What Did You Think?

Let me blow the dust off of some former things…

*cough cough*

*blink blink*

*achooo*

Hey, it’s not easy dusting off ancient history; sometimes it blows back at you, covers your face with shame, makes your throat itch. But, as the old skin cells begin to settle around your feet, the air clears, along with the brain, and you see a little more clearly…

I suppose we had reason to feel insecure. When your church is the talk of the town, that chatter tends to settle between joints and creates an irritating tension between what one believes they are doing and what others perceive. It was like that.

We were the church with the rainbow painted in the sanctuary…

We were the church voted most likely to handle snakes…

We were the untethered upstarts who did not barricade beneath traditional keeps…

We were Charismatic — an anathema to any small city serviced by the First, the Second, and the Free (but still) Baptists…

(No insult intended; that’s just how it was.)

The truth? The rainbow had long been exchanged for a lovely tree mural; we did not handle snakes or drink poison (for the record), we chose to make God the Head rather than to seek after an institutionalized and denominational ‘king’; but, yes, we were definitely and unapologetically Charismatic: I can’t erase that fact.

“Welcome…”

The mood music will begin shortly. The words are going up on the screen. The worship team is jostling into place, smiling and nodding like they weren’t fighting over who got the mic last Tuesday during practice.

The Pastor gets up, greets everyone, and opens with a word of prayer. Bright light is spilling in from the back sanctuary window that extends from floor to ceiling — the building itself often being accused of looking more like a car dealership than a church. But warmer.

(Hold on…

Nostalgia just walked in and swept me off my feet. (He’s REALLY good at that.)

Whoa… I can almost smell the sanctuary again. I can almost remember your lovely faces. I can almost see the room swell — the unseen aching to blow the walls of the seen out-of-sight, as the praises begin…

Have you ever entered a service where people were excited and expecting to see THE King? Where parading emotions, hopeful pleas riding the train of shouts of joy, and unabashed dancing like King David cast aside every fear, every wary glance of those visiting, and every hinderance to the Throne?

I have.

It’s… beautiful…)

Praise. Worship. Lingering. Then, the offering plate is passed. A sermon. An altar call (sometimes). Pretty straight-forward.

Afterwards, an immediate B-line to the visitors in the room with one burning question.

You know what that question is, don’t you?

Of course you do.

It’s the one we all ask when we desperately want to be understood and appreciated and accepted:

“So… what did you think of the service today?”

I’ve asked that question, in the past, many times to many visitors. The wide array of potential responses can be terrifying, though most stick to the code of niceness when answering.

My face is windswept into a smile by nostalgia again…

“What did you think?”

“I’m concerned; this might be a cult.”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing (it’s hard to remember the exact words of twenty yesteryears), but I did get that basic response once… from a coworker who had visited our church.

What would you say next?

Yeah, I didn’t know what to say either. Deer crushed. And a lot of anxiety walking back into work the next day.

Changing The Question

Since leaving the pastoral limelight of church business, I’ve come to believe that we need to change the question. Instead of asking “What did you think?”, shouldn’t we be asking “How did God meet you today?” ? Wouldn’t that be a more beneficial question?

The first question asks for a reflection upon ourselves…

The second pulls for a reflection of the Spirit…

Whether we garner a different set of responses by changing the question isn’t really my point. It is merely our hearts in the asking that I want to check.

Because anyone who serves wants to be appreciated and understood in that service, as with any work. However, as Christians, our validation, all of our approval and worth, our sense of pleasing One audience (our King), must be tethered to what God thinks about what we’re doing…

In fact, He’s the only one we should be putting that question to after ministering the Gospel of Christ.

Beloved, rest in His approval.

(And, if you’re not sure you have it… Ask, seek, knock.…)

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10

Love: An Exposé

I know why you stay…

I didn’t used to understand, but I do now…

Do you feel like no one gets it?

Do you wish someone would force you out?

Some days, maybe it’s a little of both…

Well, I suppose there are thousands of nuanced reasons to stay – as there are just as many reasons to leave. You stay because you love deeply. You cling to hope. And you desire his wellness more than anything in the whole world – even unto your own pain. You’ve seen something in him that won’t let you go, won’t leave you alone, won’t permit your defeat…

Yes, you’ve seen what he could be… should be… what you saw in him at the first. And the only thing more dangerous and devastating than Hope is Hope Lost…

After all this time, if there is anything that you fear, it is that: Wasted Hope riding wasted hopeful years.

But I understand that no one else will see it that way, dear woman. I understand that they will look at you and find only weakness where, rather, they might marvel at your strength upon closer examination. I understand that they will judge you for putting so many things at risk…

For…

One…

Man…

Permit me some parallels…?

So, what is a life worth anyway?

It began with a simple conversation, steeped in doubt but riddled with desirous hope. My husband and I sat across the table from a convicted felon who, since serving his time, was now a spiritual leader seeking to make significant ripples across the landscape of our town.

There was so much to love in that conversation and fellowship; there was much to hope. We already sat under his leadership and understood the following. And, still, always this nagging doubt and unbelief ebbed and flowed. Could he be trusted? – And, even more than that, Was that even the right question?

Rather than a sure answer or certain discernment, this question shot through my soul with all of the momentum and predestined chaos of a boomerang:

What is a man’s life worth?

I am not one to entertain haunts, but, some time later, I found myself compelled to watch the Netflix documentary called I Am A Killer. Alone in my dark living room, I absorbed the first three episodes. (This is highly abnormal behavior for me.)

I watched the story of James, a killer, who had never had a family and never known love, but I saw my James — one of the young men who lived with us in the group home my husband and I had worked in a few years prior. Their stories were not so different, and I wept as the episode closed, thinking:

What is a man’s life worth?

A short time after this, I watched the Netflix release of Nothing To Lose, a documentary about Brazilian mega-pastor Edir Macedo. However sympathetically, it told of his childhood struggles with bullying and his youthful grasping for intellectual and spiritual fidelity when faced with what looked like nominal faith amongst churchgoers.

Unknowingly, it also retold the same basic story of every kingdom-seizing pastor I had ever known in the Faith here in the States as well – in which the desire to overcome hypocrisy becomes the ignoble god that finally turns men into the very thing they hate. Mr. Macedo deserved compassion no less than the beloved ones I had known, even if wrong.

And, again, the question lingered like a hair in a biscuit… gum on your shoe… grit within an oyster… beach sand in your nether regions… leftover in your fridge… this ridiculous sentence:

What is a man’s life worth?

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.

Psalm 145:8-9

The going rate of a soul, in any arena, is not too good these days…

Potentials

It’s no secret that women see potential and swoon. Without a doubt, that gift comes from our Creator who said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We have a radar on that, don’t we, ladies? We can spot it a thousand miles away:

Man, alone.

