Fresh Greenbean Blogs?

Featured

Galatians Chapter One With Study Questions

This year I will preach from the book of Galatians about twenty-five times. As I prepared or this, I’ve been translating Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches from the Greek New Testament. I’ve completed two chapters, and will post about one a week. Included are some translators notes and at he end a few study questions for you, should you choose to think about it a while or want to use it for a Bible study group.

The words in [brackets] are textual variants, which means these were likely added by later scribes to smooth out the rendering but it is sometimes hard to tell.

Galatians: Chapter One

1. Paul, an apostle, not of people or any person, but of Messiah Jesus and God the father, who raised him from the dead. 

2. And all the brothers and sisters with me, to the churches* in Galatia,

3. Grace and peace to you from God our father and [the] Lord Jesus, the Messiah,

4. who gave himself for our sins so that he could rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of God our father. 

5. To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 

6. I am amazed you have abandoned the one who called you in [the] grace [of Messiah] so quicky for a different gospel.

7. Not that there is another, except from those troubling you, those people who want to distort the Messiah’s gospel.

8. And, should we, or even an angel from heaven, preach [to you] different from what we preached, let that person be anathema.** 

9. As we have said before and now I say again, if anyone should preach anything other than what you received, let that person be anathema. 

10. Am I persuaded by people or God? Do I seek to try to please human beings? If I were still pleasing people, I am not a servant of Messiah. 

11. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, the gospel proclaimed by me is not from human beings. 

12. For neither did I receive it from people nor was I taught, but by revelation of Jesus as Messiah.***

13. You heard about my lifestyle when I was in Judaism, that I violently persecuted God’s church and ravaged her, 

14. and how I kept rising in Judaism above many. I was the foremost of my generation, being ever more a fanatic for the traditions of my fathers. 

15. When it pleased [God], the one who separated me from my mother’s womb, who has called me by his grace,

16. to reveal his son in me, so that I might proclaim**** him among the nations, I did not immediately consult myself with flesh and blood. 

17. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem before the apostles, but instead I went to Arabia and then again returned to Damascus. 

18. After three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas. I stayed with him fifteen days. 

19. I did not see any of the other apostles except James *****, the Lord’s brother.

20. Look, I write these things to you before God. I do not lie. 

21. Then I went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 

22. But my face was unknown to the Judean churches in Christ. 

23. Yet they kept hearing about the person who before was persecuting us and is now proclaiming the faith he once ravaged.

24. They were glorifying God because of me.   

Notes

*the term here is, of course, ekklesia, which is usually rendered as church. However, the word means gatherings, so this text would more naturally read ‘to those who assemble together in Galatia’ 

**anathema usually is rendered as cursed or be accursed. It is a complicated idea that carries with it religious overtones. Something anathematized was destroyed, but the destruction was understood as a kind of spiritual obligation to the Lord. I have chosen to us the transliteration here rather than a rendering, because the word has found its way into the English lexicon all by itself. It doesn’t really need translating. 

***I inserted the ‘as’ in this passage – ‘Jesus as Messiah’ to emphasize the importance Paul keeps placing on Jesus by calling him Messiah and also to smooth out the language. Throughout I use ‘Messiah’ instead of ‘Christ’ because we tend to think of Christ as Jesus’ last name rather than title. Most renderings would say “revelation of Jesus Christ.” My rendering emphasizes the nature of the revelation, that it wasn’t only a revelation of Jesus, but a revelation of him as Messiah. I think that is what Paul is getting at. 

****the word here is ‘evangelize’, which Paul uses in Galatians to describe the act of preaching the gospel. The construct of the sentence, particularly the pronoun ‘him’ indicates from an English perspective that ‘proclaim’ or ‘preach’ are better verbs, because our use of the word evangelize would not have Jesus in the objective – we don’t’ evangelize Jesus as if Jesus needed to hear the good news about Jesus. We preach Jesus as we evangelize others. It is a subtle difference, but significant.

*****James is the name we use but it is actually Jacob, which is James’ name is in the New Testament. I mention it only here to remind the reader of the Hebrew name, and that Jesus’ brother was named for the great patriarch from the book of Genesis – and the reader should likewise remember his mother was Mary, but really Miriam, the brother of Moses, and her husband was Joseph, the famous son of the very same Jacob in Genesis.  

Study Questions

  1. Why do you think Paul emphasizes that his apostleship is from God and not from human beings? If it is about authority, what role does authority play in church life?
  2. Paul accuses the Galatians of abandoning (v. 6) the idea of grace. What is grace? More specifically, what would it look like if a church or a Christ-follower gave up on grace today?
  3. Anathema is a strong word. Who would you anathematize if you could? Why? In other words, what pushes you over the edge — what can you not tolerate in church life?
  4. Someone clearly had accused Paul of lying, because he is ver defensive that he is not lying. Have you ever been accused of lying? Were you defensive? What are good tactics for combating false accusations?
  5. Paul says he was guilty of ravaging the church. It is imagery evocative of sexual violence. Does that startle you that he admits to raping the bride of Christ? Have you ever considered how you treat the church?
Featured

Comet Disaster Movie

We watched the Netflix movie “Don’t Look up” last night. It is less about comets ending the world as it is social and political commentary. The President, played by Meryl Street, is definitely a Trump-like political figure. The biggest commentary, though, is more social as the movie screams dissatisfaction with celebrity culture, social media addiction, and the fact most people don’t have the ability to analyze complicated facts. Sometimes it feels like it is talking about the response to COVID-19 and other times it feels like it is about global climate change.

I kinda think DiCaprio looks a little like Greenbean here in this picture

The movie is better than that other big Netflix Christmas Day offering of Birdbox from a couple of years ago, that is for sure.

The language is strong — very strong — and there is completely gratuitous nudity near the end.

The best scene is at the very end, when the seven sane people left sit down to dinner and Timothee Chalamet leads them in a very touching prayer which could be offered in any church in the world.

However, my big take away was that this movie presents a word that needs to be destroyed and is not worth saving. None of the characters are particularly likable, and it is such an exaggeration of all our worst tendencies that it doesn’t feel particularly believable. However, Mark Rylance is amazing in his portrayal of a Jeff Bezos/Elon Musk/Bill Gates figure.

The movie was such a downer we had to watch an episode of Ted Lasso to get our minds readjusted.

Now, if you want a better all around comet/asteroid destroying the world flick, then I suggest Deep Impact. Every time I watch it I wish the character Morgan Freeman plays was really our president. The human characters in that film are so well fleshed out in meaningful ways that if that movie is on tv, I will stop and watch it.

Then there is Armageddon, which is awful. However, Bruce Willis dies in it every time, and that is something to applaud.

But back to ‘Don’t Look Up’. The cast is under utilized. Cate Blanchett is basically just a trope as is Tyler Perry. Meryl Streep is the caricature of a shallow duplicitous politician. Jonah Hill makes me sick to my stomach. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, not his acting, but his character, is inconsistent. Jennifer Lawrence, who may be the best actor of our time, is reduced to brooding and screaming. The scientists don’t act like scientists in this movie.

All the negative said, the movie could have some powerful benefit theologically. I told Mrs. Greenbean they should show this movie in seminary and use it as a launching point for the doctrine of total depravity, because ever negative impulse of the human race is covered in this one movie.

The implication of the director, Adam McKay, seems to be if we keep going the way we are, the eventual end will be death by denial of truth. As such, it reminds me less of other asteroid disaster movies and more of Idiocracy, which is a film that feels prophetic fifteen years later.

There are a few laugh out loud moments — and if you do watch it, keep an eye on the ever rising cost of shovels in the film.

Featured

My Year of Jubilee

On 29 December 2021 I turn fifty.

Me eating gelato in Nafplio, Greece

In the Bible, the fiftieth year is the celebration of Jubilee, the year after seven years of sevens, as outlined in Leviticus 25. There were four key components, as I understand it, of the Jubilee celebration. First, there is a forgiveness of debts. Second, slaves are set free. Third, boundary markers for property are reset. Fourth, no planting or harvesting is to take place.

Before I go much further, there is very little evidence the ancient Hebrews ever actually observed properly the Jubilee, and the Prophets specifically spell out the ignoring of Sabbaths, sabbatical years, and Jubilees as one of the reasons for the exile and captivity. Isaiah may have been talking about the ultimate Jubilee in Jesus when he referred to the ‘Year of the Lord’s favor’ in Isaiah 61:2. Jesus of course quotes this when he begins his ministry.

But back to Greenbean’s Jubilee.

The forgiveness of debt was more like catching up all the payments for a lease agreement than it was the forgiving of actual debt as in a credit card. However, the net effect of the program would have been to free up people from long obligations. Plus, the forgiveness of debt is a very powerful Old Testament and New Testament idea. Jesus uses that phraseology when referring to sin in the model prayer.

So — I announce on this day that as of December 29, 2021 any individual who owes me money or service is hereby released of that obligation.

Slavery is another issue altogether. I abhor slavery in any form and that includes elitism and classism, which is a certain kind of slavery that separates ruling people from the mere commoners. But I digress. The language about slavery, combined with debt forgiveness, has been interpreted variously through the years as a forgiving of wrongs done to us. Forgiveness.

This one has been tough. I am not a grudge keeper, but there are a handful of people who have hurt me deeply and I have uttered with my mouth or sworn in my heart that I will never forgive them. But here I am, forced to consider not only my Jubilee, but more importantly, the words of Jesus who says forgive, and it shall be forgiven you (Matthew 6). I want to follow Jesus, and we are never more like Christ than when we forgive.

I worked through this one today and shed more than a few tears. The hurt, though decades old, still feels fresh. Some is personal. Other is vocational. Some is old, and I’m thinking of 2010. Some is new, and I’m thinking of personal attacks against me in the midst of COVID-19. All of these things hurt. Yet, it is my Jubilee.

I, therefore, forgive all transgressions against me. This means there will be no recrimination, no reminders, and nothing but a desire for those people who have wronged me to be happy, healthy, blessed, and to be in a relationship with the Lord.

This forgiveness idea goes further, for me, though. I am very cognizant of my own failings. As a young man I was cold and harsh. I’ve said things that were at best rude but were also racist, misogynist, and insensitive. Although I have never attacked anyone in my lifetime physically, I have done so verbally. I had a job in college, and the last year I worked there, I mailed in it. I mean, I did not give them honest work for honest pay. I owe HEB an avocado. In 2008 I transgressed a church in Oregon when I lead them on and then told them no after I had told them yes. I am guilty of gossip. I can be judgmental.

For these things, and so much more, I ask that you forgive me, on this my Jubilee, especially If I have hurt you in any way.

Property boundaries are the third part of this celebration. I have very few literal property boundaries and they all are older than me and are in their original locations, so there is nothing to reset there. But the idea of a reset, of ‘returning to your property’ rings differently in my ear right now. It feels like a reset is needed in my mindset — the real estate of my soul. I need to reset to some things that I used to do when I was a young man. I was very ambitious with desires to write, lead, and make a difference. I came to realize my ambition when unchecked, could lead me to use people and manipulate, so over the decades I have crucified this ambition within me.

But I think I have gone too far. I need to reset some of this and recognize the natural ambition the Lord gave me is a part of who I am. Redeemed ambition is one that pushes myself to accomplish without manipulating others or using other people in the process. It means ambition for a better way, and not a bigger way. I need to reset some boundaries on my time, what I prioritize, and what really matters. I have a book that is finished and I will peddle it vigorously this year. I have another project with two co-authors which I will pursue with zeal. There is also a third, secret book which is one-third finished. I will finish it this year.

I must also likewise reset the boundaries in my personal life. The sprouts are grown now. They no longer need me to teach them or care for them. I need not tell them what to do. I must reset that boundary now in my fiftieth year and see my children as sojourners with me on the Jesus path. I can learn from them and they can learn from me and together we can be stronger, but they are my peers now. Special peers to be sure, but not little children who must be guided by the hand. This is a hard thing to let go of.

On this the dawning of my fiftieth year, I reset my mind, my soul, my work, and relationships.

And that brings me to the last of the four parts of Jubilee as I understand it. That is the prohibition on sowing and reaping, leaving the ground fallow. This would have been two years in a row for the Hebrews, because of the Sabbath year of the seventh set of sevens the year before. Mrs. Greenbean and I are now at a new place in our life. Our children are grown and we have liberty — Jubilee — to rediscover marriage at this stage in our lives as well as rediscover the world. When you don’t have crops to tend, you can travel. So that is my practice for the foreseeable future — to travel, visit, see, eat, learn, and grow as a citizen of the world. Who knows when bad health or economics or war or pandemics may come and rob the ability to travel.

I therefore on this day, commit to traveling at least once a year, and maybe two times a year, to some place I have never been before, or to revisit some grand locale I have enjoyed in the past.

