Thursday, September 06, 2012

Flash Fiction #16: The Abyss

I'm back! After a month long hiatus of not writing on the blog and taking care of our busy boys, I'm bringing my creative juices to the fold again.

I have a feeling that most people will hate this. It was a work I've spent thinking about publishing online for some time. Theologically, I don't like its conclusions. The story certainly is depressing enough. But something haunts me about Reanna. We don't know her well, she's fictional after all. All the same her character is our character in the stage of life. Strangely, I find that comforting. I promise that next week's fiction will be much less macabre. Tell me your thoughts. I love to hear from you.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

She hadn't realized that she had died.

That's the thing: it went so quickly.

Reanna was only 22 years old. She remembered the car ride. Was she driving? No. It was Carly. Carly was driving. And her sister, Max, was with them. They just had gotten done skiing at Wild Mountain. They were headed back home. She remember that she was high. Max scored some pot off some guys at the hill. She hadn't had that much.

But Carly did. She had at least a couple of bowls. And Carly was drunk. Yeah. Carly brought a flask and was sipping on it the whole time. It probably wasn't a very good idea that Carly decided to drive. Nobody wanted to say anything, though. Least of all Max or Reanna. They were the best of friends. And if they said something to Carly, well, she might not be friends with them anymore. It will be alright. Right?

It wasn't alright. Reanna was dead.

Was Max dead, too? No. No. No! Her little sister, Max! She can't be dead. Where is she? I want to know.

But there's only darkness.


Is anyone there?

Reanna can't see anything. Actually, she can't hear anything either. Nor can she feel, taste, or smell. In fact, she can't even think. She's gone. Dead. Forever passed.

The only "thoughts" she perceives are actually echos of what once was. Hopes vanquished. The entirety of her existence evaporated like early morning dew in the August heat.


Echoes continue.

Reanna knows she's gone. Because to know is to make a conclusion. And to make a conclusion is to have rational thoughts (or any thoughts at all - even irrational). But she has no thoughts. She has no brain. She is in the black hole. She has gone to the place where she feared as a little girl. You know, the place all of us fear. Not hell. No, hell is far too real, pain is an unbearable existence, but it is still existence. The place we truly fear is the Abyss. The blackness of non-existence beyond.

The strange thing about it for Reanna is that it is not frightening for her. Neither is it comforting. It is nothing. It is that from whence she came; from No-Thing. Reanna, at one time, did not exist. Now, after the Dodge Avenger which Carly borrowed from her father slammed head-on to the semi in the icy lane, she does not exist again. And she will never exist, neither in Heaven Light Years Away, nor in some toasty hell below.

She is nothing. She is totally at peace.

She is God.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Flash Fiction Fifteen (for Friday): U Garden

This next post is inspired by real events this past week. It's written in the first person, which most of my fiction is not. 

Emptiness always had a strange grip on me. One of the things I used to love about North Dakota, when I lived there in the pre-oil boom days, was going into an empty town, driving to the closed gas station late on a summer evening, and feeling the sense that alone-ness does not inherently mean abandonment. Sometimes, the big-wide-open with empty space means peace.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I drive along University Avenue in Minneapolis heading east into Saint Paul. I just got done writing at my studio at the Loft. Got four pages whipped out in the evening session. It was pretty quiet at the studio and I felt like I was productive.

I actually started driving on the interstate, the way I normally do when I go home, but I wanted to see the Witch's Hat off Huron Boulevard. Besides, I never had taken that exit before. I like to get to know new areas of the Twin Cities. (I've actually started to brag to my Mom that I know St. Paul better than she does, and she grew up here. We'll see, she said.) The Witch's Hat is a tower that looks like a witch's hat. (Clever, eh?) It's on the Register of National Historical Place, which is getting to be less and less of a big deal living in the city, since the house across the street from us in on the Register, too.

Anyway, I wanted to see the Hat. It's a tower. There's a park there. Cool. Now what?

I headed north on Huron to University. Then, I turned east, back to S-T-P, as my friend Andrew calls it. Andrew was the guy who first showed me Saint Paul when I first moved here. He grew up here. I'll never forget how our conversation went when we were driving around:

Me: "Saint Paul is a nice town."
Andrew: "S-T-P is a great town. Minneapolis sucks."
Me: "Why?"
Andrew: "Dude, if you're gonna be a Saint Paul guy, just don't go there. Spend your $ in S-T-P."

I'm hungry. I'm still in Minneapolis. The hell with Andrew. I can eat there. Chinese sounds good.

Uh huh. Yeah. Where's my fork?
I turn into the parking lot of the U Garden, a Chinese restaurant just 1/2 mile south of Dinkytown. The parking lot is totally abandoned, except for one car. It has red dingle balls around the inside of every window. An early 80s Cutlass, I believe. Black. Chrome tires. Uh, what kind of place is this?

I take my nylon, black laptop bag from the comfort of the passenger seat and I toss it into the trunk. Might be paranoia, but I don't want it getting ripped off. I think like that now. Now, that I live here - in the city. My thoughts go back ten years to North Dakota, where I never locked the front door of my house. I didn't even know where the key to the front door was...

The U Garden is a box building with a cheap sign on the front. When I mean cheap, I mean the lettering is painted on a white background on a plywood sign. The glass door to the entryway gives me chills. I don't think it's been cleaned for a couple days. Do I really want to eat here? I push onward. Dan the Brave, Clan Sutherland, willing to enter into the foreign land - no fear and a belly fond of exotic fare - to forge new bonds in this alien land.

I get inside. I. Am. The. Only. One.

Just me. And two waitresses (oh, sorry, servers). The owner's behind a red, laminate counter with a cheap cash register from China. (At least they're authentic here, I giggle to myself.)

The female server comes over. The restaurant has to be as big as half a football field. Well, maybe a third of one. But it's big. And it's filled with fifty or sixty identical tables. They all seat exactly four people. None of them are pushed together to make a table of eight; or twelve; or even two. I can hear the owner's voice in a sickeningly stereotypical (and racist) dialogue in my head: Four people per table. Sixty table total. That equal two-hundred forty customer. I rike very much!

Forgive me, God. I deserve hellfire and wrath for my sick humor.

I sit alone, at a table of four chairs in the chair nearest the wall by a window. The server kindly asks if I would like a menu or would I prefer to eat at the Chinese buffet. I select the menu. Too many damn people get the stupid buffet. The menu is huge. Six or seven pages long. And it has a thick, heavy, textured burgundy cover which reminds me of the outside cover of some foreign passport.

I feel like shrimp. I get some shrimp dish. Number Seventeen, I think.

The owner comes over. He wants to chat. I'm still in my stupid mid-brain with dumb accents.

