bennett’s use of visual imagery creates a world where my sensory perception runs wild. I can smell — seriously — I can smell the garage, the hospital floor, the room, and the pie. I can feel the cold stethoscope, the crisp sheets, the steering wheel, the computer. I can hear the beeps from the machines, the car engine, and the voice of the nurse. I can see the headlights in the darkness, the computer screen, and the sunset’s brilliance. I can taste regret.

Click on the slice of pumpkin pie to read ‘The Years the Locust Ate’ and remember we’ll be back soon with free Christmas Stories to keep you entertained as we all continue to persevere in the midst of this horrible health crisis. Stay safe, be well, check on your neighbors, and remember to love each other.

Can you smell the cloves, ginger, and cinnamon in this pie? I can.

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I Feel Like the Green Beans In This Story Are A Personal Attack On Me?

Joe Shaw is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. But beneath that happiness and sunshine is a creepy man who writes creepy stores. That is a part of his brilliance. He knows how to take a story dark, and then, well . . . you’ll have to read for yourself.

This is a shocking story with strong imagery, but it is worth the read. You’ll like it. This is the next to the last Free Thanksgiving Story from the Fondue Writers Club. Click on the can of green beans to read Joe’s story, “Thanksgiving With The Family”

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Practice Makes Perfect?

Joe Courtemanche is scraping the bottom for a pilgrim story.

You might get that joke when you read the story. Or maybe not.

Two warnings: First, this story is not for people easily offended or with gentle dispositions. My friend Sheila should not read this story. Second, do not be afraid when you click on the link and see the frightening picture of the Bible with a pistol on top of it. That’s just Joe being Joe. He is a delightful and good person who loves the Lord very much and cares deeply about people.

With that, click on the glass of Apple Cider to read Thanksgiving Trauma: A Pilgrim Story.

This may or may not have been what the pilgrims drank?

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A Walk To Really Remember . . . Or Forget

Wait for the ending.

That is a must.

Today’s Free Thanksgiving Story comes to us from Derek Elkins. As I read it, I kept thinking the protagonist should own a chain of hotels called The Big Elk Inns. You may get that joke after you read it, or you might not.

Click on the Elk’s horn to read Derek’s great story, “A Thanksgiving To Remember” with the surprise whodunit ending.

Just Click on the Horn. If you Click the nose, you’ll end up as one of Kexel’s spies in Monday’s story

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No Pies Were Harmed In The Making Of This Story

Kathy got us started on our free Thanksgiving stories with a fun space aliens/amish/Christian story on Monday while Rob Cely took us to the dark place and then back again yesterday with a tale of trauma, doubt, belief, and a potty mouthed preacher.

It is my turn today, and I have a fun bit to share. Nothing earth shattering of life changing, but I hope you can find yourself in here as I’m taking the Fondue Writers Club back to its roots with a COVID-19 story wrapped around Thanksgiving. Or is it a Thanksgiving story wrapped around COVID-19?

Mostly it is a character study — six people making the best of a bad situation. I just had a good time writing it and I let myself be carefree, unlike my Halloween tale about Felix and Fortunatus, which I forced myself to be disciplined with every word choice.

I hope you like my story. Come back tomorrow for another FREE STORY.


Six People, Six Pies

Jamie D. Greening

Fondue Writer’s Club 

            Marci pulled her Lexus into the garage. The cobalt blue SUV was filled with all the ingredients needed for Thanksgiving. She sent a quick text to Frank from the car telling him to help her unload the twenty-pound turkey, spiral sliced ham, fifteen pounds of potatoes, pecans, fruit, cheeses, and bottles of wine. After she sent it, she noticed two other texts she’d ignored while driving. The first was from her son, the oldest of two children, telling her they couldn’t come for Thanksgiving because his wife had been exposed to COVID-19 at work and she’d now be under a quarantine that would last well beyond the holiday weekend. Right behind that depressing text was another one from her daughter with much the same story, except this time it was her son-in-law. His boss was in the hospital on a ventilator with COVID-19 which was sad, but it also meant he would have to work through the holiday weekend. Their daughter’s family wouldn’t come either. 

            “Shoot!” she banged on the steering wheel. Then she said, “shoot” over and over in rapid succession until Frank, who finally arrived in the garage, asked, “What happened, did you forget to buy a ham?” 

            “No,” she said. “No one can come. The kids are all quarantined for the holiday. Our son and daughter will not be here, but more importantly my grandchildren will not be here. It looks like it will just be you and me.” She moaned, then said, “How miserable. Just you and me, like every other day of my life.” 

            Frank feigned insult. “Sorry to be so miserable.”

            “Oh, shut up,” Marci said. “You know what I mean. I’ve been thinking about this Thanksgiving all year long. First, we missed Easter, then we missed the Fourth of Frickin’ July and now Turkey Day. This is the worst year of my life.”

            “I know,” Frank said, “stupid COVID.” That was all he said. They unloaded the groceries without speaking. When they finished, Marci told her husband, “I’m going to the mailbox to see if any more bad news can possibly come today. Maybe we’ll get an eviction notice, or worse, a summons for jury duty.” 

            The Monday mail was only fliers for virtual Black Friday events and a catalogue for useless gadgets.

            The sun had set orange behind the trees, and Marci saw someone walking toward her on the road, but she couldn’t tell who it was until she saw the dog. “Hello there, Chewbacca!” The golden retriever wagged his tail. “How are you and your owner tonight?” 

            “Ruff ruff barky bark” said a young female voice in reply.

            Marci laughed, “And how are you doing tonight, Sandy?”

            Sandy said, “Work was good, everyone is on slow-mode as we enter the holidays, but it doesn’t feel very holidayish at all. Dakota and I aren’t going anywhere?”

            “What do you mean?” Marci asked.

            “We always go to the metro area to be with his folks at Thanksgiving, but that has all been scrapped. His parents are spooked about the virus and all his brothers and sisters have decided to hunker down at their homes. Looks like we’re stuck here with nothing, and I don’t even know how to cook a turkey or bake a pie.” 

            A smile crept across Marci’s angular face. “Our kids told us they couldn’t come this year, too. But, you’re about the same age as they are; why not come have Thanksgiving with us? It’d be great. Let’s say we eat around one in the afternoon?”

            “That sounds fun. Let me talk to Dakota about it. Are you sure it is okay with Frank?” 

            Marci laughed out loud. “Frank does what I tell him. Besides, he’d love to have you guys over. We’ve been talking about it since you moved here back in February.”