Not good.

I’ll help.

Ha. Oy vey. And so it begins… every time. (This applies whether one is Christian or Crazy. All women universally pick up this vibe and choose from a variety of responses. Matchmaking being a popular one.)

Over the last year, the Lord has been taking me on a spiritual un-backpacking trek through my life. S-L-O-W-L-Y, I might add. Beginning with childhood and on from there… I think we’ve finally reached my mid-twenties…

Well, it’s been like watching a dream I had several years ago on repeat in slow-motion. In the dream, I was walking through a bedroom that was very outdated and, yet, precious to me for various, personal reasons, and I understood that it was my past.

In real, waking life, the Holy Spirit has been gently leading me through that room and showing me things – events, people, mistakes, tragedies, hopes – from His perspective. That is to say, He’s been slowly replacing every painful thing with sweetness… showing me how indeed “all things work together for the good of them that love God” and walk accordingly (or die trying anyway)…

EVERY. PAINFUL. THING.

I mean down to the minutest detail.

The things that have come back to my mind and been returned to me with peace by His hands have been… well… breathtaking. Some of the memories have brought great pain too, but not in the same way as when I lived in that room… Even pain, when held within His perspective, can be transformed into something beautiful.

I too was just a bit of potential back then… unclear, uncut, and unfinished.

Foundations

Within the same dream, I kept anxiously returning to the foundations of the house. I was deeply concerned about its structural soundness. But, in the dream, the foundation of this particular house was made from GIANT cedar logs split in half. GIANT. The house sat off of the ground and the logs were immense. More than enough to hold it all up…

But, when speaking of love, that’s not where I began.

I entered my first marriage with a list of ultimatums: Do this, this, or this, and I’m out. Period. And yes, I literally said so aloud.

I did not believe in unconditional love… and, if I’m honest, I’m not even certain that’s a Biblical concept (the idea of unconditional love) because God’s love isn’t exactly unconditional… imho. But feel free to argue theological points with me later. (You better have more than one verse to back it up though! I see in macro not micro… If there’s an IF statement, then it’s conditional.)

Even so, “love covers a multitude of sins”, and I definitely wasn’t anywhere close to that either. Well, Leigh Nash said it best:

If you say you love me, I’ll say ‘Sure if you say so’…”

(Blue on Blue, Along the Wall)

Because, really, my ultimatums said more about my makeshift foundations than anyone else. If I could argue with God about whether I could be loved (and I certainly did), you better believe I could project that argument toward those closest to me too (in unspoken or spoken ways)…

Again, the way we see others says far more about ourselves. We can’t blame the devil or others for that; it’s more often our own foundations showing.

So, dear girl, when you believe the best of someone and get ripped to shreds by a harsh world, when you extend hands of mercy only to receive the chill of a biting wind, when you reach to embrace but find yourself mocked instead – I don’t believe what they say about you. Our world calls bad good and good bad. Our world persists in calling the innocent, the naive, the broken, the hopeful, and the victims words like ‘gullible’, labels like ‘asking for it’, ‘co-dependent’, ‘uninformed’, ‘insecure’, or a ‘glutton for punishment’…

I hang my head with heartache and wonder when desiring to believe the best about someone fell so far below society’s expectations that such hope must now be called wrong. When did that happen? And why are we okay with it?

The love of many has grown cold. If we dare to hope, we might be labeled an insecure glutton; if we dare to leave, we might be shunned for doing something ‘God hates’… There are many such loveless loopholes in Christian society today.

Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.

Matthew 24:12

My potential radar was keen; my foundations, however, existed yet in flesh and blood – in all of the cold hardness of this fallen world.

Reasons

Even so…

What is a man’s life worth?

What is a woman’s life worth?

What is a child’s life worth?

There are reasons to leave after cleaving… Sometimes, to spare the soul, one must divide the body. It’s a hard reality, but because of the sin, the wickedness, the “hardness” of our hearts, it’s the truth.

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”

Matthew 19:8

I appreciate that Jesus was a realist, personally. He didn’t rug-sweep or break bruised reeds; that’s an ethereal line to walk. (Try it sometime.)

I think about Abigail in the Bible (I’m going to let you look it up if you don’t know the tale). She married a fool. Well, because of customs then, she probably had little say about his potential in that marriage. Nonetheless, that was the situation. If I recall correctly, the Bible calls Abigail wise and beautiful by contrast. If she had any brains at all, it was likely a troubled marriage…

Anyway. Her husband (being a fool) neglects to provide for David (the future king) and this sets the shepherd-king off. He’s coming with his men to kill Abigail’s husband and (if I recall correctly) his entire household!

Abigail, being wiser and alerted by her servants, rushes to make things right with David, falls on her face, and intercedes with him to spare them – admitting the nature of her husband and asking David to “remember” her when he is crowned king.

God himself deals with her husband; he dies that very night, I believe…

Later, David returns to claim Abigail as his own wife. (Woah. Soon-to-be wife of the king!… Though, if memory serves me well again, I think they had some years yet of hiding out.)

Well, for any woman in a rotten-to-mediocre marriage, not well-matched, it’s the first modern fairytale, isn’t it? [Ahhhhhh. I just got my next book idea… lol]

Consider:

What was Abigail’s husband’s life worth?

What was Abigail’s life worth?

What was David’s life and provisions worth in this tale?

Oh souls… I think we terribly underestimate God sometimes. His ways are not our ways. And we terribly abuse people when we try to fashion them by the letter of the law rather than by the Spirit of Grace…

Was that not also the Pharisees’ mistake?

Some also grossly miscalculate their own worth. (We’ve all been guilty of this at some point.) Biblically speaking… love is God’s idea… justice is God’s idea… and He doesn’t slap the same label of worth across every soul. Think about that…

*Note that God took care of Abigail’s situation, not man… We tend to break all of God’s laws AND His heart when we take matters into our own hands. While divorce, in some situations, is the only way out, let’s not go around killing anyone’s husband or wife, ok?

I know I shouldn’t have to say that but… if we need this kind of warning label in society then I better make myself clear, right? Or die trying… (You can fine me later.)

What About Love?

Sometimes the effect of my poker-pen-face astounds me. Do I sound like I have it all figured out? Let me assure you: I don’t. And that’s not the message I mean to convey. Even so, like you, I have lived a little, heard a few tales, and sought wisdom from God; sometimes, I have something to say about it all.