"Hi, I'm Tim," he says in a perfectly Minnesotan Midwest American accent.

Chagrined, I reciprocate: "I'm Dan."

We talk about why the restaurant is empty. He tells me it's Monday. And the Light Rail construction. He hopes it gets done to schedule. "Thanks, by the way, for stopping by. I hope you enjoy your meal."

God I love urban Minnesota.

I get my shrimp. It only took four minutes. Maybe five. There's a ton of food: shrimp, cashews, peanuts, celery, onion, sauce, mushrooms, those little corn-thingies-they-only-have-in-Chinese-food. All over rice. Yum. I notice the musak so kindly piped-in, to enhance my dining experience. I wonder if the musak has been produced in China, too, on some endless Chinese musak loop. But before I figure out this philosophical Möbius strip, I realize I have finished all my food. Holy shit. That was a lot. I must have been hungry. Here, eating my meal in the U Garden, I have experienced Kairos time - a taste of Nirvana.

I just notice something else. There's a cop seated on the other side of the restaurant. What's he doing here?

Well, dumbshit, cops eat, too.

I finish my meal and I walk past the cop. He's got a cop mustache and a cop - belly? Oh, he's a transit cop. I see his patch. He's reading on his Nook or his Kindle, chowing down on Sum Gud Food. As I pass by, to pay my bill, I look at him and say, "Kinda surreal, ain't it?"

"What's that?"

"I said, it's kinda surreal here, ain't it? With just us in this big restaurant."

He never looks up from his reading. Is he multitasking? That's impressive, if he is. "Um, yeah. It's Monday. It's never busy on Monday. Plus, it's summer. No school. And the Light Rail."

"Yeah. Well, seeya."

He lifts his head, still reading.

I pay my bill to Tim and he gives me a fortune cookie.

I unwrap it and crack the buff-colored, fake-chinese confection open...


I exit the restaurant. I think that car - the 80s Cutlass with the dingle balls - is Tim the owner's. Cool. The sun is setting. The evening is warm and muggy. It's just me in the parking lot. Even University Avenue, usually full of traffic, is empty.

I'm enjoying it. Yeah.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday Fourteen: Lame Similes

The Huffington Post recently published an article titled The Fifteen Funniest Metaphors and Similes Created by Teen Writers. I got such a kick out of them (like Morton Anderson kicking the extra point at a pro bowl game) that I decided to create a story around them. Since most of them deal with a boy and a girl, the story came easily. Enjoy! It's a short one.

He got to know her in art class. He was no good at art. To her, it came naturally. Her artistic sense was exquisitely refined, like someone who can tell butter from I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.

It wasn't just that. She was sexy. Her pants fit her like a glove, well, maybe more like a mitten, actually.

He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up. Since he was so shy, though, he had a hard time bringing himself to share his feelings with her. After class, he waited for the opportunity to say something to brighten her day or make a connection. But every time she stepped into view, he was speechless. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

The days and months and years passed. The boy did nothing but yearn and wait. He graduated from High School and went to college, growing into a man. And when I say grow, he shot up like a 6'3'' Christmas tree you see in grocery store parking lots.

The young man never married. He eventually went to a therapist to seek advice how he could overcome his fear and finally try to speak with the woman of his dreams.

The therapist gave him great advice. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

He told him that he needed visualization to calm himself. That whenever he thought of the woman, he should think of a rowboat gently crossing a peaceful pond. The man closed his eyes and he saw the boat. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't. And the man felt at peace.

Meanwhile, the woman didn't like being single. She was unhappy. She was as unhappy as when someone puts your cake out in the rain, and all the sweet green icing flows down and then you lose the recipe, and on top of that you can't sing worth a damn. Wondering what she should do, she looked at her high school yearbook. She saw the class picture of her junior year art class and the young man who would often smile at her, but who would never speak. She wondered where he was.

Eventually, the star-crossed lovers sought each other out. They agreed to meet in a city park with a large field. They finally spied each other at high noon in the park. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

After a brief courtship, the two were married and grew close. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.


You can find the original article at The Huffinton Post right here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Flash Fiction #13: Le Chien qui Aboyait

The man always went to the same restaurant on the thirteenth of July. Every year, he would make the journey. It was no easy feat for a man of eighty-nine years.

It was called Le Chien qui Aboyait and it was located along the Rue de la Harpe, just four blocks from the Notre Dame cathedral. The little restaurant was nothing spectacular. It was the typical block apartment, street-level room carved into a building. Unlike American restaurants, it was not spacious. The kitchen was too near the dining tables and the ceiling a little too low. Outside, had not the building wall been emblazoned with large, black letters and a wooden placard with a little white dog barking, you might miss that it was a business.

Their food was "folk Parisian", if there existed such a thing. The first time he came there, he had a noodle dish similar to spaghetti with meatballs. Somehow, it wasn't Italian, though. The chef at Le Chien qui Aboyait had taken a multigrain spaghetti and mixed in Provençal flavors of thyme and bay, adding a thyme and caramelized onions ground into a type of sausage meatball. The whole thing was then topped with Niçoise olives. Neither Parisian nor folk, the man thought the dish strange but tasty.

 But the quality of the venue wasn't what was important to the man. Nor was the strange dish he ate there.

It was the restaurant where he first proposed to his wife, sixty-years prior.

Colette was his love. They met in the spring of 1952. The man was in the US Army and was stationed in southwest Germany. He was nineteen. From the Midwest, it was his first foray into Europe, and, quite honestly, it was his first time out of his little town of two-hundred people in Wisconsin for any length of time.

That spring in '52, he got a leave and chose to go see Paris. A young, eighteen-year old woman sold flowers on the Ile de la Cité square in front of the Cathedral. The young woman could speak a little English. The man chatted with her and asked her name, she told him Colette. Her hair was dark brunette, but not black. And her eyes had a depth to them; they were kind and playful and deep. He told Colette that she had oceans in her eyes - his attempt at the poetic romantic. She giggled and told him, "But zey are not bleu, how can zey be oceans?" The young man went red.

Oceans in her eyes
After a period of wooing and daily letters, the man decided that Colette was the one.

At Le Chien qui Aboyait he proposed to her. She said yes.

They had a wonderful life together. Every year, the man, still the hopeless romantic, would purchase two tickets for Paris on the ninth of July (enough time to adjust, see some sights, visit family); then they would make their way down the linden-lined Rue de la Harpe, to dine once again at their restaurant.

In 2001, Colette died. But the man still came.

The owner, of course, knew the man. He was sad to see him come by himself in '02.

"J'ai sauvegardé votre table pour vous, une fois de plus, Monsieur."

"Merci, Rémy."