Oh Lord, help me forgive and to let go of the pain. Forgive me for my sins of the mind, the mouth, and the rash moments. Allow my relationships to be pure and motivated by love. Help me to work hard and to accomplish the tasks I believe you have called me to do. Bless thou, the work of my hands. May my travels always be a blessing to the world and never a curse.
Thank you for the fifty years you’ve allowed me on this planet, in this flesh, with my family, and in this odd life of ministry. It has been a great blessing to me and I have enjoyed it. I boldly ask for another seventy years, that with Moses I may reflect on one hundred twenty years with you and sing your praises as I make my way into eternity. However, I wish to not live one more day than you have planned, and I submit to your will in all things. Thank you for the gift of Jubilee. In the name of Jesus the Messiah whom I follow. Amen.”

Featured

Predictions for 2022

First, let all reasonable people agree 2021 didn’t happen; 2021 was only Part II of 2020. So, we are treating 2021 like Apple Treated the iPhone 9 or Microsoft treated Windows 9 — we’re just going to pretend it doesn’t exist.

New year 2022 and old year 2021 on sandy beach with waves

However, my predictions last year (Click here to read them) were not that off target. I was spot on about three of them, and near enough to accurate on about three there that I was very pleased — well above my average of 30% accuracy.

That said . . . let’s get started with my annual exercise in ridiculousness and make ten predictions for 2022. Keep in mind as you read, these are not things I necessarily want to happen. They are things I think will happen. I have no clairvoyance and no crystal ball. I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet. I’m just making guesses (although I’d really like #7 to happen, but like tomorrow).

10. On January 6, nothing will happen. There will be no big anniversary, no big celebration, and no repeat of the insurrection. There will, though, be tons of media hype, from both the left and the right.

9. The Tennessee Titans will win the Super Bowl.

8. Al Pacino will receive the only Oscar nomination from ‘House of Gucci’, and he may win as best supporting actor.

7. By summer, a pill or oral regimen will be available which in all practicality cures COVID-19.

6. President Biden will announce after the midterm elections he is not seeking re-election.

5. Governor Greg Abbott of Texas will not win his bid to keep his current job.

4. Someone you know will own or subscribe to a self-driving car.

3. The Houston Astros will again return to the World Series, and again they will lose to a far superior National League team.

2. Inflation will continue to incrementally grow through the winter and early spring, but by summer it will begin to taper off as interest rates increase.

1. The Southern Baptist Convention, after a decade of implosion, will collapse.

Featured

Frozen Fondue

Today’s story is my continuing saga about the Cold War between Santa Claus and Jack Frost. To read the first installment which I wrote last year for Fondue Christmas, CLICK HERE.

We are nearing the end of our Yule run of stories. We plan to bring you some more delicious freebies in the winter and spring. These are all at no cost to you. However, many of us here at he Fondue Writer’s Club have books, audiobooks, and short stories that have been published through the last two decades, including our collaboration The Covid Quarantine Cantina which reached number one in audiobooks (in a subcategory for about a week and a half). We all have day jobs, so it is not like we’re feeding our family here, but if you are partial to anything you’ve by read any writer — cruise on over to the Amazon and search for us: Joseph Courtemanche, Joe Shaw, Robert Cely, Kathy Kexel, Paul Bennett, Derek Elkins, and Greenbean himself. We would certainly appreciate it. Or, contact these wonderful people and they probably have a closet full of books they’re happy to autograph and send to you.

Now, without any further delay, here is my story. I hope you enjoy it.


Saturn’s Eye

Jamie Greening

For the Fondue Writer’s Club

            ‘Santa is the one who broke the truce, you know that, right?’

            Rudolph could not answer the question. His head was shoved into a tight muzzle. The luminous nose that made him an icon of outsiders and misfits was flaming red, not just from his unusual gift, but from the beating Jack Frost’s henchmen had given when they pulled him from bed in his off-season bungalow in Cabo. The famous little reindeer was in a pickle for sure. They’d hung him from the ceiling, shoulders secured by a hook which ran under his front legs and around his neck. His back legs were chained to the floor while various electrical wires ran from a control panel on the wall to various sensitive organs on his body. 

            Rudolph felt his shoulders slowly dislocating as the bones slid out of joint.

            Frost continued the one-sided interrogation. ‘I don’t know why he took it, but we need it back. Santa doesn’t understand what can go wrong here. It’s all fun and games until people start bumping into themselves going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.’

            Baby New Year pulled his thumb out of his mouth. ‘We know he didn’t hide it at the North Pole because our people would have told us. Where did he hide it?’ Baby New Year seemed like he was about to cry, and then he did cry and scream, ‘Why? Why? Why did he take it? Why would he do this to us?’

            Rudolph’s eyes filled with panic. So, this is what it was about? He’d warned Santa not to take Saturn’s Eye, but the old man ignored the advice of all his friends and counselors. The Jolly Old Elf had become increasingly belligerent since the Zombie War. Reclusive. Paranoid. Quiet. 

            ‘Hit him with some juice,’ Baby New Year shouted with his hands raised high. ‘It’s time for the deer to dirty his diaper.’ 

            Jack Frost looked at Baby New Year and said, ‘He’s not wearing a diaper. You’re the only one who wears a diaper.’ 

            ‘It’s a metaphor, Frost.’ Baby New Year emphasized the point by sticking his thumb back into his mouth.

            A dim-witted ice spirit turned a knob. Immediately, the reindeer began to twitch. He turned the knob further. The twitches became spasms. 

            ‘Enough,’ Jack Frost said. ‘That’s enough. Take off his muzzle. We need him to answer some questions. He’s no good to us dead. Besides, I don’t like burnt venison.’ 

            Rudolph was barely conscious, but his eyes were steely upon Baby New Year. It is a well- known fact reindeer are brutally vengeful. The terrible little tyke’s time would come, Rudolph would make certain of it. 

            ‘You’ve seen how far we are willing to go,’ Jack Frost said. ‘We don’t want to do this, but it is important we get Saturn’s Eye back. Santa’s domain is in human relations, whereas Baby and I are seasonal workers. We are time-bound. We must get it back. We can’t properly do our work without it.’ The frozen blue goblin paced around his lair, then turned to face Rudolph, ‘He’s messing with power he can’t possibly understand.’

            Rudolph stared back at him. 

            ‘If you don’t talk,’ Baby New Year said, ‘we increase the pain. This is level one stuff right here. Level two is even worse – we make you watch every Lacey Chabert Hallmark Christmas movie on infinite loop. Level three is the Fruitcake. Level four is the point of no return. Yeah, that is what happened to Randy Quaid.’

            Jack Frost stroked Rudolph’s cheek. ‘We don’t want to, but we will, and we will get the information eventually. You might as well tell us before you get really hurt.’ 

            ‘I met Randy Quaid once,’ Rudolph coughed up blood, then swallowed hard. ‘I met Randy Quaid once. I always wondered what made him like that.’ The deer sighed. ‘I’ll tell you what happened, if for no other reason to restore peace between the North and South Poles. Santa took Saturn’s Eye, that much is true.’

            Baby New Year yelled, ‘But why? Why did the fat man do it? Has he lost his mind? Did Tim Burton finally get to him?’

            Rudolph answered, ‘It came down to math. The number of people in the world is growing exponentially. There are over nine billion people in the world right now. Twenty years ago, that number was six billion. Fifty years ago, it was only about three. Nine billion people are too many to keep track of. He needed more time. Only Saturn’s Eye could give him that. No one knows this, but Santa Claus hasn’t actually made all the deliveries of toys in at least three years, which has led to the conspiracy theory many elves hold to of why there is so much hate on social media. People keep getting disappointed at Christmastime and it is making them all stop being nice because it wasn’t doing them any good anyway.’

            Jack Frost sat on his throne. ‘So, Santa was in a pickle, and he thought by taking Saturn’s Eye he could buy more time to do his work.’

            ‘That is the way I understood it.’ Rudolph felt dirty, like he’d betrayed a great trust. He knew Santa would never again let him guide the sleigh, foggy Christmas Eve or not. 

            ‘One more question, glowstick.’ Baby New Year took one more suck on his bottle. ‘Where is it?’

            Rudolph knew there was no going back on his betrayal now. The die had been cast. He took a deep breath, ‘Texas. He hid it in Texas.’  

***

            Saturn’s Eye is older than Jack Frost or Santa Claus. 

            Its origins are as mysterious as the depths of the sea or the stars in the heavens. The elven community has long-known of its existence, but it has only been in the six millennia since the Diluvian Accords that a universally accepted protocol has governed its use. The elves and goblins who come in with the seasons form the Council of Saturn. These include Jack Frost, Baby New Year, The Groundhog, The Easter Bunny, Freyr, The Great Pumpkin, and Tom Turkey. Jack, being the oldest and most powerful, serves as president of the council. The rest really do nothing and defer to him.

            Only Baby New Year hangs around because he is too immature to have friends or a real life. The Groundhog is very industrious and busy preparing for the coming bad days. The Easter Bunny has a lot of mouths to feed because, rabbits. The Easter Bunny is not Peter Cottontail. The Easter Bunny is female, and Peter Cottontail was a usurper who tried to overthrow the Kingdom of Unfound Eggs. Freyr is Norse so no one really likes him. The Great Pumpkin never shows up and Tom Turkey is always hiding.

            Saturn’s Eye is stored at the South Pole with Jack. The stone it is made of is not from Earth. There are markings on it that look like circles within circles and then a line drawn through the midst of them. Letters from a long-lost alphabet are written on it in an amber color that glows on equinox and solstice days. No one knows what the letters mean or why they glow.

            The stone is a magic talisman. Any person or creature who holds it needs only to imagine time going backwards or forwards. Their position remains the same, but time and everyone else moves. Thus, the holder of Saturn’s Eye can move through time unawares freely through time.

            Four years were lost in the ninth century because Freyr was angry at the Franks. 

            That is the power of Saturn’s Eye.

            It is also why it is the perfect tool to help Santa overcome the population problem he faces. 

***

            Santa’s feet were propped up in his recliner and he sipped a tall glass of peach iced-tea in his Hawaiian bungalow, as he normally did every January. He and the current Mrs. Claus had gone snorkeling that morning and the knots in his back were finally beginning to work themselves out. The sun, sea water, and Spam always made him feel right as rain. Happy thoughts of a well-deserved off-season were swirling around his mind when a giant block of ice fell through the roof. Mrs. Claus gasped and fainted in fright. Santa instantly knew who it was from. Frost had used the same delivery method in 1972 on Andy Warhol, who, to everyone’s surprise, turned out to be Frost’s illegitimate love child with Suzy Snowflake.   

            Santa waved his finger; the ice melted. Inside a wet, cold, and badly beaten Rudolph shivered and sobbed. 

            ‘Rudolph!’ Santa gasped. ‘What have they done to you?’ 

            ‘I’m sorry,’ he cried. ‘He knows. He knows Saturn’s Eye is in Texas. He told me to tell you if you don’t return it before February, he will take action.’

            ‘You know I can’t do that,’ Santa said. ‘I need it.’

            ‘I know,’ the reindeer said. ‘So does he, and that is something he will use against you.’

***

            ‘I say we zap Texas back to the stone age,’ Baby New Year said. ‘I mean, after all, they are in the central time zone, so no one really cares about them. Everyone knows the only New Year’s Eve celebrations that matter are on the East Coast.’

            ‘Don’t be a baby,’ Frost said. ‘And don’t underestimate the Texas Rangers.’ Frost rubbed his left shoulder, his body remembering the bullet he took in Amarillo in 1922 in a skirmish with Texas Rangers over a barrel of prohibition bourbon. He’d been lucky to get out of Texas alive, and swore never to return. It looked like he’d have to go back on that promise.

            ‘We will freeze Texas if Santa doesn’t deliver Saturn’s Eye to us.’ 

***

            The first cold front hit Texas on February 10. Most people expected a little bad weather, but that first front was followed by another even colder front that covered almost every square inch of the Lone Star State in ice and snow. Snow men were built, teenagers who’d spent their whole lives without ever seeing accumulated snow marveled at how pretty it was. Hats, gloves, and coats not used for decades came out of the closet. Fireplaces roared and hot cocoa was poured from the Rio Grande to the Red River, El Paso to Texarkana. 

            Then the strongest front came and temperatures plunged below zero for several days. By St. Valentine’s Day, the crippling effects of cold upon a state that hadn’t been visited by Jack Frost in a hundred years began to show. Power plants which produced electricity began to shut down. Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, three of the largest cities in America, went dark. Most of the state was on intermittent power at best, and often nothing for days. Most homes had no other means of heating. 

            People frozen to death.

            Some asphyxiated as they brought their charcoal grills indoors.  

            Older people died from the inability to get medicine or emergency care.

            Already overwhelmed hospitals went into deep crisis.

            Then the water turned off. Lack of electricity forced water systems around the state to go offline. The wealthy, bold, and incredibly arrogant state of Texas had been turned into a third-world nation without electricity or clean drinking water in a matter of days, all courtesy of Jack Frost’s wrath. 