For instance, I know what it is to love after the flesh…

I know what it is to love by pure emotional need…

And what it is to love someone after the spirit…

And wow. The first two can be misidentified and mingled, but that last one… loving after the spirit… that one is unmistakable. Nothing else comes close…

The only relationships that have stood the test of time and distance and even of falling out in my life have been those that fell into that latter category. And it’s not always romantic (in fact, the best Biblical examples of it are not); it’s just markedly different and superior to the other forms of love. Because it is fashioned and bound by the Spirit, it is also unshakeable…

One of the dearest examples of this in my life past was a former father-in-law. We were complete opposites and, yet, like white on rice: We took to each other and endeared one another. And it was a bond of the Spirit…

When I divorced his son, however, the sky fell down. He told me off and gave me the cold shoulder for years. You know what’s funny about that though? When it’s a bond of the Spirit, it’s hard to even be mad. I was deeply sad and deeply disappointed by his reaction, but I did not stop loving him in my heart. How I felt about him did not change… even if it became a depression rather than a source of delight for a time.

Anyway. Some many years later, we made amends, and the joy that brought me was no less than what I had known before the injurious incident. It’s as if it never even happened…

And, I’m telling you, only a bond of the Spirit, love after the spirit, can do that.

*We can foster that kind of Christ-love in every relationship (to some degree), though I do speak here of the sort that seems to naturally and suddenly befall souls – like a Jonathan and David sort of beloved loyalty, a Naomi and Ruth kind of devotion, a Daniel and King ‘Chad’ kind of hope-beyond-sin, a Mary Magdalene and Jesus sort of tenderness…

So, what of love?

Without Christ, it is nothing.

Without the Spirit, it is shakeable.

Without grace (free from fear), it is not perfected.

If you are married, set your Maker up on high as your ‘Husband’ – as, in a spiritual sense, Abigail did (displayed by her actions). This you can do regardless of the state of your marriage.

(And men, you can set Him up as your Helper. That is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit, right?)

If you are seeking, do the same… and pay attention to those who enter your life suddenly like the spirit… whom you love without reason and without ultimatums attached… striving-ever, like Jonathan with David, to submit and surrender to God’s will even before your own rights. (Because that’s the real stuff, friend.)

That kind of love… it doesn’t come around every day.

*Note, I did not say without expectations. Even God has those – call it whatever you like! I’m not saying let anything fly; I’m just saying… love freely, when it is given… as the Father has loved you.

“We love because He first loved us.”

1 John 4:19

Without receiving and understanding His love for you, it is darn hard to love rascally and fallen people – even the most saintly of them! And it will always be an inferior love if not forged (shaped) by His Spirit.

Loved,

1000º : The New Earth

Recently, I found myself inspired and refocused by these words:

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:5-13

Maybe it’s all of the talk about hot weather…

Maybe it’s all of the smoke lingering in the crevices of my brain from last year’s wildfires…

Maybe it’s just the thought of a Consuming Fire… contrasted with Moses and the bush that was not consumed…

Maybe it’s the renewed warmth in my soul…

Whatever it is, I found 5am delight in it…

I don’t usually include numbers in a poem; I don’t usually think much about numbers anyway (unless for symbolism in writing). However, I like the way that the syllables fell in this piece and the allusions they might call to mind, so I’m including them…

1000o

(6) You divide me by One —

(6) The Sabbath, thief of night.

(7) A thousand days that are one;

(7) A thousand degrees, unscorched;

(8) A thousand and one dreams, renewed —

(3) Here or there.

Priestly Positions & Bread

“Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them.

“Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left in your house will come and bow down to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and say, ‘Please, put me in one of the priestly positions, that I may eat a piece of bread.'”

I Samuel 2:34-36

What a striking story… one I did not intend to read this morning but found myself digging in (for hidden treasure) anyway. I was not disappointed…

If you are not familiar with the story of Eli, Hophni, & Phinehas, I highly encourage you to go read or re-read it now. I will provide some context but it is always best to have the full picture of a passage when reading any commentary on the Word of God.

Hophni and Phinehas were the sons of the high priest, Eli. They served with their father in the tabernacle, and they were wicked. We are told in the text that they took portions of the sacrifices for themselves that belonged to God; they coerced and manipulated God’s people for their own gain; and they fornicated all over the place with the women who came to the tent of meeting…

Eventually, Eli confronts his sons about their behavior…

His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke…

1 Samuel 2:25c

If you hear His voice today, do not harden your hearts…

It is the kindness of God to chasten (correct, rebuke) His sons before judgment falls…

Indeed… we are dearly loved by such a Father.

Bread

Bread often symbolizes God’s presence, body, or provision in the Bible. In the context of the tabernacle (and, thus, this passage), it makes me think of the ‘bread of presence’ (showbread). You can find a nice summary about showbread here.

Remember the opening passage? Sin removed an entire family from bread, the bread of [God’s] presence. The sin of Hophni and Phinehas put spiritual, if not literal, famine in their own family’s souls.

How many times have we done the same to ourselves?

What a blessed recovery then when Jesus later says, “I am the Bread of Life”! Do we find healing there? In His presence, in His Body, in His provisions for our wounds? I pray that you do, even as I pray the same for myself.

Consider the lovely parallels here:

*Hophni and Phinehas hereforth shortened to H&P…

H&P took the fat and portions of sacrifice that should have belonged to God; Jesus offered the full sacrifice of Himself, sparing not His own flesh.

H&P took advantage of the women who assembled at the door of meeting; Jesus lifted the women in His life to great honor, seeking not His own gratification but the health of their souls.

H&P made themselves fat with the offerings of the people; Jesus humbled Himself, stripped Himself of glory, and became the offering.

H&P would not listen to the voice of their father, Eli (we can argue the doctrinal issue of why later); Jesus submitted Himself to His Father’s will, not exalting Himself but letting His Father exalt Him in His time and in His way.

For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

John 6:33

Live life in remembrance of Him. He is our daily Bread of presence, of substance, of life… at all times, in every season, through everything… if we have heard the Father and accepted our Advocate in Christ.

May you be richly blessed, upheld, supported, loved, and surrounded by the bread of His presence today, beloved.

Seek and you will find…

Lingering in Care

Indifference is a delusion.

That is the first line of Chapter 6 in The Trenches & The Bliss… but I’m calling a ceasefire to the wresting out of this book here. Not because I don’t want to share it with you; indifference is a delusion, remember: I very much do.

