Sunday, May 17, 2009

Five Dollar Bills And My First Jesus Novel

Five Dollar Bills And My First Jesus Novel
which is entitled, New Clear Days

When I was a senior in college I began to receive glimmers of a longer story about the Second Coming of Christ. After graduation I spent a year writing several hundred pages. Then I reached the point where I could go no further until I had read the Bible, and so put the draft in a drawer and opened the Bible to page one. Several hours a day and eight months later, I reached the gospels. Just about that time, on August 16, 1989, there was a lunar eclipse. As I was then working on a piece of fiction about the moon, I very much wanted to see it, and was looking forward to it for three days. The sky was hazy that night, so I mounted my bicycle and rode into the country hoping it would be clearer away from the city lights.

It was very dark, and I had gone about three miles when I hit something on the road and vaulted over the handlebars and landed face first on a large rock. I was knocked unconscious and awoke surrounded by paramedics and policemen. I had a broken bone in my shoulder, road rash on my face, and a gash on my forehead which required several sutures to close. After healing for a couple of months the scar shaped into a perfect crescent moon, about which time I had reached Revelation in my reading of the Bible. “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.”

Filled with the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit, I was ready to revisit my Jesus novel, which I had decided to call New Clear Days. The novel is the story of a latter day prophet Jeshua, who preaches on behalf of Mother Earth and performs miracles in Nature. He is mistaken by masses to be the Second Coming of Christ, which he denies unto his death upon a cross. I worked on my book in public every day, and was asked by countless friends and strangers how I’d gotten the moon on my forehead. So much so that I began to ponder about another passage in Revelation, chapter 14: ‘And I looked: and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads…and which were redeemed from the earth.” Wouldn’t it be an extraordinary blessing, I thought, to be among those chosen one hundred forty-four thousand?

Several weeks passed and I reached a point in New Clear Days where I wanted to include a brief parable. The story required that I have one of the twelve disciples be keeping a dirty secret, so I went through the twelve and when I saw the name Andrew, recalled an old acquaintance, Andrew N, who I had known about five years before. He was a freeloading thief that had attached himself to some friends of mine. He never worked, lived at home, and on the rare occasions he had any money, it was five dollars he had gotten from one of his parents. The next day I went to The Daily Caffe and penned several pages which contained the following passage.

Without another word Jeshua began walking through the street, and most of the thousands followed. At length we came upon a beggar, who asked Jeshua for some money. He turned to us twelve, and asked us to give him all the money that we had. There were none among us with a cent, however, except for Andrew, who gave him a five dollar bill, to his own shame. Jeshua placed it in the pouch on his robe, then removed it again, handing it over to the grateful beggar. At the end of the same block another man asked Jeshua for money, and he produced another five dollar bill from his pouch. Seeing this another woman approached him, who also received five dollars.

Then he turned to the crowd and said: “For God is like a man of infinite wealth: he gives it away generously, but only to those who ask; if you will not ask, you will not receive.”

--excerpted from my novel, New Clear Days

Riding home that afternoon I had a five dollar bill in my wallet, which was my last money, and I decided to spend it on food. I was locking my bicycle near the store when Andrew N. came strolling by--I had not seen him in three years! It was an astonishing coincidence, yet only the beginning. The next afternoon I was walking downtown with one dollar in my pocket that I planned to spend on coffee so I could sit in the cafe and write. I was thinking that I would like to go out for a couple of beers that night, to unwind my mind a bit; I had no cash, but distinctly remember saying to myself: ‘Perhaps I'll find some money on the ground, since I've always had good luck in that regard.’ I meandered aimlessly for an hour before turning my tracks toward The Daily Caffe, and when I reached that destination, there on the sidewalk, before the front door, was a five dollar bill, not twenty feet from where I had sat the day before and wrote the parable.

Over the next few months, while living a remarkable stream of coincidence, including finding several more five dollar bills, I finished that draft of New Clear Days. One Tuesday night, while preparing to write the final chapter, I was seized with the urge to clean my room, and the last part of the task was to sort out my cassette tapes, which were in disarray everywhere. The very last tape in the pile was so old that I hardly recognized it. I played it, and heard a recording of myself strumming the guitar with a female singing silly lyrics in accompaniment. After several minutes I finally recognized her voice: it was Betsy Spivak, who I had dated five years before. I hadn't listened to the tape since we recorded it. Five minutes later I was in my bed praying to God with all my heart, asking Him to bring a woman into my life. I had grown lonely while writing the book, and was craving female company. My prayer was intense.

The next afternoon I was sitting in The Daily Caffe with some friends. It was a rainy May day, so the cafe was crowded, and the only free table the small one to my right. That was shortly occupied by a pretty girl, and we started chatting. Her name was Betsy Su--vik. Two days later I wrote the last page of New Clear Days in the afternoon and went on my first date with Betsy that night.

Our rapport was remarkable—she articulated it the best when she said, “Oh my God! We’re a perfect fit.” And the awesome coincidences continued occurring when we were together—I found two five dollar bills with her. But what was meant to be was also meant to not be, and when we broke up a few months later, I was devastated.

The night I knew it was over with Betsy, I went out to a couple parties and got absurdly drunk, and was in no condition to ride my bicycle three miles home. In the dead of night I wandered onto the New Haven green and plopped down against a tree. It was not the safest place to be at that hour. I had been there several minutes when I noticed the silhouette of a rather imposing black man towering over me. "Hey man! Are you all right?" he asked.

"Yeah, I just can't get home. I'm too drunk to ride my bicycle, and I have to work there at eleven." I pointed to The Greenery, a restaurant across the street.
"I knew you needed help. I could tell from a distance that you are blessed. I knew the moment I looked at you."

His name was Andre. I stood up, and we spontaneously burst into a euphoric celebration of the Lord there on the green. I felt joy like David carrying the ark into Zion. We whooped and hollered and sang Hosanna.

Then I told him the story of Betsy, and how I had prayed for her to come into my life. His face suddenly dropped. He shook his head and yelled: "You did what? You prayed for a woman? A woman? A WOMAN! Man! I am disappointed with you! You asked God to bring you a woman; I cannot believe you did that."


"You don't pray for women, they come and go like the wind. When you pray, YOU PRAY FOR WISDOM! I don't believe you used your gift to get a woman. A woman! Don't look at me like that, you sit quiet and listen. You are here to seek understanding, and when you pray to God you ask for wisdom. Everything on earth comes when it comes, but wisdom comes only of the Lord!"

I was humiliated by his chide, but all the wiser. At length he asked me about my bike. I pointed out where it was locked to the fence that surrounded the green. “Believe it or not, that’s my car right next to it,” he said. “Come on, let’s go.” He put my bike in his trunk and drove me home.

When I awoke in my bed, I thanked God with all my heart for conveying me there. My own bed had never felt so comfortable, and I was in continuous disbelief to be lying in it. I reached the restaurant on time, and when I collected the money from my first table, I glanced down and saw GOD LOVES YOU written on the top bill.

The following evening, Sunday, I was sitting at my desk, staring blankly at my typewriter, pens, pages and books, none of which I touched. At length, and suddenly, I grabbed a Bible, and opened it at random to Proverbs 9. ‘WISDOM hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars; she hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table...’ The entire chapter is essentially a psalm about wisdom, and the most striking verse was number 8, which described Andre and me: ‘Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man and he will love thee.’ I closed and randomly opened the Bible a second time, to 1 Kings 10:6-7: ‘And she (the Queen of Sheba) said to the king (Solomon), It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy wisdom. Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard.’

