True health.

The air raids continued, but so did the entertainment. When the war had finally crawled to their shores, finally climbed in fits and starts over their borders, the citizens knew that life as they knew it was over. The first few weeks they stayed inside, huddled around the television for news of where the riots were. They planned excursions based on these reports. It wouldn’t do to go to the grocery store or church and run into a firefight.

Work was quietly canceled for the first week. Who could be expected to even try? Work then was all about staying alive in the moment. Who could take the time to worry about spreadsheets or stockrooms? But then the reality set in that this wasn’t a temporary thing. The invaders had settled in for the long haul. They planned to take this land no matter what – even if that meant destroying everything and everyone on it.

After a month of living under siege, the citizens knew they had to keep on going with their lives. They had resumed going to work – they had to once the paychecks stopped coming – but it was only now that they understood there was more to life than work. Entertainment wasn’t simply a distraction or diversion – it enriched life. Perhaps it could be said that they worked so they could afford to play.

And play they did! Movie theaters were re-opened, converted into cabarets and live theater And symphony halls. Colleges were converted into lecture halls for everyone, not just the paying students. All were welcome, and there were no tests or papers to write. People carried on with their lives, not in spite of, but perhaps because of the violence in the streets. They had no control over that, so they celebrated even more when they were able to make it through a complete performance. Many were the shows they got cut in half, with the cast or audience having to disperse because of insurgents coming too close. Rarely would the violence spill inside but it wouldn’t do to risk it. So the people left rather than draw the attention of the fighters to their secret.

And it was a secret, these diversions and entertainment. They were carefully curated and prized. They weren’t random. They had to be planned for and scheduled. It wouldn’t do to go a week without a gathering of some sort so it was important to make them good.

The people had come to understand that the source of their joy wasn’t how much money they made, or what football team they rooted for. It was in being together. Groups of like-minded people together – united by a common interest – were happier and healthier. Something about simply being together made them whole in a way they could never be alone.

But the gas masks still needed to be worn. It wouldn’t do to undergo a chemical assault while they were communing. Because that is what was happening – communion, union-with. Only together, with others, could they feel the peace of union, where they were no longer torn in two, fragmented. They needed each other in a symbiotic, inter-dependent way.

That was why all the mass murders from the past had happened in densely populated arenas. Those who felt alienated, excluded knew down in their core that the people who were gathered together had something they missed. Jealousy clouded their hearts to the point that they couldn’t see that they didn’t have to kill anything – except their “need” to be alone. Their cure would have taken place if only they had sat down with all these people and joined the group. Instead they had swallowed the poison of the message of independence, which taught them to be lone wolves, leaderless, a pack of one.

This message was taught to them by billboards and television and magazines, and stories and in songs, because the pushers of this drug also sold their version of the cure – to be found in pills, or alcohol, or retreats, or yoga, or a diet, or a religion or even spirituality. They caused the dis-ease in order to sell their “cure”, because true health was free and that wouldn’t do in a culture that saw money as its God.

So in a way, the war had healed this community. It had showed them what really mattered.

(Written late July 2019)

The longest day of Theodore Smythe (a short story)

4

Theodore was tired, more tired than he had ever been. This had been the longest day he’d ever known. He wasn’t even sure what day it was, or what year. He’d only been alive for three years and two months. That was when Timmy had gotten him for his fifth birthday. Before that, he was just a stuffed doll, a bear. Once he had bonded with his child he became a Bear, a real being. Every year when Timmy’s birthday rolled around, Theodore had a birthday too. It was the day he became alive. They even made him his own cake, but smaller. It was decorated the same as Timmy’s.

This year there was no cake. There was a celebration of sorts, sure. But what with the rumors and the rations, it wasn’t possible to have such a luxury as a cake. Even candles had to be saved for more needful times. Lighting any of them, using them up, when the electricity was still working was wasteful, and the Smythe family knew it.

Slowly there had been less and less, with luxuries like sugar and beef first. They didn’t miss these things anyway. They were too expensive even when times were good. But flour, and oats? That was another matter. It was a few short months before it came to that, and by then there was no denying that war was upon them. They had to conserve what they had and make do to support their boys on the front lines. They needed the food more, to fight the Nazis who were three countries away. It wasn’t much to ask to have the war kept at bay. Trading a cake to have peace at home seemed like a fair trade.

But then the war came home to them.