Weirdly, in sharing the first five chapters, the entire book, my hopes for it, and these characters have come into clearer focus — in a way that requires I treat them with greater care. Where I held it close prior to sharing due to my own lack of surety, I now find myself wanting to pull it back in close because I realize how powerful and precious it is — could be — I want it to be? Something like that…

This story draft was a great deal of fun to write, though it has been far more fun to re-read lately. Every writer has their own way of doing it. Me, I listen to music when I write; I have to tune out every distraction (children, the list of chores growing in my head, the TV, children [again], my own doubts, “squirrel!”, etc…). So I find a song that captures the mood of the tale or some sentiment therein and wear it out between my ears. Every word written thus far of Trenches & Bliss was written to one singular tune. Would you like to know it? Here’s entrenched moodiness with a touch of speculative bliss:

I keep a small notebook of story ideas and current projects. There are several backlogged and a fresh one waiting to be penned. Having recently finished a short fairytale, I am eager to write the next one; I just need to do it…

So, stopping with Trenches here simply means greater focus there… lingering in care behind the scenes.

Because I am not indifferent to this pen nor the effects of it; I want to steward it well.

My heart is stirred by a noble theme

as I recite my verses for the king;

my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer…

Psalm 45:1

(Whoa. Talk about a fairytale… Read the rest of that chapter! I didn’t know there was a ‘wedding song’ in Psalms. Learn something new every day…!)

I’ll meet you here in devotion and orientation. Don’t be too disappointed. The fictional absence here means something better, fleshed out, and complete later… I love juggling words, dreams and ideas, but when an idea takes on the tender skin of flesh and blood in a completed work… well… there are no words then. Just the backbeat of a song floating from the page.

But what am I doing? Here juggling again… Time to go — pray! And write. =)

Shalom, Beloved One…

Hey, here’s the song I wrote the fairytale inside of (some of you know about or have read). Yep, one song. I’m a one song at a time kind of girl… Enjoy.

Joie de Vivre: John!

Who can understand the pitfalls of the dreamers, the visionaries, and the hearers except the dreamers, the visionaries, and the hearers? I’m convinced no one does (except God)… so convinced that I think it will make a fantastic premise for another book. (Yay! I love starting new things… oh dear. Let’s not talk about that.)

None of this I repeat to puff myself up. Why should I? I already know it, already lived it, and already know that faith is a gift from God (and the one I think He happened to give me)…

The things I am about to share, I share for your benefit, not mine… and I hope they encourage you along the way, dear saints.

Because of a dream I had before I was ever married, I knew my first child would be a girl. And so it was.

Because I knew the Lord had heard the desire of my heart, I knew that my second child would have red hair. And so she did. (Listen, her name could ONLY be a red-head’s name, and I had it picked out by month three of pregnancy…)

Because of a vision dropped into my heart immediately after having my second child, I knew that my third would be a boy. And so he was.

And all along the way, people would say to me, “Oh well, you know it’s a 50/50 chance…”

Of course it is.

Unless the Lord has already spoken; then it’s 100/100…

And therein is the rub of every dreamer, every visionary, every hearer-at-heart: We could, of course, be wrong. But did God say? What did you see? Did you hear Him?

Well, as noted before by me in other life lessons, YOU are responsible for what God tells YOU. No one else is responsible for that — not even other prophets. Don’t believe me? Read 1 Kings 13, the story of the two prophets, and weep…

Been that. Done there. (Putting more stock in other people’s thoughts about my life than what God said to me.) But I digress…

Why Did You Tell Me This?

For some time now, however, I have looked upon dreaming as an anathema. Often, in the midst of living between God told me this and Oh that really was God, I have spent too much time tormented by the question of Why did You tell me this?

Was it to torment me before my time, Lord?
It often feels that way.

Recently, I had a dream that I had a baby boy and named him John. I found this to be highly unusual because I would never pick the name John. It’s far too plain! LOL. Even in the dream, I later asked myself why I didn’t at least pick Jonathan — a far more romantic choice.

Today, however, I was made to understand why… as I read the book of John. The baby boy represented the fruit of what I was reading…

But it is only by faith that I can tell you that.

Do you believe me?

Dreamers like to be believed; we’re a sensitive, slightly insecure part of the Body…

I’ve sat in that chair. He’s thinking: If this is another dream, so help me God… / Inception, 2010

Because of a dream, I knew on the very first night of my honeymoon that I had made a grave error (in my first marriage). So much so knew that I considered annulment… but was too proud to follow through. And then, the dream faded. I suppressed it. Then, I forgot. But the end came all the same, just as I had been shown it.

(Another life lesson: If God says ‘No’, no manner of cover-up — not even a widely-approved marriage — will make it ‘Yes’. Yes, it falls outside of conventional wisdom. Put that in your pipe and smoke it… in this context, it’s good for you.)

Because of a vision, I knew whom my first husband would marry after me. But what sort of torment was that?! — I had this vision 2-3 years before the event would occur. And don’t think I didn’t suffer all manner of levels of feeling insane during that time! Why should I be shown such things? How could I even think them without being guilty of or accused of sin in my own heart?! It was not until it was happening before my waking eyes that I could finally make total peace with that vision, though I did accept it with joy when I first saw it.

But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.

John 16:6

The disciples too were told things they could not understand as joyous in the moment…

No one looks at their flesh on the cross and thinks, “Yay! Thanks, God! Appreciate ya!”

No, I’m often found among the disciples — bewildered and filled with sorrow in what He reveals by the Spirit because I cannot grasp or understand it now.

I am only just now, in my forties, learning to find joy in the even less than less than visible and shocking things He reveals. (And learning to find contentment in what He does not reveal, which can be equally challenging.)

And that brings me back to John.

I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.

John 14:29

Okay. I get that…

These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.

John 16:1

Okay. Having trouble here. It feels like opposite world…

These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

John 15:11

If by ‘joy’ You meant torment, then we’re on the same page, Lord…

I mean, how was that to make the disciples feel joyful? Jesus was foretelling them about His impending death and absence!

(Again, I say, Appreciate ya, God! That was even less than less than joyful, thankyouverymuch.)

Ah, well, it’s easy in hindsight, right?

All of those prior dreams and visions and knowings I shared, I can joyfully share because they are behind me now.

And we now look back upon Jesus’ words in the book of John and accept the comfort of them because we understand the work of the Cross and how, truly, it meant joy! His work on the Cross is our present joy though it was, for a moment, the disciples great sorrow.

Faith Over Fear Mantra

Even though I dislike anything catchy or universal, Faith Over Fear has become a sort of mantra for me. Having lived more of my life in the Fear category, I feel the necessity of it. And I’ve noticed that I only feel tormented by God when I have shunned faith and clung again to old fears. Hmm…

Did God really say?

What if I’m wrong?

How can this be?

Why show me now?

Now what am I supposed to do with that?

Why?

Why?

Why?

And let’s not even get into interpretations, which can splinter as badly as sixteen denominations hashing out the book of Hebrews. (I don’t need another headache, thanks.)

