January 30, 2011

Slice of PIE: god of the Super Bowl!

If I were to say, “Spectator sports is the real American god and the Super Bowl is its grandest temple and most resplendent worship service”, Christians usually grin with sheepish embarrassment. But they also adjust their Super Bowl Sunday worship services to make sure they’re in time to catch the pre-game show.

Pastors, priests, preachers and parishioners alike, usually dressed in robes and staid suits with ties wear team jerseys and affect strange headgear celebrating their favorite team.

Of course, this is all done in good fun! It’s only one Sunday out of the year! Surely Jehovah Jireh has a Super Bowl favorite, eh? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink…

I stumbled into Romans 1:21-23 this week: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”

Football wasn’t the first thing that came to mind, but the old speculative fiction magazine, SPECULATIONS representing the entire field. As a called missionary to specfic readers and writers (as well as children/YA-Teen fiction readers and writers), the implication was obvious: most specfic readers and writers know about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. For me the problem is that they don’t “...honor Him as God…” The most honest among them might admit to an historical Jesus who was a good man with a decent life mission. The most rabid might believe that all of Christianity and its Scriptures were a fabrication of shrewd men bent on keeping people under their nefarious control.


As Paul wrote his letter to a Roman church he hadn’t even visited yet, he knew what they faced. The world hated Christians at that point. Very few outsiders “didn’t care one way or the other” figuring Christians were harmless. The Jews actively sought them out to kill them and the Romans made a Coliseum sport of Christian slaughter.

How do the Super Bowl, SPECULATIONS, reading and writing collide?

Clearly the Super Bowl has become “an exchange…[of] the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man” (can anyone in Minnesota say, “Brett Favre mania?” and remember the joy and Super Bowl speculation his Vikings stint sparked? Nah. We just hate him now…)

Speculative fiction takes the rest of the verse: “…exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image…of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” in the form of Klingons and balrogs.

So while we maintain our innocence in the Church and celebrate ignoring God outside of the Church, we come under the condemnation Paul levels at us. We have become: “…futile in [our] speculations, and [our] foolish heart [is] darkened. Professing to be wise, they [have become] fools…” At the end of the chapter, Paul was pretty specific about what will happen to us: “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (verse 23). (PS – to those who will quote Romans 2:1 at me I answer, “Yup.”)

The cure is just as clear: “Therefore…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God…Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:1-8)

Truth. But then we love to skip right to Romans 5:22-23, accept our gift of grace and go on acting as if there is no obligation on our part. I mean, it IS a gift, right? True and there are some things between the condemnation and absolution that are our responsibility. As Christians in specfic and the Church, Paul is pretty clear about what that responsibility entails: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death…we should no longer be slaves to sin…Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires…Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness….You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

After the figurative slap in the face from Paul, I’m ready to go. While Super Bowl missions aren’t my area of interest, some of you may be called to sacrifice there. Specfic is my mission field and I need to take that whole death, offering and slave thing to heart and let it drive me from now on. Christmas is over. Now it’s time for me to do something. You?

image: http://www.360signs.com/Portals/81019/images/Coliseum%20Awning-resized-600.jpg

January 28, 2011


This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So I added some imaginary elements and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom.

“You’re just gonna make Freddie do the barn all by himself?”

Charlie laughed, “What, you wanna help him, gimp?”

Tommy Hastings scowled. Charlie went into the house and came out a few minutes later with a rifle grasped in one hand. He gave it to Tommy, saying, “Know how to use one of these?”

Tommy held up his hands, saying, “No! Why would I?”

Charlie’s narrowed his eyes said, “What are you, a girl?” Tommy lunged forward, making a grab for the rifle. Charlie yanked it out of his way, laughing. “Why’d I give you a gun if’n you don’t know how to use it?”

“I know how to use a gun!”

“It’s a rifle. And you said you didn’t…”

Tommy reached for the rifle again, saying, “Just give it to me. I know how to shoot rats.” Charlie didn’t move this time and Tommy yanked the rifle from his hand. Charlie’s laughter followed Tommy as he stalked deeper into the barn.