This year, the man ate what he always did - the strange spaghetti with the sausage meatballs. Once again, he ordered a meal for Colette. He told the owner that he could eat it after he left.

And he looked out the window into the French evening, not feeling quite so alone, because, after all, he was here at Le Chien qui Aboyait. Somehow, he knew Colette was, too.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Theology Thursday #13: Bang!

Every once in a while when I get doubtful about the point of spirituality or religion I happen to see something like this in an article or Facebook post:
"As far as I see it there are only two basic laws of physics: 1) Nothing comes from nothing, and 2) Something had to. Before there was any mass, energy, time or space, there was no NO-THING. The moment before the moment there was no moment. (Figure that one out). In our limited human intelligence, that means there was a singularity that stands OUTSIDE mass, energy, time and space that put it all in motion. The beginning of science (the big bang) is also the end of science, because science can go no further than the moment before the moment. Without anything to measure, there is no science. 
When David Letterman interviewed a string theorist a few years back and he told him there was no mass, energy, time or space, David responded, "Then what, for the love of God, banged?" 

I believe the love of God banged."
The previous quote is from my Facebook friend Rich Melheim, creator of Faith Inkubators, a creative confirmation curricula I once purchased when I was a pastor. I like the quote above, because when I get in an intellectual mood and I'm bored, I get mean and cynical about the church. Going back to the very moment of creation, I find that yes, there is the unknown and there was - at one time - nothing. Creatio ex Nihilo, or creation "from nothing" is an ancient tenet of the Christian church and one worth keeping since it jibes quite well with our current understanding of physics.

Out a nuttin'...
I have a friend (a very, very good friend who has a great blog, by the way, here) who has encouraged me to sever all my ties with the church. I think he delights that I'm not a pastor anymore (even more than I do). His upbringing was fraught with what I would label as spiritual abuse. He sees the Church (capital 'C' intentional) as an agent for mostly negative influences on our society. Whatever non-negative influence the Church currently has, I think he would designate as simply irrelevant or wishful thinking. More often than not, I think I agree with him. History makes a fairly convincing argument, which isn't exactly a raving review of religion. Science clearly places much of believers views as childish and unscientific. And looking at the current state of liberal, ecumenical, so-called "Mainstream" Christianity, one wonders how an organization can be, frankly, so impotent in their actions when its words seem to be so strong.

But I still go to worship.


I think it has something to do with the need I have for mystery and community. When I stand in line in the sanctuary and hear the words "This is my body" and "This is my blood", I feel that there is something worthwhile, still, in gathering together and being sent out.

Every rational brain cell in my head screams out that there really is nothing, that meaning is something that we, as human beings, attribute to the void, because the void by itself is so terrifying. Rationally, I can understand why people invented God, because without God, life is scary. Rationally, I can understand why people commit violence in the name of God; it is because they feel threatened. I think that some of my best friends are agnostic, atheist, or "just" spiritual. Sometimes, I want to throw the whole thing away and I feel hopeless and cynical. But then, I am reminded of the nothing that once was; time that once wasn't - but is now - and I find hope.

And, honestly, the story of Jesus of Nazareth is the most appealing to me, because I believe that a human in our midst who struggled within our human condition - and who still managed to live infinite compassion - appeals to me. I want to follow him.

The Church sucks. But it's kind of like the United States of America: it's not perfect, but it's the best we have. I know this comment will tick off a lot of people from both sides of the aisle. I hope that instead, it might elicit more honest dialogue. What do you think? I love reading your comments.

Oh. And I'll see you in church.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Flash Fiction #12: The God of Small Things

Hello readers, I was gone last week at my brother's wedding in Wisconsin and I was busy yesterday. But I want to get back writing since it is enjoyable and good for me. Hope you like this one. I haven't done much in the parable or fable genre, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

There once was a man of great stature and wealth who was well-liked and successful in his village from his youth to middle age. Being a trader of purple cloth, his business was lucrative and easy for him. He had a beautiful wife and a dozen happy children running and playing in his vast courtyard. The man had many business and political connections, and, since he was such a likable fellow, grew to have significant influence with the powers that be. The King himself gave him an extensive audience when His Majesty was visiting his province, asking him at length what policies would best fit the Kingdom, which, by all regards, was currently experiencing a booming economy and good trade from its neighbors.

By all accounts, the man should have been happy. But he was not. So he set out to find the source of his most perplexing and persistent malaise.

At first, the man went to the village priest who listened intently to the man: "I have success, a beautiful family, a wonderful life, and all the money I could want. But, something seems to be missing. I do not know what it is. Every day I wake and do what is right. I follow all the laws and feel the blessing of my success. However, when I lay down, I feel sad and purposeless. Please help me." The priest came to the conclusion that the gods were telling him to give more to the temple. He said that he should purchase one-hundred, flawless lambs and have them sacrificed at the temple. In addition to that, he told the man that he must give half his wealth to the village, that others may share from his success.

The man did as he was told. He had his servants scour the countryside for the finest, whitest, most blemish-free lambs he could find. After gathering one hundred of them he gave them to the priest who sacrificed them at the temple for the man's behalf. Then, the man made it known that he would divide half his wealth and give an equal share to every family in the village. The day came and all the people lined at the man's door as his scribes divided his wealth equally. The villagers thanked him profusely and spoke of the greatness of the man at all he had done.

Yet, the man still felt sorrow and emptiness.

So, the man sought counsel with the King. The King, who naturally knew well of the man, and, after having heard of his great generosity in his village, was more than happy to grant him another audience. After receiving word that the King welcomed the opportunity to speak with him, the man gathered his servants, and, at much expense, traveled to the royal city to meet the King.

The King was delighted to receive the man and his family and put them up in the best of the castle's quarters for a month. Every night the King and Queen celebrated with the man and his family and dined over the finest tables set with rich wines and sumptuous food. Yet, every evening the man wept.

At long last, the King broached the subject with the man: "My friend, you have done much for your village. Indeed, you have done much for my Kingdom as your purple cloths are known throughout the land. You are loved by your family and village; indeed, by everyone. Why is it you seem so sad, so lonely?"

"My Sovereign, this is my problem. I have success and pleasure, yet I am not happy. I have done as the village priest suggested to purge myself and appease the gods. Thus far, it seems my efforts have been fruitless. So I seek your counsel, my Lord: what shall I do to find happiness?"

The King listened to the man and thought for a long time. Then, he told the man that he knew the solution. The man had not expanded his business to the furthest reaches of the world. The King had the political and trade connections to make this happen. So the King gathered his caravans and commanded them to deliver ten-thousand yards of purple cloth to every corner of the known-world. The caravans gathered yard upon yard of the man's produce and after months of travel, returned to the royal city. There, the King gathered the man and his family to himself to make the high announcement. Hoards of people thronged the courtyards to hear the King's pronouncement.