            The next morning Frank invited Herb to Thanksgiving while they talked across the fence about winterizing the grass. In the afternoon, Marci walked three houses down to Ellen Baker’s house. Ellen was in her eighties and had been the first person to welcome them to the neighborhood thirty years ago. Though never close, their relationship was cordial and somewhat formal. When Ellen’s husband died five years ago, she’d asked Frank to be a pallbearer.

            Thanksgiving was back on the calendar for Marci and Frank, Sandy and Dakota, Ellen, and Herb. 

***

            Marci reassured everyone she had plenty of food, but that didn’t keep Ellen from making two pecan pies, two pumpkin, a chocolate, and a mincemeat. “Six people, six pies. One pie per person,” Ellen said. “It’s a rule we’ve lived by in my family since we got off the Mayflower.”

            She also brought homemade rolls. “Her bread smells just like my grandmother used to bake,” Frank said. “Hey Marci, why do your rolls never smell this good?”

            “I am sure they smell this good when the baker makes them at the grocery store,” she said.

            Sandy and Dakota brought ice cream of various flavors, a cheeseboard, and a can of cranberry jelly which came in handy as a base underneath the cornucopia to hold the centerpiece upright on the table. 

            Herb brought an eighteen-year-old bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey. 

            The six of them talked in generalities about the weather which turned into a conversation about the neighborhood and how it had changed over the years. Ellen told them about the grocery store where the empty lot was. Herb complained about his property taxes going up, Sandy complained about cars driving too fast down the road, and Marci asked if it was true that the house on the end of the street was owned by a tech billionaire. No one knew the answer, but Sandy was certain that same house was occupied by people who lived in some sort of polygamous family because different women and children were always coming and going. 

            When everyone had filled his or her plate, Frank said, “We all know each other, but we don’t really know each other well. So, let me ask one of those open-ended questions designed to get conversation going and help people get to know each other. What book is on your nightstand? Ellen, do you mind going first?”

            “Ah, well, I have several. My Bible is always on my nightstand, but so too is a copy of the recent ‘National Geographic’. I love to look at the pictures.  But right now, I am rereading the Anne of Green Gables series.”

            “Ah, good one,” Sandy said. “I loved Montgomery’s books when I was a kid.”

            “What is grownup Sandy reading?” Marci asked.

            Sandy said. “I’m reading Phil Collin’s autobiography.”

            “Phil Collins?” Frank said. “The singer?” 

            “Yeah,” Sandy said. “My mom recommended it to me. We both love his music.”

            “I would have never called that one.” Frank scratched his head. “How about you, Herb, what are you reading?”

            “The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Not the science fiction one by H. G. Wells. It is easy to get them mixed up.” 

            Ellen raised her eyebrows. “Ellison. Impressive. One of the classics.”

            Herb smiled at Ellen. “It is on my list of one hundred books to read. I hope to finish the list before I die.”

            “How far into your list are you?” Marci asked. 

            “This one is number forty-two.” Herb looked at Dakota. “What are you reading?” 

            “Tech manuals for work. I just got promoted this year and I’ve learned there is a lot I need to learn, so every night I read and study some. It is boring, but it is making me better at work.”

            Herb nodded. “There is nothing boring about wanting to be better at what we do. Well done.” He raised his fork, which had a thick piece of gravy slathered turkey breast, as a salute.  

            Marci blurted out, “Well, I’m reading pure smut – one smutty romance after another.”

            “You’re not supposed to tell people that,” Frank lowered his voice to a fake whisper. “Honey. Remember, we talked.” 

            “Ah, these are our friends. They might as well know the truth. I don’t live a wild and crazy life filled with flings, frolics, and fornication but I enjoy reading about it.”

            “What are you reading?” Sandy asked Frank, clearly not wanting to get bogged down in smutty romances. 

            “Ah,” he said, swallowing a mouthful of chicken and dressing. “I’m reading this clever little collection of short stories called The COVID Quarantine Cantina. They all have a COVID-19 theme to them. It’s like a lot of people locked in a bar and they are sharing stories with each other. Lots of talented authors who no doubt have promising futures in literature.”

            Marci decided they would have dessert and coffee in the den where the fire roared. Light jazz played on a digital speaker. A picture window revealed the raindrops dripping off the autumnal leaves. The wind blew. As they talked, the temperature dropped. The rain fell softer and floated down as snowflakes. A neighborhood tabby cat sat in the crook of the largest tree limb. 

            Inside it was warm. The conversation moved from books to films. Sandy insisted the greatest Christmas movie ever was Love Actually while Frank insisted it was Die Hard. Poor Ellen had not seen either of those, but she believed Meet Me in St. Louis was the greatest. She sang two lines from Judy Garland’s famous song from the film:

            Here we are as in olden days

            Happy golden days of yore

            Faithful friends who are dear to us

            Gather near to us, once more.

Herb kept quiet until Marci made him answer. He said his favorite Christmas movie was The Lord of the Rings. No one challenged him that as great as The Lord of the Rings is, it is not, in fact, a Christmas movie. 

***

            “Whose up for a game?” Marci said.

            “Sure,” Herb said, “As long as it doesn’t involve running, throwing, jumping, or thinking.” 

            “I second that,” Dakota rubbed his stomach. “I can’t move.” 

            Marci brought out various board games, but nothing seemed to fit the mood. Before they knew it, they were sitting around a table playing Go Fish. They played three games, and Ellen won all three. 

            “How do you do it?” Sandy asked.

            “I was a court reporter for thirty years. My brain is wired to remember things. And then play it back.” Ellen winked at her, “My dear, you asked for nines four times in a row.” 

            Marci opened another bottle of wine. Frank, Dakota, and Herb each took a tumbler of the Irish whiskey. Marci handed Ellen a glass of merlot, but Ellen declined. “I prefer grain to grapes, dear,” she giggled. “It is the secret to my long life, so hand me some of that Irish goodness, if you would, Frank.”

            “Alright,” Frank said. When he brought her glass back, he said, “Now everyone needs to tell us what was your best Thanksgiving ever? This will be our last open-ended question. I promise.”

            Dakota started laughing. He whispered into Sandy’s ear and she blushed. 

            “Do tell! Do tell!” Marci shouted as she pointed at them. “What is it?”

            Dakota said, “Our second Thanksgiving we got snowed in and weren’t able to go home. It was a terrible blizzard, the kind that shuts down everything. We weren’t able to leave the house for four days.”