The rafters arched high overhead. As he stepped in, there was a rush of movement, as some things seemed to ripple out from him. He froze. A soft voice behind him said, “Ready to shoot ‘em up, little man?”

“I can shoot rats.”

Charlie waved at him as he turned, “Then have at it, little man. Here’s some more ammo – if you can use the ones I gave you!” He tossed a handful of shells to the floor then turned to leave. He was gone.

Tommy turned slowly, looking at the stacks of bales of hay that reached the rafters of the barn. It smelled sweet and grassy, almost as good as fresh-mowed lawn in Loring Park after the grounds keepers had swept through in the early morning. He cocked the rifle, rested the butt on his shoulder, pointing the muzzle high in the air at the roof and called out. He didn’t see any rats. He shouted, “"Come out and take it, you dirty, yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!" The line was from his favorite movie, “Taxi!” just before James Cagney kills a thug.

It really wasn’t that hard and after his first two, Tommy went hunting and surprised a half-dozen more before he stopped, sweating pouring from his face, to look down the ledge of hay bales. He’d nearly reached the rafters and was panting. He laid down the rifle then laid down himself, head hanging over the distant floor.

He saw a few more rats slink out a moment later, taking the rifle and popping off two more, though he missed three – shooting from his belly was harder than he’d expected. He waited for the next rat and his thoughts wandered, then froze when they came to the mobsters and his uncle, the socialist. He wondered why Charlie’s dad hated them so much? Why did he think of mobsters and socialists together? What if they were the same thing?

He rolled on to his back, stared at the ceiling for a while then got up, satisfied. He’d go have a talk with Charlie – about rats, mobsters and socialists.

image: http://www.leninimports.com/andy_warhol_james_cagney_1964.jpg

January 23, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Story Telling and Witnessing To Christ in Monticello

I’ve been reading on-line essays and thinking about story telling lately. Some of what I’ve read comes from the greats, like Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe. Other things come from the not-so-great-yet, like Henry and Aaron. I’ve even been digging around in the Bible, looking at the parables of Jesus strictly from the viewpoint of story.

I’ve noticed that in all the writing books I have on my shelves downstairs, not one of them has a chapter on “story telling”. In fact, if you GOOGLE story telling, you mostly get hits on the art of verbal storytelling. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not what I’m looking for.

As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve noticed that I go through phases, using a method that I’ve either derived from a writer's work or another writer presented as a "way to do it". Never once have the five methodologies produced inescapable results. Never once have the stories constructed using that methodology suddenly all sold...

Score: Wasted Time 17, Methodology 1

This leads me to the conclusion that excellent story telling must be like waiting for a church to find you. (“‘Squirrel!’ Dug, the Dog.”)


My son and daughter-in-law moved to Monticello, Minnesota (population in 2008 – 11,780; number of churches = 14; 1 church for every 870 people) in early June. Shortly thereafter, they recommitted their lives to following Jesus Christ. At an “all city church service", they met a young pastor who seemed enthusiastic about them. They liked him and were interested in getting to know him.

Despite calling the church four times and leaving messages and emailing the church once in order to try and plan their wedding, we never heard from them again.

No one in town has approached them in any way about their faith walk or about the love of Jesus Christ – which is, after all, what the Church is supposed to be all about. BUT they have been TWICE preyed upon by people who live there; once in response to their ad for a renter and the next time by a couple who wanted to add them to their stable of pyramid scheme losers.

Score: Satan 2, People of Christ 0.

The connection (finally): You have no idea when either will do the job it was intended to do.

My current methodology is to explore story telling. I have tried to apply the sense of what a person would have felt listening to Jesus speak on a mountainside or in the marketplace as he told his parables to a novel I’m revising now. Certainly that methodology worked, as we continue to read and study his stories today!

As for my son and daughter-in-law to be captured by the people of Jesus in Monticello? I don’t know what to do any more but pray. Their lives in Christ are so young a fragile and I’ve done what I can…*sigh*. (Please don’t give me the excuse that they need to “go and find a place” – aside from the fact that they are inherently shy and currently gun shy when it comes to the people of that town, I posit that Jesus never sat in a church waiting for people to “come and find Him”. He went, called out, invited, spoke out, visited, walked, moved and recruited…well?)

image: http://www.startingwithgod.com/images/J-leaders.jpg

January 16, 2011

WRITING ADVICE: Mike Duran #3 – “How Do You Know You’re Called To Write?”