"It is on this glorious day, on the first of July, that I, the Sovereign Ruler of our great nation, decree that this man's fine purple cloth is known to all the world and that new trade routes have been established to provide wealth not only to my fine subject standing here, but to all who reside in our great country."

The crowds erupted with cheers. Women cried and children laughed with joy at the King's announcement. The King placed a golden, diamond-studded ring on the man's finger and invited him and his family to reside at the Royal village where a new factory was erected in his honor to distribute his cloth to all the corners of the world.

Yet, the man still felt sorrow and emptiness.

One evening, while the man sat alone, weeping in his great palace in the royal city, the man's wife heard him. "What troubles you so, my dear? I do not understand after the gods have so blessed you why you weep?"

"I do not understand it either. I have gone to priests and kings, yet none can give me the answer."

The woman thought for a moment and suggested the man go into far-off desert across several seas and seek the hermit who lives on a tiny island in the center of a salt lake. She had heard that this hermit had great wisdom and could give him the answer he sought.

The man hugged his wife, thanking her, and set to find the hermit the next day.

After months of travel and braving the sea, the man finally came to the salt lake in the desert. In the center of the lake, he saw a tiny island. So the man found a boat and crossed the salt lake and stepped on the sandy shore of the island. In the middle of the island, the man saw a disheveled, tanned creature that was the hermit.

"Hark! Hermit! I have traveled a great distance to seek your wisdom. I have success, a beautiful family, a wonderful life, and all the money I could want. Indeed, my fame has spread to every corner of the world because of my fine, purple cloth. All love me and I have no problems. But, something seems to be missing. I do not know what it is. Every night when I lay down, I feel sad and purposeless. I have sought council from wise priests and even my King, yet none have solved my problem. What will make me happy?"

The hermit, who the man could now see was blind, sat in a lotus position, staring at the sun. He sat this way for several hours. The man, patiently waited. When the sun finally set and the day's heat vanished, the man finally gave up and turned to his boat. But before the man could leave, the Hermit spoke. The man could not hear him, so he ran to him, desperately.

"What? What was that you said? What is the answer to my problem? What will make me happy!?"

The hermit spoke again: "I do not have the answer to your problem."

The man's shoulders slumped.

"But...I do have the answer to your condition. You see, you have been cursed. A demon beset you at birth giving you the worst curse a human can receive. You have everything you desire: wealth, family, fame, and success. But you have these things without struggle, without pain. That, my friend, is what makes you un-human, because to be human you must fail; you must hurt; you must be rejected."

The man stood, in shock. He asked, "What can I do to become human?"

The hermit replied, "How do you feel now?"

The man said, "Like a failure, a reject."

"Then you have begun your journey to void your curse."

Friday, June 15, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday #11: Thinning the Herd

One of my favorite novels is Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, a story set in 12th-Century England during the time of the Wars of Anarchy. Often raw and emotional, I became so enthralled with the characters' lives during this time-period, I find myself time and again returning to their world of violence and passion where Good often does not triumph over Evil. However, when Right does prevail over Might, the set and setting of the Middle-Ages makes it seem that much more chivalrous and delightful. For this Flash Fiction Friday, I have opted to enter into a third-person view of a very evil man set in the 1100s of England. Warning: this is pretty dark. Read on to see how it ends.

* * * * * * *

Bartram was not a very nice guy.

No wonder, really. All his life he had either been beaten, bullied, or polluted with the idea that to live in this world, a man had to take what he wanted, and take it by force. It worked well for his father Eldrich as it suited him, also, as he replaced his father. Bartram was a big boy and it was easy for him to push around others.
"The evil men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones."  -  Julius Caesar

It wasn't always that way. When he was young and small and his father would beat him, he did not cry or wallow in a corner, but set out to eat and to grow. Despite the daily beatings his father issued him after his evening mead, his bruises armored him with both a callous body and soul. These callouses, hardened by years of drunken cruelty, and tougher than chain mail, served him well when he finally fought back. 

When he was fifteen, Bartram was much bigger than the pip he had been as a child. He came home from gathering turnips for the fall crop with his younger brother. It was already dark in early October, when the air had that nice, fresh chill to it that made Bartram feel alive. As he approached his cottage, he could see the ruckus stirring inside by his father's body see-sawing up and down through the window. His father's shadow cast a dread over him and every time he raised his hand to strike his mother, his figure obscured the warm firelight within.

Terror was not an option for Bartram. Even at fifteen, he knew what he must do. The villagers say they never had seen a man beaten so badly. Bartram, for his part, said that his father died falling down the east hayloft. Everyone knew it wasn't true. They knew Bartram had killed his father and the man had suffered terribly. But, aside from the mother and the brother, there were no witnesses. Bartram lived on. And he, as the eldest son, became head of the household. He took the role of his father.

Now, in the springtime of 1143, Bartram was older, wiser, and much, much crueler.

The Norman army he had joined had twice given him the opportunity to advance in the ranks. Why? It was not because Bartram was at all a natural leader. He had advanced, because, quite simply, he was the meanest bloke of the bunch.

When it came time to kill, Bartram did it with overt enthusiasm. His sword and halberd he liked to keep sullied from the blood of peasants he would kill. Often he would sharpen the blades without first washing the offending offal from the metal. Bartram called this "thinning the herd" as he believed that he was doing good by wiping the countryside clean of peasants.  This, in its own right, was an irony in that Bertram was raised a peasant. However, in his evil, twisted mind, he saw in every man, woman, and child he killed, he cleansed the land of another person who would become his father. The other mercenaries took this as a good omen, that they had such a treacherous demon in their midst. They believed, of all things, that it gave their unit more power.

When it came time to rape, he, too, was first in line, and often would take seconds where he would kill his victim as he raped her. This he saw as a bonus payment for his good work he was doing. Good, in that it satisfied his lust for power and destructive will.

Bartram was a bad man. As a mercenary, the wages garnered in pillaging were to him the perfect spoils for his most enjoyable employment.

The other men in his rank, for the most part, feared and honored him. And the enemy, when soldiers would actually fight other soldiers (instead of slaughtering common peasants) in this battle now called "the Anarchy", they saw him as a vicious monster they wanted to destroy.

They wouldn't get that opportunity, however. For Bartram's fate would be legendary for both the Norman and the English side.

It all happened one afternoon when Bartram entered the house of an unknown village's miller.

Bartram lead his men to the mill; he knew that villagers would be inside, protecting the precious economic resource. The rest of the village had already been set ablaze and he had satiated his bloodlust with the lives of a dozen villagers.