            “That was your best?” Frank said.

            “Yeah. Absolutely. Best ever. Hands down.” Dakota said and Sandy punched him. 

            “Oh dear,” Ellen said. “I think I understand. Pour me a little more that whiskey, there, Herb.” 

            Sandy said, “That was Dakota’s favorite, for obvious reasons, and it was nice, but my best Thanksgiving memory is when I was a little girl. We went to my grandmother’s house and in the afternoon when everyone was watching the football game, I helped her do the dishes. Afterward, we sat in her bedroom and talked. She showed me all the family photo albums and many of her heirloom jewelry pieces. She told me what they all meant and where she’d gotten each one. When we finished, she gave me an emerald ring. Grams told me it was given to her by her grandmother. She said it wasn’t valuable, but it was meaningful.”

            Sandy grabbed the gold necklace around her neck and lifted it up. At the end was an emerald ring. “I don’t trust myself to wear it because it is fragile, so it goes around my neck.” Her eyes watered. “My grandmother died before Christmas that same year. It was a heart attack. I guess because of that, the memory and the ring have always been a treasure to me.”

            Dakota reached out and took his wife’s hand.

            Sandy wiped her cheek, then she asked Marci, “What was your favorite?” 

            “My favorite memory isn’t as great as that one, but it was five years ago. I was still working then, but during the holiday I ditched Frank and all the normal stuff and flew my mother and daughter to Chicago for a girl’s shopping trip. It was awesome. We had so much fun and we spent money with reckless abandon.” 

            “Yeah, I had to a get a part time job delivering pizzas to pay for it.” Frank said.

            “What’s your favorite Thanskgiving, Frank?” Sandy nibbled at a cookie. “You’re always asking us, but what about you.”

            Frank rubbed his chin. “I thought long and hard about that one yesterday, actually. I decided it was the first Thanksgiving after I became a Christian. For the first time in my life, I understood that I was thankful to someone specific for what I’d been blessed with. Up until then, there had always been this nebulous idea of thankfulness within me that was vague and strange. But once I found the Lord, I knew who I was thankful to. I remember when the pastor read out at the worship service the night before Thanksgiving the words from the Psalm, ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.’ It shook me. I almost had an out-of-body experience when I put the two together, trusting and loving the Lord and thankfulness. I didn’t realize you couldn’t really be thankful without Jesus. It changed everything for me.”

            Dakota sat up. The air in the room changed. “Are you saying,” Dakota pointed at Frank, “That because I am an atheist then I can’t even be thankful? That holidays are just for church people?” 

            It was not the response Frank had expected. He stuttered and shook his head. “No, that is not what I was trying to say. I didn’t mean to offend you,” He looked at his wife. “Marci, you know better what I mean than I do, can you help me out here and tell Dakota what I mean?”

            She patted her husband’s thigh. “Of course. I am happy to bail you out anytime.” She looked into the young man’s eyes. “Dakota, he didn’t mean that as an accusation or an insult to you. What he was talking about was his own perspective. You have yours and he has his. As you might have guessed Frank and I share a lot of the same views. Our faith is very important to us. It wasn’t always. Once, we didn’t think much of it. But then, one day, we did. And since that change has come, it helps us focus. Thanksgiving is a spiritual holiday for us. It is as much about our connection to the Lord as it is anything else. Frank isn’t saying you can’t be thankful if you don’t believe in the Lord, but instead what he means is that for those of us who do believe it adds a layer of meaning that is bonus. It doesn’t take away any of your feelings or thoughts and it certainly doesn’t minimize them. It just makes us think about it from a religious perspective a little differently.”
            “Amen!” Ellen said, as she took a sip of whiskey. 

            Marci took that cue to deflect. “Ellen, you’ve had more Thanksgivings than the rest of us. What was your favorite?”

            Ellen stared into the fire for an awkward moment. “Well, they all run together, to be honest. Turkeys, pies, kids, grandkids.” She cleared her throat. “But I can tell you the worst one ever. It was the year they killed the President. They shot him on a Friday. We buried him on Monday. Thanksgiving was Thursday. It was awful. The whole nation was stunned in mourning. It felt like we’d never be happy or thankful again. Camelot was gone. I’ll never forget the dread.”

            “1983,” Marci mumbled. She looked at Frank and he frowned. “That was our worst Thanksgiving ever.” She took a sip and swallowed hard, harder than the tiny bit of wine required. She said nothing else. 

            Silence remained until Ellen looked at Herb and said, “And you, reader of classic books, what was your favorite Thanksgiving?”

            Herb sighed. “I have spent every Thanksgiving alone for twenty-seven years. I was happy once, but it evaporated. My friends are always busy with their own families during the holidays. I usually eat a frozen pizza, watch a movie and drink too much and pass out.” He looked around the room at each one of them in turn. “Without a doubt, this is the best Thanksgiving I have ever had. I feel privileged that you have shared it with me.”

            “Amen!” Ellen said. “Pour me another drink, Frank.” 

            The six of them soon were eating again, then they watched Die Hard. Frank read three short stories from the book on his nightstand. Herb explained the social and racial dynamics of The Invisible Man. Sandy told how her family ancestry went all the way back to Scotland. Dakota and Frank went for a walk around the block and talked about how similar their jobs were. 

            It was after midnight before Frank drove Ellen home and the house cleared out.          

Featured

Active Thanksgiving Drill

Okay, that title might be a bit misleading, but after you read Rob Cely’s wonderful story — “Number 57” you’ll understand. Rob’s story feels familiar in one way, but then it takes you down another familiar path that is markedly different and before you know it, these two familiar paths have collided inside your heart.

This is day two of free Thanksgiving stories from the Fondue Writers Club. Be looking for them through to next Thursday. Click on the biggest spoke plume to read “Number 57”. There is some language, and some of the themes could be upsetting for some readers.

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Captains Log — Stardate THANKSGIVING!

I have wonderful news for you!

Today begins the ‘Thanksgiving Stories” I promised you from the Fondue Writers Club. Each one of us are taking a day to provide a FREE story that has a general theme of Thanksgiving. You’ll recall in the past we’ve brought you COVID Chronicles, Halloween tales, unthemed shorts, and now THANKSGIVING STORIES!

You’re welcome.

Today we start with Kathy Kexel who goes science fiction on us. I am so proud of her. When you read her story, look for my last name in the text. It is in there, I promise. I think she is virtue signaling.

