Current list of books I’ve written

Free Range Faith.   Essays on following Jesus and not Christianity.  Published 12/11/2014.  ISBN-13: 978-1502367679

Fortunate Stamps.  Collage using stamps and fortune cookie messages. Published 1/17/2015.  ISBN-13: 978-1507623480

The Condensed Gospel.  The Gospel, as one story, in order, with no repetition.  Published 12/19/2015.  ISBN-13: 978-1505514940

Travel by Stamps.  An all-ages story using vintage stamps for the illustrations.  Published 12/27/2015.  ISBN-13: 978-1522947127

Some for the Road: Meditations and milestones on the road of recovery. Daily meditations on recovery. Published 4/22/2017.   ISBN -13: 978-1507633588

Images of God (in color).  Inspirational poetry and pictures, in full color.  Published 6/21/2017.   ISBN-13 978-1546815129

Images of God (in black and white).  Inspirational poetry and pictures, in a more affordable black and white format.  Published 6/23/2017.   ISBN-13 978-1548191023

Short and Strange. 25 unusual short stories inspired by vintage photographs.   Published 9/26/2017.   ISBN-13:  978-1974103669

maps for lost places. 27 speculative fiction short stories.  Published 1/6/2018. ISBN-13: 978-1981396856

Creating a Life. Essays about being an artist with a full-time life. Published 2/17/2018.  ISBN-13: 978-1985022140

All titles are available through Amazon. Most titles are also available on Kindle unlimited.

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The dog-sitter

monkey baby

It was hard to get good help those days. The Brown family had a bear, a young one, mind you, to tend the children. The Nelsons, however, had a dog. You might say having a dog to keep the children company was to be expected, and it was, but not in this way.

Simon was a spaniel mix of some sort. They weren’t sure. It wasn’t like they got him from a kennel. He was found along with his littermates under their back shed one spring day, all mewling and trembling. All of them were cute, but only Simon was attuned to them.

They’d gone to check on the litter several times, admiring the way the mother was caring for them. This was probably her first litter, but she was doing great, like this was her favorite thing to do. The Nelsons had heard of animal mothers instinctually knowing what to do, and this one sure did. They wondered how it was possible that some “lesser” animal could know more about tending an infant than humans did. Maybe humans did know, they’d just forgotten in the race to be “civilized”. Maybe they still knew, very deep down.

They found homes for the rest of the puppies, but Simon they had to keep. He was too perfect to give away. They’d only briefly considered giving him a dog name like King or Spot, but no such name fit him. He really was like a human in dog form, so they gave him a human name. He was a full-fledged member of the family then, albeit one who slept in the garage.

That was until they had their third child. There was no time for taking off from work, no money for daycare. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson’s parents had died long before they got married, so there were no free babysitters to be had. So Simon would have to do.

He was normally a very serious and sober dog, but he became even more so when they put his uniform on. It was as if he knew he was on duty once they dressed him in his apron and cap.

Simon was the best babysitter they could have ever hoped for. He was alert to every cry and always made sure the baby was warm enough. He’d either drag a blanket over her or just lay down next to her.

There was only one problem. The baby thought Simon was her mother, and refused to even recognize her real mother when she returned home from work. It was as if her own mother was a piece of furniture that moved. She didn’t hate her mother – she didn’t even know her to hate her. Simon was all she’d ever needed and not even known it.

Spirit jump

He was fine, and then he wasn’t. It started as a cold, or maybe the flu. A sore throat and weakness in his hands and feet, the afternoon after work. He thought he was just tired after a long week but it was only Tuesday. Brian felt well enough to go to his job on Wednesday only because that was the end of his work week. If he’d not been off from Thursday on, there would be no way he could have pulled himself together.

Brian owed it to his patients to be at the top of his game every day, to be alert and attentive. Machines couldn’t do it all, shouldn’t do it all. You needed a person to notice the subtle signs of a person regaining consciousness too soon, of them experiencing pain and unable to do anything about it. That was part of his job as an anesthetist, to safely ferry them across the dark waters of that chemical sleep during their operation.

He’d done his job well for seven years. He’d never lost a patient due to his error. Sure, some had died, but it wasn’t his fault. The surgeon made a mistake, an accident happened, a hidden deficit in the constitution of the patient made itself visible. Things happened that were beyond his control.

Some people were barely held together. Some people were sicker than even they realized. A shell, a façade, a thin veneer was all that stood between them and utter collapse. It wasn’t his fault when they died. He just happened to be there, like a bystander at an accident.

It was a little like that on that Tuesday, that meaningless day, that between day. Nothing happens on a Tuesday. The only problem is that sometimes nothing is something. Without noticing, without thought, he was infected by something worse than a virus, more insidious than a disease. It wasn’t even something that would show up on a blood test or an MRI.

It happened like this:

The patient was infected, possessed if you will, by a spirit. It had caught him and was riding him, like how the fleas rode on mice during the bubonic plague. The mice weren’t infected – the fleas were. The mice were just vehicles, taxis if you will. They shuttled the fleas around faster than they could have on gone on their own. In return, the fleas left the mice pretty much alone. They didn’t even know they were being used.

The same was happening here. The patient was the mouse, the evil spirit was the flea. It hadn’t badly affected the patient – that wouldn’t do. You can’t use them up too soon, they’d wear out. Then you’d have to find another one, sooner than you might want.