            Santa thought he could hold out, but the suffering and pain was too great for even Kris Kringle to endure. On February 20 he sent an envoy to Jack Frost telling him to meet him at the tiny town of Lone Star, Texas.

***

            ‘We’re here,’ Frost told Santa. 

            The two faeries stood about twenty feet from each other in a pine forest. The ground covered in crunchy ice. 

            ‘Now, tell me where it is so we can end this and I can let the good people of Texas get back to their lives.’ 

            ‘I need the extra time, Frost. I can’t keep up.’

            ‘I know,’ Jack Frost said. ‘But this agreement has been in effect for thousands of years. It is unbelievable you’d go this far. The last time someone took Saturn’s Eye was after they finished Stonehenge. Remember? Remember how that turned out for all those half-naked Druids who so messed up the timeline that they met themselves coming and going until they went mad?’

            Santa screamed into the cold wind, ‘Of course I remember, I was there. You were there. We were all there. It took all of us and all our magic to put it back together again, and even at that we still couldn’t make it all fit.’

            Frost chuckled, ‘Good times. The British still don’t know why they have such bad teeth, but we know.’ 

            Santa giggled, too.

            ‘Why didn’t you just ask for help?’ Frost said.

            ‘Because I knew the Big Baby would never go for it. He’s always been jealous of me.’ He wagged his finger at Frost, ‘the number of people doesn’t bother him at all, or even you. But it is a real problem for me. The elves and I can’t keep up. Soon there will be over ten billion people on this planet, and they will all want iPhones, new tires, Rolex watches, and a Lexus. It is just more than this old elf can do.’

            ‘If you trust me,’ Frost said, ‘I think we can find a solution.’

            ‘Why should I trust you? You’ve laid Texas to waste.’

            ‘They will bounce back. They still have oil, barbeque, and Matthew McConaughey. And, I did return your little pet reindeer back to you alive.’

            ‘He’ll never be the same, though.’ 

            ‘Sure, he will. Give him some peppermint schnapps and he’ll be fine. Now, are you gonna trust me and give me Saturn’s Eye before you accidentally cause a collapse of reality, or must I drop the temperature in Texas another ten degrees and add a blizzard? I can destroy every living thing here and then it will not be hard to find Saturn’s Eye at all.’

            Santa took his index finger and wiggled his nose. To his right a giant pine tree split down the middle as if an invisible saw had torn it asunder. The aroma of sap and wood filled the air. At the bottom of the tree sat the ancient rune. 

            Baby New Year, who had been hiding behind an unused deer blind, leaped out and grabbed it before anyone could say a word. He took his place beside Jack Frost.

            ‘Now,’ Santa said. ‘Did you really mean it about the help, or was it a lie?’

            ‘I am cold hearted, but I am not a liar. Actually, it wasn’t my idea. It was his.’

            Frost pointed to his left and a humming sound grew louder and louder. An ATV painted in camouflage carefully drove through the forest and came to a stop between Santa Claus and Jack Frost. The driver was unrecognizable – heavily bundled in a thick parka, big snow goggles, and huge mittens. But when she stepped out of the ATV her identity was obvious. She pulled back the hood of her coat and those giant floppy ears bounced up and down. 

            ‘Easter Bunny,’ Santa said, ‘What are you doing here?’ His head shook and he blinked several times as if he didn’t believe his eyes. ‘I don’t think we’ve seen each other since Vatican II? It is really good to see you, but, this isn’t your squab—.’

            The Easter Bunny held up a paw to stop him. ‘Oh, it is all of ours. I feel your pain, man. Everyone, even pagans, want Easter eggs and Easter presents and Easter clothes these days. And I don’t have any elves to help me. So, I’ve had to think outside the box, and so do you.’

            ‘What do you mean?’ Santa said.

            ‘Amazon.’ The Easter Bunny said. ‘A to Z. If we combine our assets, we can buy out bozo Bezos and put the system to work for us. It is a win-win.’

            Santa’s eyes twinkled. ‘I know a guy who owes me a favor in Seattle. I think we can make this happen.’ He rubbed his hands together and said, ‘This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’

***

            Truce had once again been made between Santa and Jack Frost. It seemed like the mythical forces in the world would unite around a common cause and the armistice might stick. This could indeed be the beginning of a new age of cooperation between the North and the South Poles. Peace in our time. 

            But as the four of them talked, Jack Frost, Baby New Year, The Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus an unseen force was at work. 

            Rudolph viewed the scene through his long-distance scope. He laid flat on the roof of a tin smokehouse with ham curing inside. The rifle’s trigger, adapted for his hoof, itched to be pulled and paint the white snow with Baby New Year’s brains.

            Revenge is a dish best served cold.

            He focused on his breathing and squeezed. 

            Yukon Cornelius, who had been afraid of this very scenario, lunged at Rudolph to prevent the outbreak of another shooting war with the South Pole. But he was only partially successful, as the bullet struck Baby New Year in his diaper, which was full at the time. New Year poop, as everyone knows, is formidable and it stopped ballistic. Nevertheless, it splattered on everyone.

            But Jack, holding Saturn’s Eye, immediately moved backwards in time and pushed himself away, leaving the other three desecrated by defecation.  

Featured

Alien Amish Fondue

Kathy Kexel writes a sequel for today’s Fondue Writer’s Club Christmas story to her science fiction story about aliens fleeing the religious oppression of the Imperium and find a home on Earth amongst, of all people, the Amish of Wisconsin. To read the first installment of this series, which is Thanksgiving themed, CLICK HERE.

Click on the Amish beard to read her story, ‘An Other Christmas.’

Featured

Fondue Behind Bars

Sometimes, it is the thing that doesn’t happen.

And that is all I will say about the sad predicament of Freddy Simpson. A man who, through no fault of his own, or at least that is how he would tell it, ended up in jail on Christmas Eve. What we will all find out soon, is just how important it was for him to go to jail.

You can blame Jenna if you want to, but reasonable people will suspect that Freddy Simpson has just been tapped for a one way trip to the Fondue Zone.

Click on the ‘N’ on the sign below to read Rob Cely’s ‘The Worst Christmas Miracle Ever’ for the Fondue Writer’s Club.

Featured

Fondue Fudge

Hey everyone — you know what time it is? It is time for some Christmas stories. Free stories at that, all courtesy of The Fondue Writer’s Club. Our narrative journey to the nativity of our Lord begins today with Joe Shaw, who reminds us that anything can happen in live theater, even live theater at church.

Click on the nuttiest piece of fudge to read his delightful story “The Best Christmas Ever.” Rob Cely is on deck Wednesday and we will keep at it until Christmas Eve. Greenbean’s assigned day is December 22.

Enjoy!

Featured

Pie Fondue

The Fondue Writer’s Club finishes our offering of Thanksgiving stories today with Kathy Kexel’s “Pie Wars.” Again, I want you to note the sweetness going on in this tale. Literally — all those sweet pies. But one particular phrase caught my attention and that was her description of ‘substantial sandwiches.’

I want one of those.

Click on the picture of the mincemeat pie to read her story and be looking for Christmas stories soon.

YUM
Featured

Space Fondue

Today is Greenbean’s turn for the Thanksgiving 2021 edition of the Fondue Writer’s Club. I went science fictiony. Of course I did.

If you read this, and want to read my decidedly non-science fictiony Thanksgiving story from last year, CLICK HERE.

Thanks for reading, and tomorrow Kathy Kexel finishes us up with the last story until we launch our Christmas tales.


The Second Thanksgiving

Jamie D. Greening

            ‘It’s not a turkey,’ Mary Beth said. The words slid out of her nose more than her mouth. Her lips barely moved, although her nose turned upward just so.   

            ‘Like I told you last week when we planned Thanksgiving, there are no turkeys on Ravenna Gamma.’ Mary Beth’s father, Harold, puffed a snort from his nostrils, and finished the thought. ‘That is a part of the adventure of settling on a new planet. Everyone on Earth right now is bored of their cloned turkey and seaweed gravy solvent. I promise you that. But here, on Ravenna Gamma, we have the adventure of enjoying real wild game. They haven’t had wild game on earth in over six generations. We are truly blessed.’

            ‘Blessed,’ Suzanna shouted. Harold could not decipher if his wife was asking a question or making a statement. It was hard to read her sometimes. It wasn’t long before Harold’s uncertainty was laid to rest. 

            Suzanna said it again, ‘Blessed? This thing doesn’t even look like a turkey. I understand there are no turkeys on this planet, but isn’t there something that might pass for a turkey? Something with wings and a drumstick? Maybe a goose, hen, or even a small quail? A chicken? Is it too much to ask for a chicken on Thanksgiving Day?’

            ‘We all sat through the same orientation before we left the Earth Orbital Zone. Ravenna Gamma is devoid of poultry or flying beasts. My friend Jean-Paul says R-Gee is devoid of predators. The animals are herbivores. There was, and is still, no reason for anything to learn to fly.’

            ‘But what is it?’ Their youngest son, Theo, asked. ‘It looks like an ugly cat. I don’t think we’re supposed to eat cat. I mean, is that legal.’

            ‘I’m not eating a tabby,’ Mary Beth poked the roasted animal with a fork. 

            ‘It’s not a tabby. It is close to an opossum on earth. I ate some last week at one of the first settler’s homes. It is good. Its diet is mostly a kind of berry, so I had the chefbot prepare it with a glaze of berries gathered from the forest edge. It should be very tasty.’

            This was the tone of the first Thanksgiving on Ravenna Gamma, or R-Gee as they sometimes called it, for the Strenge family. It was the second one any human had ever observed on the planet. Of the first one hundred families that settled there, only fifteen were left. The others went back to earth after the first batches of lithium were extracted from the top of a mountain. It was lithium, and the promise of quick money, which brought the Strenge family here. Harold signed a three-year contract. The money they made would set them for life and create generational wealth for his children. On this particular afternoon, he wondered if the money was worth it. 

            ‘I’ve chewed on this forever,’ Mary Beth said. ‘It just will not give. Why can’t we just eat the regular food like everyone else.’

            ‘Because it is Thanksgiving,’ Harold said. ‘We can’t always eat the regular food, because it comes in shipments from Earth. We must supplement it with indigenous meals from time to time to make it last. The food you’re accustomed to must be stretched. The corporate leadership team decided everyone would do this on Thanksgiving, so everyone else is eating something like our little opossum friend here today.’

            ‘Did it have a family?’ Theo asked.

            ‘A family?’ Harold chewed on his bit of leg. ‘What do you mean?’

            ‘Did you kill it and rob it from its family? Did you think it might have wanted to live?’

            Mary Beth caught the scent of her brother’s disdain and pounced. ‘If everything else on this godforsaken planet is herbivore, maybe we should be too. Perhaps we should eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of feasting on the life-forms here.’

            Suzanna gasped. ‘See what you’ve done, Harold. You’ve turned our children into vegetarians. Next thing you know, they’ll want to drop out of their careers and go to college and question everything about life. Good job.’

            Harold defended himself with history, his favorite tool. ‘If it is any consolation, they didn’t have turkey at the first Thanksgiving either. It really wasn’t until the twentieth century in North America that turkeys became the tradition, and now a thousand years later here we are, in the very privileged position of reenacting a more authentic holiday. We are pilgrims, like Miles Standish.’

His appeal was met with six eyes that rolled at him. The rest of the meal was silent chewing until they all became too tired to chew.

            The meal came to an end with a pie made from a kind of nut which came from short trees with blue bark. Suzanna retired to the game room where she played backgammon remotely with her sister who lived on one of the nicer orbital platforms over Earth. They both complained about their husband. Mary Beth went to her room and Theo went to the cinema with a couple of friends he’d made. Harold helped the housebot clean-up, because he didn’t know what else to do.

            Two of the three suns were still in the sky when he messaged his family he was going for a walk and would be back before moonrise. No one responded. 

            Walking was harder on this alien planet than it was on Earth because gravity was stronger, which is why the trees were shorter and the animals smaller. He walked through the village center, an assembly of the cargo containers from the spaceships that brought supplies and people. Each time a new shipment arrived, a new store or entertainment opportunity came with it. Rumor had it the next shipment, due just before Christmas, was destined to be transformed into an ice cream parlor.

            Soon he was at the clearing’s edge and entered the forest. He’d been in the forest several times, but never alone. He knew the trees were similar to elm and pine. They had not been given names by the settlers. The blue barked trees the pie was made from were on the other side of town on the hillside. Harold walked toward the river, which he knew would take him to the waterfall. He’d never gone that far, but he knew that was where the river went because he’d seen it on a map in one of the unending briefings and meetings he’d been forced to attend by the Settler’s Board.  

            He met the river while still in the forest. Its water was red, reflecting the light crimson daytime skies of Ravenna Gamma. He followed the river until it came to a field of wildflowers which swayed in the wind. He thought they looked like poppies. Every color the eye could behold flashed on their petals such that it seemed a rainbow had exploded in the heavens and painted the landscape. Particles floated in the air around him and he breathed in their floral scent.