He laughed as his men broke down the flimsy, wooden door and entered inside the mill. He heard the screams of several women from the mill's attic. Good, he thought, playtime for after the battle. He unsheathed his sword, already stained with blood, ready for more. When he entered, the anteroom where villagers traded their grain was empty. "Search the premises! Take no one except the women alive!" he ordered.

The room was a small trading center for farmer's grain. It was worn and the wooden floor had seen dozens, perhaps hundreds, of years' wear. The entourage returned with a report: "No one is here."

"What?" he said. "Of course they are! I heard the screams as well as you. The bluebloods are somewhere. Let us finish this battle and have us some wenches!"

Still, not a soul could be found. He stomped up the stairs to the mill proper, where the grinding of the two, gigantic stones powered by the creek running below them slowly turned. "Where is everyone?" a soldier asked.

"They must be here. Who has searched the attic, where the grain is stored?"

Bartram's underlings answered him, that the mill was abandoned.

He roared with rage, and said, "They must have escaped! The cowards! Chase after them and skewer them like pigs!"

The guards left. Leaving Bertram alone with one sergeant.

He let out a huff and said to his sole companion, "Perhaps they are hidden. Let us look in the mill proper."

Bartram and the sergeant entered the dusty mill and saw the two stones grinding against each other. They also saw a boy. Bartram took a double take and pointed his sword to the boy. "There!"

The boy spoke: "Bartram, son of Eldrich, your time has now ended. The unnamed One has seen your treachery and bloodlust. He has opted to take you now."

Bartram stopped in his tracks, looked to his sergeant with surprise and rage, making sure he had heard the impudent boy correctly. He turned toward the boy, sheathed his sword and took out his dagger. "You shall die slowly and without mercy. Prepare for your gutting, boy!"

The boy stood fast. Bartram advanced toward him. The boy stepped back, behind the two grinding stones. Did this rascal think he might escape me? This is going to be enjoyable! he thought.

But just as Bartram came within a yard of the boy, his foot caught on an exposed nail from the wooden floor. Bartram tumbled into the grinding stones and the giant boulders seized the corner of his mail shirt, pulling him into the mill.

He let out a scream, not from horror, but from rage that a boy and an exposed nail had cheated him out of his prize. The sergeant watched as the boy stood firmly, silently watching as the stones slowly dragged him into the mill. His scream became a gurgle and the sergeant could hear Bartram's bones crushing, even above the din of the mill's gears and clamoring machines.

* * * * * * *

To this day, the good people of Norwich know their flour is ground mixed, ever so lightly, with the bone-meal of Bartram, the Norman butcher and enemy of the people.

The herd grows, well-fed in the knowledge they are safe, at least for the time being, from the vicious predator they once knew.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Theology Thursday #11: 1054

When I was in college, a group of guys would get together some evenings in our all male dormitory. We'd stay up late, talking, and our discussion invariably would turn to philosophical and theological topics.

I remember one discussion I had with a conservative Roman Catholic student. We talked about many things, church polity, the mystery of the sacraments, the richness and history of the divine liturgy; our discussion was interesting and respectful, until it turned into something else:

RC Guy: "Yes, the church of Rome is the One, True Faith. Since you are Protestant, you must re-think your ways."

Me: "But, um, doesn't salvation extend to other Christians - indeed, to all people - by the work of Christ?

RC Guy: "No."

Me: "Really? But doesn't the catechism of the Second Vatican Council actually extend salvation to those in other, imperfect relationships to God?" (It does, by the way.)

RC Guy: "[Sigh], the Second Vatican has been repudiated by many learn-ed theologians. The true faith says..."

Funny. I still remember the look on that guy's face when he answered "no" and the way he said "learn-ed theologians."

And I still want to punch him in the nose.

* * * * * * *

In 1054 A.D. (yes, I know we're supposed to use CE, but I find this more a statement of faith since the year is still the same) the church in Rome and the church in Constantinople split. The year is known as the East-West, or Great-, Schism.

What it boils down to is that the Church in Rome didn't like the Greeks and didn't like their use of the phrase "and the Son" (the filioque) in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The Greeks thought the Romans were arrogant nitwits for demanding to be called "the Mother Church." Essentially, it was more about politics than real theological issues.

They split.

* * * * * * *

People will always like to think they are "right" as long as there are people who have different perspectives. I used to really let this crap affect me. Why, for instance, do I remember conversations like the one I wrote about above? It's because I think I'm right. Someday, I believe, that dork will be suffering, knowing that I, too, am part of the Reign.

Hmmm. Dan, think again.

It's gotten better, though. How? When I realized that all mythologies are just that: mythologies

First, you need to understand the word "myth" does not equal FAKE. Myth comes from the Greek mythos, which means story. Human beings are story tellers. What once captivated people around a campfire, now captivates them primarily on television or online (regrettably).

Mythos can be differentiated with another Greek term, logos, which is more like an "account." Logos is the logical side of things.

I believe a chief cause of problems with religion is that religion turns stories into accounts. Accounts, that is, truths which are maximized to the point of separation of humanity, are "worth dying for." Stories, that is, truths which convey the human condition and stimulate cordial discussion, aren't worth dying for. 

They are only worth listening to...

Tell me your story, your Mother's story, your Great Grandfather's. I will listen. Tell me an account, a truth to separate, to tear and rip; I will walk away. 

1054 does not need to come, yet again.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday: Guest Column - The Other Woman

I met Rachel Jones in a writing class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. She and her husband Tom are preparing this fall to live in Djibouti (again) to work and live. She is an aspiring writer and wonderful mother. I feel honored to know her and her family. Thank you, Rachel, for contributing to Flash Fiction Friday on Big Bluestem Blog.
 (Readers, keep her in mind; she will be a published, well-known author in the future!!)

The Other Woman

My house doesn’t have walls or floors or ceilings. The two-room bubble hunches over the rocky ground, made of twigs, rags, and animal hides. There is no light and no window and cool breezes never stir the see-through curtain dividing the aqal in half. I have to bend from my waist and shove aside a flap of goatskin to walk through the low doorway. Unsi burns, filling my home with spicy, intoxicating perfume. Everything is drenched in shadow, from the single water jug to my weathered skin.
            I am weaving a water basket to meet the needs of my growing family. I pull the dried grasses tight, careful to not leave even a miniscule hole through which water carried from the Jubba River would drip. To save water, I scrub our cooking pot and wash my arms, face, and legs for prayer with fistfuls of dirt. I drink goat milk and one cup of tea every day.
            I hear the children playing outside and feel the sharp kick of the one in my belly. My three daughters and four sons play soccer with the cow stomach I gave them at the end of Ramadan. I chant as I weave, poems of boys who have come home from grazing camels or searching for rain clouds. I almost scold the girls for running, showing off too much of their legs but tomorrow they will sit with me, weaving, cooking, sewing. Even Samsam who was born only five rainy seasons ago.
            Today is a holiday. Eid Carafo, marking the the hajj to Mecca. No one in my family has ever gone on pilgrimage. I have never even gone into a Somali town. My husband is there today, selling goats and trading for necessities; rice and flour.