Drifting With Jesus

Drifting With Jesus is a novel about Jeremy, a disenchanted Catholic priest who pockets his collar and goes on a penniless faith journey across America. While exploring the various manifestations of Christianity in our country he examines and resolves his own questions about Catholicism. Ineffable personal experiences blended with my curious imagination, and my profound love of the Word, set me Drifting With Jesus.

In Christ,

Author bob

Chapter 1 -- The Wine

Chapter 1

The Wine

I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom. -- Ecclesiastes 2:3

In the early nineteenth century a beautiful church was erected to honor Saint Jerome in downtown Holyoke. Aside from ministering to the regular needs of its congregation--marriages, funerals, baptisms and guidance in daily life--it also served the community at large in the capacity of emergency shelter and soup kitchen. Thus was it both spiritual fortress and neighborly social place.

Because of its proximity to the heart of the city, and that several days a week free dinner was offered to all who wished to eat; and because the stomach so influences world affairs, there were always at least a couple of people milling around the doorway outside the rectory. These were mostly street folk, among whom were a fair number of winos, one of which was a particularly good natured man named Chet.

He could have been an old thirty or young fifty as far as one might have guessed his age, and he was so fastidious about his fashion that but for his greasy hair, grizzled beard and ever present brown bag in hand, any passerby could as easily have mistaken him for student, professor or banker.

Having lived all his life in Holyoke, he knew it in and out like the knuckles on his hands; and having passed so many hours of so many days and nights imbibing there on the steps of Saint Jerome’s, his discovery of the sacrament of the Eucharist was inevitable. He made it one lazy summer evening when both his flask and pockets were empty, and not being one to pass up free wine, went in ostensibly to worship. He patiently listened to the sermon on Daniel and the lions, enjoyed the story, and never forgot it, but all the time was anxious for the part of the mass for which he truly had come, and smiled with delight when at last it was announced. But the moment he was in line between the pews he was overcome by the hundred imagined pairs of staring eyes, and bowed his head not in prayer, but in shame. He immediately regretted setting foot where he felt he didn’t belong, and wanted to vanish in that instant; but was immobilized by his own self-consciousness, while the line slowly inched him closer to the priests.

Finally he was next, and the distance between he and the father seemed an impassable gulf, as though they gazed at one another from adjacent mountain peaks. He was giddy with trepidation as he warily crossed the red carpet. Then he noticed the other priest refilling the holy chalice with wine, and suddenly could have reached his end in a single leap of the heart. He restrained himself, yet nonetheless completed the last few steps with great confidence, and muttered within himself--yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s on with it!--as the wafer was placed on his tongue and blessed as transubstantiated into the body of Christ.

He hastened on to receive his share of the blood, and as the rim of the vessel was pressed to his lips, softly inquired: “How much should I take?”

“As much as you feel the need,” came the whispered reply.

Thereupon he took a deep draught of the rich, golden wine, and as the glowing warmth flowed through him head to groin, filling him with exhilaration, he grasped the bottom of the cup, and without inhibition tipped the rest into his mouth. He returned to his pew under the dismayed gaze of all who had seen him drink so copiously, and passed the rest of the service in distraction, relishing the incredible feeling that no other wine had ever filled him with before. From that day he was hooked, and began looking forward to the communion rite with the same childish anticipation that his mates greeted the approach of check day.

For many months he kept the sacrament wine a secret from his friends; and though there were many times he wanted to ‘spill the beans’ when he had to slip away from them abruptly without explaining where nor why, he maintained his secret mostly from fear of their ridicule. Moreover, every time the wine was actually on his tongue, he was seized with the urge to return to the end of the line for a second sip from the chalice, which temptation he resisted for fear of public scorn.

His secret was revealed and the temptation triumphant in a fell swoop one brittle autumn evening. Chet hadn’t tasted a drop of any wine in three days, and was in desperate need of its warming virtue, and fired by the vision of his reward for sitting through a sermon, entered the church openly, and after announcing to his friends that he was about to have a taste of the top shelf wine ever fermented. They watched him go in wonderment; he proceeded to seat himself in the center of the first pew, where he patiently drifted in a reverie during the sermon on Paul’s scriptures of love. When that was finished and the time for receiving the sacrament finally come, he was on his knee at the altar to receive his wafer before the rest of the congregation had even begun to form a line. He swallowed it whole and hurried onward to the cup, which, having been freshly filled by Father Brian, afforded him a long and satisfying drink of the hot, golden blood. He craned back his neck and rolled his head, staring at the majestic ceiling while enjoying the dizzy ecstasy that spread from his heart to the ends of his fingers and toes, and even into his hairs. Then the elderly man who was next snapped him out of it with a nudge, and driven by Father Brian’s hard eyes, Chet hurried away.

He passed right by his pew with purpose, and positioned himself squarely at the end of the file, to proceed directly for a second taste of the body and blood of Christ. As it happened, there was precisely one wafer in the bowl for each mouth in the congregation, so that the last was served to the young girl just before him. This was all the better for Chet, who was glad to bypass the superfluity and cut straight to the cup.

He bent his knees, and Father Brian looked down, gave him a quizzical look, and pausing the cup inches from his lips, softly said: “Haven’t you already taken the sacrament this evening?”

“Yes Father, I have,” was his rehearsed, mechanical reply; “but I have sinned so horribly this month that I need a second cleansing.” Like Napoleon crowning himself emperor, Chet promptly tipped up the holy vessel and emptied all the remaining wine into his throat, moaning: “Aaaah...”


“What’s the matter?” Chet replied innocently, gazing up at the priest with wide eyes.

The priest casually set the cup down and sternly whispered: “Your behavior seems most inappropriate at the moment.”

“What? Taking the sacrament?”


“But Father,” he said suavely, “if you know what I’ve been doing and with whom, you’d understand how desperately I need His blood at this time in my life. My recent sins are immense.”

“I know you,” Father Brian answered, slightly raising his voice, though it was still hushed. Then he shrugged away the stares of the other church officials, and ignored those of the members of the congregation, all of whom were ready and waiting to move on to the benediction. “I’ve seen you many times on the steps of this church with a bag in your hand, and I’ve noticed that you only come to worship on the days the sacrament is offered. I’m not one who claims to have the power to read the hearts of other men, but I can make an educated guess....”

Chet felt like a cornered animal, but having sensed a hesitation, seized the moment to take the offensive. “Good Father! Are you doubting my intentions?”

Father Brian paused to contemplate for a moment, then responded: “Only you and God know what they are, while I know only what I can see, which is often wrong, but it is written in scripture that drunkards are among the unholy who shall not attain the kingdom of heaven, excess of wine being one of the worldly desires that sets the flesh against the Spirit. That is the word of God written in the book on which I, and my fellow priests, and all our brethren here base our beliefs, which book also says that our works testify of themselves. And that is my answer to you.”

“Well Father, here’s my answer to that,” he replied. “I’ve learned a little about that book in these past few months I’ve been coming to Saint Jerome’s to take the sacrament. To what did Christ change the water at the wedding in Cana? Was it orange juice? Chamomile tea? Castor oil? Beer? No! It was wine! Very fine wine! In fact, as I recall, a better wine than the host was serving to his guests before he ran out and called on Jesus in the first place! And what was the affect of that wine Jesus made by the finger of God? It inspired the levity and merriment that enabled that marriage celebration to be just that--a celebration. And what did Christ serve to the apostles at the last supper? Was it mint julep? Coffee? Lemony soda water? No! It was wine, sacred and holy, with which he both purified they who would carry on his good work while establishing the sacrament we have just partaken. It fills me with warm joy to have his blood coursing through my veins, and at this particular juncture of my life I needed a second cup. God who made us knows we who frequently drink too much are not all bad people, and if you reckon what I have done a sin, then feel free to cast the first stone.”