            A euphoria overcame him so much so that he forgot about his family, and work, and even where he was. He was cognizant enough to realize there was hallucinogenic material inside the flowers, and that he should turn back, but he didn’t. The field was beautiful. The air was nice. A peaceful, easy feeling engulfed him. Why would he turn back?

            Soon he was at the waterfall. Gravity forced water down the cliff toward the roiling pool below. Harold judged the distance to be nearly seventy-five meters. Rocks jutted out. The water’s red hue combined with the bubbles and foam of the spray looked to Harold like a boiling pot of blood. The cataract’s roar hummed inside of him. He worked hard to focus, to not fall, but he kept moving closer and closer to the edge. 

            The music in his mind pulsated ever more colors until he could no longer withstand the attraction of the water’s lure. 

            ‘Just here at the edge,’ he told himself. ‘Just here, no further. I am safe here. Here I can feel it and love it and enjoy it.’ He edged out a little further. ‘Just here. That is enough.’ 

            Whether it was a slip of his foot on wet grass or an impulse from his subconscious no one will ever know, but Harold lost his footing and tipped over the edge of the cliff and tumbled, slowly at first, and then gravity did her work and slammed him hard into the shallows below. The last thing he remembered was the water tasted like the bubble gum ice cream his mother used to give him whenever he was sick. After that last thought, the colors vanished, and blackness took him.

            Harold’s head throbbed like a hyperspace transmission about to throw an asbestos piston. He was cold but felt a blanket over him. His clothes were missing but there was a fire beside him. He felt a presence nearby. 

            ‘Did you jump?’ 

            ‘No. I don’t know. Maybe.’

            ‘It was the flowers. I was worried they might affect your people.’ 

            ‘Your people?’ Harold, who had been lying on his back sat up and huddled near the fire. ‘What do you mean your people?’

            ‘They are not my people. They are your people. People from the corporations that have come to take the rock from the hills.’

            ‘Lithium. You mean the lithium. We need it to power the things back home.’

            ‘This is home,’ the man said to Harold.

            Harold squinted in the fire’s yellow light and beheld the man sitting opposite from him. His hair was black and his forehead broad. His cheekbones high, and his skin dark, but not dark like brown, dark like orange. 

            ‘I know almost everyone on this planet,’ Harold said. ‘I do not know you.’

            The man said to him, ‘You know almost no one on this planet. We have been here for seven thousand generations and are innumerable. We live on nine of the eleven continents.’

            Harold’s head hurt even more. He remembered the feeling of joy from the field of flowers. He wondered if he were dead, and this was a last momentary spasm of his mind processing the end of life as he neared oblivion. It could also be a drug-induced hallucination.  

            ‘I saved you from dying,’ the man said. ‘You hit the water hard, like an egg onto stone. I thought the fall broke your neck, but you began to flail and then I knew you could be saved.’

            ‘Thank you,’ Harold said.

            ‘I should have let you die.’

            ‘Excuse me,’ Harold’s body jolted upright. ‘Did you say you should have let me die?’

            ‘Yes, I should have. Your people are only here to take our rock. You will take and take and take and give nothing back. You are ungrateful, greedy, and selfish.’

            ‘If I am so bad, then why did you pull me from the water and keep me from drowning?’

            ‘Because our people have decided that even though you are evil, we are not. We will not interfere with you. But I do have a message.’

            ‘A message? For me?’

            ‘Yes, for you and all your people. You may have the rock you call lithium. Our Elders have determined its removal will not harm the land, even though once it is gone it cannot be replaced, and we will be diminished because of its absence. But you are human as we are human, and therefore you have the same right to it as we do, since we too came to this planet from your home.’

            Harold’s brain worked through the headache and the fog of trauma to piece together what he heard. This man was part of a society that lived throughout the planet, but they are humans who came from Earth a long time ago. ‘How did you get here from earth? Interplanetary space travel for humans is a recent development?’

            ‘No,’ the man said. ‘That is inaccurate. Again, your facts are wrong. However, you must listen to the message. You may have the rock, but you must not build more cities here. You may live on our Turtle Shell with us peacefully, but you cannot bring your corrupting ways with you. Our scrolls teach us how your ancestors allowed evil into the world in the ancient garden. We will not allow that to take a foothold here. We obey the rules of the garden.’

            ‘What are you talking about?’

            ‘The Elders told us you would not understand. You are uncivilized and do not know the true ways of life, nor The Life Giver.’

            Harold’s spine stiffened at the realization of insult. ‘We know about nature and the origins of life. I don’t know why you would think we are uncivilized. We know how the universe works, that is how we found Ravenna Gamma.’ 

            ‘Nature is not The Life Giver. Only a heathen would think everything in the created world created itself. As if a story could tell itself or a painting could paint itself. We have been studying your ways and investigating your beliefs. Fools. You are fools. Your laws and beliefs are centered upon selfishness, as if human beings were the center of existence.’

            ‘Human beings are the pinnacle of creation. There is nothing greater in the universe than the human spirit.’

            The man stood up, ‘If that is your creed, then you are indeed a fool. It does not matter, though. What matters is that you understand the message I have given you and you will take it back to your Elders, or as you call them, The Corporation.’ 

            ‘What happens,’ Harold asked, ‘if we ignore your warning and bring many more people and build large cities and cultivate this planet for our own benefit. That is what we did on four of the planets in the ZBerg system and three of them in the Smiley system. Now that we know humans are already on this planet, it will make the transition faster.’

            The man shook his head in disbelief. ‘If you ignore us, Turtle Shell itself will fight you, just as it did today with the waterfall and the flowers. You will not survive here without our help, and we will not help if you ignore us, our ways, and our requests. You cannot live without us, but we will live far better without you.’

            The man walked out of the radiant light and into the darkness.       

Featured

Sweet Fondue

Derek Elkins begins Turkey Week proper with a heartwarming account of a grumpy old man and a persistent young woman. This is a departure for Elkins, because he is our resident, “If a t-shirt cannon is good, then a hot dog cannon awesomeness.” Elkins knows how to make a person smile with a twist toward the preposterous.

Not today, though. Today he brings the feels with Thanksgiving. And, if I may (and I can because this is my blog) let me point out I am seeing a trend with the Fondue Writer’s Club Thanksgiving stories — they are all sweet and kind. Even Shaw. I mean, EVEN SHAW! Okay, Cely’s was a little depressive, but in a reflective kind of way.

Click on the number eight (8) on the rotary phone to read Elkin’s story, “The Best Thanksgiving”. Greenbean’s story is coming at you on Wednesday and then on the big day is the one and only Kathy Kexel.

Don’ click on the number six or your turkey will burn
Featured

Fondue Hearts

I’ve said it many times, and I will now reaffirm it: The Hallmark Channel should sign Paul Bennett to a contract right now without delay. Our third Thanksgiving story is a heart touching encounter between a young woman and her grandfather that will remind you of all the good things in life. This story almost has a “The Waltons: Next Generation” feel to it.

Click on the fattest of the cedar shavings to read “What Remains Unseen” from Paul Bennett — resident nostalgia expert of the Fondue Writer’s Club.

Featured

Bitter Flavored Fondue

Be warned: When Rob Cely goes for the jugular he does so with turkey and gravy dripping from both hands.

Today’s Fondue Writer’s Club Thanksgiving story is about a woman named Sheila, and Sheila, well, Sheila wants you to come to Thanksgiving dinner at her house and see and experience the perfect holiday. If you need pointers on how to behave or act, she can do that for you too.

Click on the word ‘lost’ on the Scrabble board to read ‘The Feast of None’ by Rob Cely.

Featured

Forgive us, Father, for we have Fondued

Greenbean is traveling this week visiting the sprout in our nation’s Capitol. He will be on the lookout for someone he can share his opinions about tax reform, immigration reform, and the most important pressing issue of our time: getting rid of Daylight Savings Time.

His little journey, though, does not keep him from sharing outstanding fiction with you. The Fondue Writer’s Club is at it again, with our Thanksgiving stories 2021. The first one out of the chute is Joe Shaw, or as he is known by millions worldwide, “Florida Man.”

Today’s story is not what you expect. There is a serious edge to it, but also a strong dose of sweetness. The edge we expect from Shaw, as well as a high body count. It is the sweetness that surprises us today, but not syrupy sweet. It is a kind of humanity that is hard to get at in a short story, but Shaw does a masterful job by taking us inside the confessional booth.

Enjoy his story, and we will be back several times between now and Thanksgiving with more stories. Click on the middle, the very middle, and only the middle, the part where the light comes through, of this image to read Joe’s story, “Confession.”

Featured

Death Row and Clergy

This is upsetting to me.

Here is the situation as I understand it. Clergy of all stripes have been allowed to visit death row inmates before their moment of doom. A man or woman dying has been granted this ability, to have a religious leader or figure with them in the moments when the state exercises the ultimate power it has, to kill one of its citizens.

This ministerial presence historically involves touching — laying on of hands, and speaking words of prayer, perhaps even oil depending on the religious tradition invoked up until the last possible moment. Of course there are limitations to this when hanging, firing squad, beheading, or gas chamber are used. But even so, historically, clergy are there giving comfort as long as possible and safe.

For reasons I can only speculate about, the State of Texas decided in 2019 this moment of comfort should be revoked. At first it was a complete revocation denying the presence of any clergy of any kind regardless of the request of the individual being executed. Eventually this was softened and a religious leader could be present but was not allowed to speak or touch the person about to die.

The Supreme Court of the United States is today hearing oral arguments against this practice. It is shocking to me how often my state appears on the docket for SCOTUS of late, and I don’t like it. But what I really don’t like is this law. This is not even about the death penalty itself. I am personally against the death penalty but I affirm the state’s rights to do it. The problem is this is cruel and beneath us and it is very unsettling to think anyone who is in charge of public policy in our state would have this as a go-to impulse. It is a crime against conscience and a violation of the free exercise of religion to continue such barbaric retribution.

Click this picture of Pastor Dana Moore to read the Washington Post’s excellent story about this

I do not deny the people who are executed are people who have done horrible things and committed great acts of violence. That goes without saying. They are people who denied others their dignity and their humanity. I understand that. And they are being punished for it. We are not criminals and we are not psychopathic killers with no feeling or touch of humanity. We must be better than those we are ostensibly killing in order to protect society. It is about us, not them.

Do better Texas. Do better.

Featured

We Could Be (or at least think about) Heroes

All Saints Day is not really a holiday Baptists embrace, but perhaps we should.

No, I don’t mean veneration of the seemingly countless number of Patron Saints who litter some calendars but I mean the point of it all, which is to remember the heroes and seek to emulate their lives, or at least the admirable characteristics of their lives. All of us have clay feet, and no hero or heroine is perfect; and so Churchill did indeed have racist and elitist tendencies yes, but he probably saved the entire world from tyranny; and so to Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man with certain weaknesses that speak to a lack of discipline yet he spoke truth to power and showed us how to combat systemic oppression, and so too Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a woman who leaned far too much to the left for my taste but she was a decent human being who stood up for the rights of those without a voice.

Heroes and heroines are important (and note, I often use the generic ‘heroes’ for both sexes) and All Saints Day is a kind of moment when we can think about how are our heroes are.

I wrote a blog several years ago about some of my professional heroes (CLICK HERE TO READ). Today, I am thinking about another kind of hero; those people who are so desperately needed in our world today who go to work everyday and rarely get told thank you, or who often get the opposite — they see the worst side of humanity. Here is my list, and it is far from exhaustive. It is also imperfect in that within each group of heroes there are baddies — those who are not worthy of their calling and who take advantage of their position. I am obviously not talking about these people, but rather the other ninety-five percent.

Those Who Serve

This is a big category, and I use it loosely to describe those who wear or have worn uniforms and put themselves in harms way for the benefit of our society. This includes the armed forces, law enforcement, firefighters, and a whole host of other people who take huge gambles and risks every day so I can live in safety and freedom. I am a civilian and enjoy the civilian life, and cherish that our nation is led by a civilian government. Nevertheless, I recognize that it is those who serve who guarantee this very way fo life. These people are heroes.

Those Who Heal

Nurses, EMT’s, Doctors, P.A.’s, Pharmacists, counselors — I’m looking at you. We could learn a lot about our role in society if we would listen to those who see us when we are sick, hurting, mean, and ugly and still decided to help us anyway. A nurse saved my daughters life once.

A doctor saved my wife’s life. EMT’s cared for my father so often and so kindly as he neared death. Pharmacists do the every day magic of keeping us supplied with the medicines that keep us going. A counselor once helped me make sense of the world and my place in it. These people are heroes.

Those Who Teach Children

If you are reading this, someone taught you to read it. The basic building blocks of your life such as reading, writing, thinking, analyzing, and mathematics are present in you because someone taught you to do it. That was probably a teacher. I can think of so many in lifetime — too many to name here, that impacted my life for the better. These people are heroes.