This morning when he left, my husband took too many goats with him. I fear he is trading for more than necessities. I fear he was preparing the bride price for a second wife, a city wife to keep him company. While I was beating laxoox for breakfast, I saw him leading all those goats from our herds and ran after him.

            “What are you doing?” I asked.
            “Taking these goats to town,” he said.
            “To sell them.”
            “You’re buying a new wife.”
            “Woman, you are half-mad.”
            I brandished our knife in his face. “You will not take a new wife.”
            “I will do as I please.” He shoved me.
            “Ninka awrka cirka arkey dameerka xeerka ka tuurey.” A man sees a camel in the sky and throws away the donkey in his yard.
            He spit next to my ankle. “Make a new bed ready for tonight.” He walked away.
            “If you take a new wife I’ll die!” I screamed and the wind howled, sucking my words away, blowing them across the desert like dead thorn bushes.
            And now I sit, weaving, waiting for my husband to return so we can slaughter a goat and celebrate the forgiveness of our sins and Nebi Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his own son. I told my children the story the night before so that they would know why we celebrate Eid Carafo.

            Allah told Ibrahim to take his son into the mountains. He was to bind his son as a ram and slaughter him, offering a burnt sacrifice of praise. Ibrahim obeyed and tied his son to the altar. He raised a knife over his head, ready to thrust it into his son’s heart.
            Samsam covered her face with her hands. My other daughters trembled but my sons sat tall and brave.
            “Ibrahim!” Allah called to him. “Do not kill the boy. Now I know you love me above all. You are a true Muslim.”’
            Ibrahim heard the cry of a ram caught in a thorn bush. He and his son killed the ram and worshipped Allah on the mountain.

            I make a loop of dry grass and shove another blade through it. Tug and yank. Repeat. My mother taught me basket-weaving. She had been minweynta, the first wife. Her husband married three other women, each younger, more beautiful, fatter and more fertile than the last.
            When he brought the second wife home, my mother welcomed her with kisses and a new dress. Minyarta, the young wife, slapped my mother and called her an old hag. My father built his young wife an aqal beside my mother’s. He never entered my mother’s aqal again. The new wife was honored and treasured above my mother for four rains, long enough to give birth to two boys.
            Then father brought home his third wife. My mother didn’t greet her but sat with her back to the new aqal. The third wife provided two daughters and a son before he brought home his fourth wife. That night my mother wept into her hands as I scraped at her toe nails with a razor. This girl had not begun her time of blood yet. But over time she provided him with four girls and two boys.
            If my husband brings home a new wife, I will die.
            I pull our knife from the folds of my dress. The shadow from the aqal falls over it, but a sliver of light glints off its blade. I am alone. The children are outside and no other family has settled nearby. There are no women to gossip with, only my growing belly and my fingers weaving, weaving.
            I watch my hands pulling and twisting and looping. They are powerful and create watertight baskets. They held eight children to the breast and buried one. They load camels and build aqals, cook rice and spread henna in my husband’s hair. My hands are powerless. They cannot bring the rain or stop hyenas from ravaging our flocks. Tonight they will greet the new wife.
            I remember my husband’s command to make a bed ready and set aside my basket. I sweep dust and rocks from our dusty, rocky floor and gather blankets. I consider placing a scorpion between them. I stand back, looking at the sleeping place I have made and run my finger down the dull blade of our knife, drawing no blood.
            I duck outside, squinting in the daylight and find a large, smooth rock. I spit on it and sharpen our knife.
            I would enjoy the help of another wife, with seven children and one on the way. I would enjoy the company, gossip, stories, and poems of another wife. I would be relieved to share my husband’s endless lust with another wife. My dilemma is that I am a woman and I don’t want my husband to take another wife.
            I stare into the nothingness of thorn bushes and dust and picture her face. Our knife slips from the rock and slices my thigh. I feel more concerned about the rip in my only dress than the blood painting my leg and I let it bleed. When the blood slows, I wipe our knife on the ground, leaving red stains in the dirt.
            My husband doesn’t return until after dark and it is too late to slaughter a goat for Eid Carafo and the forgiveness of our sins. He isn’t alone but I can’t see the new wife in the dark night. The boys sleep under the moon to keep watch for hyenas. While my girls curl up next to me in the aqal, I worry about our sins remaining on us for another year. I worry that the hate I feel for this younger, more beautiful woman will cause Allah to send me to hell.
            I pretend to be asleep when my husband enters. He is speaking with a woman. I smell her perfume and watch her shadowy shape. She is smaller than I expected, her breasts saggier. She doesn’t speak and settles into the bed I made. Without a word, my husband lies down next to her. They don’t talk and soon both are snoring, curled away from each other.
            I unwrap my arms and legs from my daughters. I approach the woman. Her face is one with the blackness, her body round and fat, as all second wives should be. I pull my knife from my dress.
            I raise the knife over my head, just as I imagine Nebi Ibrahim did. I screech and plunge it into the woman’s chest. Her eyes flash open, their yellowy whites glare at me. Her mouth opens to scream but no sound comes out. Blood pools around her tongue, behind her four rotten teeth.
            My husband jumps from his bed. He corners me and tries to wrench the knife from my hand. I slash it back and forth, hissing. He tackles me and steals the dripping knife, slicing my palm. I see my daughters standing in the doorway. My sons have lit our lantern and crouch in the doorway. My husband grabs the lantern and shines it on the face of the woman.
            My knees wobble. I faint, falling on top of my mother’s dead body.

Rachel Pieh Jones has written for the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, the Desiring God blog, and Running Times. She lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children and blogs at: 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Theology Thursday: Guest Column - Baptismal Death

I knew Kris Capel in seminary twelve years ago. We were both students then. Now, I'm no longer a pastor; she's a big-shot leader in a church in Eagan, Minnesota. She's also a great writer and a hell of a nice person. (Hmm, can you say that about clergy?)

You are actually dead. 

One of the greatest privileges I have in life is celebrating the gift of baptism.  At the church where I work, whenever we baptize someone, we go to the house of the about-to-be-baptized to get to know the family and to talk about the gift of the divine bath.