I’m sure we’d all sleep better at night if that bit about the mark of the beast hadn’t been included in the book of Revelation. Actually, why Revelation at all? Wouldn’t we all sleep more soundly without it?

Perhaps a sleeping Bride was not His goal, eh? Oy vey.

… so that you might believe…

… so that you will not stumble…

… so that your joy may be full…

Okay, God… whatever You say.

I mean that now. (I give up. He’s right.)

If these are the reasons He tells us things in advance, as His friends, then we must accept His words as the truth — no matter what it looks like in the moment while we are sitting amongst betrayers, being arrested, and breathing what appears to be our last breath.

Right?

The ‘Kick’

Maybe dreams and visions aren’t what you’ve been given. (We do all agree that these are spiritual gifts, right? Gifts not air pumps.) Maybe it is something else…

But everyone can relate with wrestling over what is or is not God’s working, God’s will, and God’s way for them in life. Everyone knows what it’s like to hold onto something no one else can see or believe or accept. Everyone knows the fright of deception too, whether they can admit it: Did God lead me here? Or was that my own wicked heart, my own spirit?

Every honest person will wrestle with these things. And many will wrestle them in unseen places, without full disclosure. (You need the Holy Spirit to parse any of it out! Because people, self included, rarely disclose everything! But many have been led astray, hurt, or ruined because they were counseled by someone who only observed what was visible. Remember that.)

In the movie, Inception (2010), everyone knowingly engaging in shared dreaming carried a ‘totem’ by which they could know whether they were still dreaming. Some dreams feel as real as life; one can get lost there, outside of time.

Our ‘totem’, if you will, is the Word of God.

If the dream becomes more important than what is certain in His words, then that soul is at risk of being lost in a world of their own making, their own desires, their own strength of will. In the movie, that meant never waking up. In real life, that may well mean the same…

Something about sleeping brides… or was it virgins?

(I know it was virgins. Come on, man. Give me some poetic license… lol)

In the movie, a ‘kick’ was necessary to wake the dreamers up. That is probably my favorite aspect of the tale because everyone can relate to the feeling of falling in a dream (the kick that wakes you).

Yeah. It’s no different in spiritual dream land. Fall down that rabbit hole and you’re sure to get a kick from the Word of God…

Just don’t miss it.

You can miss a kick.

You can stay asleep.

Or not.

Did you hear the sound of His voice calling in the garden?

Or did you choose to ignore it? To stay asleep?

Peter’s kick was denying Jesus…

The other disciples’ kick was in scattering…

Jesus made provision for them on the Cross before addressing their failures. Isn’t that lovely?! They abandoned Jesus at the height of His love for them. Then, He came back and restored them all to Himself…

Truly, friends, we live the greatest story ever told every day…

By faith in the Son of God.

By faith in the dream Giver… not faith in our dreams. One truly does bring joy; the other can bring unending torment. It’s wise to know the difference and act accordingly by God’s grace — that is, His power beyond your own weaknesses!

The disciples idea (dream) of Jesus overthrowing Rome and ruling as King RIGHT THEN AND THERE in the moment had overgrown their ability to hear His words and His meaning prior to death and departure…

The funny thing is that they weren’t wrong exactly; but they were out-of-sync with God’s timing. When God returns, He will overthrow the kingdoms of this world and that will be a happy day…

But, in the meantime, the disciples had to experience and walk out what was God’s best and God’s blessing for them at the intersection of But God Said and No Not Yet. It’s not a fun intersection; I’ve been there before. One often gets run over and side-swiped while standing in such places.

Is it worth the beating?

Oh, I don’t know… Are we happy about the Cross of Christ and the fact that the Apostles brought Faith to the whole world? …

Yeah. Yeah, I think we can live with that, right? =) “His ways are not our ways.”

Set the dreams and doubts down at His feet. And keep listening and obeying while it is called ‘Today’…

We may be responsible for what God has said, but we are not the Gardener nor the Giver. Only He can build the house. Trust that.

Shalom.

Higher Order

“It is as difficult to begin a civilization without robbery as it is to maintain it without slaves.”

— Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: The Life of Greece

TRENCHES & BLISS, 2016

CHAPTER 5

I almost sat on top of the blonde who had covered herself with a cream blanket on my sofa. I had forgotten she stayed the night or maybe I didn’t expect her to still be there — either way. Had it not been for her little painted fingertips poking out and brushing against my pant leg, I probably would have sat down on her face. The thought amused me. 

She stirred as I was lacing the stiff, brown leather at my feet. 

“Don’t you have a home?” I started. 

She sat up, disheveled. “Charming.” 

“Only when stray cats sleep on my sofa.” 

Her eyes stalled like a hurricane with a headache over my dead body; she smiled, unmoved. 

“Coffee?” I asked, already up, and turned my back to her cold winds. 

“Please.” 

“You’ve got gumption, girl; I’ll give you that. How the hell did you find me?”

The apartment was small and modest, however sterile; in contrast, she was like a delicate, silken buttercup one might marvel long enough to pick but could never keep without ruining… or being ruined. I watched her fold the blanket after starting the coffee. 

“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “You saw me; they took me same as you, but then I woke up here.” 

“Here?” 

She turned to lay eyes on me again. “Oh, at my apartment here. That house just outside of town where we met, that’s my aunt’s place.” 

“Ah. You say you ‘woke up’ at your apartment?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t remember anything before that?”

“Not really. No.”

Hmph. “Figures,” I smirked.

“What?” 

Could she be that naive?

I peered into her hurricanes for a moment longer. 

Yes. Yes, she could be…

“We’re probably in the Dream State,” I answered, eager to see her reaction.

“What’s that?” 

My outburst of laughter disturbed the sterile air like a live wire hitting water. The blonde looked like she got splashed.

“What is funny?” Her high cheek bones reddened.

“It’s nothing. Forget I said it.”

I poured the coffee into two black mugs and handed the girl one. We occupied opposite ends of the indifferent, grey sofa.

“Who were those guys anyway?” she asked, following a gingerly sip. 

I tried not to choke on mine. I should have been angry but it was just too perfect; she knew how to phish.

Rap-Rap-Rap.

She jumped. “Who’s that?”

“Why would I know?” 

I clutched the small knife in my jacket pocket. The leather from my shoes creaked across the marbly floor making the short distance to the door seem far longer. I cracked the door. 

“Rich?” 

A young man, around my age but shorter, and of a sanguine nature, stood grinning like a fool, tennis racket under one arm and ball in his other hand. 

No one called me ‘Rich’. 

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Can I come in?”

“That depends. Who are you?”