Those Who Feed Us

Two categories go into this. One are farmers. So much of the farming our land now is agribusiness, which is unfortunate, but the small farmer is what I have in mind here. The family who grows the corn and gets it to market, the ranch that raises quality beef, the woman who sells her onions and tomatoes at the vacant lot on Saturday mornings are all the kinds of farmers I mean. The second category are truck drivers. These are the people who make sure everything we need gets to the giant mega-store. Without farmers and truck driver most of us would starve before winter was over. These people are heroes.

Those Who Remind

One more group of heroes. Most people know what they should do and how they should behave, but we forget. We forget about it because we get busy, we get comfortable, or we get confused. Those who remind us of our better angels and of the things which matter are vital. They remind us to be kind and compassionate, to defend the weak, to stand for the vulnerable, to protect life, to care about the immigrant, to choose peace over violence, that light conquers darkness. We all know these things, but we need people to remind us of it. Those people who do often put themselves in jeopardy or risk in the reminding, and sometimes they are even killed for their courage. That is why these people are heroes.

This is my short list of heroes, the people I am thinking of on All Saints Day, and the people who I am thankful for.

Featured

High School Fondue

Angels and demons is a genre speciality of Derek Elkins, and he really delivers with his contribution to the Fondue Writer’s Club Halloween 2021 Collection with “The Making of a God”. In reading the story, I couldn’t tell which was the greater evil — messing around with demonic influences or forcing teenagers to work in groups? I mean, who likes working in groups, right?

We have one more story left for the Halloween tales, and that comes on Halloween courtesy of Mr. Joe Shaw. Then we will take a couple of weeks before burdening, uh, I mean blessing you, with Thanksgiving tales.

Click on the scarab’s red jewel to read about how a bad teacher’s lazy lesson plans can result in evil being unleashed upon four not-so-bright high school students.

Featured

Wild Fondue

Rob Cely is our resident deep thinker. Today we have his Halloween story for the Fondue Writer’s Club titled “Children of the Wild One.” Rob writes with the kind of vividness that makes you feel the scorn of the barista, taste the mystery drink, and see what is unseeable behind the creepy door.

Tomorrow Derek Elkins gives us another amazing tale, and then we finish on All Hallow’s Eve with Joe Shaw.

Click on the Green Man’s nose to read Rob’s story.

Featured

Gypsy Fondue

As I read Kathy Kexel’s excellent Halloween story, I couldn’t tell if it was autobiographical or if she made the whole thing up. Either way, it is an excellent story about the twists of life and also reminds us that Reformation Day is more important than Halloween. Can I get an Amen!

The Fondue Writers Club will have stories coming out all week as we lead up to Halloween. We do this for free, just to give you something to read and ponder over. No gimmicks. No clickbait. No in app purchases. We have day jobs. Now, if you like our stuff, we have a book you might enjoy, and several of us have also written books (I have four) that we think you’d like. No pressure, though, for none of us write to put bread on the table. We write because its is in our veins and because we want to share our demented little worlds with you.

Click on The Divine Miss M’s curly locks below to read Kathy’s short story “The Hallowe’en That Wasn’t”. I think you’ll enjoy it. I know I did.

al
Featured

Is That Fondue Smoke I Smell?

It is hard to believe Paul Bennett is one of the Fondue Writers, because he is far too decent a person to associate with questionable people like us, and by us I mean Joe Shaw. He is a medical doctor, but today’s short story is a kind of sermon, so deep down he is a preacher.

I hope you enjoy his story “Under the Infernal Sky”. Click the on squirrel to read the story, and know we’ll have four more between now and All Hallow’s Eve for you to enjoy.

Featured

Fondue Traditions

Alas, today is my day. I went playful — or a little playful — with this years Halloween story. I want to thank all my colleagues for the opportunity to participate.

These stories are free — we just want to write something fun for you. No gimmicks, no in-app purchases, no clickbait. But I will tell you most of us have books, and we’ve even written a book together, that we would love for you to consider purchasing. Books make great Christmas presents. Keep in mind, you don’t have to read these books, just buy them. Doorstops, flyswatters, coasters for glasses, and furniture levelers are all secondary uses. Tertiary uses include firewood, large Jenga pieces, and self-defense.

But enough about that. Enjoy the story. We will drip these stories out until Halloween and then come back at you in November with Thanksgiving stories. Thanks for reading.

The Patch

By Jamie D. Greening

            Reginald Uphill was a traditionalist.

            An angel was put atop his Christmas tree, which was always a real tree he cut himself. He used honorific titles when referring to anyone of significance such as his neighbor who was a doctor. They had lived by each other for fifteen years yet Reginald Uphill always called him Dr. Johnson, never David. Someone he had not formally been introduced to was always Mr. or Mrs. and if it were a young woman, he used Ms. The President of the United States, regardless of party or his approval was always referred to as The President of the United States. Even if there wasn’t another car for five miles, he used his turn signal to indicate he was changing lanes. Popcorn was eaten at a movie theater, hot dogs at baseball games, and funnel cake at the fair. His home was filled with elegant but old wooden furniture, tiffany lamps, oriental rugs, and heavy curtains. The church he attended sang hymns and read the liturgy, and he wore a suit and tie to worship, even though every other person in his church wore blue jeans or cargo shorts. He flew his American flag on Patriots’ Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, September 11, and Election Day. 

            Tradition was his default setting.

            New, trendy, innovative, and groundbreaking were not words or ideas he valued. 

            He always preferred to stand on ceremony if that were an option.

            This was also true in Mr. Uphill’s daily life. It was his personal tradition to have roast beef every Monday. The only other day with a traditional meal was the Saturday morning oatmeal and two pieces of toast. It was his tradition. Even when traveling he needed to have these meals set. Once while on a business trip in Florida, he drove forty miles to another city to eat pot roast at the only restaurant in his vicinity that had it on the menu for Monday. The meat was tough and not savory, but that was beside the point. It was Monday, and Mondays are roast beef day, so he left the restaurant satisfied. 

            His wife and two young children accepted Mr. Uphill’s oddities as a part of his personality. They enjoyed it, for with his traditionalism and formalities came dignity and respect for the other people in his life. His wife, whom he always called, ‘My Bride,’ and his children, whom he always referred to by their full names, ‘Elizabeth Roth Uphill’ and ‘Dominic Tuttle Uphill’, depended upon the constancy and regularity that came from their father. Elizabeth’s middle name was the maiden name of his bride and Dominic’s middle name was his mother’s maiden name. Very traditional.   

            There were other strange traditions Mr. Uphill kept, totally unique to him and which came from his childhood. One example of these traditions was his insistence that only yellow legal pads were to be used in the home. His grandmother had told him these formal writing tools were the only correct way to record anything needing written down. He once threw out an entire box of spiral notebooks because they were inferior. True to his character, he replaced them with a box of yellow legal pads without comment. 

            Perhaps his strangest tradition, and definitely most immature reflex, was rooted in the Charlie Brown cartoon It’s The Great Pumpkin from his childhood. A traditionalist personality is always present within people with that bent regardless of their age, and at the age of ten, deeply impressed by this jewel of Americana, Mr. Uphill began standing watch in nearby pumpkin patches every Halloween. He certainly did not believe in a Great Pumpkin, but it was something he started doing as a child, and now as an adult, he simply could not break the habit. It had become his personal Halloween tradition.

            In his younger years this was easy, as pumpkin patches were abundant. However, most of those patches had been replaced by strip malls, big box stores, and housing developments. Finding a pumpkin patch, sincere or otherwise, was an arduous task. The patch he had visited the last three years was paved over in preference for a mega-church worship center where they only sang choruses and never repeated liturgy. For Mr. Uphill it was a double-abomination. 

            As All Hallow’s Eve approached, he busied himself with finding a patch. The nearest one was an hour drive away. When the sun dipped behind the trees and children began to crawl the neighborhood, he packed a thermos of hot cocoa, a bundle of smores, and a blanket. He kissed his bride goodbye as she took the children trick-or-treating. Elizabeth Roth Uphill was dressed as Elsa from Frozen. Dominic Tuttle Uphill wore a powdered wig and dressed as George Washington. The costume had been used earlier that year at a school performance where different children had been chosen to present brief speeches by various presidents. Mr. Uphill had been greatly pleased that his son had been chosen to represent the first president, who was by far the most traditional of all our leaders.

            His bride loved the fact the costume could do double duty. 

            Mr. Uphill arrived at the field as the quarter moon rose over the horizon. He’d called ahead to the owner to ask permission, so he knew where to go. They had left a gate open for him along the highway’s edge under the sign that read, ‘Pumpkin Spice Emporium’. It wasn’t long before he’d found a nice spot in the middle of the field to hold his annual watch. He always stayed until midnight, and then he would return home. The benefit of the evening was more than the fulfillment of the ritual. The time alone in the crisp air always blessed his soul. He would often think about his life, his family, and the world. It was a solace for a simple man trapped in a busy and chaotic culture. 

            The cocoa was superb. His bride made it with rich, creamy milk and Mexican cocoa and that perfect hint of vanilla he loved so much. He devoured half the smores and held the other half until right before he left.

            His mind wandered, but eventually he began to think about his parents. His mother had died the previous year, and his father lived in the same home he’d grown up in across town from him. He decided he needed to spend more time with the older Mr. Uphill, and perhaps needed to record some of the stories his father had told him over the years. In particular, he thought about the stories regarding his great grandparents settling in America from Europe. He was thinking about life in England in the nineteenth century when he spotted a pair of headlights on the dark highway. He checked his watch, and it was half-past ten. The lights pulled in behind his Buick. 

            Soon he saw the semblance of a man walking through the vines towards him. He assumed it might be the owner coming to check on him. He’d prepared his speech of gratitude, as well as a twenty-dollar bill for the owner’s trouble. The shadow moved toward him.

            ‘Hello,’ the man said to Mr. Uphill. ‘I see I have found another Great Pumpkin pilgrim tonight.’

            ‘Indeed,’ said Mr. Uphill. ‘Are you the kind owner of this patch.’

            ‘No,’ the man said. ‘I am just another person looking for a sincere pumpkin patch. Do you think this is it?’

            ‘That remains to be seen,’ said Mr. Uphill. ‘Midnight has not yet come.’ 

            ‘Fair enough,’ said the man. ‘My name is Richard. This is the third patch I’ve visited tonight. You’re the first person I’ve seen. For years I would find at least a handful of people each year, but the last five autumn’s or so it has been much lonelier. We are a dying breed.’

            ‘I suppose we are.’

            ‘What’s your name?’ Richard asked.

            ‘I am Mr. Reginald Uphill.’

            ‘Mind if I call you Reggie?’

            ‘Actually, I do. No one calls me Reggie. You may call me Mr. Uphill. What, pray tell, is your formal name?’

            ‘Just call me Richard.’

            ‘Very well, Mr. Richard.’

            Mr. Richard sat on Mr. Uphill’s blanket next to him. There was an uncomfortable silence until Mr. Uphill offered the intruder a smore. It seemed like the decent thing to do for this man who had barged in on his moment. 
            ‘Thank you,’ Mr. Richard said. ‘I’ve never seen The Great Pumpkin, have you?’

            ‘No, but I don’t expect to. It is just something I do. Do you expect to see anything?’

            ‘Absolutely,’ Mr. Richard replied. ‘I waited every year as a child, but nothing ever happened. Several years ago, I decided The Great Pumpkin might want something. So, I started bringing various offerings. For about three years I brought bags full of rocks, you know, because that is what Charlie Brown kept getting.’

            Mr. Uphill chuckled. ‘That’s funny. I see that didn’t help.’

            ‘No, so I started bringing sweet treats in those plastic pumpkins kids use. That didn’t work either.’

            Mr. Uphill’s eyes narrowed. ‘That’s strange, Mr. Richard. You know this is just a made-up story, right?’

            ‘But all stories have some kernel of truth. The Great Pumpkin must be real, or Schulz would have never written about it. He knew something the rest of us didn’t know. He left us clues.’

            ‘Clues?’ Mr. Uphill scooted over a little away from the stranger beside him.

            ‘Yes, clues.’ Mr. Richard said. ‘I’m determined to find The Great Pumpkin and learn his secrets.’

            ‘Mr. Richard, I am worried about your plan.’ Mr. Uphill checked his watch again. It was now a quarter of midnight. ‘I do not think there are any secrets beyond contemplation and self-awareness. A night in the pumpkin patch is good to keep tradition and habits, but there is no meaning beyond that.’

            Mr. Richard didn’t seem to hear Mr. Uphill. ‘Do you have any more of those smores. That was good.’ 

            Mr. Uphill gave him another but held back the last smore for himself. After this strange encounter, he would need it for the ride home.

            ‘Last year,’ Mr. Richard began, ‘I brought a Beagle to this very patch.’

            ‘A dog? What did you do with a dog?’

            ‘I sacrificed it.’

            ‘You what?’

            ‘The rocks, the treats, and the blood of the Beagle weren’t enough to bring The Great Pumpkin. It was very discouraging, so I need to try something else.’