I have never seen Mike Duran. We “met” online a couple years ago because of a little…altercation I caused by saying something less-than-nice about Christian speculative fiction on his blog. Mike, being both a spec-fic writer and editor, won me closer to his side with gentle and wise words. Since then I’ve found that Mike has lots of gentle and wise words. I’m looking at how some of them have had an impact on my own writing in these WRITING ADVICE posts. (Quotes are used with his permission.) He also participates in “ONE OF WRITER'S DIGEST 101 MOST VALUABLE WEBSITES FOR WRITERS, 2008 & 2010”, NOVEL JOURNEY at http://noveljourney.blogspot.com/.

Mike asked: “So how do you know you’re ‘called’ to write? And what other factors do you think help someone determine whether or not they are really ‘called’ to write?”

Simple answer for me is that you don’t and while I can say unequivocally that I am not called to write, I can’t speak for others except to say that I suspect they aren’t either. Using a Bible search engine (set on KJV), I came up with exactly FOUR references using “called to” in the way we’re talking about here. Two of the four Paul applied to himself as an apostle (Romans 1:1, I Cor 1:1) and two stating in the same passage in the following verses that WE are called to be saints. Apparently no one in Scripture was called to be a writer either.

Everything I’ve read says to me that people write what they “wanna” write.

Bill Myers (author/inventor of the MCGEE AND ME series of videos and novels, and the ELI series) states emphatically that he didn’t even want to be a writer: “Ironically, at the University his worst subject was writing. He claims to have prayed, and said that he would be able to do anything for God, except write. Even so, he has become a prominent Christian writer, and has a large amount of successful books and films to his credit.” Not because of a “call”, but because things just kept happening and so he wrote. CS Lewis never once writes about his “call”. Madeleine L’Engle never writes about her “call”. Yet both have written profound stories that have shaped the way people think.

In my own life, I’d have given ANYTHING to get a clarion call so that I could justify all the postage, the computer and the time spent writing. Even if I were to tell you that I have a “calling”, virtually nothing has come of that “call”. People are not flocking to Christ because of my writing. I’ve even had conservative, evangelical friends question me because of objectionable word choices.

In the original essay by Mike Duran (read it here: http://mikeduran.com/?p=8909), he says, “My own journey toward becoming a writer is inglorious. I started late and have stumbled along. Even after signing with an agent and contracting to be published, I still wrestle with my ‘call to write.’ Is this equivocation consistent with all authors? I don’t know. I do know it comes back to this: Every calling is great, when greatly pursued. If God’s given you the talent to write, the drive to develop that talent, and the confirmation from peers and professionals that you have it, then there’s a good chance you are ‘called’ to write.

Lastly, in an article I’ve used countless times when I teach writing to students between the ages of nine and forty-nine, dual genre (and not any sort of outspoken Christian or religious) writer, Laura Resnick has this to say in her article “The Luck Myth” in the Fall 2001 issue of The Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America: “I’m still here because I persist. Talent certainly helps me sell my work, and I’ve occasionally had a stroke of luck. But if I didn’t constantly write and submit, look for…create new opportunities…prepare and plan, then I’d probably never have broken into the business, and I certainly wouldn’t have survived in it, let alone achieved any level of success.”

Certainly those who do not have a faith tradition don’t worry about this question publish regularly and even become bestsellers. While this is not conclusive evidence, I think I can say with confidence, “You don’t need a call to be a successful writer.” So if “they” can make it without a mystical call, then I tend to lean toward the mootness of the necessity – or even the existence of – a “call” to those of who do follow Christ. There are no factors to determine if you’ve been “called” to be a writer, so there are clearly no “other factors”, either.

The call to be saints however, is unequivocal, powerful and has taken on the appearance of a command. If I can be a writing saint, fine. But a “call” to write? Seems to me that it is unnecessary and doesn’t really exist.

image: http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/hprofile-ak-snc4/hs175.ash2/41800_2217654522_2972802_n.jpg

January 14, 2011


I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.

