Thursday, March 29, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday #2: "My Janice"

My Janice

by D.D. Maurer

Maybe I should be more thankful.

After all, she’s still alive. Sort of.

That’s what I tell my sister-in-law, Gina. But all she does is complain about the smell. Gina also complains about how her sister has changed. And how she moans. And how I continue to keep her — my wife, Janice — locked in the basement.

I’m trying to be rational, a good husband. How can I divorce her? I can’t leave her. I made a promise. It was ‘til death do us part. Janice isn’t dead.

When I try to defend my actions, Gina has progressed to screaming out her answer, which is always the same:  "She’s a freakin’ Zombie!"

My wife is a zombie.

It’s hard to believe. I mean, it’s Janice downstairs in the basement, but, not really. Especially when I see the rotting flesh peeling from her cheeks like the rind of an overripe muskmelon. But, then, I look at her wedding ring. It was the ring I put on her finger on our wedding day. A finger now that zombie Janice has ripped off and thrown in the corner.

At least I know where the ring is.

I told Janice that the homeless guy we saw on our trip to New Orleans didn’t look normal. She told me pshaw and insisted that she give him a few bucks. She gave him five dollars. He gave her a three-inch bite wound on her shoulder.

She slathered antibiotic cream on it and we came back home to Toledo. Then she got the fever. I told her that she should go to the doctor. She made an appointment, but couldn’t get in until Thursday. By late Wednesday morning she was a zombie. I guess I’d say she went from Janice, the loving wife and mother of two, to zombie Janice, the putrefying, cataract-ridden, flesh-eating, soulless corpse, over a period of about an hour. Maybe it’s when all she could say was "Brains! Brains!"  I thought she just had a stuffy nose and was only saying my name, which is Brian. Boy, was I wrong.

Zombie Janice

The kids are scared of their mother. They agree with their Aunt Gina and think that I should quietly dispose of her. Or call the police. Or get a priest. But they don’t understand. A man has to make an effort to make a marriage work, even when the wife no longer nibbles playfully on her husband's ear, but instead tries to chomp off the nearest free appendage.

Maybe I should listen to my kids. After all, Janice has become dangerous. Last night she ate our cat. She didn’t eat the tail, though. Maybe tails are too tough to eat, even for a zombie.

I don’t know; is it murder to dispose of the undead? They’re not dead yet, but they’re not alive, either. I’ll have to ask my priest to see what he thinks. But I’ll have to ask him  the right way (so he won’t think this is what happened to us). Maybe I’ll tell him it’s a piece of fiction I’m writing for a contest and I’m doing research. Yeah, that’d work.

Well, I better go. Here come the kids with the squirrel. I had them trap it in the backyard for Janice. It’s funny in a way: she never used to like to eat game. She complained about the taste. She had to turn into a zombie to learn to appreciate the rich flavor of the bounty from the woods. Except for the tails. She spits those out.


Copyright March 2012 Synecdoche, LLC

Theology Thursday #2 - Transmogrification (what a beautiful word)

What is it like to be ordained, a leader in the church, and then become a layperson?


A person might think after what I had been through in my “downgrade”, that a person would only feel shame or remorse in “losing the stole.” But, no, quite the opposite has been the case.

No joke, I find the novelty in participating in a church as a layperson after having been a pastor is pretty fun. I’m even the chair of our Stewardship committee and I look forward to going to meetings! I don’t think the sole reason for this joy is its newness; I believe the source of the joy has to do with two things: 1) the church we attend, St. Paul Reformation, is an extraordinary, very intentional faith community that has me really excited about claiming my baptism; 2) when I was a pastor, my faith was assumed to be a “given”, and I, by extension, believed that somehow I had “earned” it and I was “done."  God has transmogrified this assumption. Like a sweet chunk of salt-water taffy, my former assumptions about identity and faith have been twisted into something new and wonderful.

I’ve gone through a radical transformation in the past year. I’ve come to a new realization: it seems that faith is not some-thing at all. What I mean is that faith is not a noun, but a continual verb. The growth is ongoing. It is never an achievement or something to be attained—hanging that certificate or diploma or confirmation of ordination doesn’t make faith “done.” Spirituality doesn’t work that way. How does it work? The spiritual life (faith) is a cyclic, daily reincarnation of trust.

What has surprised me about my journey is that I assumed that going to seminary, getting a degree, being ordained, serving a church, and being a pastor would give me spirituality. Far from it. What gave me the gift of seeing was falling down hard and rising to new life as one who “is less” to become more. Every day is a gift and spiritual growth is eternal. Those who seek to gain life will lose it. Those who lose life will gain it. It is the Infinite One's way of twisting things around. Transmogrification.