Click on your present location to read Kathy’s logbook narrative, “Other” and come back tomorrow for another FREE Thanksgiving themed story.

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Greenbean’s 2020 Election Analysis

I’ve got some top-notch analysis for you, but first, I want to brag. I was far closer to being right than I was wrong. If you check the blog I posted (click here) the day before the election, you will note the following:

  1. I said Biden would win the ‘blue wall’ which he did. he carried Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Wisconsin will end up being the closest, although Pennsylvania took more time.
  2. I said one of three states will go blue — Texas, Ohio, or Georgia. In my map I colored in Texas (more on that below) but it didn’t and neither did Ohio. Georgia did. They have not called it yet, but Biden’s lead there seems insurmountable unless a recount finds a trove of Trump votes hidden somewhere, which is very, very unlikely.
  3. I called Arizona for Biden. There seems to be some doubt about it (and I am not 100% certain Biden’s lead will hold) but it is in Biden’s favor and at the writing of this blog if I were a betting person I would say Biden’s lead will hold because most of the vote that is outstanding is in Maricopa and Pima counties — both places Biden is winning.
  4. I said the President would take Florida, and he did. I want to thank my people on the ground in Florida who gave me insight. Florida really wasn’t even close, especially by Florida standards.
  5. I had some wildcards out there — like President Trump taking Oregon and President-Elect Biden taking Alaska, but it seems none of those are going to pan out and that is okay, those were reaches and I knew it.
  6. The one surprise I had where I was really wrong was North Carolina. I thought President-Elect Biden would take the Tar Heel State but President Trump will win it resoundingly.

Now, how about some analysis. Let us begin with polling. Again, we learn, the pollsters are really no practical use. They get the margins in states overwhelming wrong. Part of this reason is Republicans always underperform. This was true of Trump in 2016, Romney in 2012, McCain in 2008, and Bush in 2004. What they got right, though, is the national average. They stink at state polling, but nationally they were correct in 2016 and this year. When all the vote is totaled, Biden will likely win the popular vote in American by 7-10 million, which would be in that 5-6% range.

Let’s talk about Texas for a moment because that is where I live. I can’t underscore enough the. thrashing democrats took in this state. Their hopes were so high, but reality came crashing around them at the ballot box. They not only failed to turn the state blue, they didn’t even achieve a purple hue. Republicans took the state house and did very well. Which leads me to more analysis.

Republicans took a lot of state legislatures in this election. That, combined with the gains the GOP made in the House and how they are still defending their senate majority, tells me the nation repudiated Donald Trump but not conservativism. The United States is still, as it always has been, a center-right nation. Joe Biden was a centrist candidate and the nation rewarded him.

I could never, never, in a million years have predicted the angry breakup between Trump’s supporters and Fox News. Fox called Arizona very early and then the AP followed suit in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. As of this writing (10 November 1:25PM CST), CNN, NBC, The Washington Post, and all other reputable organizations have not called Arizona labeling it “Too Close to Call”. Trump supporters viewed Fox as stabbing them in the back. Time will tell if this is simply a lover’s spat that will mend in time or whether it is a divorce. If it is a divorce, I wonder who gets Tucker Carlson in the custody battle?

It seems to me Florida should no longer be thought of as a swing state. It is decidedly ruby red with a blue dot at the bottom. The with margins of victory for republican candidates are similar to Texas. However, Pennsylvania is the new Florida, and Georgia is the new Colorado.

Let’s talk about coalitions. President Trump did very well in this election and received a lot of votes, and surprisingly a lot of votes from the Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American communities in Florida and the Mexican-American communities in Texas. Donald Trump performed very well in The Valley. I have always affirmed that ethnic communities have a strong conservative traditionalists line in them, and if the GOP can put aside its tendency toward racism, then it could have powerful inroads with people of color. By contrast, Black voters turned out in droves for Joe Biden, and that is probably the difference in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and definitely Georgia. As American turns less and less white, it is these demographics that will determine political fates. Both parties better pay attention, and if the DNC is smart, they will appoint Stacey Abrams as their leader.

I have a question that I do not have the answer to; but the question itself is, in some ways, the answer. Will Republicans turn out in these kinds of numbers when President Trump is not on the ballot? They didn’t in 2018, and that led to the Blue Wave. I am assuming he will not run again in 2024. He could, but I assuming he will not. So much of the republican brand is tied up in the personality of the President that I wonder if there will not be a severe drop in enthusiasm.

Something needs to be said about the situation with the transition. Let me be clear: President Trump has every legal right to challenge and question results in court and through democratic processes. That is how we do things in this country. There is no way any of these challenges will hold up, however, as the situation is insurmountable. In 2000 Bush V. Gore we were talking about 537 votes in one state, Florida. What we have here are several states, all of which will (Arizona is the sticky wicket) go to Biden — Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin all by thousands of votes. Biden will win Georgia by around 12,000, he is ahead now in Pennsylvania by 45,000 and will likely get close to 60 or 70k, Michigan is around 150k and Wisconsin is sitting at 20k. For comparison, President Trump won Wisconsin by 20k in 2016, Pennsylvania by 40k, and Michigan by 10k. And in 2016 President Trump won fair and square. That is what I said then, and that is true now. Recounts only change a handful of votes where bad math was used or a ballot was mislabeled. It does not affect thousands upon thousands and it will never undo Biden’s electoral college total of over 270. If Pennsylvania is miraculous taken, Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada more than make it up. If Arizona is lost, that is no big, and the same is true of Georgia. The cake is baked. Biden will likely win with 306 Electoral votes –the same number Trump won in 2016. But all Biden needs is 270, and that is already attained.

I have heard people complain about ‘The media doesn’t get to pick the president’ when they complain about what states have been ‘called’. They are correct, the media doesn’t. The states do with their elections. All the media is doing is applying math to the equations so that we can tell who will win. That is all they ever do. Sometimes they make mistakes (Again, Florida, I’m looking at you) but not often. Nothing is official until the election is certified and the electoral college votes. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know who will be certified and who will be elected based on the beauty of math.

Lots of discussion about the Biden heavy late vote in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia. That is not hard to figure out, and no, it is not fraud. President Trump told his supporters not to use the mail-in ballots. Over and over and over again he said that. Democrat’s told their people to use them because it was safer. The result was predictable; The President won the in-person voting, which is tabulated instantly on machines and The President-Elect won the mail-in voting which takes time because it is a paper ballot in an envelope which must be opened and looked at.