“Oh, just a friend of a friend,” he said, trying to peek inside. “Is it a bad time?”

I snorted. What was it with the stupid questions today? This must be the Dream State, I thought: It was the only state in which I appeared smarter than most everyone.  

“It’s a bad time to make friends,” I replied. 

His face sobered. “Yeah. You’re right. I just thought we might play tennis.” 

I laughed. “Another era, pal.” 

I tried to close the door but he wedged in a toe.

“Hey, my name’s Bishop,” he said, hastily. “I think we should talk.” 

If he’d kept the ridiculous grin I would have kicked him out on his ear, but he hadn’t, and he gave me a look now that made me think he might know something about things. 

I nodded and let him in. 

“Whose side are you on, Bishop?” I was blunt while rubbing the blunt end of the knife still in my pocket.

He straightened his shoulders a little. The effect was good; it made him at least half an inch taller.

“I’m on the side of truth,” he said nobly with a little shine on his forehead.

The blonde laughed little tintinnabulations. “Whose truth?” she bolded. 

I raised my eyebrows to underscore the same question still looking at the strange man.

“Oh, there’s only one, Rich; everything else is a mere mortal’s perspective,” he said with an intriguing calmness. “You used to know that.”

I let go of the knife and sat down in the lavender armchair across from the sofa. I had his angle now. “I see. You’re of the Higher Order then.”

“That’s right.”

“You’re awfully brazen for an outlaw,” the woman said showing off her incredulous tongue. “I could have you submitted as a science experiment to the T.E.E.M.,” she further flaunted. 

“Careful, dear,” I smirked. “You’ll tip your cards.” 

Hurricanes stalled over me. 

She was fantastic. They knew me well; she kept her composure remarkably well.

“Better a science experiment than a naked soul prancing about as if the Emperor’s clothes were made of real stuff,” Bishop quipped. 

“They appear to be one-in-the-same now.”

A micro-aggression passed across his lips like cloud-to-cloud lightening, faintly.

I smiled and turned to the blonde. “I don’t think he’s scared, blondie; this could get ugly.”

“You shouldn’t entertain him,” she snapped. 

“You invited yourself, buttercup,” I replied.

Her chin tilted. She left rather quietly for a hurricane, but I knew she’d be back. 

The Bishop’s eyes lightened as he took her seat.

I could only be so popular in the Dream State. Who was I? Nobody. But I was enjoying the process immensely so far. The clothes, the setting, and even the people were infinitely posher here. 

“So,” my right leg crossed my left knee, “what does the Higher Order want with me now?”

“Rich, this is serious,” his face crinkled. “God wants you back in his army. He wants you back, Rich.

My eyes focused on the patterns of the floor. Where was my coffee anyway? Coffee table. I leaned forward to grab it and took a swallow of what was now lukewarm. 

Funny. I couldn’t recall ever being in ‘God’s army’, only Bliss’… 

“I guess I haven’t suffered enough then, eh? Is that what he thinks?” I replied, irritated.

“You know it’s not like that,” his voice softened. “Think of Job… John the Baptist… Peter… We all suffer, Rich; we are all tested.” 

“Cain? Esau? Pharaoh? Judas Iscariot? I doubt we’ve read the same Bible,” I snorted. “We’re all tested all right — unless of course we’re just doomed from the start. Maybe I have a bad heart, Bishop.” 

“Maybe,” he said. “Do you?”

“What?”

“Do you have a bad heart?”

I emptied the coffee from my mug into his face. “I believed!” I spat. 

He didn’t flinch and I almost felt sorry I’d done it. 

“No good ever came of it,” I said to break up the convicting silence of his stare. “From devastation to devastation — that was Paul’s true experience penned by his own hand.”   

“That’s not true, Rich, and you know it,” he said pointing at me. 

He was half smiling again and I was ready to knock it off of his face again. 

“You loved God, Rich. You did,” he shrugged, standing. “I’m just here to remind you.” 

“Well, you can get out. Higher Orders don’t mean anything to Totalitaria.”

“I’m already on my way out,” he laughed, opening the door. “But you know I’m right and you know you’re not afraid of Totalitaria — as you call it. Besides, you know all of that’s meaningless except to serve —” he pointed his finger upwards to suggest the Higher Power. “There’s no neutral in a world war, Rich; and there’s always three sides.” 

I considered throwing the whole mug at him as he lingered in the doorway. 

“I’ll be seeing you,” he closed and left.

He was going to be a bigger pest than the blonde; I was sure of it. But I couldn’t imagine that they’d sent him. It didn’t make any sense. 

I was making sense of it all until Bishop...

When I exited the cerebral, paralytic, floor-stare and came to my external senses again, I was tapping my fingertips on the side table, still sitting crossed in the chair. If I was to survive ‘training’, I had to decipher their intentions here in my head. Bishop might as well have been the Higher Power’s handwriting in a foreign language on my palace wall. 

“Damn him,” came out quite naturally, but even as I said it, I knew I was the one damned. 

***

It’s funny the things that intersect in life. I was just reading about the writing on the palace walls in Daniel a few nights ago, but I promise that these words were penned years ago — the timeless inspiration pressing in and out of realities at every turn.

This chapter is probably one of my personal favorites… I enjoy it because more of Rich’s dilemma-at-heart is exposed by Bishop; because Bish is based upon someone I once knew and enjoy writing; and because the situation with the blonde and the world come a little more into focus.

To me, Rich’s struggle with belief in a good God is universally felt. (Notice, it is not belief in God that he doubts…) So far as I know, every Christian, at some point, will walk that road… for better or worse. And I’ve seen men take both paths — one choosing unbelief and the other to trust — at the crux of it. Having lingered long upon the question myself in the past, I find it as easy as it is painful to write.

As for the hardboiled and sarcastic types, I might as well confess that Philip Marlowe is probably my favorite fictional character. (My favorite stories, however, would be Jekyll and Hyde by Stevenson, and The Tell-Tale Heart by Poe.) Marlowe, if you don’t know (or have never seen a Humphrey Bogart movie), is a hardboiled detective, often chased by insane dames and damsels in distress, who largely ignores the ones falling all over him to chase the slightly dangerous and also off-putting ladies while crime-solving. Raymond Chandler, the author of the Marlowe character, definitely had a way with words (why I enjoy him), though his evident plot-holes sometimes garner criticism.

Influences certainly matter. There’s one of my lesser-known influencers, picked up during college years.

The mention of the Dream State in this chapter made me think back to that movie Inception (2010). I actually had not considered the likenesses of my Dream State to the dream-sharing of Inception, but… yeah. Not unlike in concept. Just a different premise. I might have to rewatch the movie now…

Take care, friends. Until next time.