Father Jeremy came over and said: “Is there a problem here? We’re all waiting to resume mass.”

“He took the sacrament a second time,” Father Brian said.

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“Okay, I did, but I also explained why I had to do it,” Chet responded.

“Well, why don’t you return to your pew so we can get on with the service,” Father Jeremy calmly suggested.

“Because I’d first like to settle this little conflict,” Chet replied with respectful indignance. Both priests were taken aback, so he continued before they could interrupt the flow of his inspiration. “As I understand it, Father Brian is implying that I am somehow condemned by my fondness of wine, and to support his belief he produced a couple of quotes from the Bible; but I see it differently, and can also cite scripture to my purpose, as I already have. For example, what says the book of Ecclesiastes? According to my reading it tells that all our fleeting days under the sun are numbered even before given to us by the Lord, and being in such limited supply, to be cherished. Therefore Ecclesiastes does not instruct us to shun the good gifts of the earth that God has provided for our enjoyment, but rather says: ‘Eat your bread with happiness, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for God has already approved your good works.’ Which verse can also be applied to the taking of the sacrament, I do believe.”

“You’ve articulated your point quite well,” Father Jeremy politely said, “so if you would now return to your seat, there’s a whole congregation patiently waiting to continue worship, as you can see.”

Enervated by the wine, Chet continued unabated. “Anyone who’s ceased their prayer because you’re taking time to speak with me probably wasn’t worshipping in the first place. Now, the trappist monks of Bulgaria brew and sell beers among the finest the world has ever known, and have been doing so for centuries. There must be some reason they are the very best, and those holy men can’t all be damned because their blessing is abused by a few unworthies. My point is this: those monks see in Ecclesiastes what I believe you’re missing, that wine is to be drunk with cheer and a smile, not funereal solemnity. Therefore I suggest that you take a lesson from them and start bottling and marketing the sacrament wine. Call it Christ’s Blood, and make it available to the masses for daily consumption. Every sip I take fills me with the glow of the Spirit of the Lord; it makes me feel fantastic! If a lit candle is not placed under the bed but on a lamp stand, that it gives light to the whole house, why then do you hide such vintage bottles in the vaults of the church? Share it with the world! Let everyone taste it, and tell them what it is, so sweet on the tongue and satisfying to the soul. You’ll spread the word of the gospel around to your own, as well as to those who don’t know anything other than the bad wine they’ve been drinking all their lives, and who’ll all surely recognize its superiority as quickly as I did. You can even put some of your favorite Bible quotes on the label. And beside that, the church could make a tidy profit--it can’t be averse to that, as attested by the rather large plates you pass among the pews. So give the people something more for their money than this beautiful house they have built but must journey to appreciate; let them have it in all their homes to enjoy at their leisure, and to be constantly reminded that the Lord is with them every moment. What do you say? A bottle of Christ’s Blood on every dinner table! I know it’ll fly, and I’ll gladly help you write the business model and design the labels.”

“The sacrament is a very sacred rite,” Father Brian answered, “and to command the respect it so worthily deserves, the affect of the wine used therein should not be cheapened by accessing it to the public through liquor stores. If you don’t like or agree with the way things are done in this place, maybe you should leave.”

“Is that what you would have?” Chet rejoined, raising his voice to be audible to all. “One less member in the flock under the roof? Yet again we differ on interpretation, for my understanding is that God would want one more--nay, three!” Thus emboldened, he walked down the aisle to the front doors and threw them open. “Hey fellows!” he called to his friends there on the outside. “Charles, Edgar, Russell...come in here for a moment.”

“Chet! What have you been doing inside that church?” Charles asked.

“Come over here, man,” Edgar said. “We just got two nice bottles of applejack.”

“Come on...have a drink with us,” Russell added, holding out the bag.

“I’m tired of that rotgut,” Chet replied. “Follow me, and I promise you’ll taste
the best wine that exists on the earth.”

“Really? The best?” Charles said, perking his eyebrows.

“Really and truly...better than anything you could ever imagine...but you have to hurry!”

Charles bounded up the steps, with Edgar and Russell hesitantly straggling behind. The winos had never seen the inside of the church around which they had spent so many hours of their lives drinking, and marveled in amazement at the architecture and artwork while also cordially nodding their heads and greeting the onlookers as they passed, saying: “Hello...good you doing...beautiful church you have here...thanks for having us....”

“Fear them not,” their leader announced boldly as they warily followed him to the altar. “You all know the angels rejoice more for the one lost sheep recovered than the ninety nine who never strayed from the field, and I have brought in three more.”

He took them to the empty wafer bowl, near which Father Jeremy was standing, to whom he said: “Do you have any more bread--wait! Nevermind! I have something that’ll do.” He produced a few crackers that he happened to have in his pocket, and asked Charles, Edgar and Russell to kneel.

“What are you doing, man?” Charles nervously whispered. “You said you were bringing us to taste some fine wine. What’s with these crackers?”

“Shh,” he answered. “The wine is coming, but first you must eat these.”
There was a remarkable calm upon the congregation, the result of shock. They all waited in patient silence, allowing their priests to handle the delicate situation.

Father Brian came over to the men, and said to Chet: “This is most unorthodox, and I think it might be best if you stopped right now.”

“Let them proceed,” Father Jeremy softly instructed. “Higher authorities will judge whether or not their work is good.”

“Thank you Father, it is,” Chet answered. He then ministered the crackers and blessed his friends. That done he brought them to the chalice, and asked Father Jeremy for permission to refill it with a look and a motion of his hand, to which the priest nodded consent. He did so and put it to each of their lips, making certain they imbibed only moderate mouthfuls.

“That is good! Real good!”

“Wow! Mm, mm, mmmm!”

“Where can we get a bottle?”

Chet looked down and pondered taking a third sip, but hastily put the cup away when he caught Father Brian staring severely.

Then Father Jeremy said: “Now, would you please take a seat so we may finish today’s service?”

“Yes, Father, we certainly shall,” Chet replied, giving the cup one last longing glance. “And we’d like to thank you again for your patience and understanding. You’re a good man.” He led his friends quickly and quietly to the front pew, where they sat down and listened to the benediction with their hands folded across their laps.

After the conclusion of the service, Father Jeremy came and took Chet aside. “You’re all always welcome here, and not just on days the sacrament is given, but I would ask one thing.”

“What’s that, good Father?” he replied. “Anything you want.”

“This is a house of God, and should be treated with every respect; and though I don’t particularly care how you dress for mass, your friends smell like they haven’t bathed in some time, which can be offensive and distracting to the rest of the congregation. If you need a place to wash I’m in the rectory behind the church for two hours before every service, and you’re all welcome to stop by and use my sink.”

“Some of us just may have to do that,” Chet replied, turning toward his mates. “And thank you again; you’re tolerant and wise, the way all men of the cloth should be. I may not have added three thousand to the rolls as happened at the Pentecost, but I have brought three to the threshold.”

“Ah, I see you’re at least somewhat familiar with the Bible,” Father Jeremy remarked.

“Yes, you have gotten some return on your wine,” Chet replied.