To that end, all calls of fraud, rigged elections, and illegal votes needs to stop. That just didn’t happen. I understand being upset if your team lost, but the system works. There are observers, lawyers, and patriots throughout the electoral process and they are wonderful people. There is just no evidence that fraud occurred. Are there clerical errors? Yes. Are there problems with some votes? Yes. Could there have been shenanigans with some people cheating? Yes. But nothing in wholesale amounts, and nothing that is one side or the other. Just as many cheaters, errors, and problems benefit GOP as it does the dems. A good example is in Arizona. The Trump Administration has sued over disputed ballots, but it is only 180 ballots and nobody really knows how those ballots will turn. Conservative Media and social networks keep throwing out ‘Trumps challenges” as if we’re talking about large numbers of votes that could change the totals. We are not. In fact, Republicans, apart from the President, did very well in this election. So, in summary on this point, President Trump lost, but he is legally entitled to challenge because the states don’t certify the elections until much later, with final results due by December 8. We have plenty of time. His challenge will not change anything, so he would be much wiser, and it would be much better for the nation, if he would concede and let us move on.

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2020 Election Prediction

It is a Greenbean tradition — to blog predictions about the election. How long have I been doing this? Well, somewhere out there in the interwebscapesingularity is a MySpace page where I have blogged about how I predicted John McCain would lose a close one to Barack Obama and win the Presidency.

For context, click here to see 2012 where I predicted Mitt Romney would be the next President of the United States and 2016 I couldn’t have been more wrong. I didn’t see President Trump winning by 80,000 votes spread out over three significant states. Take everything that comes from this with a gigantic grain of salt. I mean, a boulder of salt. I am just having fun here.

Before I launch into predictions, some housekeeping.

  1. If you haven’t already voted, and you are legally registered to do so, please go vote. Who you vote for is irrelevant to me. Participating in our government will help you grow as a person.
  2. Pray. There is a lot of emotion and turmoil — more than I have ever seen — regarding this election. Pray that violence does not erupt and nothing will occur to jeopardize our union.
  3. Remember, I am a-political when it comes to analysis. Regardless of who wins the presidency, Jesus is King, and he is my Lord, so my loyalties are to a much higher power than crass politicians who beg for votes so they can wield temporary power in vulgar displays. I have far more important work to do than any politician. My interest is, generally, more about societal trends and trying to read where the country is.

So, that said, let’s do some analysis and prediction.

The President has a solid base — as solid a base as anyone could ever get. His followers, fans really, will crawl through glass and swim in a sea of rubbing alcohol to vote for him. The issue in analyzing things is, that base is only about 43% nationwide. With no third party candidate there it pull votes, will he be able to get to fifty percent? A good baseline example of this is my home state of Texas in 2016. The President received 52% of the vote while Clinton received 43%. Texas is a red state, and on the face of it President Trump won by a comfortable nine points. But he only got 2% above majority. Other candidates and write-ins siphoned off the difference.

How will those break this year? It is hard to tell and to be honest it could all break incredibly close like 2016 or like 2000 in Bush v. Gore. It could break in a singular direction, like 1980 when Reagan and Carter were very close going in, but all the undecideds and I mean all, broke for Reagan which lead to a landslide.

This feels like the latter to me. The national polls still have, as of the day before, Biden at 6.5% ahead and he is leading in all the key battleground states besides North Carolina, and that is a statistical tie.

Of course, none of the polls count. The only poll which matters now is the real poll of who gets the votes.

Florida — Cuban and Venezuelan Americans are breaking for the President, which is a big deal. But senior adults are breaking for Biden in large numbers. Which way will it go? I think Florida stays red, which is an Election Day must for President Trump. He can’t win without it.

North Carolina and Pennsylvania — These are close races, but I perceive these are going blue. Biden picks these up I think by five percentage points. He gets Pennsylvania because of his close ties to the region and he gets North Carolina as a protest vote.

Texas, Georgia, and Ohio — These three are statistically even for both candidates. President Trump carried all of them easily in 2016. I think one of them, I don’t really know which one, but one of them, will turn from red to blue. If I had to lay out good money on it, I would wager Texas goes blue based predominantly upon the amount of early voting, and the turnout in Harris County. Geographically Texas is red — where I live President Trump enjoys great support and he carried my county at 73% four years ago. However, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and much of the suburbs in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area are blue to purple, and that is where most of the people live. It’s gonna be close. Keep in mind, if they all three stayed red I would not be surprised, but at least one will flip.

Arizona — Based on the polling for the senate race in Arizona, which has Democratic candidate Mark Kelly ahead by an average of nearly 6%, I think President Trump will loose Arizona.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota — President Trump was able to demolish the blue wall by picking off Michigan and Wisconsin in 2016. I don’t think he will do that again. The blue wall returns, which all the polling data indicates, even if adjusted for the kind of errors the polling data showed leading into the 2016 election.

Iowa — This one is the shocker. President Trump has a slim (less than one percent edge) in the Iowa polls right now — at about 46% of the vote. If that other wobbly four percent decides its time for a change, then Iowa goes blue. I predict it does.

Oregon — Is there a state that could flip from blue to red? Is President Trump cooking up a surprise? If I had to guess one, It would be Oregon. Though traditionally blue, there is a very conservative streak to much of Oregon, and the continual rioting and civil unrest in Portland might create a backlash in the electorate. Oregon is a vote by mail state, so they should have the results early in the evening (west coast time).

Alaska — Alaska is notoriously difficult to poll, but something in my gut says their senator, Lisa Murkowski, who is Republican but tends to always be on the other side of President Trump, might know about her state more than others. So, I think there is a possibility it goes from red to blue. We will not know though, until sometime around Thanksgiving.

So, here is my 2020 Electoral Map Prediction:

So, as you see, I have Vice President Biden defeating President Trump.

Of course, I have been wrong before and will be wrong again, no doubt. However, these are simply predictions. No one knows what will happen until after Tuesday when the polls start closing. The American People get their say, and we will see.

For President Trump to win, he needs to hold everything he had last year, which means he needs to win Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, all states he is currently trailing by an average of five to six points. It is not impossible, but increasingly unlikely.

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The Story Is Free, The Cat Will Cost You

Joe Shaw finishes up our Halloween free stories. As always he reminds us why he is the one his family never turns their back on.

Ever.