Job Doe, Edison Saroyan, Trevon Frazier-Jackson, Jude Hildebrandt and Luc Castillo-Vargas – the rest of the Math Team – rushed across the cafeteria and mobbed CJ Hastings, pounding his back, punching him in the shoulder and shaking his hand. Even Sentury Millner nodded in his general direction. That was almost better than the back slaps and shoulder punches and “Congratulations, finally!”

Mr. Bates strode across the open area following his team. His eyes practically glowed as he said, “I didn’t believe the advertising on the package and the ‘testimonials’ on the website, but it worked! It’s amazing!” He leaned back, held his hands up into the air and cried, “It’s a MUR-UH-KUL!”

Several of the other coaches stopped to stare at him.

The kids stepped back from him, giving him a very, very wide berth as well as wide eyes.

Even the PI-that-everyone-thought-was-a-secret-agent moved closer to CJ. Mr. Bates shoed everyone away, hurrying them to the auditorium for the fun part of the meet. He said, “Hang on, CJ.”

CJ blinked and said, “Am I in trouble?”

Mr. Bates laughed, “Hardly. You came in fifth out of a hundred and six. Last year you were ninety-eight out of a hundred and two. I’d say that was a miraculous improvement, wouldn’t you?”

“Uh, sure, Mr. Bates. Shouldn’t I go and sit with the rest of the team?”

He laughed, “I’m sure they’re saving a seat for you. Hurry on!”

CJ followed the stragglers and got into the auditorium as the first round began. Mr. Bates had been right, there was a spot saved for him in the middle of the team. Job was on one side; he grimaced, Jude was on the other. He slid in past everyone’s knees and soft catcalls of “Sit down!” and “I can’t see!” and dropped into the chair. He looked around the auditorium. The lights had been dimmed a little, but it was easy to find the PI. He was still watching CJ, sunglasses on his face.

Job saw him looking and whispered, “Who’s that?”

CJ considered. Job sort of knew what was going on, but he didn’t know anything about Mai Li taking the nanomachine treatment. Him, Mom and Dr. Douchebag had kept pretty quiet about it. Mom didn’t want any publicity. Dr. D. didn’t want any publicity until Mai Li was a success. CJ clenched one fist – he was starting to really, really not like that man. He leaned back to Job who was watching him, frowning, and said, “Mai Li’s missing and that guy’s a private investigator Mom hired to find her.”

“What’s he doing here?” CJ shrugged, but Job stared at him for a few seconds then lowered his voice and whispered, “They think you killed Mai Li?”

CJ looked away then back into the glowing whites and eyes of his best friend and nodded. “Yeah. The guy’s watching me.”

Job blinked twice then whispered, “Did you?”

CJ shoved Job. Sentury, on the other side of Job, leaned forward, glared and whispered, “Grow up!”

“You grow up!” CJ said out loud. From up the aisle, a teacher or coach stood up and walked toward them. The PI stepped away from the wall, watching intently. Job leaned away from CJ who shouted, “I didn’t kill Mai Li!”

The teacher and the PI reached him at the same time. The teacher motioned CJ to follow her and when he was in the aisle, she grabbed one arm and the PI grabbed the other, marching CJ out of the full auditorium – while everyone watched…

image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_lF_BtrYJlRc/TPzKt_xr6fI/AAAAAAAAAS4/9LH4iPRbVfc/s1600/kid_handcuffs.jpg

January 9, 2011

A Slice of PIE: ANOTHER Take On the Popularity of Young Adult/Teen Dystopian Novels

As a former employee at my local Barnes & Noble, I have watched the swelling number of dark, grim and sometimes horrific YA/teen novels spill off the shelves. No, I’m not talking about the vampire books and their gradually more gruesome clones that seem to be trying to outdo one another with bodily fluid spatter. I’m talking about science fiction and speculative fiction stories that have as their focus some level of planetary apocalypse. Last summer I thought I’d write a PIE on why I think YA/T dystopian novels are popular. Instead, I wrote a novel in which Humanity has a FUTURE. After reading the following articles, I am no longer surprised that it hasn’t sold.