This was a spirit of complacency, of smugness, of self-satisfaction. It was a belief in a job well done in spite of evidence to the contrary. It was insidious, spawning vanity and a total lack of hubris. It said “all I have accomplished has been by my own hand, and mine alone”. It invited no disagreement and produced no diligence. There was no need to double check your results if you were convinced they were perfect. There was no need to try harder if you knew you were better than everyone else.

It produced vision problems, but the vision was of the heart, not the eye. It made the “mouse” see everyone and everything as lesser than. Instead of being better, it made everyone else appear worse. It made its victim feel higher by making others appear lower. Average was suddenly an accomplishment.

It caused alienation, of course. Nobody wanted to be around a goody-goody and “I Told You So”. And that led to stress, to dis-ease. The problem wasn’t a virus but a victimhood, a sense of lesser than, of isolation. People separated from others became sicker more often, and for longer. Humans were made to live in community, after all.

The patient suffered from stomach problems – losing weight, loose stools, frequent vomiting. It was part of the stress of the dis-ease, the particular form of illness his spirit assumed. The same spirit could cause cancers, or heart disease, or anemia for instance. It didn’t matter. Genetic tendencies were just indications of possible failure, weak spots in the wall of immunity. The disease was just a manifestation of an excess or lack, an imbalance of nutrition, movement, or something more nebulous. “Failure to thrive” isn’t just about infants. A soul lack, an empty yearning, a hole, these wore away at any possible wall a person might have. Aimless, loveless – a life without meaning was a death sentence.

None of this mattered when the last transfer happened. Brian was strong in body and soul, regularly walking on the track and with the Lord. He took care of himself and of his spirit. This is why it was such a surprise when he got sick.
The spirit hadn’t been listening when plans were made for exploratory surgery of its “mouse”. That was part of the specific character of that spirit – an unwillingness to listen to anyone or anything. So it came as a huge surprise to it when the patient began to go unconscious as the anesthesia took over, paralyzing his body so the surgeon could work. It bolted, like a startled colt, unsure, unaware, suddenly stronger than it already was because of fear.
It was afraid, not of dying, because that was impossible. It wasn’t corporeal, so there was no body to die, to decay. No, its fear was of a deeper sort. It was of ceasing to be, of existence itself. The spirit had to be in a body – any body, to exist. This is why spirits resisted being cast out. So when the fog of anesthesia began to cloud its victim’s eyes, it panicked.

Spirits need skin to skin contact for transference. That is how sexual disease spirits infect new people. That is why lepers are segregated. So when the panic gripped it, choking, struggling, it jumped to the one person who was touching its previous vehicle.

This was Brian, the anesthetist, who was holding the gas mask to the patient. The transfer was sudden and sure. Normally Brian would have been immune to such a spirit, but this was not a normal situation. The fear of having its existence snuffed out as instantly as a candle flame, spurred it on, made it more violent. Brian had no chance against this force.
In the same way that mothers gain incredible powers when their children are in danger, the spirit became unstoppable, irresistible. It barreled into Brian the same way a linebacker runs into his opponent.

Brian was very spiritually strong, so the force of the unexpected attack was not enough to knock him down. He felt something shift, slide sideways, and lock. The feeling was a lot like what Obi-Wan Kenobi felt when Alderaan was destroyed – a great disturbance in the force. This was what Brian first thought it was – some outside event, some terrible, horrible occurrence, a victory of dark over light.

It was a month before he admitted he was the one who had been defeated. By then he was unable to work. His gait was slower, his reaction time tripled. He couldn’t respond to sudden changes quickly enough to prevent disaster. A missed a step lead to a fall instead of a minor correction. While inconvenient for everyday life, this inattention could be deadly at work, where patient’s lives were in his hands.

His speech was slower too. He used to be garrulous and outgoing, but now he was unsure if he could remember how to say what he wanted to say. Words were slippery or sluggish or not there at all.

It took him six months of struggle to admit he needed help, even though the doctor still couldn’t tell him what his disease was. He felt a little like the woman in the Bible who had bled for over a dozen years and doctors hadn’t be able to heal her. If only he could be like her and touch Jesus’ robe! In the meantime he’d have to settle for the leash of his therapy dog.

Jesus builds upon the old

Jesus came to uphold the words of God, not tear them down. His message was fresh but not new. The more you read of the Hebrew Bible, the more you’ll see it echoed in the words of Jesus.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-20
17 “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Here are some illustrations of this –

Consider his words in Luke 14:7-11
7 He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they would choose the best places for themselves: 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, don’t recline at the best place, because a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by your host. 9 The one who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in humiliation, you will proceed to take the lowest place. 10 “But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ You will then be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is an illustration of Proverbs 25:6-7
6 Don’t brag about yourself before the king,
and don’t stand in the place of the great;
7 for it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here!”
than to demote you in plain view of a noble.

Likewise, Proverbs 25:8-10 continues on, saying –
8 Don’t take a matter to court hastily.
Otherwise, what will you do afterward
if your opponent humiliates you?
9 Make your case with your opponent
without revealing another’s secret;
10 otherwise, the one who hears will disgrace you,
and you’ll never live it down.

These teachings are illustrated in various verses –
Matthew 5-21-26
21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I assure you: You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!

Matthew 18:15-20
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you.18 I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.19 Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven.20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.”

Jesus expands and illustrates the lessons and teachings from the Scriptures he grew up with, and explains them in relatable ways to people. Instead of just repeating them, he made the teachings meaningful by telling them as stories. But he didn’t make up the original teaching. He built upon the old to create something new.

(all Bible translations are HCSB)