Something about this story reminds me of his first COVID Chronicle . . .

This wraps it up for us on this cycle, but we will be back in about three weeks with Thanksgiving stories for you to enjoy, and the COVID Quarantine Cantina is available for purchase on Kindle, paperback, and audio book, so go buy lots of those. That should keep you busy.

Click on the rock skipping across the water to read, “Mindy’s Coming Home Again”.

Just click the rock. If you click anything else, you’d better go check on your pet

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The Story is Free But the Monster Must Be Paid

It is my turn for the Fondue Writers Club free Halloween Story festival. All of the previous stories have been fantastic — mostly ghost stories (although Courtemanche went more sci-fi, and I am proud of him for it). Who doesn’t love a good ghost story!

I did mine a little different, opting for a narrative poem. It is free verse with no discernible meter and intentionally without rhyme. The first draft was in complete rhyme, but it hindered the flow so I I tossed that and opted for this instead. It is not specifically Halloween, as I wrote one of those several years ago (Jolly Rogers — click here to see the Amazon page) so I challenged myself to do something different.

I hope you like it. If you do, please share. If you don’t, don’t tell me or anyone else. You can keep that to yourself.


The Tragedy of Fortunatus and Felix
Jamie D. Greening

I
The world as we know it is filled with fright, tis always been so
None more blood chilling than what lives in the space outside the light
Darkness fills droopy eyes; the sun declines so the moon may rise and that is when the
ear hears the sudden sound, the eye pops open

There is nothing there, no ghost, no spirit, no phantasm sublime
Go back to bed it is nothing, only too many campfire fairy fables
Listen, the wind blows not, no one else is here
The blanket is a shield of woven fabric, a talisman to protect from the midnight dread

Tonight the rustling of leaves in the autumn chill is unfamiliar
The squeak, the grunt, the moan, the wail are not in the library
of the mind
Explanations shoot through the head – a neighbor, a friend, a child, a lover
Call out? Announce? Go and see? Paralysis and silence
Cold sweat

An account unchanged a million times or more
Fright is a lifelong nocturnal companion
happy to discover it is only a neighbor seeking help, a lost horse eating apples, a hungry racoon digging in the garbage or long-lost lover coming to see if there is any love left

Except when it is not

More than the children of humanity admit,
tis a wraith in the night that bangs the door
or slides between the parallax
to suck souls from fleshly flasks, draining blood as a drunk chugs wine on a winter’s eve
The echo sounds like crawling; perhaps it is an owl on the roof, or it could be a fanged phantom or a sharp clawed ghoul with cold blood searching for a way through the planks in the wall

II
Fortunatus and his brother in the juniper thicket
Halfway up the mountain they ate
Roast rabbit and zested roots, tubers dug wild in the woods covered in spices from a leather-bound trinket worn ‘round the neck
With certain sling Fortunatus struck the kit, Felix crushed the head with muddy boots

‘The journey is an adventure’ Felix sang to an ancient ode, ‘Yet favor shines from the lucky star
Tomorrow we climb the mountain and see fair earth as do the birds and the heavenly host swirling in the sky
On the round peak we will drink and recline in the lofts above
Forsaking the river and denying the ferryman his fare
the sons of Tarquinius will conquer mysterious Mount Trepidatio’

Fire warmed four hands and cheeks; brotherly love warmed their two hearts
The younger played his seven-holed flute; they sang of heroes, women, and youth while drinking wine from a flagon Felix filched from father’s storehouse
Just sober enough to make prayers and practice diviners’ arts
‘Protect us, Oh Spirit, from the marauder, the cheat, the jackal, and the dragon’

Sunrise greeted Felix first, he with auburn hair
Herculean Fortunatus shook the campground after dawn
Up they went on their father’s business, up Mt. Trepidatio
Neglected switchbacks and washed out passes slowed their ascent up the long-abandoned path

III
Supper on the summit was meatless, hard bread and salty sauce
No wood for fire, the trees far behind
They shivered in the cold waiting for slumber
Dreamworld came at last, but it did not abide
something loud approached in the dark

‘Who is there?’ Brave Fortunatus cried, ‘Show yourself. We are friends traveling to fair Harbor Town’
No voice replied, no greeting exchanged only the huff of a ravenous roar
The moon was full but hidden by clouds, just then it poked out her shine
There before him a beast, a banshee, behemoth, growled and pounced like a cat

Fortunatus was gone
his body dragged away
into the eternal slumbering dark.

Felix saw little, mostly heard it go down, his brother was supper tonight.
Oh, my brother, the oldest by ten heartbeats, how I loved you and worshipped you, and now you are no more

No place to hide on Trepidatio’s summit, nowhere to run
Exposed and weak, his heart beat beat beat
his breath evaporated; fear stuck to him as a spider’s web clings to a fly
‘Now I shall die, the sons of Tarquinius will be no more forever’

The attacker did not come
Death stayed his hand
Out of the void Felix heard crunch and slurp, the joyful sound of sucking

The sun arose and Felix could see
the world fresh and new and alive
Rock on the mountain leaves no tracks, but blood stains stone
Felix followed not the trail, for he knew it led to the dead
He gathered the camp and descended toward Harbor Town, only a half day away

These are the times when despair turns to hope
Felix believed he had made it through death’s nightmare snare
The sun was out, and his vista was clear; he could see the town below
Danger was past and not present

The hope is false, and the threat is real
The killer will hunger again
Having tasted the blood of one brother, it now craves what flows inside the other

IV
Clenched muscles stood guard through the night then hurried down the mount
Fatigue plagues even the young, but not as dangerous as the skeptics doubt
Felix wiped his tears as the grief took his thoughts
Had he seen a monster? Was it only a leopard or bear? Surely it was not what he thought he saw in the pitch of dark

The trees had returned on his downward journey, and he found one and sat beside it
Under the tamarisk, tears washed his heart, the shade soothed his muscle and bone
In their youth how they played, sticks were swords and valiant spears
In swift river they swam
In fields they ran
Everywhere they went they laughed
Fortuantus the swifter and stronger, Felix the clever and nimble. The sons of Tarqinius were famous throughout the village
playful boys filled with the daemon of mischief

Was it a game, a prank, some joke Fortunatus had planned
Was he gone now? Was it real?
Was he already at Harbor Town laughing in the tavern?
Under the canopy he cursed, for strong Fortunatus was dead
He knew it true for he felt the absence in the part of him where no words existed, where nothing e’er needed be said

V
Deep sorrow squeezes from a person a horrible sound; the force of wind and the mind pressing up and down through the body, pushing life itself out and away from the human composition and into the evaporating ether
Shouts, moans, sobs and screams
Begging, pleading, cursing, praying
Betwixt these hideous noises a supernatural silence lingers, like a gazelle lingering too long at the water’s edge when the crocodile is just waiting to bite
A quiet such as in the temple of worship or the nursery of a sleeping baby; a special silence reserved only for holy, hope, and hurt.