Chapter 2 -- Setting Forth

Chapter 2

Setting Forth

But rather seek ye the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you. -- Luke 12:31

Many years earlier, Father Jeremy had formed a theatrical group comprised of the younger members of his congregation. That same afternoon they were putting on a production about Peter and some saints in heaven. The play was being staged in the space behind the rectory, and the setting was an enormous pearly gate standing upon a shaggy, white carpet, and a few fake shrubs interspersed with a dozen stunning fresh flower arrangements.

For his thick, curly hair and his wisdom, Father Jeremy was cast as the keeper of the key, Saint Peter. Through the weeks of rehearsal and the years of studying the gospel to get into character, the role had actually seethed under his skin and transformed him. Day and night, eating and sleeping, he pondered into his heart the words and deeds of the apostle made the rock of the church. The most difficult of all his contemplations was whether or not he would have denied Christ thrice in that fateful morning hour, and when all other details and nuances of character had been resolved in his mind, that one lingered, tormented and consumed him.

He was the first to arrive to open the hall, and was in quite a chipper mood. He fondled the key as he bounded up the steps, and with a symbolic flourish slipped it into the lock and flung open the door. He passed through Eden in his imagination as he slowly made his way to wardrobe. There he was, stretching his body to a cross in donning his costume, a plain white robe. There he was, now all but Peter himself, proudly strutting across the empty stage, gatekeeper of the endless heavenly realm, at last confident with the feeling that he would never deny the Lord were he put to that test. Then he was startled back to reality when someone suddenly collapsed in the doorway he had just opened.

It was an old man, indiscernible whether alive or dead. He had a grizzly face and was shabbily dressed. There was a finely-carved walking stick lying beside him that had rolled from his right hand. Jeremy instantly recognized him as one of Chet’s drunken friends who’d ventured in for communion that morning. He stared in shock, convinced it was a divine response to his arrogant thoughts, and dreading the outcome. He knelt down to examine the man, praying he was just inebriated, and only passed out. But he was by all appearances already passed on; the father could detect no pulse nor the slightest puff of breath. He was torn whether to let lie what the Lord had ordained, or to try and revive what might be a dying man. He dispensed with the ethical dilemma and prepared to perform cpr to the best of his memory.

He quickly double checked the man, and reluctantly lowered his open mouth slowly, in the last hope that he would awake--which was exactly what he did, with the sound of a rumbling that became the thunderous belch that mushroomed into Jeremy’s face. He fell backwards gagging. The elderly man moaned, burped again, then mumbled: “Through the jungle...I seek the plain. Am I really so large?”

He got to his feet and staggered. The good father took a moment to stop heaving and compose himself, then hastened and guided him to one of the first row chairs. He asked him several questions, but the man continued babbling without giving the least clue to his rantings until the father simply asked his name.

“Uh, Russell,” he replied groggily. “Yeah, Russ, at least I used to be. I think I’m dead now.” His wide eyes seemed to be far away, and looked in awe at the eight foot cardboard gate before them. “And you’re...Peter. Peter! I’m sorry! O forgive me Lord!” He fell down and smothered Jeremy’s bare feet with kisses.

“No, no, you’ve got it wrong,” Jeremy replied, stepping back in shame. “I’m not Peter. I’m a member of an acting troupe--”

Russell crawled after the toes with puckering lips. “Peter! O Peter please! Please let me pass! I’m feeling cold already. And lonely.”

He stepped back again. “I just told you, I’m not Peter! My name is Jeremy, and I--”

“Peter!” Russell persisted, grasping his ankles and slobbering with all his heart. “Tell me what to do. Anything! Only let me go under that ivory arch, most reverend and holy saint!”

Jeremy lifted Russell’s head and patted his cheeks. “This is not heaven, and I am not Peter!”

Immediately realizing he had just uttered his third denial, Father Jeremy’s heart sunk; he lowered his head and began to tear.

Meanwhile Russell returned to his senses. “Where am I?” he asked, looking about in confusion.

“I’ve been trying to explain,” Jeremy sniffled. “This is the stage on which my young friends and I are going to act out a play in a short while.”

Seeing his deep grief, Russell touched a consoling hand to the father’s forearm, and was about to speak some comforting words when a young girl said: “Good afternoon Father Jeremy. Why are you crying?” She was Alicia, innocent and pure as the angel she would soon portray.

“You couldn’t understand, and won’t need to for a few years yet anyway,” he answered with a heavy sigh. “Why don’t you go along and get into your wings.”

“O my!” Russell said, shaking his head.

“What? What is it?” the father softly inquired.

“My wife’s linguine with shrimp. I feel awful.”

“Yes, I gathered that,” Jeremy said, wrinkling his mouth and nose. “But if it’s any consolation, I feel worse than you at this moment.”

“Howso is that?” Russell replied.

At that moment Father Brian entered the hall and greeted the two men. He clearly recognized Russell, and failed to disguise the faint look of disdain that subtly creased his face. Nevertheless he politely offered his hand then asked Father Jeremy if he was ready to perform.

“How well do you know Peter’s lines in the play?” Jeremy bluntly asked Brian.

“Every word by heart,” he answered. His dour expression instantly changed to curiously hopeful. “Why do you ask?”

“I’m not going to be able to perform today,” Jeremy replied. “Something came up and I’m in no spirit to do Peter justice.”

Father Brian reacted with unconcealed glee. “I’ll be happy to do it, but what exactly happened?”

“I really don’t want to go into the details right now,” Jeremy explained. “Please just make sure our guest Russell has a good seat for the play should he wish to stay and watch it; and if not, that he knows he’s welcome here anytime. I’m going to leave this robe in the dressing room. Good luck playing Peter, and I’ll see you in a day or two.”

On that note Jeremy shook both their hands and hastily departed. He walked a couple miles to his childhood home, into the woods behind, and ascended into the tree house that he and his father had built many years before. He was emotionally crushed and profoundly ashamed at having three times denied being Peter.

He stayed there three days in fasting and prayer, reading scriptures and meditating upon them. He’d always maintained perfect confidence that he loved the Lord with the whole of his heart and to the core of his soul; but now his simple encounter with Russell had opened the door and allowed doubts to creep in. He wandered amongst the fields and trees that were so familiar from his boyhood, pondering and questioning the true depth of his faith.

On Wednesday morning, after returning from a long walk with that same conversation tormenting himself, he returned to the tree house and opened his Bible to the last chapter John, twenty one, which describes Jesus appearing to the disciples on the shore of the sea of Tiberias after the resurrection. He reached the place in the chapter where Jesus three times asked Peter: ‘Lovest thou me?’ And Peter answered: ‘Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.’ And Jesus said to Peter: ‘Feed my sheep.’

With those simple words, Jeremy’s heart moved. It was time to return to his duties at the church, so he stopped feeling sorrowful and started thinking about the day ahead. The evening service was at seven, and he had a one o’clock appointment with the dentist. Since it was nigh noon already, he decided to go straight to the dentist, then from there to the rectory to prepare for the evening service.

Visiting the dentist was the one thing in life he dreaded more than any other, but after tonguing the pasty film of yuck that encased the decaying battlement of his mouth, the good father swallowed his fear and cautiously entered the office of Stuart Krasdough, his lifelong friend, parishioner and dentist. To his surprise he was the only person in the reception area, so he tapped the bell on Nurse Lambert’s desk and went to hang his coat.

She appeared at once looking flustered and rushed. “Good afternoon, do you have a--O, Father. The doctor will be right with you.”