It wasn’t fair. War, and still no cake. They still were sacrificing, still saving, still rationing, and still the war came, came right to their villages, to their streets, to their doorsteps. Uncle Albert in Shropshire called their neighbor to tell them to make their way to him any way they could. They hadn’t found the money for a phone since they moved to the city, and their neighbor Mr. Pete kindly passed along messages in exchange for Mama doing a little extra laundry on wash day. He’d not quite gotten the hang of it since his wife took ill with the dropsy two years back.

Mr. Smythe didn’t think there was much reason to hurry. He still had a job to go to after all, and Timmy had school to see to. He was getting along so well with his classmates this term, and getting such good grades in penmanship and music. Mama Smyth didn’t agree with his assessment, and said so by not saying anything. Her ‘no’ was simply the absence of a ‘yes’, as befitted a good wife to her understanding. Papa took her silence under advisement and read the newspaper more carefully, listened to the radio more closely, trying to see if there were currents under the words, perhaps telling him things were worse than the government was letting on. The slogan “Stay calm and carry on” was what tipped it. Something about it made every hair on his arms stand up. It was then that he knew they had to leave and go back home to their village of Clun as quickly as they could. Mama was relieved, but said that going calmly was best. Best not to look like they were fleeing. That might start a panic. Just make it look like they were going on holiday.

So they packed just a few things, just enough to fit into suitcases. It wouldn’t do to have too much on the train. It would call attention, and that was the last thing they wanted.

Theodore wasn’t around when they left. Perhaps he had been hiding in the pantry. Perhaps he had been exploring under the bed. Even though Mama and Papa appeared calm to everyone around them, in the house they were anything but. The day they decided to leave was the day they left. No time to make up stories or have people wonder. Mama had allotted just a scant thirty minutes to pack so they couldn’t over think it and try to bring too much. Timmy was so flustered he didn’t realize Theodore wasn’t with him until their train was outside the city gates. He fussed, sure, but Papa said they’d get him another bear. He said it in a low tone, quiet, almost but not quite gritting his teeth. Timmy had learned not to push harder when Papa spoke like this, so he gulped back his tears and distracted himself by looking at the scenery fly past his window.

It was three days later when Theodore woke to the sounds of the bomber planes. Normally, Timmy would find him at night to take him to bed with him, waking him up from his daytime slumber. Bears are awake at night. That is when they guard their young charges. But nobody in the house to wake him up meant Theodore had dozed on in a dreamless sleep, unaware of time passing.

Now he was awake, and lost. Now the city was in ruins. There were fires a few blocks over in the cathedral. The library in tatters. The school used for emergency shelter, not lessons. Now Theodore’s whole being ached with the need to find Timmy. He decided to rest his head against a building for just a little while.

Can’t go to sleep.
Can’t go to sleep.
Must find Timmy and keep him safe.

To sleep meant to fall into that dull dreamless nothing where it is so hard to return for a Bear. To sleep might mean to lose Timmy forever.

He would rest here for just a little while, but not lie down. To lie down would be the same as death, because life without Timmy was not acceptable. A bear once turned into a Bear could not go back into that dull unfeeling world of before.

Evil spirit?

So God is supposed to be all good, right? But what about these verses – God sends “evil spirits” to rile people up, to make bad things happen. Maybe there is something more to all of this. All Bible quotes are RSV.

There were a lot of judges in Israel before they had kings. Somebody had to make decisions. But then it seems that every now and then God stirred things up. Control was taken out of their hands.

Judges 9:22-25
22 Abim′elech ruled over Israel three years. 23 And God sent an evil spirit between Abim′elech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abim′elech; 24 that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubba′al might come and their blood be laid upon Abim′elech their brother, who slew them, and upon the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to slay his brothers. 25 And the men of Shechem put men in ambush against him on the mountain tops, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way; and it was told Abim′elech.

Then God made Samson want a woman who was a Philistine just because God wanted to stir up a fight between the Philistines and Israel. God knew there would be a fight at the wedding.

Judges 14:1-4
Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. 2 Then he came up, and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” 3 But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your kinsmen, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me; for she pleases me well.” 4 His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD; for he was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.

Then God sends an “evil spirit” to King Saul, which stirs up problems between him and David, who God has chosen in his place to be king.

1 Samuel 16:14
14 Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.

Here’s another example of God sending an “evil spirit” upon Saul.

1 Samuel 18:10-11
10 And on the morrow an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand; 11 and Saul cast the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice.

The same thing happened to Judas. He wasn’t betraying Jesus because he wanted to –he was made to do it by forces beyond his control. Satan, the very definition of an “evil spirit”, entered him.