Recently, an internet friend of mine blogged “YA Fiction: The Upside of the Dark Side” (http://mikeduran.com/?p=11099). I regularly read Mike Duran and apparently he has found that this trend is a “Big Deal” and is generating lots of talk. His column was prompted by “The Dark Side of Young Adult Fiction” (http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/12/26/the-dark-side-of-young-adult-fiction).

What I find strange, is that I was going to write the PIE after reading this Lois Tilton article in Locus, “2010 Short Fiction Reviews in Review” (15Dec2010 -- http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2010/12/lois-tiltons-2010-short-fiction-reviews-in-review/). In it, she says, “Interzone remains just about my favorite source of SF. I often wish some of the older, more tired printzines could get an infusion of its energy with its strangely imagined, often dark futures….[in] Strange Horizons…my picks are the dystopian…”

I suppose I find this strange because after reading Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD and George Orwell’s 1984 as a kid, I turned to science fiction that heralded a hope-filled future. I feasted on the juveniles by Heinlein, Norton, Nourse and Bova and fell in love with STAR TREK. There was a profound hope for the future, and while there were warnings, the sense was that the future was something to which we could look forward.

Then all these people grew up and they didn’t get their flying cars and Lunar Colonies and Voyages to Arcturus…

All of the people talking about dystopias and dystopian literature for young adults and teens (at the risk of offending the already injured party, I’m gonna call them “kids” from here on (I know, kids are young goats; in this case, think of those goats as the "scape-" variety...)) are ADULTS. Possibly disgruntled, hurt and deeply disappointed adults.

As they pontificate (and political speechify) about how much these kids need to be realistic about the future, they seem to be missing a few important points: it ain’t the kids who are writing books set in dystopian futures in which everyone is forced to look beautiful, the Moon has been struck by an asteroid and is too close, or overpopulation and dictatorship has forced a Roman Circus on America. It is adults that are writing dystopian novels for this age group. It ain’t the KIDS who buy manuscripts, publish them, create advertising campaigns for, review, order, ship and display these grim, hopeless novels on bookstore floors.

WHO is it who’s fascinated with dystopia and laying their pain and disappointment with technology, politics and science? Sorry folks, it ain’t the kids.

Who can offer HOPE? It ain’t the kids.

Kids have enough problems without adding global apocalypse to the mix. I know – I’ve been a classroom teacher and counselor since 1981. I may not have heard it all, but I’ve heard a lot of it. Enough to wonder why adults are surprised that suicide and homicide are the second and third most common cause of death in 15-24 year olds. (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001915.htm)) Though I am appalled by adults who aren’t surprised that so many kids commit suicide, I am convinced that youth are supposed to be hopeful and full of bright dreams.

My OPINION is that WE have the problem. It seems to me that many adults have chosen to abdicate our responsibility AS adults – one of those responsibilities being to create and offer HOPE – in favor of pissing and moaning over the messes we’ve made in the past (there are probably only a couple of teenagers on the BP Board of Directors, the Federal Trade Commision, the Government of India or in charge of waste treatment in China). Those same adults then assume that kids will make the same mistakes their elders made. Even Mike Duran appears to feel fine about communicating a subtext of “Why bother? Come on and join your elders and wisers in pissing and moaning about the future.”

Am I angry? Yer dern tootin’ I am! ‘cause as a high school and middle school teacher, I’ve had a ringside seat to the deepening sense of gloom and doom WE have loaded onto our kids. I have/had two of them in my own home. I can say unequivocally that if it weren’t for a certain faith perspective they would constantly feel the crushing weight of that presumably “adult” dystopian view rather than only intermittently feeling it.

Kids also know very well that the adults who are supposed to be responsible for them are walking around with doom and gloom and sighing.

There is very little “out there” that gives them cause to hope. Us included. Maybe it’s time WE picked up our responsibility again and GIVE them some.