He sat down by the door while she vanished whence she had come, and had only begun perusing the latest issue of Living Water magazine when a harrowing scream curdled his blood. The pages flew from his hand, and he instinctively rose to leave. He was on his feet before he stopped and recalled that Stuart was one of the gentlest men he’d ever known; he decided to let his faith in that leave him blind for a time, and so retrieved the magazine from the floor and sat back down to wait. He got lost in the words of an article, which daydream was disrupted when someone said: “Good father, so nice to see you. Please do come in.”

Jeremy looked up, and involuntarily shuddered to see that the voice was not his trusted old friend Stuart’s, but that of Stuart’s nephew Stanley, who had just passed dental school and all its exams with barely acceptable grades. “What do you need today? bridge fitting? root canal? Heh, he--sorry, just a joke.”

“Is your uncle here?” Father Jeremy nervously asked.

“He’s on vacation this week, so I’ve hefted his patient load onto my own capable come in,” Stanley invited, encouraging and welcoming him with a sweep of his arm.

“What was that scream I just heard?” the anxious father justifiably inquired.

“What scream? O, that before. One of our patients must have seen the drill--I mean, the bill...ha, ha.”

The priest reached one of those moments in life when a person closes their eyes and lets the Lord choose the direction they take on the fork ahead; and the next Jeremy knew his faith had brought him into a swivel chair, wherein he squirmed while an overeager young dentist probed in his mouth. As he worked Stanley babbled about the latest advances and procedures he’d learned in school, but succeeded only in distracting himself, so that he was constantly wedging his pick too far into the gums, and yanking the jaw up in tugging it out.

“Stanley! Please be careful!” Jeremy protested at last. “I’m getting to be an older man, and my bones aren’t as strong as they once were.”

Stanley muttered a hasty apology and carried on hacking as before, so that by the time Father Jeremy’s choppers were clean the whole lower half of his head ached like one gigantic, bad molar. Stanley turned his back and started fumbling with some instruments; Jeremy rubbed his cheeks, postured himself to get up, and was about to do so when an eight inch needle rose up before his nose like a sword. He crossed his eyes, saw two, and cried: “What are you doing with that?”

Stanley angled the tip into the father’s mouth and replied: “You have a deep cavity on a left side bicuspid, and I’m going to anesthetize you before I fill it.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind!” Jeremy exclaimed, seizing Stanley’s wrists and pushing them away. “In the first place, I’ve never taken medication to kill any pain, and I’ll not start now.”

“Then I’ll do it without novocain!”

“No! I, I think I’ll speak with your uncle first.”

“As you wish,” Stanley replied; “but that tooth is just days from requiring a root canal, and no man ever truly knows the pain the body can produce until he’s undergone that procedure. It is the mother of all agonies and the fact is that it may be the only recourse my uncle will be able to take. I am the other hand. With the employment of my updated skills, a little pinprick today will save an excavation tomorrow.”

The father’s veiny eyes bulged. But then something moved his spirit, and whether it was willing submission to punishment for his denial of being Peter, or that he wanted to let the green Stanley practice his craft, he clenched his eyelids, gritted his teeth, leaned back, and as politely as possible grunted: “Very well, fill it.”

Stanley set to the task with impassioned zeal. The first whinings of the drill made the father faint, and when it started spraying tiny bits of tooth inside his lip, he passed into an hallucination inhabited by the most grotesquely possessed demons his imagination had ever seen swimming in bile in the bowels of hell. His tooth was a six foot pillar upon which all the hideous creatures crawled up out of the slime and muck to sharpen their own teeth and claws. Torturous ages later he came back to himself in the chair. He was intensely groggy and disoriented, yet still somehow felt strengthened unto greatness for having survived the ordeal. Then the enormous, gleaming pliers popped up into view, and Jeremy slid ten inches deeper into the chair. “What--”

Those wisdom teeth have got to come out, and what better time than the present?”

Father Jeremy looked in terror, and saw Stanley’s leering grin as fangs gushing drool. “What are you...that thing looks like a stump remover!”

“Funny you would say that. We had a group of loggers sitting in on some of our extraction classes.”


“Sorry,” Stanley replied. “Another failed attempt at levity. Please remember, I’m still learning. Now lean back, tilt your head, open wide, and we’ll have her out roots and all in no time.”

A sudden wave of great pain pulsed through the father’s inflamed jaw, and in his delirium he thought himself filled with and about to deliver a revelation. He leaped to his feet and cried: “Avast, minion! Get thee and thy pitchfork hence! This mouth is my livelihood and my life; it sings and speaks, worships and teaches, counsels, consoles, rejoices, praises and prays for every morsel it eats. The Lord God made it, and a man shall not alter it, least of all by removing the wisdom that anchors its corners!”

“Would you like to schedule another appointment for tomorrow?” Stanley innocently suggested.

“Of course not! Do you know anyone who would come to judgment without first reviewing his notes? Aaaah! Get me out of here!” He looked about for escape, and started to panic like a cornered animal. Then Nurse Lambert came in; her white uniform glowed like a beacon, and he grabbed and clung to her like a savior. “O angel from on high, from far heaven sent, rescue me from this and never again shall I be truant! I swear!”

The bewildered nurse assisted the good father out of the office; he was speaking in tongues. Stanley gazed stupidly at the wall for a moment, then went to the door and called after: “See if he wants to schedule for tomorrow or early next week; and if not, be sure to get his address and put him on our monthly reminder mailing list. Then bring in my next appointment.”

Father Jeremy slowly walked to Saint Jerome’s with one hand periodically scratching his head and the other wrapped under his throbbing jaw. He entered the church office to find Father Brian seated at one of the two desks. There were some pages spread out before him, upon which he was busily scribbling. He looked up at Jeremy, and said: “And on the third day he returned. We were beginning to wonder….”

“I should have called or come by sooner,” Jeremy explained. “I’ve been preoccupied, and I apologize. How did the play go?”

“Very, very well,” Father Brian replied. “I portrayed a marvelous Peter, if I say so myself. Others complimented my performance, so I’m not just being prideful.”

“I’m sure you did him justice,” Jeremy replied. “What are you working on so furiously there?”

Father Brian casually gathered the pages together as if to hide them, then sheepishly explained, “We didn’t know where you went nor when you were coming back, so I was preparing a sermon for this evening’s service—just in case, of course. Since he’s so fresh in my mind, I thought I’d speak about Peter.”

“What a coincidence, I had the same idea,” Jeremy responded. “To speak about Peter, that is. Why don’t you finish what you’re working on, and we’ll compare notes before the service.” Jeremy retrieved a Bible from the shelf behind Father Brian. “I’m going to sit in the sun and do some reading.”

“There’s something else you need to know,” Father Brian said as Jeremy started walking toward the door.

The tone in Father Brian’s voice made Jeremy bristle as his feet halted. He paused, then calmly asked: “What’s that?”

“His excellency Bishop Tashburn is coming to speak with you. If he’s not here in time to hear your sermon tonight, he’ll be here tomorrow to be certain. He’s probably going to reprimand you on some level. Your administering the holy sacrament to those non catholic…men, was a serious breach of church protocol, and he’s quite upset.”

“Is he now?” Jeremy replied. “It’s good for his excellency Bishop Tashburn that Jesus wasn’t biased towards any particular groups--or non members thereof--at the last supper. Even Judas was allowed to dip in the sop.”

“What does that mean?” Father Brian said, clearly puzzled.

“It’s all in here,” Jeremy replied, holding forth his Bible. “I’ll be outside preparing my thoughts for my sermon, and for my defense against the bishop as well, I suppose.”

Father Jeremy spent the next couple hours lying in the hammock in the churchyard, praying, reading and ruminating on scripture—as much as his anguished mouth would allow. The Wednesday evening service started at seven; about five thirty he wandered up to his longtime friend and parishioner Felix’s neighborhood grocery store.