Luke 22:1-6
Now the feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. 2 And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death; for they feared the people. 3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve;4 he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. 5 And they were glad, and engaged to give him money. 6 So he agreed, and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of the multitude.

Here’s another take on the same scene.

John 13:21-27
21 When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; 24 so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.” 25 So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.27 Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

So what’s going on? This is pretty wild. God isn’t what we thought. What does this say about God and the nature of God?

Are we willing to let God use us like this? This is some hard stuff – wars being waged, innocent people being attacked and killed. All because God makes it happen by sending an “evil spirit”. God is in control of evil spirits? God is in control of everything.

What does this say about “free will”? It is out of the window. These people didn’t decide to be angry or crazy or start wars or betray a friend.

What does this say about bad times, about wars, about people attacking innocent people? David and Jesus were both innocent. They didn’t deserve to be attacked. They’d done nothing wrong.

Perhaps that is it. We need to trust that everything is part of a plan that we can’t see. The more we fight against it, the harder it is for us.

Maybe that terrorist, that road-rager, that narcissistic manager, that abusive parent is part of the plan. Maybe an “evil spirit” entered into them. Who knows? We can’t know. That is part of the problem. We want to see the whole picture, and we can’t. We don’t have the capacity for it.

God says that God is the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end at the same time. We can’t comprehend that. It is like trying to play a DVD on a record player. Our technology, the human brain, lacks the capacity to process things like God does.

(All Bible quotes are RSV.)

V F W

We have meeting halls for veterans of foreign wars. But I’m a little weird – I hear the opposite sometimes. Why are there no halls for veterans of local wars? And why are there no meeting halls to honor peacemakers? Surely those people who have dedicated their time to ensure peace are important. Surely they need places to meet to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time at Civil War memorial sites. There were huge obelisks dedicated to the dead, mostly young boys. There was a park just up the street from where I lived in Chattanooga. I played there often, climbing on the monuments and sitting on the cannons. Those marble soldiers were my companions.

The glorification of war has never made sense to me.

Sign up to be a soldier and we will pay for your education and give you discounts on home loans and at the hardware store. Sign up to fight and we will pay for your healthcare for life. Sign right here on the dotted line and everything will be fine.

Except it isn’t.

Soldiers die. If they don’t die in battle at the wrong end of an enemy weapon, they die from “friendly fire.” They die at their own hands from suicide. If they don’t die they are wounded so badly that they are disabled or disfigured irreparably.

If they make it back home in one piece they live a half life, haunted by demons in the night, nightmares and fears of being hunted. Depression, stress, and dysfunction follow them like feral wolves, ready to tear them to pieces.

We glorify war because it isn’t glorious. We sell this dream of honor to our children not because we love them, but because we need them. We need them to do our dirty work. We need them to go into danger and risk their lives, their bodies, their minds because we haven’t come up with a good alternative.

And we’ll keep building meeting halls and monuments for them. We’ll keep coming up with discounts and promotions to sweeten the deal.

We’ll keep dangling the carrot of free education and special holidays just for them, and they will keep reaching for that carrot, only to realize too late that it is booby trapped.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t have any alternatives. If we quit training soldiers, we will still have enemies. We will still have countries that hate us so much that the only way they know how to express their hatred is to harm us. I can’t see that dropping our guard will do us any good.

But I do think it is time to rethink America’s role in the world. I think it is time for us to stop acting like we are the policemen or the hall monitors of the world. I think that our incessant interfering in the internal affairs of other countries is what causes them to hate us so much, and is what causes them to target us.

Until we teach peace more than we teach war, we’ll continue to build meeting halls for the wounded and monuments for the dead.

I think we owe our children more.

Prayer for Syria

It is time for prayer. It is time to shift the consciousness of the American government. We do not need to go to war with Syria.

Protesting the Syrian government’s killing of its citizens by chemical warfare by sending bombs to kill more of its citizens? Wait. That is insane. It is as if we are saying that how they are killing innocent people is wrong – so we want to show them how it is done. What will a military strike achieve? Nothing good. More people will die.

Even if war made sense – which it doesn’t, we can’t afford it.

We are in a deficit. One fourth of American children do not know where their next meal is coming from. Our roads and bridges need repair. Gas prices keep going up. Our elderly need help paying for their homes – if they have them. Homelessness is rampant because of foreclosures and layoffs.

We cannot afford war – either morally, or financially.

Pray for peace. Pray that the American government has a change of heart. There is still time. Wherever you are, whoever you are, please stop for a moment and pray for peace. It is time.