BTW – why do we seem to believe that Heinlein, Norton and all the others who wrote hopeful juvenile fiction felt any better about their future than we do? After the first explosion of the atomic bomb in 1945, did the future look real bright and rosy? Hiding under desks to escape a nuclear explosion or (and I REMEMBER these) “Fallout Drills” where we headed to the locker rooms under the school to escape radioactive fallout following a nuclear attack seemed decidedly scary and unhopeful. But the ADULTS I read gave cause for hope. Not the kind of pie-in-the-sky, namby pamby, wishy washy hope that Mike Duran, a couple of the editorialists and more than a few commenters feel we’ll be pedaling to our kids if we aren’t brutally honest about the grimness of the future! Of COURSE kids know when we’re pandering! They’re young, not stupid! But how about we DON’T pander and just grant that there is hope for the future – and that maybe that hope lies with THEM!

Mike Duran concludes: “The upside of dystopian YA novels is that they accurately reflect our grim future. The downside is that conventional wisdom has no way to stop that future from happening.

Why do we think that we’ve cornered the wholesale market on “grim future”?

While I agree with his conclusion wholeheartedly, I disagree as well. The evangelical church as a whole is convinced that these are THE End Times. That this is IT. That WE are the last generation. Jesus will OBVIOUSLY come back Some Time Real Soon!

May I point out that the Church has been feeling that way for the past 2010 years? Every time has its pundits who are positive that theirs is the “last” generation. Every decade is certain that Things Can’t Get Any Worse and what’s the matter with kids today?. And while conventional wisdom cannot stop the future from happening, it may not happen for ANOTHER 2010 years. What do we do in the meantime: prepare our kids to be “realistic” about the world and accept that things are gonna go to hellinahandbasket Some Time Real Soon and not to bother to try to do anything better, (Besides, we already tried THAT and it didn’t work)?

Or do we set them up for the possibility that they will have to build a future on what they have now – and like every generation has done before them, work to make it better than the past?

In order to build they need HOPE.

And it had better start coming from US – atheists, agnostics, angry or born-again, baptized in the Spirit Christians. It had BETTER start coming from us.

January 6, 2011

PORT YONDER PRESS -- One of it's NEWEST authors is....

My daughter is totally awesome -- no surprise there! -- but check out ANOTHER reason why below:

As several of my friends at CODEX are wont to do, *squee!*

A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH 21: JULY 10, 1946 – JULY 12, 1946

This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So I added some imaginary elements and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom.

Both Freddie Merrill and Tommy Hastings stared at the older boy, Charlie. He laughed, “What? You ain’t never heard cussin’ before?”

“My dad says it’s only city boys cuss – farm boys are too well-behaved,” blurted Freddie.

Charlie laughed again, then turned back to work, spraying down the milk tanks with warm water which raised a fog when it hit the colder tanks. He added, “Best get to work and don’t say nothin’ about no Herbert Towne*.”

“Why not?” Tommy said, indignant. “He’s my uncle!”

Charlie shot a glance over his shoulder, “Yeah? Well I wouldn’t go bragging about that to too many people. Herbert Towne was one of the best known socialists in Duluth – and you know as well as I do that socialism is a darn sight closer to Communism than most Americans should be comfortable with!”

“What?” Tommy and Freddie exclaimed.

Charlie frowned and looked back at them, saying, “Herbert Towne is a famous socialist – and Dad lost an uncle, a brother and a sister fighting the Jerrys and Japs, so he ain’t much disposed to be harboring Communist sympathizers!”

The boys looked at each other then Tommy said, “Are you gonna kill us?”

Charlie glared at them long and hard, then grunted and turned back to washing the milk tanks. “I don’t reckon so.” He looked over his shoulder and added, “As long as I can get a couple days help from you here on the farm, I’ll consider the fee for me keepin’ my mouth shut paid.”

Tommy and Freddie stared at the older boy’s back. Big, muscly arms poked out from the A-shirt he was wearing. Freddie whispered, “If we said ‘no’, he’ll probably beat us to a bloody pulp.”

“We can take him,” Tommy snapped, angry at the older boy’s blackmail. He lifted his arms up to get ready for a fight – and winced. Closing his eyes, he shook his head, “I forgot about my broken hand.”