The store was empty, and Felix there behind the counter. “Jeremy, my friend,” he cheerily said with a warm handshake. “I’m always glad when you come to see me just before I come over to see you. What can I do for you today?”

“I need to put a couple of things on the church account.”

“Help yourself old friend,” Felix answered, stepping from behind the counter. “You know I regard my humble store as Saint Jerome’s pantry.”

“We’ve all got pipers to pay,” Jeremy replied as they stood together looking about the shelves. “So let’s put it to the account, as always. Let me start with a bottle of water. I’ve got the Staming baptism this weekend. What runs from the taps inside the church stinks, there aren’t enough priestly blessings to make it holy, and I’d hate to christen that newborn into the world with the smell of chlorine, though it would better prepare him for the reality of it all.”

“It’s a baby girl,” Felix corrected.

“Uh,” Jeremy groaned. “They must have given her one of those gender indifferent names, like Lesley or Lindsay.”

“Suzannah?” Felix remarked. He fetched the water bottle and chuckled while setting it on the counter. “And what else?”

“Some small you have vanilla wafers? I’m administering first communion to the third grade class next week; I want Christ to be savory on their palates, and I won’t accomplish that with those dry dusty chips the dry dusty elders ordain from their dry dusty books. They may be tolerable for adults who understand sacrifice, but I won’t have the children turned off.”

“There you have them. What else?”

“A piece of good Swiss chocolate,” he answered. “Edwin Rogers recited the ten commandments to me last week, word for word, King James version. He’s only eight, and I want to give him a little reward.” Felix had his hand in the candy drawer when Father Jeremy, all but smacking his lips, corrected himself: “You’d better make that two pieces of chocolate.” Felix started to set the candy on the counter, but the Father stayed his arm, took one piece and tucked it in his pocket.

Then Father Jeremy noticed some stationary. All his thoughts of the recent days coalesced in a moment of epiphany. “Do you have a pen?” he asked. Felix produced one from his shirt pocket, and Jeremy sat down and scribbled.

Dear Father Brian,

Please go ahead and deliver the sermon on Peter you prepared for this evening, and plan to take over my reins indefinitely. The Catholic doctrine states that bishops are properly addressed as his excellency, cardinals as his eminence, and the pope as his holiness. But the Bible states that there is none good but one, that is, God, and that hypocrites love to be addressed with titles. Feel free to show his Excellency bishop Tashburn this note as my explanation for my actions.

The more deeply I become familiar with it, the more I recognize Catholicism as what resulted when the gospel fell into Roman hands. It is a doctrine based on the Bible—and often contrary to the Bible—devised to gather wealth on earth rather than harvest into heavenly barns; and when it’s not being wielded to gather wealth, it is used by power mad humans to dominate others while their egos struggle against God. I’ve long dreamed of setting forth with nothing by my faith, and now that day has come in the fullness of time. I don’t know where I’m going nor how long I’ll be gone. I go with Jesus and leave him with you, in peace.

Your brother Jeremy.

He folded the note and handed it to Felix, saying: “If you would, please read this then take it right over to Father Brian.”

Felix quickly perused it and answered: “Where are you going?”

“I’m taking a leap of faith into God’s palm to let it carry me wherever. I’m going out a penniless disciple to do some work in the harvest. You will see me again.”

He hugged his friend then left his store. He wandered for miles as darkness fell, and finally came to rest in a bus station. He looked up at the schedule, then approached and asked how he might board a bus without any money. The clerk fixed his eyes on Jeremy’s collar and replied: “Father, you’re welcome to board any bus you like.”

Jeremy looked down and answered: “Oh, I don’t want any special privilege.” He removed the collar and tucked it in his pocket.

“Well, anyone who mingles with the patron saint of travelers is always good to have travel with us.”

“I’m not going to argue with you,” Jeremy conceded. “Pick one out and I’ll get on it.”

“The overnight to Lancaster isn’t even half full, and you could sleep in the back,” the clerk replied. “It leaves in an hour.”

“Very well,” Jeremy replied. “I’ll take up the offer and thank you very much.”

An hour later, Jeremy was stretched out at the back of the bus and snoring.

Chapter 3 -- An Amish in Cumorah

Chapter 3

An Amish in Cumorah

Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD. -- Jeremiah 23:32.

Father Jeremy’s overnight bus arrived in Lancaster early the next morning. Lancaster was in the Amish country, and while Jeremy understood that they were an austere Christian faith, and farming people who didn’t drive automobiles and lived apart from the modern world, he knew little more of their ways and was curious. He alighted and went into the station. A clerk pointed him to a map on the wall of the local area, and gave him general directions to where the Amish dwelled.

He walked a couple miles west, and felt such a peace about the land that he decided to take a longer wander therein, keeping lookout for a church or shops. He had gotten on a good ten miles when he crested a hill. About a quarter mile ahead he saw an intersection, and just beyond that a figure approaching along the road from the north. It turned out to be a young man, and they reached the corner at the exact same moment.

There was nought they could do; they had to acknowledge each other. Father Jeremy was met by a lad about twenty, who extended his hand and said: “How do stranger? My name is Ephraim.”

“Jeremy,” he replied. “Much obliged.”

“You’re not from around here,” Ephraim observed.

“And you are,” Father Jeremy rejoined.

“Water?” Ephraim asked, offering the canteen he carried.

Jeremy was parched, and could hardly conceal his relieved delight. He drank copiously then thanked him. “I didn’t realize how thirsty I was.”

“Have as much as you want,” Ephraim answered. “I can refill it from the brook if you want more. Are you headed west?”

“I am,” Jeremy replied.

“I’ll walk with you awhile,” Ephraim said, and they commenced. “What brings you to my part of the world?”

“I’m just curious about the Amish and their church and your way of worship,” Jeremy said. “That’s what I came to see.”

“I can tell you all about the church. First of all, don’t wear the wrong suspenders into the wrong district. They’ll excommunicate you.”

“Excommunicate?” Jeremy exclaimed.

“That’s what they just did to me. That’s why you see me out walking the road instead of working in the field. I’m supposed to be out thinking about what I’ve done.”

“And what was that?” Jeremy asked. He was absolutely piqued.

“They have all these rules, nothing but rules, and lots of them don’t make sense,” Ephraim explained. “There’s over two hundred different Amish districts each with their own regulations about suspenders. You can imagine the confusion. Some wear two suspenders down the back, some wear one suspender in the back and two suspenders down the front, some wear one suspender going from the one side of the back to the other side of the front….”


“And I was adjusting them on leaving one district and entering another, and they broke. I had to hold my pants up so I used them as a belt. Everyone likes wearing belts the best and no one is allowed to wear them because of the rules, so I think they were even madder because they were jealous that I was comfortable. Sing a couple hymns in English, preach the word of Jesus, have your suspenders accidentally snap and you’re excommunicated. That’s my life and this is my house up ahead. Do you mind if we stop in there?”

“Not at all,” Jeremy replied. “Lead the way.”

“I had to face the elders yesterday,” Ephraim continued. “The bishops of the church. It was terrible, heartrending, silly, boring and tiresome. All we want is to serve God, and the church is saying, ‘You can’t go to Bible study, you can’t go to prayer meetings, you can’t speak to other people about Jesus, and because you refuse to quit you are a wicked person, and we are going to put you away from us.’ We don’t commit adultery, practice idolatry, fornication, hatred or drunkenness, but they count us with and treat us like those who do.”