A Sad Divorce.

“There has been a sad divorce in the Church today — a divorce between the Word and the Spirit. The emphasis of those who focus mainly on the Word is on sound teaching, expository preaching ministry, recovery of the doctrines of the Reformation, the God of Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon and so on. What is wrong with that emphasis? Absolutely nothing. It is exactly right.

“Those who focus mainly on the Spirit emphasize the gifts of the Spirit: signs, wonders and miracles — as seen in the book of Acts. Until there is a recovery of what was seen in the book of Acts, the world is going to take no notice of the Church. So what is wrong with that emphasis? Absolutely nothing. It is exactly right.

“It is not that we need either one or the other but both. We need to emphasize both so utterly and completely that it is impossible to say which is emphasized more.”

— R.T. Kendall, The Parables of Jesus, pg 46

I have long agreed with these sentiments, though this is one of very few authors I’ve ever heard put it in black and white. This is a large part of why I don’t pay much attention to which camp an author, a speaker, a songwriter, etc., is in: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”, as my dad used to say. “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then,” someone else I knew used to say…

If there is even a measure of truth in it, I take it as a cold glass of water with thanks and keep moving.

I haven’t met anyone yet whom I agree with 100%, 100% of the time.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

When Reality Bites: Wood & Iron

You’re standing at the bank of a river. Your eyes are watching your heart being swept five miles downstream out-of-reach —

So fast —

Your own breath catches you by the throat and threatens to kill itself —

There’s no undoing it now. You already lost it.

The icy clutches of reality set in: It puts its hands on your shoulders and slices in deep. And who are you to argue when the biting reality is that your feet are presently adhered to the ground beneath your feet — far, far away from your heart?

Your eyes can still see it from here. Your heart — there it is — bobbing, diving, ducking, crashing, so far ahead of time, while your chest still reverberates like an empty drum. You walk and talk and have every appearance of being whole… but on the inside, dry bones begin to rattle like sabers for their lifeblood, for their former will to endure.

But who can retrieve such a thing as a runaway heart on borrowed time?

“Where did you lose it?” HE asks.

“Here…” I reply. “And now it is there — so far gone!”

You look again downstream, but the color black now replaces what was once red. Your once supple heart is now solidifying into iron… Every strength and honor and fortitude once so passionate and new IN HIS IMAGE is falling downstream, is drowning…

HE smiles at you, but you can’t imagine why: Everything feels like disaster waiting.

HE fashions two pieces of wood into a cross and tosses it into the river where you first lost your heart.

“Watch,” HE says.

You watch but it’s hard to believe…

Iron, classically known as the Metal of Mars, has been universally perceived as the symbol of human strength, obstinacy, fortitude, honor, courage, sharpness (of body and mind), tenacity, and confidence in power.

Cabantchik ZI. In Search for Symbolic Qualities of Iron: The Metal of Life. Front Pharmacol. 2016 Aug 3;7:220. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2016.00220. PMID: 27536239; PMCID: PMC4971804.

You couldn’t do it. It was not within your power to do…

But the wood… tossed into the river… retrieved the ax head (2 Kings 6).

The Cross of Christ… calling you back… has retrieved your heart.

The two pieces of wood fashioned… thrown into the river by faith… accomplishes/renews what your human strength and power cannot.

One thing I have learned in life: Whether I am wrong or right about what I believe God is doing, will do, has done, or about who I am, will be, or presently appear to be — in all cases, if I submit my trust to Him, He is always working things out for my good and His glory.

I repeat this verse to myself a lot lately:

The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.

Psalm 138:8

There may come a day for the strength of hearts to fail and be lost… but today is not that day.

Shalom, friends.

A New World: Kith ‘n’ Kin

Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Matthew 24:28, The Holy Bible

THE TRENCHES & THE BLISS, 2016

CHAPTER 4

I was thinking that my story would sound more convincing if I’d lost my father, nephew, and fiancee to this social-psychosomatic war, but that would simply be untrue. No, I had lost them to misfortune and accident or, perhaps, to Fate; there was no one directly to blame and that, I believe, was the insult that led me to mistrust every authoritarian figure, starting with God and ending with those egoistic, possessive demons men called humanists…

Everything with everyone seemed to boil down to reputation and, more specifically, appearances; well, so long as those vanities stayed in proper tow behind feelings. Men who prefer feelings always tell others that things will be okay, work out, be better some day. Social soothsayers, vague palm readers, and credentialed charlatans were these opportunistic optimists! They say nice things because they don’t want to be ostracized for saying honest things. They say nice things because it feels better, even when they know it is untrue. They say nice things because they are ignorant and too egoistic to know what to say — thinking, rather, What if this bad thing should happen to me? What then? How terrible! 

I wasn’t afraid of authoritarians with guns, but I watchfully loathed those authoritarians with nice tongues; and of those men, Pentrick Toom was one of the nicest. And how nice he was to greet all of his trainees, and re-trainees, today. But I didn’t know these things when I joined Toom’s Electronically Enhanced Militia (TEEM) five years ago. Back then, I was just an insecure ignoramus — as are all twenty-one year olds — enhanced or not. 

“Sons of the Divine!” Pentrick Toom gesticulated an opening welcome towards all underwear-clad trainees in the unfurnished and spacious conference room, “New and wayward sons! We spare no energy or hardship in setting things right with our enemies! — And enemies, we do have! — But they don’t know we have you! — That is all the difference, team — all the difference in the very atmosphere!” 

Applause erupted, of course, because it had to. But not from me. It turned out that the QPUB grey pants Burly had thrown at me were just an initiation lark; I was still sore about it.  

“As many of you know, Toom-Core-Albright has enjoyed a monumental year thus far,” he paused looking for something. “Hey, it’s only August, kith ’n kin!” 

He began clapping for himself and nodding his stylized, black, slicked head. Most everyone followed along in a hollow clap. Not me. 

“I think that deserves a clap!” he added, still clapping and grinning like a soothsaying sale-ebrity. His tailored suit had a remarkable sheen that glistened like cold steel when the light struck it and darkened from grey to black starting at the bottom third of the jacket. His tie was an embroidered snapshot of the TCA flag, the world’s most powerful logo of yellow, red, blue, and green. 

When he finally stopped clapping for himself, he gripped both sides of the black, plastic podium. “There’s much left to do,” he began again, deepening his tone. “We’re still fighting the senseless war on terror that has contaminated our own soil — remnants of hate seeding and sprouting up beneath every label, color, and creed. 