In one of these supernal silences Felix heard he was not alone

The road to Harbor Town to his left
To his right, his brother’s killer
Closer to Felix than ten horse lengths
The predator had quarried his prey

The stench, whether from festering blood black on the matted brown, or from the back of the throat of the four-fanged beast, was like unto the tanner’s shop
Fetid meat, maggots, and bile
Curved horns looped round and round and came to lethal points
It stood like man, screamed like woman
Lunging toward Felix

To this side, then to that
Nimble and quick on his feet
Fortunatus’ brother escaped the sharp claw, but
not before it tore through his tunic and skin; hot
blood ran down his leg

VI
No sword or shield he carried
The sling was lost with his twin
The only hope he had to live
Was to outrun the fiend

In direction, he erred, as he fled from the shrub
Uphill he ran where doom awaited, rather than down
to where people could help
The village below was his one salvation
but he went up as if to die

The predator announced with boisterous breath and abominable bellows
Time slipped from the young man, the joy of life and hope of a future were crushed with every step
Alas, man is not brute, woman is not savage
Humanity is gifted with nobility
The knowledge of art and the desire of dignity abides in every person’s beating heart
Whether inspiration or desperation, teller nor hearer shall e’er know
But Felix stopped in his shoes and turned on his heels and looked at the creature that chased hard.

‘I can’t outrun you
I can’t out fight you
Your strength is greater than mine
So, before you devour me, please allow me, a song with which to end my life’

VII
The unlearned creature did not understand, fangs covered in froth and breath out-of-control
Confused, it rested on haunches while Felix
produced from his pouch the seven-holed flute
From memory he played the one his father loved, the favorite
tune of Tarquinius
An epic about love and home and hearth, the ballad of ancestors and lore

Two bars in, the animal became placid, resting in blessed repose
Six bars in and Felix’s notes faltered; from the forest emerged two juveniles of same fur and fangs but without the looped horns
Three more arrived, and then one more
By the third stanza there were twelve
All in rest, calmed and docile
Tamed by Felix’s flute

Over and over he played the same melody, tip toeing
downhill toward town.
He kept playing and playing, the things kept
arriving, now almost twenty in the crowd

He played on and on until out-of-sight
Then he ran with all speed
until at last upon a farmhouse he
fell at the outskirts of Harbor Town

VIII
‘That’s not true!’ the child said with a squeal, ‘Grandpa
you made that up’
The old man replied, ‘Thus true I do swear,’ as he showed six deep scars on his side.
‘Off of Mt. Trepidatio stay, take the river always, pay the ferry toll, come what may’ He picked up his flute and played his grandchildren a lullaby
A tear fell from his eye for his long gone twin
Remember strong Fortunatus forever

Featured

The Candy is Free – So is The Grace But The Battle Royale Will Cost You

If you like angels, demons, fights, and punchy social commentary mixed with grace then have I got a deal for you! Paul Bennett has given us a great story that takes place on Halloween night, which is perfect for our Free Halloween Stories here at the Fondue Writers Club. And because it is Paul Bennett, it starts with a beautiful description of trees.

Tomorrow, Rob Cely is up and then I am on the schedule for Thursday.

Click on the bowl of Halloween Candy to read Paul’s wonderful “The Visitation – A Halloween Tale”.

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Guest Blog Post — Voting

Last week my co-worker, Kelly Trapane, posted on Facebook about her voting experience with her daughter and connected that with her parents. I asked her to consider turning that it into a blog post for me. She agreed, and here it is.

I share her story because voting is important. It is a right which has been preserved with the blood and sacrifice of generations of Americans. It is your civic duty to vote, to vote informed, and to vote your passions. We all have different ideas about how things should go, but voting is a shared value we all celebrate. I hope you enjoy Kelly’s story.


Kelly and her daughter Faith Voting

I had the most amazing day today! My daughter turned 18 over the weekend and I accompanied her to vote for the very first time. It was an honor to go with her! 

This being the year that the 19 amendment celebrates 100 years, it is not lost on us either! Did you notice my tee-shirt? I’m so thankful to the many brave women who paved the road 100 years ago. Today, my daughter and I cast our votes side by side in Marble Falls.

Madam Mayor herself in 1917
Click the pic to learn some history

Fun fact- Marble Falls elected a female mayor three years before the 19 the Amendment. Ophelia “Birdie” Harwood. 

When I was a child growing up in Houston, Texas, my elementary school was a polling location. I remember watching my parents come in to vote. They arrived dressed in their Sunday best. It was happenstance that I was even in the cafetorium when they arrived.

Kelly and her parents in 1970

We were on “silent lunch” to accommodate the voters and I waited in the lunch line hoping that the lunch plate wasn’t Salisbury steak. Being a gentleman, my Dad directed my Mom to go first.  One at a time I watched as my parents entered the booth. The curtains swished closed. I wondered what it looked like in there and who they were voting for. Then, the curtains swished open and they were finished.  I watched from a distance as they interacted with the other voters and volunteers.  They seemed happy. They joked with a neighbor, laughed (Dad had a big laugh!), and smiled. They waved to me and left. I remember asking them who they voted for. They never told me. It was private. 

An Old fashioned Voting Booth

Do you remember the first election you voted in?

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Free Junque

Creepy doesn’t come natural to Kathy Kexel the way it does to the rest of us in the little writer’s collaboration. She’s the Marsha Brady of the Fondue Writers Club. She is sweet, gentle, and innocent. Kind of the opposite of Joe Shaw.

Her writing strength is the flowing descriptive of a scene — the colors, the boards, the things just off view, the fabric weight and type. Today’s story, the second of our Halloween themed freebies, is her showing off these skills. I didn’t see the twist coming at the end. The delightful part was the very mid-century Americana feel. I think you’ll enjoy it. Click on the ugly oval rug on the floor in the picture below to read Kathy’s new free story, “1313”.