Last week, I had the best baptism visit of my life.  After talking with the couple for a short time, it became clear to me that neither one of them had been raised in the church.  The Spirit was simply nudging them to have their baby baptized.  They ended up at my church through the recommendation of a family member.  After the idle chat that takes place when you first get to know someone, I asked them, "So what does baptism mean to you?  Why are you feeling the nudge to have your baby baptized?"  

The father of the baby gave me the most honest answer I've ever heard.  He said, with a question mark in his voice, "Because if we don't, and he dies, then he'll be in pergatory forever."  Of course, my first reaction was to laugh - thinking he was joking....(which I didn't, be proud of me!).  But my second reaction was to apologize.  So I apologized to him that he feels that way.  I apologized for the bullying the church has done through its rhetoric and misguided theology over the years - and we started to reframe the sacrament in terms that made sense to him.

The first thing I told him is that Baptism is all about love.  On the day that sweet-cheeked little baby is baptized, God will give him a hug and God will never let go - in life or in death.  Furthermore, his family will expand to include all of these people who will love him, pray for him, cheer him on in every little step of his life.  Also - he will receive the sign of the cross on his forehead.  Of course, that sign is a watermark which you can't see.  But you can never wash it off either.  Jesus literally makes His mark on us in our baptisms and we carry that with us for the rest of our lives.

The coolest part of the conversation was when we talked about where the water comes in.  We talked about how when Jesus was baptized, he probably went under water in the muddy Jordan- submerging his whole body and submitting his life to his Father's will.  So when we baptize, even though we only "splash" water in our tradition - in God's eyes we are actually going under the water and dying.  We go under - and all of that stuff in us that is no good - anything that is not "of God" - actually dies.  We die to ourselves and our own impulses and tendencies.  But when we come up from the water, we rise, dripping wet with God's amazing love and grace.  We die with Jesus and we rise with Jesus.  And rising means that we have every reason to live with hope.

After we talked about the dying and rising part - the dad looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "I have goosebumps right now."  And then he said, "So you're saying that God is actually THERE when my baby is baptized?"  At this point, I was tearing up.  I said, "Yes - and every day of his life - God is actually THERE."

We wrapped up the conversation by talking about the candle that we all receive in our baptism.  The candle is a symbol of Jesus shining his light through us.  I'll bet you a lot of money that little baby is already shining God's light!  But now, it's official - God's light is ALIVE, flickering, flaming, loving and living.

I have to say, that baptism visit made a believer out of me.....again.  If I ever had any doubts that God shows up everywhere and all of the time - those doubts were buried deep that day.

So if you ever doubt the promise of your baptism - just remember that you are actually dead.  Which, unbelievably, is GOOD news. Because being dead in baptism, means that God is ALIVE in you!  And - if you needed proof that all of this is true - read it and weep:

Romans 6:3-4
Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Kris Capel is the Lead Pastor at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, Minesota. She received her B.A. in Music and Religion from Wartburg College and her MDiv from Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Pastor Kris loves working with people of all ages. She is married to Dan Coyle and has two daughters, Annika and Amelia. In her spare time, you can find her hiking, biking and swimming. Pastor Capel is serving at worship and preaching frequently. Her Blog can be found at

Friday, June 01, 2012

Flash Fiction #10: Awake

"Brandon? Can you hear us?"

I struggled to look at my mom. I felt weird, disconnected. "Uh..." was all I got out.

My mother screamed and started crying.

* * * * *

That's how it was when I woke up. It was a year ago today.

On June the first in 1982 I was in a car accident. That's at least what they tell me. I don't know. I can't remember it. But it must have happened that way, because here I am.

But there are things that I remember. I remember that I was ten years old that February. Now, they tell me, I'm forty.

It still sounds weird when I say it: "I'm forty." My face crinkles up when I hear my voice say that. My voice. It's also really deep. It's different.

The car accident put me in a coma. I remember Dad going to that one movie on Grand Avenue with Mom. Coma. They wouldn't let me see it, 'cause it was rated R.

I loved to watch movies with my dad - the popcorn, seeing the previews for movies coming out, sitting in the dark aisles on the cushy, red seats. That's the way it was when I saw Star Wars. What a great show.

My dad's gone now, they tell me. They say he died in '89. I still have a hard time hearing that. It seems like I'll ride home on my bike after school, open the front door, and Dad will be sitting there, on the plaid easy chair - the one we've always had, but don't anymore - reading the afternoon paper.

But he's not...

There's a lot different with 2012 than 1982. When I 'went under' - that's what I call it, because I can't think of any other way to describe it - Ronald Reagan was President. I still have my old Rubik's Cube in my room at home. But, to me, it's not 'old.' To me, I just got that cube about a year and a half ago. I remember when I got it for my birthday, in fact.

They say stores don't carry Rubik's Cubes anymore. But if you have one, they're collectors' items. 

In 2012, all the phones have push buttons and you can walk around with them in the house! You know, without a cord! There are even phones that you can carry with you outside. I think they call them cell phones.

All the cars are round. They look funny, like cars from the future. They don't fly, though. They told us by the year 2000 that we'd have flying cars. And they said they'd run off something else than gas. I remember Mrs. Andresen in fourth grade telling us that we would run out of gas by 2004. We haven't, because my mom still pumps gas into her Toyota.

It doesn't fly, either.

Music is really different; there's so many kinds. And you don't play them on Walkman's anymore. My mom told me that you can't even get cassette tapes or records. You have to down-load them on a computer. The internet, is that what it's called? So weird.

The town I'm from is different. Places look the same, but there's new buildings up and some of the streets are really different. My friends have even come to see me. But I don't think they're my friends. They're just people with the same names and, you know, grown ups. I don't think I want to see them again.

My school is pretty much the same. When I went under I was in fourth grade. But, now, I can't go to fifth grade at my school. And it's not just 'cause they don't have fifth grade at my school anymore, but put it in a middle school; it's because they think I need to go to a special school. Rehabilitation, they call it. I think it's dumb, but I do like one of the nurses, or whatever she is. She helped me walk again. That was hard. I thought I'd never walk again. It took a while, but now I get around just fine.

Now, they're working on my brain, they tell me. They said it hasn't been exercised in thirty years. That's true, because I don't remember dreaming when I was under. My brain must've been totally asleep.

My mom tells me that not a day went by where she didn't come to the hospital. Everybody told her she was crazy. That they should've pulled the plug on me.

She never would let them, though.

I guess that's good. I'm alive.

But I feel like all my life has been interrupted somehow. Almost like leaving a movie halfway through, but having to leave because you gotta go to the bathroom. You come back in, wondering what happened. You ask your dad, "What happened?" But your dad isn't there anymore. The movie looks strange. There are new characters you don't know. And all the old ones are somehow different. You don't even want to watch anymore. You want to go back, but you can't.