            ‘That is insane. What do you think this imaginary Pumpkin wants?’

            ‘‘The blood of a sincere human is what makes a pumpkin patch sincere, Mr. Uphill. The Great Pumpkin will come tonight. I can feel it.’

            Mr. Richard shoved a butcher knife through the warm coat and into Mr. Uphill’s kidney. ‘Happy Halloween,’ he said to his victim. 

            The last thought Mr. Uphill had was of the last uneaten smore in his bag.    

Featured

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Fondue

Today we start the next installments of the Fondue Writer’s Club. Me and my penmonkey friends have collaborated again to provide you with free entertainment. You read that right — FREE!

We started doing this when the Pandemic hit last year, thinking people would need something to help them get by. Turns out, our stories didn’t really help at all but we we enjoyed doing it so much we kept at it. One book later and enough short stories to vanquish Hallmark Channel forever, we are geared up for Halloween themed stories, then Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Joseph Courtemanche starts us off. To read his story click Stephen King’s beard . . . if you dare. And thanks for reading The Fondue Writer’s Club.

My Big Fat Greek Vacation

Featured

Greenbean went to Greece, and it was amazing.

Mrs. Greenbean and I spent the better part of September in Greece with two of our friends. It was wonderful and I highly recommend going. But go before your knees and lungs give out, because the entire country is uphill both ways. The mainland is affordable, and if you do what we did and buy food in markets and eat a lot of meals on benches or on the balcony of your hotel, you can save euros. Let me take our trip in big categories. I’ll start with the places we visited.

Places

We landed in Athens on a Tuesday morning and spent that exhausting day walking around. Our hotel was in the Plaka neighborhood, which is near The Acropolis. On that day, we walked around Hadrian’s Arch and the ruins of Olympian Zeus. We were too tired to really know what we were doing. Our plan for fighting jet lag was to stay awake, eat an early supper, and go to bed. It worked for the most part.

The day we landed I found the Acropolis. Imagine how awful I smell. Just imagine.

The next three days we spent in Athens visiting The Parthenon, Mars Hill, the Roman Agora, the Ancient Agora including the Temple of Hephaestus, The National Archaeological Museum, and a few other sights. Athens is a very enjoyable city, but the neighborhoods change suddenly and dramatically. My favorite part had to be visiting Mars Hill. To stand in that spot where Paul preached, with the Acropolis behind him and the city below, frames that famous sermon in Acts in a way my imagination could never grab.

We rented a car and traveled to Delphi. It was far more alpine than I expected. The remoteness of the Temple of Apollo highlights the effort and intention exerted by the ancients to visit the oracle. We only spent the day there, and drove on to Kalambaka where we visited the impressive monasteries of Meteora. Monks have lived on those rocks for over a thousand years. We visited it on a Sunday, and I lit the candles, wrote my prayers, and contemplated the call of Christ and the odd interpretation of the gospel that moves men and women to remove themselves from the world Christ died for. I do not understand that impulse nor do I agree with that mode of ministry, but I am in awe of their devotion and discipline.

Me sitting on Mars Hill. Notice the Parthenon/Acropolis behind me. When Paul preached here,
the Parthenon was already 500 years old.
The famous Lion’s Gate at Mycenae. So large, the ancients believed it was built by cyclops.

We drove down across the peninsula to the Peloponnese and spent two nights in Patras. It is a very young town full of life and energy. We used that as a base of operations for visiting Olympia and Mycenae. Both were impressive. We made our way south to Nafplion, which is a delightful seaside resort where we ate too much gelato and I bought a pair of leather sandals made right there on sight.

The Grand Meteora Monastery. There were six of them, we climbed up and visited four.

On our way back to Athens we visited the ancient city of Corinth and I was able to see with my eye the bema seat mentioned in Acts where Gallio judged the Apostle Paul. Again, standing here, and knowing that right behind (or in front, depending on perspective) was the giant temple of Apollo. The museum there was good, with pieces of ancient, Hellenic, and Roman origin. The picture below is me standing in front of the Bema and a zoomed out shot for size. It was definitely built to overwhelm whoever was standing in Rome’s judgment.

We returned the car at the airport and stayed at a miserable hotel at the airport before flying the next morning to Santorini. We stayed in Santorini four nights and five days. We cruised out at sunset and ate shrimp and swam in the Aegean, we cruised again to the volcano and climbed up the summit, swam, and ate at a very rustic fishing village, walked the seven mile hike around the rim, visited the Ancient Theran Museum which is amazing, swam at Red Beach, which takes a lot of dangerous pathfinding to get to. Santorini does not have good beaches. I am completely convinced, after visiting the island, that Santorini and the disappearance of the Theran people three and a half millennia ago is the root of the Atlantis myth.

We flew back to Athens and spent one final day shopping in the Monastiraki neighborhood, which is basically a giant flea market.

These blue domed white church buildings are all over Santorini. I estimate about six billion of them.
This one is in Oia, which we walked seven miles and crossed Mordor to get to.

FOOD

You know me, and food is an important part of any experience. I ate very well in Greece. I love the Greek salad — a salad without lettuce! They serve the feta cheese on top in a slice, not crumbled the way Americans do. Soulaki is a staple, and is basically just a k-bob. They grill mushrooms and serve a saganaki dish which is like a fried cheese. Very very good. Every meal seems to include tzatziki which is a yogurt mixed with cucumber and other spices. It is delicious with pita bread.

And the kalamata olives! I could eat my weight in those.

The seafood was so abundant and delightful. We ate calamari, octopus, and sea bass. On Santorini I ate a pandora fish, which I’d never done before. Also, they put French fries with everything, but do not put ketchup on the table. We asked for ketchup at one place, and what we got was not ketchup. I am still uncertain of what exactly it was, but it was good.

The leftover fish after our last dinner on Santorini

The only thing that was not good was the coffee. They push a lot of Nescafe in Greece. A Greek Coffee, as best I can tell, is just about a half a cup of Nescafe and hot water, unstirred. In the afternoons they serve a caffe freddo, which is iced coffee with milk. Its not awful, but its not that good either.

The water is fine to drink. No need to waste euros on bottled water.

The best food we had was at restaurant called Paramithi in Kalambaka. Kalambaka is very rural, rustic, and about a billion miles away culturally from Athens or Santorini. The food was fresh made just a few feet away, local, and a man who looked a little like Anthony Quinn in Zorba played Greek tavern tunes on his stringed instrument.

With the exception of a couple of breakfasts locations, every meal we ate was outside. I do not think this was COVID-19 protocol, for the buildings were structured this way. The Greeks eat outside. It is just what they do. It felt so wonderful.

We saw one McDonald’s the whole time we were there, and that was on Santorini. Other than that, I didn’t see any fast food restaurants. I saw tons of people, not tourists but Greeks, sitting in those wonderful cafes and taverns outside. It is not a bad way to live. I loved the Greek diet, and the times they eat — lunch around 2PM and a really late supper around 9PM.

People

There is not much to write here, other than to praise the Greek people as wonderful souls. Every one we met was kind, generous, and very understanding and helpful. They were also talkative. They love their country and their culture, and are proud to share it with you. It seemed to me they loved the fact people from other countries value their history, culture, and heritage.

Just about everyone we met had some working knowledge of English, and most of the signs are written in Greek and English. Language and communication was never a problem. Many of the people we met had lived for a while in either The United States or England. Some used us to practice their English — especially in Patras where they don’t get many American tourists. Some will want to tell you about their region, and one man pulled up a chair and wanted to talk to us about the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, because he was a big NBA basketball fan.

The only words in Greek you need to know is ef-charisto — a variation of the New Testament word eucharisto, which means thank you. The other is parakalo, which means both thank you and please. That too is a New Testament word. W.C. means water closet, which is the bathroom. Most are clean with a women and men’s side but a public hand washing sink outside both.

The Greek people are hard workers. They hustle for business and to make the customer happy. I never encountered any kind of snobbery or laziness.

The people in Athens dress very casually — t-shirts, jeans, and comfortable shoes. They dressed a little more formally in Patras and Nafplion. On Santorini everyone dressed up quite a bit. The narcissism was on full display there with selfies and people getting the perfect social media picture. Lots of fancy dresses. Also lots of skin. People dress very modestly on the mainland, but on Santorini it is scandalous.

The tourists we met were mostly good as well. We saw a Russian man propose to his fiancé at the top of the Acropolis, cruised the caldera with a Nigerian/Brit, talked about business with a pub owner from Manitoba, Canada, and swam with a couple from Long Beach, California. We heard lots of people speaking German, many Russians, and a lot of Americans and Brits. There are more Americans on Santorini than Greeks, I think.

A couple of fashion notes. The only long beards I saw was from the Greek Orthodox priests. Most of the men had a kind of five o’clock shadow beard and a heavier mustache, but not like a Magnum P.I. mustache. And because it is me, I was noticing the watches people wore. The Greek people have not adopted the smartwatch. They all had nice analog watches that matched what they were wearing. Only tourists wore hats.

The people who ran the museums were the meanest we saw. They kept blowing whistles at us. We were those people. We may have touched things we weren’t supposed to. And by touch I mean walked around in closed off areas. Maybe.

Our last meal in Athens before we came home.

COVID-19

This trip was taken in the midst of the rise of the Delta Variant of COVID-19. When we planned it, we figured the pandemic would be behind us. We were wrong. There were three major inconveniences to us in this regard. The first was wearing a mask on the airplane. Crossing the Atlantic and changing planes in Chicago meant wearing that mask for about twenty-four hours nonstop. That was pretty rough, not for my mouth or nose but my ears. The second was the required COVID-19 test to get back. I confess I was a little anxious as we all stood outside the pharmacy on Santorini waiting for our results. The third was that we had to show our vaccination card to get into most of the museums and archaeological sites. These were minor inconveniences, though, and did not hinder the enjoyment of the trip.

For the travel parts, the American Airlines Verifly App made it very easy. Once the airline cleared us on the App, it was just normal passport issues at customs. Here is a protip — don’t smile at the customs officers when they check your passport picture. They don’t like that.

Greece takes masks seriously, and anything indoors you have to mask up, and most of the shops, not restaurants because they are outdoors, but the shops, markets, banks, and post offices have limits on how many can be inside at one time — usually only three or four people. But once you get into the rhythm, it wasn’t that big of a problem. Again, only the long air travel seemed to be burdensome.

Misclleaneous Items

If I ever go back, I want to visit Mykonos, Crete, and Rhodes, perhaps Thessaloniki and Philippi. The world is big and there are lots of places I want to visit, so I don’t know if ever I will make it back, but if I do, I know I will have a good time.

How expensive is it? It could be done a lot cheaper than we did it, but it is cheaper than Disney World. I know that from experience. Disney is about five or six days, and for less money we spent nineteen days in Greece.

The flight is about nine and half hours from Chicago going and ten and half coming back. I crossed several things off my bucket list on this trip, and one of these was flying on the 787 Dreamliner. Great airplane. Also, if you can leave from an airport other than O’hare, do it. That place is a dump. We traveled on RyanAir to Santorini, and that was just fine — they flew these nice Boeing 737s. You can see just how dotted the Aegean is with islands as you make the thirty minute flight.

There is a whole lot more I could say, but this post is already far too long.

Summary

Go to Greece. Take cash — and I mean euros — because lots of places don’t do cards. Bring good walking shoes. Eat delicious food. Take pictures. Talk to people. Swim in the sea.

Featured

Book Review: Howdy Pilgrim, a Review of Jesus and John Wayne

Okay, I couldn’t resist putting a John Wayneism in the title for my review of “Jesus and John Wayne”.

Please forgive me.

The book is 309 pages of text plus a lot more pages of notes, paperback, written by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. She has done good historical work, documented her sources, and covered the time period in a chronological way that I appreciate. There are sixteen chapters, and each chapter is thematic around a basic idea related to the rise of evangelicalism in the United States since the turn of the twentieth century.

Let me begin by addressing the salacious title. This book is not about Jesus. Actually, there is very little about Jesus in it. It is also not about John Wayne. There are a few scatterings about John Wayne and his politics and how it influenced his later movies, especially films like The Green Berets, but if you buy this book thinking there will be a lot of stories about The Duke in it and how he relates to Jesus, then you’ll be disappointed.

This book is about one thing, and one thing only — it seeks to describe and explain the emergence of toxic masculinity, or the patriarchy, within evangelicalism. The subtext of the book is that we are to believe the way evangelicals embraced former president Donald Trump in 2016 is a direct result of that toxic masculinity which had been carefully nurtured by key leaders for at least seventy years. If you want a book that is all about Donald Trump and his relationship with Christ-followers, this book is not that book, as he only occupies pages on the periphery, the beginning and the end. This book is more about the mindset of evangelicals rather than the politics of President Trump.