“Tonight mothers will go to bed wondering if their sons have been radicalized against their brave, New World; partners and spouses will question one another and friends and neighbors will be separated by suspicion. This is not the world we want to live in, kith’n; fear is not the legacy we want to leave our children.”

The room erupted in cheers and whistles, as if Pentrick wasn’t part responsible for all that was dire and dreadful. I felt nauseous. 

Sheeple

I wiped my hands down my slick, black, tux pants — 

“Damnation,” I whispered. 

“What?”

I leaned over to show the blonde my broken nail. 

She pulled a file out of her small, gold clutch and handed it to me. 

I smiled. She was lovely. It was too bad the world was going to hell just as soon as Pentrick could find his brim-stick. What time was there for love in a world like this? 

Bastard.

I took the file and tried to work discreetly as Pentrick continued to rob the acoustical Royal Theater of any tenderness with his grinding cigarette voice. 

“Our children,” he lingered on the phrase. “As you know, The Joint Jury for Universal Social Tenets, recently removed the age of consent for children in sexual partnerships with adults, paving new roads for the decriminalization of men and women who long endured discrimination in the shadows of society due to their sexual preferences. Wow.” 

The applause signs flashed on and off at both sides of the theater. 

“Right?” He grinned. “These truly are our children — Your children. My children! Wow.” 

The blonde looked at me.

I looked away. What was Pentrick waiting for? He was supposed to be introducing our New World Leader. 

“Ah, but you aren’t here to listen to me babble on tonight! So, here she is, kith and kin — our New World Leader, Gaia Sopatra!”

A woman. I wasn’t surprised. Hadn’t we been groomed for years to fawn over female deity in leadership? Indeed

No need to walk upon the stage. The new leader appeared out of thin air, it seemed, behind the glass podium, looking as delicious as a nude painting and as commanding as any girl with an outlandish, if not mannish, hair-style. She wore a bright red, leather, strapless top under a cropped power-jacket and matching pencil skirt, slit from calf to thigh on the right side. The most fragile of red heels accentuated her power with a firm, triangular point at the front; the ability to wear fragility in calculated steps was, after all, like commanding the wings of a six-hundred foot butterfly. Her thick, black hair was twisted in one heap, from front to back, where it gathered in a single dreadlocked mass down her back; the sides of her head were shaved. Her eyes were as heavily lined as her lips were lightly touched. 

“Do you hear me?” 

I looked at the blonde beside me who was looking elsewhere. 

“I know you hear me.”

A small but mean laugh echoed around my head, and then I realized everyone else was looking around the room too. 

The woman!

She had not opened her mouth but she was in all of our heads.

“Ah, good. There, there; you’ve guessed it. I am Gaia.” 

The weight of her honey-oozed words stilled all movement across the theater. All eyes, rapt, were upon her. 

“Good evening,” she said, out loud, with a slight lift at the right corner of her lips. “Now, I know some of you require an apology for my delayed revealing, my covert leadership: I do apologize. As with all fruitful transitions, timing is essential. 

“We received the last concession from Canada yesterday; this fulfilled the one-hundred and fifty signatures necessary to create this role. Those who did not sign will be dealt with or excluded from the benefits of our New World, at the discretion of the Joint Jury for Universal Social Tenets. In all of these matters, we pursue the highest orders of peace, equality, and social justice. 

“As the new head — or tiebreaker, if you will — of JUST, I will offer supreme oversight on behalf of all nations and peoples regarding the dealings of TORC Universal and iMAGE Tech and Media, as well as help to organize key changes, clarifications, or enhancements to our universal social tenets. 

“Some of you watching tonight may have been fighting starvation, facing civil wars, or left in the uninformed backwaters of a different age; you are about to encounter renewed lives in the New World, and I applaud those countries brave enough to risk the unknown in this worldly venture and dream of a stable, synergetic community of souls on planet Earth. Thank you for your partnership and agreement. 

“Toom’s Militia will be setting up bases in those countries where they did not previously exist. Those who were unprotected, within and without, are about to receive the TEEM’s strong right arm of help. We also acknowledge the TEEMs of our other world quadrants, Regal, Ooni, and Cruz, who will also participate in this building up of our order.

“Core’s water and food supply chain is now opened to all cooperating nations — Core, of course, known by the names Synsys, Wambat, and Bensen in our other quadrants. Thanks to their innovations in GMO, hydroponics, and cultured meats, there is no need to scrap over a piece of dirt; all the food you need can be grown from Core’s own facilities. 

“Do you need a cure for cancer or those wintertime blues? Albright — also known as Izarry, Lamina, and Earp — is your on-call, virtual drug store. 

“And if you don’t know about iMAGE, well,” she guffawed, “you must be one of the lost Sapanawa!” 

Her eyes twinkled. The soulless room applauded. 

“In short,” she began, waiting for the clapping to die, “today, we embark upon a new adventure, a new creation, a new race of being — the long-awaited New World Order.” 

As the standing ovation rang out, I stood and quickly exited the back of the theater. Thankfully, something like that couldn’t get you killed — yet. I could hear the light tapping of the blonde’s heels catching up on the sidewalk behind me, but I didn’t linger; she was in fine shape.

“Hey!” she half-shouted. “Wait up!”

But she had already caught up before I could answer.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Does it matter?” 

“I guess not…” 

We walked on. I wanted to get as far away as I could from that demon in red heels — that stench of fermenting Totalitaria — that googlyslop of all things catchy and universal —  

I shuddered.

“Are you okay?” She huffed a little. 

I stopped.

“No, I’m not okay. Do you even know how we got here?”  

She looked confused. “But won’t you tell me where you’re going?”

I sighed. Dames. “I have a room there.” 

Her eyes followed my finger to the adjacent apartment complex a block up. It was called by its sign: =

She followed me home like a stray kitten. It remained to be seen whether she was feral, but I let her in all the same. 

What the hell did I have to lose? What the hell did any of us have to lose? Everything belonged to Pentrick Toom, Gaia Sopatra, and Sir Maggie Popesy now — the leading Trinitarian Order.  

***

This is the part of the story where I start smiling like a giddy author…

Sir Maggie Popesy? –– I mean can you even? I laugh out loud just typing zer name….

JUST (Joint Jury for Universal Social Tenets)?… I die just a little upon that misnomer too.

Half the fun in life for me is naming things. Whether it’s a book, a new person (!), a suspicious character, a pet, or a fictional place, if I’ve given it a name, I’ve given it a great deal of thought… usually. There are rare exceptions to this where whimsy rules or I just make stuff up, but they’re rare. (Hint to understanding your author: Look up what the main character names mean in a story… Just like in the Bible, this matters.)

But where are we?! Do you even know what the heck happened in this chapter?!!

=)

Until next time…