I guess I'm glad I'm here. I'm glad I'm awake.

But I keep wondering if I'm still asleep. I wonder when I'll wake up again - for real this time - and find this whole thing has just been another dream. That I was in a coma for thirty hours instead of thirty years. I'll see Mom and Dad sitting by the hospital bed. They brought me my Rubik's Cube and my Walkman.  My body won't look so . . . old. My voice won't be so funny. And the world will make sense again.

But I don't think that'll happen.

I think I'm really awake.

Am I?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Theology Thursday #10: Etiology and Wisdom

Who in the heck is General Tso and why is there a chicken dish named after him?

Is there really a difference between ketchup and catsup? (And who calls it catsup, anyway? In fact, as I'm typing this for my blog, the spell-check has it underlined in red as a typo.)

Why is corned beef 'corned' when corn is never used in the production of said meat?

I've always been fascinated with the origins of things. Etymology is definitely a lost art. Certainly, it is a vocation which doesn't pay well, since nothing is produced other than a "well-I'll-be-darned" from the readers.

But the origins of words - and, more importantly, of rituals - have to have meaning attached to them, otherwise going through the motions of a ceremony or the utterance of a word or phrase degenerates into another meaning, which has nothing to do with the original implication of the word or act.

Let me give you an example:

A friend told me a story in graduate school about his church he went to in Illinois as a child. This church, being a modern house of worship, included laity in their liturgical activities. Typically, for the first and second readings, the pastor recruited a lay reader to recite the texts. However, before the lay reader would ascend steps leading to the lectern in the front of the church, he or she would bow, lowering his or her head.

My friend who told me the story said that he always wondered why they did this; perhaps they did it out of reverence for the Holy Bible. Or maybe they were paying homage to the altar, also located in the front of the church. As a kid, he never found out. When he got to college, though, he worshiped in other congregations and noticed that the readers there never did this. So he took the initiative one Sunday to ask an older parishioner concerning this odd act. He said that when he asked, the older member laughed out loud and told him: "No! The reason why they bow before they go up to read is that there used to be a railing you had to duck to get under as a person climbed the steps. After they took the railing out, the people kept on ducking!"

Here's another:

Once in a Pastor's text study in North Dakota a more traditional colleague of mine bemoaned the loss of the second-person pronoun used for God in the King Jame's Bible: Thou. He told me: "I don't see why we have to translate the new translations with You when someone is addressing God. After all, we should be more formal with God since He is our creator." (I intentionally capitalized he in that quote, since that seems to be another fetish with traditionalists.)

I tried to inform my esteemed colleague that Thou was the familiar form of You, a form most commonly used with children, family, or very good friends. I told him it was very similar to the German Du and Sie. In fact, I apprised him that German Bibles reflect this in that they use the familiar form when addressing God. So, Thou isn't really formal at all. God is supposed to be someone with whom you can chat like a buddy.

He didn't buy it.

But it's true.

Often we find that the origins of things are so lost within the tangled buckthorn of history, that they entirely lose their meaning or gain another, wholly different one altogether.

Within the fields of politics, history, theology, spirituality, and linguistics, I think it is necessary to have a comprehensive understanding of the etiology of the particulars to gain a true - and more comprehensive - understanding of the whole. It's what holistic, liberal education is all about. is the beginning of wisdom.

Oh, by the way...

General Tso (or Zuo Zongtang) was a Chinese statesman and military leader in the late Qing Dynasty. He had nothing to do with the chicken dish we now order in Chinese restaurants. It probably was a late 19th Century or early 20th invention in the United States. (source: Wikipedia)

Still - it sure is tasty...

Oh, and if you're still interested:


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday #9: Liminality is a Wonderful Nighttime Snack

The 9mm Glock is a great gun.

It rarely, if ever, jams.

In fact, when Glock GmbH, an Austrian-based knife and fine cutlery firm first designed the model 17, their goal was to have no more than 20 malfunctions permitted during the first 10,000 rounds fired, not even minor jams that could be cleared without the use of any tools. Nobody thought Glock could do it. The laughed at the little knife maker who had never even attempted at producing a firearm before.

But Glock did it. All because of new materials and ingenious engineering.

The Glock 17 was so aptly named because the Austrian military had seventeen different criteria which needed to be filled for a new handgun for purchase in 1980. A competition was held to find the new gun. Glock set to meet all the criteria with flair.

They won the contest, hands down. The tough little plastic gun that just wouldn't jam.
Except for mine.

I wonder how many times a camel has changed history.
Fine, I know, I dropped it in the sand. And a camel walked on it. And shit on it. But that's beside the point.

Youseff bin al Harlas was in my sights. And I pulled the trigger. Nothing.


At least he didn't shoot back. I don't even know if he had a gun with him. He just smiled that sly, wild dog smile that he's smiled before and walked off.

We had tracked Yibber (the nickname we gave him - personally, I think it's much better than "the Comet", which is the codename Langley gave him) for the past seven months. Al Qaeda's cells have gotten much more dispersed since Bin Laden was taken care of. We really have them beat, you see. But they keep adapting, changing. We don't even call them Al Qaeda anymore. We call't talk about that.


There I was in south central Yemen, a government attache to the Swiss consulate on trade, and my Glock jams on me.

There are certain points in history in which we realize that a chance has been taken and is now lost. That was one of those times; a threshold between two existential planes about to be born.

The only way I can find any consolation now is to fantasize, right before I go to sleep, that had I had another chance, I would have done things differently.

I would have left Sana'a (Yemen's shitty capital) an hour earlier than the Swiss consulate. I would have made the excuse that I don't like traveling at high noon. It's the heat, you know. Lots of excuses, really.

I would have, then, never met the dusty caravan trading machine parts for oiljacks. My privacy, then, would have left my gun devoid of camel stomp and shit when I dropped it trying to conceal it from the little boy from the caravan, who was far too nosy for an eight year old.

Then, I would have met Yibber by myself at crossroads 67. He would have asked me for a light, and BANG! Thup. Yibber's dead. Medals for me. Maybe retirement in Europe. Somewhere nice like the Italian lake region in the north. Lago Maggiore or Locarno. Yes.

But no.

The Yibber smiled at me.

And my Glock had sand and camel shit stuck in it.

Sometimes, that moment of historical significance, that liminal edge of making it big, slips away.

And all your left with is your what-if-fantasies.

But maybe it's better this way. I still have a story to tell my grandchildren (I was this close to him!) And I didn't have to kill someone; even a religious nut like Yibber. That's good, right?

What would my life be like had I done it? I don't know.

But I know that tonight I'll sleep well. Because, tonight, I'll toy around with the what-ifs again. Then I'll sigh.

And I'll drift off, wondering.