Freddie whispered, “You couldn’t fight your way out of a paper bag right now.” He bent his arm and looked at the skinny arm with the bump that was a sad excuse for a bicep. “And I sure as heck can’t take him.”

Charlie said without turning around, “You better just resign yourself to helping me with chores for the next two days.” He turned around, the water spraying just beyond the tips of their shoes. “Besides, in two days we drive to Duluth – and if you guys work hard, Dad will let you ride in the back.”

“With the cans?” Tommy asked.

At the same moment, Freddie asked, “Is he as bad of a driver as you?”

Charlie scowled, sprayed them both with water then grinned. “Naw, you guys can probably sit in front with me and Dad. And he’s a worse driver than me! I usually thank the Good Lord for gettin’ me to Duluth alive; then I thank Him for getting’ me back home alive.” He pondered then added, “I suspect I spend more time praying than’s healthy for a nineteen-year-old man.” He went back to spraying the tanks.

Freddie took a deep breath and asked, “What do you want me to do, Boss?”

Tommy added, “I can help too, long as it’s something a one-armed boy can do.”

Charlie nodded, turned off the hose at the wall, looked down at them and said, “Freddie, you get to muck the barn.” Freddie cussed under his breath ‘cause even though he’d grown up in the City, Dad had talked plenty about mucking out barns when HE was a boy. Freddie suspected that if he ever told his dad about this, his dad would laugh, clap him on the shoulder, call him a fool and laugh some more.

Charlie said to Tommy, “You’re gonna shoot rats.”

Both boys exclaimed, “What?” Charlie crooked a finger at Tommy and led the way out of the barn.

Image: http://www.shootinguk.co.uk/imageBank/cache/2/224-Rat-shot-with-9mm-garde.jpg_e_ab3d1f2f65cddb1b2705ba4c508963f8.jpg

January 2, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: “Christians Don’t Care About Planetary Apocalypse!”

Ever see the movie, I AM LEGEND?

I know it’s not the same as the novel (© 1954 by Richard Matheson) or the other three movies made from the same novel and credited with starting the zombie craze. In the book, which I read many years ago, the theme is the isolation experienced by the last human on Earth and how he has become a frightening legend to the members of the “new” humanity – the zombies whom we make to look like idiots staggering drunkenly about…

Neither in the book nor the movies – nor the songs by various bands, or the comic book – are there Christians.

Credited with inventing the concept of world-wide, decimating plague, I AM LEGEND nevertheless has its roots in a novel by FRANKENSTEIN’S creator, Mary Shelley who wrote THE LAST MAN in 1826. In it, the only Christians that show up are wak ones, intent on denying reality.

Hmmm. Sense a theme here?

While ancient history shows that the Christian Church stood by the victims of plague and disease ( Corroboration: from THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY: A SOCIOLOGIST RECONSIDERS HISTORY by Rodney Stark (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Rise-of-Christianity/Rodney-Stark/e/9780691027494) “a series of devastating plagues played an instrumental role in the seemingly miraculous growth of the early church. In AD 165, and again in AD 251, terrifying epidemics descended upon the Roman Empire, killing between a quarter to a third of the population…family members abandoned their loved ones at the first sign of disease, sometimes tossing them into the roads even before they had died.

“Christians, however, soon gained a reputation for their boldness in the face of death…For these Christians, the epidemic became ‘a time of unimaginable joy,’ a chance for believers to witness to their faith by offering themselves as martyrs”) and current history shows that the Christian Church has (finally) responded to the current global epidemic of AIDS, few others see Christians helping others in disaster.

In fact, I would venture to say that the American perception is that that’s what we have FEMA for and the American Red Cross/Red Crescent. While there are certainly Christians in these organizations, and the Salvation Army has some visibility during disaster, the vast majority of Christians are seen as uncaring, self-absorbed egotists.

They certainly don’t appear in the current spate of post-apocalyptic literature and entertainment. Why not? Who’s doing the writing?

Ah, now THAT’S a situation I can do something about! I can see it now: a post-apocalyptic Christian help group for alien virus infected zombies!

Any other takers?