“How did you explain yourself?” Jeremy asked.

“I confessed that I was going to prayer meetings and Bible study. They asked me if I was willing to repent of these things and admit that I was wrong. I couldn’t, and I’m not willing. I said, ‘God, thy will be done.’ They kicked me out, and here I am, excommunicated and shunned.”

They crossed a covered bridge over a mossy creek and walked up to the farmhouse. It was enormous, like a castle in the country, and appeared to be empty. They could see a figure guiding a yoke of workhorses, about half a mile in the distance. “That’s my pa. Come on.” Ephraim brought him to the open tent behind the house, where about one hundred chairs were arranged in rows. “This is the church. It’s like a tabernacle. It’s part of our home for the next couple weeks, and then it’ll move along. This is where they held my hearing this morning, where they kicked me out of every house I know in one fell swoop. I just have an idea to…come on, let’s go inside.”

He brought Jeremy into the kitchen. There was a pie on the counter. “Now you see this,” he said, throwing his hands up. “Even then Emily Cubbins gives me a pie. They excommunicate you and shun you, but still make sure you have lunch. They are such kind people, just stuck to these weird rules. Are you hungry?”

Jeremy was famished, but demurred. “I’ve been walking a few miles, and I could eat a bite.”

Ephraim cut two heaping slices and poured two glasses of milk. He set them down on the table, then said: “Don’t wait on me, I’ll be right back. And don’t worry about no one coming in on us, they’re all out in the fields and the first won’t be back till near sundown.”

Jeremy didn’t have to be told twice when to dig in.

Ephraim returned momentarily with a small bag slung over his shoulder. He set it down on the bench, then sat down beside and quickly outpaced Jeremy in gulping down pie and milk. “So where do you reckon you’ll go tonight?”

“I don’t know,” Jeremy replied. “I’ve thrown myself into the wind to let it blow me withersoever it listeth.”

“That’s exactly what I’m minded to do!” Ephraim concurred. “They try to hide the Bible from me, and when I read it for myself I only find Jesus. They punish me for daring to open a book they should be begging us all to read. Why would they hide Jesus from me? And then punish me for reading it on my own? It makes me wonder why they don’t want me to know the outside world. It must really be something, and I’m going to go see it for myself. They can’t turn their backs on me if I’m already gone.” He picked up his bag, moved to the door, fetched a Bible off the shelf thereby, and said: “I’ve got my bag and I’m armed with my sword, which is the word of God. Do you want to come along?”

“I’m not one to say no when beckoned by the Bible,” Jeremy answered. He followed Ephraim outside, and they walked back over the bridge and out to the road.

So I can tell you everything you need to know about the Amish,” Ephraim said. “We are quiet people of the land. We came here three centuries ago from Switzerland and Germany to escape religious persecution. My ancestors brought with them a love of God and the land, a desire to work hard, and a complicated set of strict rules called the Ordnung. The Amish are experts with rules—at organizing and enforcing them, and making new ones.”

“I’m very familiar with the strictness of church law,” Jeremy remarked. “I am a Catholic priest.”

“Then you would know,” Ephraim said. “The Amish elders read the Bible in German, and forbid anyone reading it in any other language. We are told to not ask questions and to obey the rules to have any chance of getting to heaven. But we can’t help but be curious, and are reading it English, and beginning to question interpretations, and some of the rules, while openly preaching Jesus to our own people who haven’t read the Word. Some of my own people are ignorant about Jesus! The church says that anyone who breaks their rules risks eternal damnation, but if the church law or the law of the land goes against the word of God, you’ve got to obey God; and we know salvation is through faith in Jesus, and not by obeying Amish rules. It is sinful to keep the people in darkness, by giving them a Bible written in a language that they do not comprehend, and warning them not to read it in English. God have mercy!”

“Ironically, that sounds very much like what happened to the man who translated it into German centuries ago,” Father Jeremy observed.

“Well, we’ve got nothing but grass and road before us,” Ephraim replied. “Say on.”

Jeremy explained: “He was a German monk named Martin Luther, back when the Catholic Church only allowed the Bible to be read in Latin, Hebrew or Greek. They didn’t want the masses to see it for themselves and declared it heresy to translate the Bible into any common tongue. That was early in the sixteenth century, and by that time the church had amassed immeasurable wealth, and was the ruling authority in much of the western world. It dominated every stage of life, from baptism to burial. The church commanded armies and waged wars, reigned over empires, anointed kings and queens, controlled trade and exploration, and its coffers were overflowing. When people asked how they could save their own souls, Catholicism offered itself as the only path to salvation.

“Where gold and power are corrupting people, the devil is in his glory, and by that time he had infested and possessed the church, donning priestly robes like the proverbial wolves in sheep skin. As a result the papacy had become more a political position than a prayerful holy seat. Pope Alexander the sixth was a monster. He increased the church’s wealth by imprisoning and murdering people and seizing their property. The church was also amassing money through the sale of letters of indulgence, with which people paid for their sins and were guaranteed a place in heaven. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther tacked his famous ninety five theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg in Germany. He denounced the indulgences, arguing that they condemned buyer and seller both—the seller for the obvious reasons, and the buyer for a lack of faith. His deed sparked an uproar that reverberated throughout the world and history; and his words spawned revolts and wars and ultimately, all the Christian denominations under the Protestant umbrella--including the Amish. Luther eventually translated the Bible into German, and then used the presses that had printed indulgences to produce Bibles for his people.

“In 1521 Luther was brought before the Holy Roman emperor Charles the fifth, a devout Catholic and the most powerful man in the earth. Luther had to answer to elders, just like you, and he responded with the famous words: ‘I am a prisoner in conscious to the word of God. I cannot retract, and I will not retract.’”

“Acts five, twenty nine says: ’It is better to obey God than man,’” Ephraim said. That’s exactly how I felt.”

“Well, the men who ran the church declared Luther a heretic and excommunicated him,” Jeremy said.

“I know how that feels too, and just for reading and talking about the Bible in English.”

“Actually, it was first translated into English around the same time by a man named William Tyndale,” Jeremy continued. “He was a true martyr for Christ. When I first heard his story he was my hero. He devoted his whole life and soul to Jesus. And he knew Luther. Tyndale learned German, so he could read Luther’s translation, then left England and met Luther in Wittenberg. He learned Greek and Hebrew, so he could translate it into English, and then had to print pocket size copies in Belgium and smuggle them into London on cargo boats because the church in England controlled the printers.”

“How did that go?” Ephraim asked.

“There was a lot of fire,” Jeremy explained. “The bishop of London denounced his translation for containing thousands of errors. There was no pope or saints in Tyndale’s New Testament. There were no relics and no purgatory, no lent and no catholic church. The Tyndale New Testaments were ritually burned on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and many of their owners publicly humiliated and eventually burned as heretics. Tyndale too was brought before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the fifth and then burned alive. It came to pass exactly as Christ had foretold in the gospel, ‘But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.’”

“I would die for Jesus,” Ephraim declared. “If I could go be with Jesus I would lay down right here. I hope to some day find a way to prove my love, like Tyndale did.”

They walked many miles and chatted for hours, and just as the sun was going down they entered the outskirt of Elizabethtown. They came upon a roadside diner, and stopped in to rest and refresh. They ordered dinner and coffee, and were occupied with that when a couple of younger guys about Ephraim’s age took up the booth beside them. In the course of their conversation, Ephraim spoke a verse of scripture in his native tongue so Jeremy could hear its sound, and one of the guys leaned over and said: “I recognize that language; that’s Pennsylvania Dutch.”