Whatever you do, don’t click on the trunk.
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Free Stories Are Back — This Time With Creepy Add In

My writer buddies and I are at it again.

We have written you fresh Halloween stories — all free. However, if you wanted to buy one of our books, well, they make great Christmas presents. Which reminds me, our plan is to do this same thing between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Today’s story is from Derek Elkins. Derek has built a world I want to know more about. This story feels like a couple of pages ripped from a longer treatise on a small haunted community near Salem or some other creepy place like Hollywood. I really liked it, and I think you will too. Click on the Morton Girl’s umbrella to read “Rest In Peace”. We will have another story every day all the way up until Halloween Eve. Mine is scheduled, I think, for the twenty-sixth.

When it rains, it pours — But who knew she was going to a funeral

Our little demented band of wordsmiths has collected our COVID-19 stories and put them in a book. Feel free to preorder now. Click the cheesy screen capture of the Amazon search below for more info.

Featured

On Amy Coney Barrett And Other Things

WARNING: THIS BLOG POST IS FULL OF OPINION

That’s kinda the whole purpose of the Greenbean blog.

These particular opinions are about the theatrical presentation going on in Washington D.C. regarding the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. So, settle in and enjoy these unvarnished opinions. I will enumerate them for you, because they are not necessarily connected.

  1. I think it is wrong the Senate is even hearing this right now. Now, having said that, I don’t think it is forever wrong. Here is what I mean. If this were eight years ago, or twelve years ago, I would be fine with the nomination and the hearings. But given what they did to Judge Merrick Garland four years ago, this is an outrage. It is the height of hypocrisy.
  2. However, she has been nominated and here we are. I think if I were a senator, I would vote against her purely for the reason of #1, but I’m not so sure because . . .
  3. I like conservative judges. If she is confirmed, it will not be bad. She seems like a good choice to me. I have often said the best set-up is a very conservative judiciary, a progressive legislature, and a practical deal-making executive. This would be the epitome of checks and balances.
  4. A lot of the conversation has been about Roe V. Wade. The hand-wringing about overturning it is interesting. Do liberals not recognize this is the way many conservatives felt about Obergefell V. Hodges? For what it is worth, I think Obergefell has a better chance of remaining in tact than Roe simply because you really can’t dissolve a marriage by fiat and maintain any legitimacy as a government. Once you give it, you can’t take it away. Roe, on the other hand, would not eliminate abortion in our country but would make it a states issue. I don’t think it is a bad thing to limit abortion to states preferences.
  5. But on the topic of abortion — hear me loud and clear on this — this is not ever going to be solved in the legal system. Conservatives have made a terrible mistake by putting their eggs in the basket of power. Four years ago Republicans had the White House, the Senate, The House, and a Narrow Margin on the Supreme Court. Did they pass abortion legislation or try to use the legislative process at all? No, they passed unsustainable tax cuts for corporations, that is what they did. They attacked the ACA, that is what they did. Republicans want the issue of abortion to remain. The last thing they want to do is make the issue go away by actually doing something.
  6. Abortion is a heart issue. If we want to save lives and protect the unborn, then we need to convince individuals of the truth of life. If we do this only by legal means, then rest assured abortions will continue; they will simply be illegal and dangerous. I am not in favor of abortion, but I want to win the battle in the heart and not the courtroom. Every time someone posts a video or photo of their sonogram from a pregnancy on Facebook, we are winning the battle. Every time we make the issue about courts and lawyers and statutes, we are losing the battle.
  7. But back to judges. I have not been able to watch much of the hearings because . . . I have an active and full life. But I’ve seen a snippet or two and heard some on the radio when driving. The tone is very respectful and much different than the Kavanaugh hearings. So, I’m wondering why wasn’t Barrett up instead of Kavanaugh. She seems like such a better prospect than his entitled beer guzzling whining demeanor. I also liked Gorsuch, but Kavanaugh, man. If we’d had a better President, he would have pulled the Kavanaugh nomination when the cloud of sexual assault overcame him and put forth Barrett then. Think of how much better that would have been for the country?
  8. I am completely against any plan to add additional justices to the Supreme Court. This is a ridiculous idea.
  9. Stop using ACB the same way RBG was used. It doesn’t work like that, and it cheapens Judge Barrett and dismisses Justice Ginsburg, and neither of those should occur. Ginsburg leaves an amazing legacy and Barrett has the hope for the future.
  10. So here we come to the last opinion I have. The Supreme Court is the highest in the land, and it should be filled with people who are the best of the best of the best. These confirmation hearings should be a little more rigorous than left and right trying to score political points. These hearings should be used to question the intellectual strength, moral fiber, and patriotism of the candidate. Don’t ask Barrett about the ACA or Roe V. Wade, ask about her views on what makes a great family and what the obligation of a society is to the most vulnerable. Question her about what personal core values are and how she understands the role of America. Put her feet to the fire about the meaning of life and liberty. We need to know her character. We can read her lawyer stuff and opinions, but what is in her heart and soul? We don’t need her credentials, we need her credibility as the best of the best of the best.
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A Prayer For President Trump In His Sickness

Dear Lord, our leadership is in crisis. COVID-19 has shown no one is immune and that its reach is deep. I am heartbroken that our President and his wife have been diagnosed with C19. This poses a significant national security crisis as well as a threat to governmental continuity.

Please heal President Trump and Melania. Let their symptoms be mild and may their recovery be swift. May there be none of the long term health problems which many have suffered from. Protect Barron from infection and calm whatever worries or fears he may have regarding his parents.

Even as I make this prayer, I recognize there are White House personnel, staff, chefs, clerks and so many others who are at risk and do not receive the same quality of care or concern as significant personalities. I pray for them as well, that they would be secure and whole and free from the virus.

Give all off our leadership — elected, appointed, federal, and local — the wisdom to lead us through these days with caution and care. For reasons that are beyond me, it has been divisive. Heal our hearts as you heal our land, and let us see reason and grant us the courage to practice love toward one another. With your mighty hand, guide our scientists, doctors, and researchers in the development of effective vaccines as well as treatments. Protect all of our frontline workers such as ER nurses and doctors and many others who every day face the danger and crisis of C19. This disease afflicts the most vulnerable among us; please protect them and show us how to protect them.

In this prayer, I ask for healing. I also affirm, Lord, submission to your divine plan. Do with us that which brings you ultimate and most glory.

I ask these things in the power, authority, and name of Jesus Christ our Lord and King. Amen.