What does my experience mean for those who continue to be ordained leaders and who have always been lay people? I guess it means that the human constructs which we build up--like castles in the sand--are weak, temporary classifications. In the whole scheme of things (and that’s all there is, folks, the-whole-scheme-of-things) it doesn’t amount to anything.

Some might see my transformation as a loss. I prefer to see it as gaining something that really matters—eternal trust in a power greater than myself. It's the gift we all have in front of our noses. All it takes is a new impulse, a change in the way we see things. Who knows, maybe this column will stimulate your own transmogrification of faith.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Theology Thursday #1: 103 to 93

Theology Thursday – March 21, 2012

I moved from the wide-open prairie of western North Dakota (Longitude 103) to the gentle slopes of the Mississippi River in urban St. Paul, Minnesota (Longitude 93). I never thought I would live in Minnesota again, much less in a big city. Nevertheless, here I am.

It got me to ask: does place affect the theology of communities?

When I was a pastor living in North Dakota, one of the things I found was the never-ending capacity for people who attend church to care deeply for each other. In a place where a finger wave above a steering wheel is a common sight on a prairie road and local news spreads just as quickly as a grass fire, people in the open country and little towns genuinely care for each other.

Negatively speaking, hyper-conservatism and homogeneity are cherished on the plains, to the detriment of a broader understanding of the world. North Dakota can be quite provincial. Hard work and an ethic of steadfastness are endemic, which is both refreshing and guilt inducing (especially if you like your lazy time). The sky is big and beautiful and the wind can be vicious.

St. Paul, Minnesota, in contrast, is progressive, diverse, and cosmopolitan. Every fifth person I meet in St. Paul is either an artist or a writer or has aspirations to be one. It’s surprisingly friendly here—we know all our neighbors by name—but it isn’t infrequent where I get flipped off on the interstate between St. Paul and Minneapolis. That’s okay though, because, chances are, you’ll never see that jerk again.

The wind doesn’t blow less here; trees just make it less noticeable. It’s still about as cold in the winter (save this past winter); but the humidity in the summer is sticky at best and sauna-like at its worst. There are many more ethnicities; it’s a more colorful mosaic.

North Dakota has mixed-grass prairies. Minnesota has oak savannas. North Dakota is almost in Montana. Minnesota is almost to Chicago. The Twin Cities is a virtual cornucopia of exotic dining establishments. Williston has Applebee’s. The Dakotas have great hunting. Minnesota’s fishing would make the even the disciples on the Sea of Galilee jealous. North Dakota, Republican. Minnesota, DFL.

It’s easy to see differences. It’s the similarities that interest me.

At our church we recently joined, the people are intentional about their faith and they care for each other. Many of them drive to get to church, as many parishioners drove to church in North Dakota. The scenery is just different.

At the church our family belongs to now, people care about God’s activity in the world for justice and peace. They want to know Jesus. If someone is sick, they care and pray for them. They sometimes get ticked off at their pastor’s sermon and they complain about the church budget. That’s pretty much what God’s people were about at the churches I served when I was ordained. It may come out in different ways, but people are just people.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is that place may not affect the deeper yearnings of human nature. Sure, liturgy is different. So are politics. But folks are folks and will be the beautiful, compassionate, frustratingly obstinate, neurotic people of God wherever you go.

On a personal note, I’m glad I’m in St. Paul. It fits me better.

But my time on the prairie will never rub off. The Big-Wide-Open sort of does that to you: it reminds you how small you really are.

Hope I never forget it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back in Black

Well, after being defunct for several years, I decided to fire this blog back up. It will have a different focus, of course. This focus will be writing. Specifically, I will be using this blog to publish online original works and to promote my two longer works.

On Thursdays I'll be posting an article about theology. This will be called Theology Thursdays.

On Fridays I'll be posting flash fiction. Peculiar, experimental, short stories falling from Dan's brain will be at your disposal to rant about or quietly ignore, according to your preference. Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday.

Updates and promotionals about my two longer pieces I'm working on I'll post from time to time. These are:

Needle & Thread, a cross-genre novel which was selected by the Loft Literary Center Master Class: The Novel. This work will be available sometime in early 2013.

Sobriety: A Graphic Novel a project I am collaborating on with Spencer Amundson, my fine graphic artist. This hopefully will be published in early 2014.

Thanks again to anyone in the ether who's been reading or following this blog. I hope to have more material very soon.

D.D. Maurer, President and Founder Synecdoche, LLC