Du Mez believes evangelicals embraced Trump precisely because he was a testosterone-filled alpha male who put women and his enemies in their place, and that is what they had come to expect from strong leaders. As such, I think she comes up short of proving her argument en toto. She may be right, but I think she overplays the masculinity politics just a tad and underplays the genuine concern many Christians have about issues like abortion, the Supreme Court, and immigration. I don’t write this to defend those positions, but I don’t think it is just the issue of Trump filling the idealized image Christians have of a strong man. I admire her attempt though, because I have often struggled to understand exactly how a New Yorker who built an empire of casinos, had a penchant for pornography, was guilty of womanizing, said his favorite pastor was Norman Vincent Peale (a man evangelicals absolutely couldn’t stand), and cursed so much in public became the darling of Southern Christians. I am less than satisfied with her explanation, but I admire the attempt.

What I like about this book is the thoroughness. It is so thorough at times you feel like it is repetitive. Du Mez can sometimes belabor the point, but that is just good historical footwork. In doing this work she weaves a coherent narrative of evangelical thought from Billy Graham’s famous Los Angeles crusade to Bill Gothard to Phyllis Schlafly to Tim and Beverly LaHaye to Oliver North to John Piper to Mark Driscoll, covering all points in-between. She glosses over a lot of years and personalities, but the way she paints the picture it was one successive leader after another reenforcing gender stereotypes and tropes into the hearts and mental pictures of Christians.

If I were to say there is one particular target for Du Mez, it is not Donald Trump, but James Dobson. She spares no energy in attaching him and his organization, Focus On The Family, to every bad thought or bad idea or bad person. She really, really, really, really does not like him. Yet, it is hard to find anyone she is flattered with. The book is a virtual compendium on the agenda, style, and problems of key Christian leaders — and most of them are in my library — the ones mentioned above, plus folks like Wayne Grudem, Stu Weber, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren and Tim Keller.

Her critique is needed. There is much in the way of abuse, politics, agenda, and just plain-old-fashioned power grabs that have marred and scarred churches in America. This is an issue of repentance and of change. Do not read her book if you don’t want to argue with her a little bit, and do not read her book if you only read things that conform to your preconceived notions.

I agree with many of her assertions. For example, I think she is right when she highlights how complementarianism has been used by abusive personalities for their own gratification. As an egalitarian, I can completely join in on that perspective. However, not all complementarians are abusive, and the vast majority of them I know are good, honest, wonderful Christ-followers who are seeking to follow the Bible as they understand it. To paint them all with that broad brush of abuse or manipulation is going too far. Egalitarians can be just as guilty of abuse, as the sad situation with Hybels exemplifies.

But my criticism on this front is a minor issue because the church deserves this kind of evaluation from a skilled set of eyes willing to go through the actual historical record. She has the receipts, so to speak, on something I’ve said often but without the data, just more of a gut feeling — and that is this — when we look at what the last seventy years of church life has produced, biblically illiterate people who call themselves Christian, sex scandal after sex scandal, spiritually weak churches, church leaders obsessed with marketshare and media, and then put the cherry on top of a loss of credibility with just about everyone then I ask the honest question, why would we continue to follow any pattern in church life that has been handed down to us? If we are to have healthy Jesus-focused congregations in the future these congregations must break the paradigms that have produced so much poison. Taking away the power of celebrity pastors to set the agenda is one place to start. Another is to reject the idea that growing a big church is somehow the goal. Another is to reject power-players and bullies within local churches. And another, which this current volume aligns with, is the empowering of women to fully exercise ministry gifts. I mean, come on, men have made a pretty big mess of things. Maybe it will take godly women leaders to clean it up.

I recommend this book if for no other reason than we all need to be exposed to our own history.

Featured

A Prayer For The First Day of School 2021

Dear Lord, the buses are running and the backpacks are filled, lunches are made and pencils are sharpened. In many ways it feels normal, and so I make the normal prayers.

I pray for children to learn, about words, worlds, bugs, and books but also learn about themselves and to grow as people. May kindergarteners make messes and laugh, and fifth graders run too fast and hard, and eight graders finds a way to not be awkward when their body shouts awkwardness, and may eleventh graders dream of changing the world.

Let these children make friends — good friends. Allow them to discover what their own passions are and what the right avenue of expression is. Let them make mistakes, then be gently corrected by a firm, but kind hand.

I pray for parents. Some are sending their children off for the first time, and some for the last time. Being a parent is the hardest work in the world, Lord, and I ask that you give these parents a special dispensation of grace.

We also pray for teachers — bless them for their heroic work. Let it be a fulfillment for them of their own true vocation. We ask that bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and administration personnel all have years which are meaningful and significant, and that you will let their work be a blessing and not a frustration.

Our schools do so much more than teach, Lord, and as we have put this burden on that system, we ask that you help us to make it work. Allow the school to make certain every child has plenty of food to eat. If there are children who are being hurt or abused, allow justice to prevail. If a child needs special help with development or mental health, then let it be discovered and assessed in a helpful way.

So, Lord, these are the normal prayers. But we do not live in normal times. We live in COVID. This is our third year with this disease. I thank you for last year, that our school did a phenomenal job, but this year brings new fears, new variants, new rules. Protect our children and teachers, and Father I ask that soon a vaccine for children will emerge to take this pressure off, and to help us safeguard our most precious resource — the future.

There are other things we worry about, Father, and we bring these before you as well. Protect our children from bullets and evil people. Protect them from bad ideas, from the wolves who sneak in among the sheep and exploit trust and pervert innocence. Protect them from the poison that is seeping through our culture, poisons like division, politics, hate, and lies.

O Lord, we believe that you have given us children as a gift. We want to treat them that way, as a wonderful gift that confirms your blessing and that also teaches us about how we relate to you, as children who are always learning. Show each of us our part to play as parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends.

May 2021, with all its challenges, be the greatest school year ever for our children and those who love them.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Featured

Pastoral Ministries And COVID-19

One of the aspects of pastoral ministries I take very seriously is the hospital visit. I know a lot of pastors do not do those any more, but I still think it is important. For most of my twenty five years of ministry, this has two phases. One phase is someone in a room, and in that room and it is just as you would expect, like a regular hospital visit. The biggest challenges in these situation are 1) getting them to turn the television down 2) finding a place to sit 3) not interfering with the medical folks coming and going. It is always important to remember, pastorally, you are on their turf when in the hospital and you must accommodate whatever they have going on.

The second phase of this, is what I think is the most important, and that is pre-op. I have never had any problem walking to the front desk, saying I am so-and so’s pastor, then calling down to get clearance from the patient, and then they walk me down — usually to the last stop before the patient goes in. It is in this setting that I read a little scripture, talk about eternal things, anoint them with oil, and then pray with them for a successful surgery, wisdom for the doctor, a speedy recovery, and no long term problems. The greatest challenges to this was 1) arriving at just the right time, 2) not staying too long, and 3) finding your way back out when finished because those places are a maze.

COVID-19 changed all of that.

I remember the visit I was trying to make the very day they changed the policies at one of our local hospitals and was denied access. I did leave behind a little “prayer bear” from one of our ministries that I take to patients in the hospital.

One of our little prayer bears

For over a year now, hospital visits have been prohibited across the board. In this in between time I have prayed on the phone with a lot of people and visited them in their yard the night before, all masked up and often wearing gloves. Sometimes people prefer to come by my study at church — it feels a little more official, I think for some folks.

Now, though, some hospitals are opening up, our local hospital is, for the Phase One kind of visit. I’ve been able to see people in their rooms the last three or four weeks and that is very nice. It feels almost normal.

The Phrase Two type, though, still seems out-of-reach. I was reminded of this yesterday when we called a hospital to find out if I would be able to do that and was told “You can pray in the lobby before the patient checks in.”

What I am wondering is, as a spiritual guide, if the hospitals will ever open this back up to us as a possibility. I feel like there is a good chance they will not, which is unfortunate. It deprives people of faith of a holistic approach to their well-being.

What I am working through is how this change will combine and steamroll with the rapidly increasing trend toward sending people home the same day of their procedure. More and more surgeries are ‘day surgeries’ or perhaps ‘overnight’ surgeries. The window of opportunity for seeing someone in the hospital has been shrinking steadily. When I first started pastoring in the mid-90s, if a woman had a hysterectomy she was often in the hospital fo a week. Now she is home that afternoon. Back surgeries were usually long stays, but now they schedule them at 6AM and have the patients out the for by four.

I am not complaining about this from a medical perspective — although we all know these rushed times are the result of insurance and not healthcare — but instead my concern is how do you do meaningful hospital ministry in these accelerated programs when COVID-19 protocols are in play? The answer will probably involve some kind of hybrid approach that involves the night before the surgery prayer in home, Sunday at church prayer, video-calling people in the hospital, and the incredibly rare opportunities to hold someones hadn’t, touch their forehead, and pray with them.

What I refuse to do is surrender the playing field, so to speak, and walk away from the sick, the hurting, and the afflicted. As things change, we who give pastoral care will have to work hard to stick our nosey little face in and ask the questions like, “If your surgery doesn’t work out the way we are hopeful it will, are you ready for eternity? Have you told the people you love all the things you need to tell them? What is your biggest fear going into this? How is your relationship with Jesus?” What is more, those we minister too will have to help us, because we’re navigating waters that are fresh and new to us and are contrary to both our training and our temperament.

Featured

Baptism: Three Possible Futures

Not that baptism only has three futures, but I see three possibilities.

I’ve been thinking of this important Christian practice a lot lately as I’ve recently finished up a six weeks small group class that has covered the biblical material, origins, history, practice, and theology of baptism. In the last session I talked about contemporary issues, and among those was a speculation of where baptism may be heading in modern American culture. What I see is not all that great.

Future One–People Are Getting Baptize All The Time

Many Christian groups, particular those with an Arminian disposition, may have people who feel they’ve lost their way and come back to faith in Christ and want to celebrate this with getting baptized again. Other traditions, like my own Baptist heritage, has begun to view baptism as an almost expected double or triple experience. It is not uncommon for people to have been baptized as a child, then again as a teenager or in their 20s, and then finally when they join a new church that has a different practice. None of these things in itself might lead us to this new future of everyone getting baptized all the time, but combine it with the idea of using baptism to cleanse a conscience after a traumatic event or a startling life change, and it is not hard to see the idea of baptism as a symbol of renewal of Christian faith that might be repeated multiple times a year as Holy Communion is celebrated.

Future Two–No One Is Getting Baptized

Another variation is one in which the act of baptism has been ‘metaphored’ away into something that represents a decision to follow Jesus as Lord but the symbolic representation of the water has been removed as an artifact of a pre-enlightened world. This move would certainly be welcome to the large mega-church movement which are functionally non-denominational in their affinity appeal to ideology and style rather than theology or heritage. It is easier to move people without the trouble of water.

Before you object to this as an impossibility, consider this has already happened in most places with the concept of anointing with oil for prayer and healing. Whereas our foremothers and forefathers would have likely seen and participated in such moments of symbolic action, today’s Christ followers rarely if ever experience it.

Future Three–Everyone Is Getting Baptized

No, not because everyone is become a follower of Jesus, but because baptism has been secularized and no longer is rooted in faith in Jesus. In this concept, the world co-opts the baptismal font as a statement of cleansing or renewal in a psychological or emotional sense but no need to bother with faith or theology. The best example of this having already occurred is the cross. People adorn their bodies with a cross who have no faith in Jesus at all. Indeed, the government designates the cross as a secular symbol (click here for Greenbeans outstanding ‘The Cross Is Not A Secular Symbol’) that means death or cemetery. Can you see a future in which people are baptized after a bad day, a breakup with their boyfriend, or quit a job, or smoking? Sadly I can see backyard pool parties in which people promise to be loyal to themselves and to serve the better good as citizens of the world an some other bilge about the heart wants what the heart wants, then a good friend baptizes them and everyone sings a John Lennon song.

Each of these futures is horrific to me.

Featured

Best Picture 2021 — A Great Batch of Movies

Movies have been weird this year. I haven’t seen a single nominee on the big screen because . . . COVID-19. Instead, I’ve watched them at home, which has been cheaper, easier, and more convenient. However, it doesn’t quite feel the same. Nevertheless, in typical Greenbean fashion, let me present to you my summation and prediction for best picture. Let’s take them in alphabetical order.

The Father — Tear jerker, great performance by Anthony Hopkins, but the only award this French rehash will win is editing (which may be the only sure bet this year). The editing is actually the key to understanding this film, and figuring out when Oliva Colman is wearing that blue shirt.

Judas And The Black Messiah — One of two films set in Chicago in the late 1960s. The story is amazing, and the acting is brilliant. This movie has a better than average chance of winning, particularly because of the subject material’s relevancy. I really liked this movie.

Mank — Well told story about old Hollywood using techniques and pacing that is reminiscent of the old stories themselves. Pro Tip: watch Citizen Kane BEFORE you watch Mank. Oldman will win best actor because Hollywood loves Hollywood more than anything except money and it will probably win cinematography, but Mank can’t win best picture. It is a great movie, but not up to snuff with some of these other films.

Minari — I am sentimental about this movie. It reminds me so much of my own childhood — right down to the barn burning and kids riding the van to church. This movie has a very good chance of winning. Brilliant acting, pacing, and it may well be the best overall storytelling we’ve seen in an Oscar nominee in a long time.

Nomadland — This is the weakest of the movies nominated. It is still a fine film, and I particularly loved the homage to the West as my family has been to so many of the places visited. Specifically thrilling for us was Wall Drug. I just found it a little simplistic. Felt much more like a documentary.

Promising Young Woman — This movie has a better than average chance of winning. Brilliant, thrilling, riveting, and heart breaking. Again, the subject matter is very contemporary, but Carey Mulligan is a powerhouse in this movie making the most of every word she says and every glare she gives. I think Mulligan wins (Mrs. Greenbean thinks Andra Day wins) best actress, and this movie may be an upset winner.

Sound of Metal — Mrs. Greenbean loved this movie. It is a well told tale with riveting characters you care about. The story of a person losing his hearing and how he copes and the folks who help him is the stuff of real life. This movie, along with Promising Young Woman, is one of those that stays with you long after you’ve watched it.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 — I loved this movie. The Aaron Sorkin script will win best original screenplay and Sacha Baron Cohen may steal a best supporting actor Oscar, because Oscar has set up Judas And The Black Messiah actors to fail by nominating Kaluuya and Stanfield in this category, thus splitting that vote. If you love political drama, this your movie. Such a wonderful ensemble cast, especially the always riveting Mark Rylance who, in a different less crowded year, would have been nominated for best supporting actor.


I really did like all of these movies and could make a case for each one winning the Oscar, so I will not be mad at all this year (I’m looking at you, Birdman and The Shape of Water). But if I were picking, I would pick Minari, and I think Minari will win. After Parasite, Koreans are on a streak.

A couple of auxiliary notes. First, with the exception of Frances McDormand’s naked skinny dipping, there was no nudity or sexually explicit scenes in any of these movies. The language in all of them was harsh, Minari being tamer than the rest, but the absence of nudity was a very pleasant surprise. I hope it is a harbinger of things to come. Even McDormand’s scene was more of a hippy dippy moment and not designed to be sensual.

Second, I always like to find themes in the movies to see where Oscar’s head is, or where Hollywood’s is. A surprising one emerged: community. Each movie emphasizes the strength of a community that holds us together. It is very prominent in Metal as the real heroes are the deaf community who also are Christ followers. But Promising has the subset of med school students, Chicago 7 is protesters, Nomadland is the community of nomads, Minari is the immigrant community, Mank is that small Hollywood cloister of olden times, Judas is the Black Panthers, and The Father is literally a family. it doesn’t take a rocket scientists to point out that in the world of COVID-19, those tight communities and being together tends to tug at our heartstrings a little more.

If things allow, I’ll be back later with more Oscar predictions. It is a very good batch of movies this year. Very good.

Featured

A Year of STUPID COVID

That is what we call it in the office here at church. Stupid COVID.

Today (March 11) seems to be the day we as a nation are marking the one year awareness of C-19. As a caveat, I would like to say I distinctly remember being aware of it by late January and all through February. I think what we are remembering is when people recognized how serious it was with the cancellation of NBA games and the public announcement that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive for COVID-19.

I know when I took it seriously — it was March 4 when Sony MGM announced they were postponing the release of No Time To Die, the newest James Bond film and probably Daniel Craig’s last turn as 007. I remember my thought process very clearly — studios are designed to make money, and if they see the risk of releasing it in April then this must be quite the problem. The second real stand-up moment for me was March 13 when the NCAA announced it was cancelling the annual basketball tournament. March Madness is a huge money maker for these colleges. Cancelling it was serious. The best way to judge what people really think and feel is to follow the money. These two cancellations were demonstrable that people were afraid enough to throw money away.

At present, a year down the line, I am very optimistic about the future. It seems like the vaccines are working. Case numbers are down. People are rolling up their sleeves. I am very hopeful that by May or June we can be back to something like normal.

Since everyone else is dong it, let me make some observations about the past year.

  1. I am very impressed with the vast majority of Americans in general, people in my community in specific, and our church in the extreme. Most of us have gone above and beyond to help others, to take precautions, and to support the decisions that needed to be made.
  2. At the same time, the number of people who flippantly put other people’s health in jeopardy and show no concern for their neighbor disgusts me. COVID-19 has showed us who people really are and what they value.
  3. The pandemic has already changed us and how we interact. I’m pretty sure for the rest of my life when I fly or am in a crowded space, I will put on a mask. I know it has changed government and our expectations of it. It has also changed church. I don’t know if we will ever be completely comfortable in a potluck or really crowded classrooms ever again.
  4. Let me speak about that government business for a second. For a variety of reasons, the pandemic demonstrated we were not ready for it. It was humbling for our nation, which is okay. Pride is a sin, and recognizing weaknesses is an important part of growth. My fear is there will be an overreaction in the other direction which will be too much reliance upon government to solve every personal issue. Wisdom will find that sweet spot of competency and preparedness.
  5. Still on the government bit — I fully support the COVID relief bill which just passed through Congress. However, we need to start thinking right now of how we are going to pay for it. My recommendation is we tax hard and fast the tech industry, particularly digital communications. These were the platforms that made a killing during COVID-19 because we all had to use their products. While restaurants and airlines and cruise ships and cinemas and concerts were closed Amazon was making mad bank. We should tax them specifically for recovery. After that, something like a 1% added income tax for everyone until the national debt is paid. That’s my big idea.
  6. The most valuable workers in our nation are medical workers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, childcare/education workers, and of course police officers. When the pandemic hit, these were the people we needed the most to keep us fed, supplied, and safe. How many parents now realize the work their school does for their children? All of us, I bet. I would like for our pay structures to reflect this. I’m not against athletes, entertainers, and CEO’s making as much money as they can negotiate for, but I am against the pathetic salary structure of people we so desperately need. We will have the money to do this, because pent up demand is going to set the worldwide economy on soaring heights. Soaring.
  7. Our church faired very well through this and I adamantly believe our church is the greatest church in the world. We took a super-cautious approach from the beginning. Nevertheless, I will freely admit it has been the hardest year of ministry I have ever experienced. It has taken a toll on my soul. Some of it is the amount of work we had to do to reinvent almost everything we did in order to maintain ministry, but most of it is the very negative, hateful, and personal attacks people have made. The number of people who have hurt me is very small, but the cuts are deep because they are relational.
  8. As to church in general, I think the church in American, at least, coming out of this will be smaller, poorer, but stronger. Some people who got out of the habit or who have filled the gap with other things, will never come back. Some folks who are angry at cautious protocols will stop giving. That’s okay, but the Lord is always using the ebb and flow of life to separate the wheat and the chaff.
  9. I am thankful for Zoom and Facebook Live because it has helped us stay in touch and connected. However, we have learned in the pandemic that remote learning and digital classrooms are a poor substitute for in-person instruction. This is true of schools and churches where learning is key. My perception is these technologies will be helpful in the business world because transformation and learning is not the goal, but information exchanges.
  10. Many people who learned to work from home will never return full-time to an office environment. Many people who used to travel for work will see their travel diminished as they’ve learned to do it from home via conference call. This will change the workplace and our culture, particularly parenting. What we have to do is remember that until the modern world, this was normal. Everyone worked from home before the Industrial Revolution.
  11. We are not out of this yet. In Texas, 202 people died yesterday from COVID-19 and 1,477 in the United States. We need to keep vigilance until we have the necessary 70-80% of the population vaccinated. That means masks, distance, hand sanitizer, and caution until at least mid-April. The weather here is getting better, so we are moving our worship services outside again in two weeks. Why? Because it is safer. Ignore the politicians and instead remember the words of Jesus and love your neighbor. Don’t be selfish and don’t give into the fatigue. Now is the time to stay vigilant. Don’t be afraid, but exercise love and self-control.

Featured

The Greatest: Part IV

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,” we focus upon The Greatest. We’ve done general stuff, fictional characters, food and now today: products.

This is my list — but I love seeing yours because it is fun to share our #opinions.

  1. pencil — Blackwing Palomino
  2. blue jeans — Levi
  3. footwear — Nike
  4. wristwatch — Timex
  5. auto — Ford Explorer
  6. computer — Macintosh
  7. hat — Tilley
  8. cleaning product — Pine Sol
  9. lip balm — Carmex
  10. speaker — Bose

Honorable Mention: Ticondergoa #2, Eddie Bauer, Vans Off The Wall, Justin, Citizen, Rolex, Nissan Altima, Ford Mustang, Dell, Stetson, Tommy Bahama, Arm and Hammer, Chapstick, and JBL.

Featured

The Greatest: Part III

Tom Brady’s seventh Super Bowl win has sparked lots of conversation about the greatest of all time (GOAT). I riffed on that Monday and Tuesday, (click here and here) and thought I’d keep at it today with The Greatest Foods. The most enjoyable part of this process for me has been seeing other people’s lists and then bantering a bit, because these are all just #opinions.

  1. cereal — Corn Flakes
  2. cut of meat — ribeye
  3. nut — pecan
  4. sliced bread — Mrs. Baird’s
  5. fruit — peach
  6. beverage — French pressed Italian roast
  7. sandwich — pimento cheese
  8. dessert — banana pudding
  9. dish in a bowl — chili
  10. fried food — chicken fried steak

Honorable Mentions: Cap’n Crunch, Frosted Mini Wheats, tenderloin, peanut, pistachio, Wonder Bread, watermelon, banana, Topo Chico, Earl Gray, tomato and cheese, Rueben, pecan pie, oatmeal raisin cookies, lobster bisque, pho, fried chicken, fried catfish.

Featured

The Greatest: Part II

I had so much joy writing “The Greatest” blog yesterday, especially with some of my friends who chimed in with their own lists. Check it out by clicking here if you missed it.

Do not go qentle into that good night

I had so much fun I want to turn the page by picking up where yesterday’s list ended. I used real people and actual life callings in defining who I thought was the greatest, but I cheated by finishing up with “The Greatest Star Trek Captain”, which is, of course, Jean Luc Picard. Today we play a little more and go totally fictional.

  1. Greatest Jedi — Luke Skywalker
  2. Greatest James Bond — Daniel Craig
  3. Greatest Fictional President — Thomas J. Whitmore
  4. Greatest Disney character — The Genie
  5. Greatest book to film — To Kill A Mockingbird
  6. Greatest literary character — Sherlock Holmes
  7. Greatest action hero — Dr. Henry Jones, Jr.
  8. Greatest villain — Sauron
  9. Greatest Wizard — Hermione Granger
  10. Greatest Avenger — Iron Man

Honorable mentions: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Laura Roslin, Tom Beck, Mickey Mouse, Jiminy Cricket, Jaws, The Godfather, Odysseus, Beowulf, John Rambo, Ethan Hunt, Tarzan, Darth Vader, Cylons, The Man in Black, Gandalf the White, Merlin, The Black Widow, and The Black Panther

Featured

The Greatest

Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl yesterday has sparked a lot of comments on the greatest athlete ever. TB12 is definitely the greatest quarterback ever; without exception or qualification. In fact, most every athlete of this generation is light years ahead of the past generations because of nutrition, training, and devotion. However, honorable mentions would definitely include Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.

But I don’t care about athletics that much. It’s just a game, but I thought I’d make a little list — just a simple list — of the greatest in their fields. This is a matter of taste and opinion. But here is the list — and I’ve taken The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit out of the equation because he is, obviously, not the greatest but the ultimate, and likewise I’ve removed biblical answers from possibilities. Also, this list is horrifically skewed toward white males. Part of that is the nature of history, and part of that is the nature of taste. For example, while Jane Austen is many people’s favorite writer, I have a hard time getting through four pages. J. K. Rowling is many people’s favorite author, and she creates great characters and a great world, but her abuse of adverbs precludes her from being the greatest writer. Again, this list is my list and so it will skew in my own demographic.

  1. Greatest singer — Frank Sinatra
  2. Greatest chef — Jacques Pepin
  3. Greatest writer — Charles Dickens
  4. Greatest leader — Winston Churchill
  5. Greatest actor — Tom Hanks
  6. Greatest Artist — Michelangelo
  7. Greatest journalist — Walter Cronkite
  8. Greatest theologian — N. T. Wright
  9. Greatest band — U2
  10. Greatest Star Trek Captain — Picard

Honorable mentions: Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones, Julia Childs, Alton Brown, J. R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, Papa Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Meryl Streep, Wil Smith, Helen Mirren, Caravaggio, Monet, Edward R. Murrow, St. Augustine of Hippo, Fleming Rutledge, Millard Erickson, R.E.M., The Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, James T. Kirk, and Benjamin Sisko.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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”.

Featured

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?
Featured

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”.

Featured

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?
Featured

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

Featured

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?

Featured

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.

Featured

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?

Featured

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.

Featured

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.
Featured

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?

Featured

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

Featured

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?
Featured

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.