“Very good,” Ephraim said. “Do you speak it?”

“Oh no, I just recognize it,” the lad replied. “I’m TrinityJosef, and this is my friend Arville. We’re on our way to Cumorah from Tahoe.” He offered his hand and finished, saying: “Pleased to meet you.” Ephraim shook his hand and the four introduced themselves.

“Mormons?” Jeremy remarked.

“Indeed we are,” Arville answered.

“Cumorah in July,” Jeremy observed. “You must be going to the pageant.”

“You are correct, sir,” TrinityJosef said. “That we are.”

“I’ve heard of the Mormons, but I don’t know the first thing about them,” Ephraim confessed.

“Well, you’re talking with two right now,” Arville said.

“Cumorah Hill was the birthplace of the Mormon church,” TrinityJosef explained. “It’s where the great prophet Joseph Smith received The Book of Mormon from the angel Moroni. It’s the holiest place in Mormonism, and we hold a pageant there every year and make the pilgrimage to celebrate God’s gift to us.”

“And what exactly is The Book of Mormon?” Ephraim asked.

“Another testament of our Lord Jesus Christ,” TrinityJosef answered. “It’s not in the Bible, but it’s every bit as real and true. It’s the story of a lost Hebrew tribe, led by a righteous man named Lehi. Around 600 BC, just before the Babylonian conquest of Israel, Lehi led his family and followers out of Jerusalem. They journeyed by boat to North America, and settled in the New World long before it was the New World. Lehi’s favorite son was his youngest, Nephi, who was a just and upright man. When Lehi was old he passed the mantle of leadership to Nephi. This greatly angered Laman, Nephi’s bad apple black sheep older brother, and the tribe fractured into two clans, the Nephites and the Lamanites. The Nephites were a righteous, light-skinned people, while the Lamanites were wicked and iniquitous, wherefore they fell out of favor with God, who cursed them with dark skin.

“The two clans warred bitterly for hundreds of years until Christ appeared to them after his resurrection, and graced with the gospel, they lived in prosperous concord for several centuries. The Lamanites gradually backslid into idolatry, and around 400 AD slaughtered the Nephites, and the land fell into the hands of the red sons of the lost tribe of Israel. The leader of the Nephites during these last battles was Mormon, and his son Moroni was the last Nephite victim of the genocide, and the angel that delivered the golden plates containing The Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith.”

“Golden plates?” Ephraim said incredulously.

“The book was inscribed on golden plates and buried in the hill Cumorah for centuries,” TrinityJosef explained. “The golden pages were engraved with Egyptian characters and bound with three rings like a book. The angel Moroni visited our great prophet Joseph Smith and finally revealed its location to him, and also provided him with a pair of powerful spectacles called ‘interpreters,’ which enabled him to decipher the ancient text.

“He translated and published The Book of Mormon, formally established the church in 1830, and within a year boasted over a thousand members who called themselves latter day saints in the Lord’s One True Church, who were preparing the earth for the Second Coming of Christ. There are millions of us today. Hey, you know what? Why don’t you two come along with us to the pageant?”

Jeremy and Ephraim both reacted with slight surprise.

TrinityJosef continued. “Our back seat is empty, and once there you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere to crash. If nothing else, you can stay at my aunt’s, which is a mighty fine place.”

Arville pointed out the window to the motel across the street. “We’re staying there tonight, and driving the rest of the way tomorrow. It’s less than three hundred miles. You really are more than welcome to join us.”

Jeremy and Ephraim conferred, and agreed to get a room in the same motel and take up the invitation and go along. They finished dinner, paid and tipped, then walked across the street, where Ephraim let out a room with some money he’d brought. They then arranged to meet their new friends in the morning and said good night. They returned to their room, which was large with two small beds, and prepared to retire.

“They seem right nice enough,” Ephraim said. “I’ll have to take a look at that book of Mormon.”

“Feel free,” Jeremy answered. “But keep in mind that it was written by a villainous, lying shyster.”

“Really?” Ephraim remarked with surprise.

Jeremy went on to tell the story as he knew it. “Joseph Smith was a false prophet who started out as a grave robber. As a teenager he took an interest in black magic and crystal gazing, and sought his fortune through money digging, the practice of excavating artifacts from Native American burial mounds.

“Then he discovered what were called peep stones, or seer stones—small rocks which, when placed in an upside down hat and looked in upon, revealed supposed visions to the gazer. He also described himself as a scryer and a necromancer--elegant words for a crystal gazer who communicates with the dead—and began charging fees for his psychic services, which included locating buried treasure for landowners. His renowned spread, and when he was twenty one he was summoned into court by the state of New York and found guilty of being a disorderly person and an imposter.

“In truth he was a viper who used the word of God to satisfy his earthly lusts. He married his first wife Emma after telling her that the angel Moroni had told him that the golden plates would be withheld from him forever unless he married a girl named Emma Hale. He went on to weave more lies from his imagination, and used them to accrue wealth, rule weaker people, and to satisfy his desire for women by declaring that polygamy had been divinely ordained, then committing adultery with other men’s wives, before marrying them himself. He was killed in a shootout with authorities after they chased and trapped him with his small gang in a cabin in Missouri. He wasn’t exactly the type of man you would expect to be a messenger from God,” Jeremy concluded.

“Why didn’t you tell Arville and TrinityJosef what you really know about their great prophet?” Ephraim asked.

“I can whenever I like, and there’s a time and place for everything,” Jeremy answered.

“Well, I’m going to read more about the Mormons tomorrow, but right now I’m going to close my eyes and pray myself to sleep,” Ephraim said, and then did.

In the morning they all met back at the diner, had a quick breakfast and departed for Cumorah. Arville and TrinityJosef had placed a copy of The Book of Mormon in the backseat, and after the four were settled in for the long ride, Ephraim read the first few pages. After only five minutes or so he said: “This doesn’t read anything like the Bible.”

“Give it a few more pages, brother,” Arville urged. “It truly is a fifth gospel of Jesus Christ. If you live according to that you’ll grow to become a deity and at your death you will become the god over your own planet elsewhere in the universe.”

Ephraim silently closed that book and opened the Bible. A while later Jeremy asked him where he was reading. “In Deuteronomy,” he answered softly. “And listen to this passage. ‘There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination to the LORD.’ That’s Deuteronomy eighteen, verses ten through twelve. Necromancer is the exact word you used to describe Joseph Smith last night,” Ephraim pointed out.

“Then you can be sure he was an abomination,” Jeremy replied.

A few hours later they rolled into Palmyra, New York. As TrinityJosef drove the car, Arville played tour guide. He pointed toward a place in the trees and said: “That is the Sacred Grove, where the great prophet Joseph Smith received his marvelous vision of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.” A little further along, and as dozens of people suddenly began appearing, they reached a forty foot monument, stopped and got out and looked up at the statue of the angel Moroni atop a twenty five foot pedestal. “There’s about a hundred similar statues of the same design and dimension all over the world,” Arville explained.

“It looks like an idol to me,” Ephraim said, shaking his head in dismay, not awe.

“You’re right, it is idolatry,” Jeremy affirmed.

“I really feel like Deuteronomy is speaking to me,” Ephraim said to Jeremy. He opened the Bible that he’d kept in his hand. “Listen to this: Deuteronomy chapter eighteen verse twenty. ‘But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.’

“That is unusual,” Jeremy said.

“No, it’s pulling me. Remember when I said I want to prove my love to my lord. Deuteronomy is rising inside, and urging me to something.”

“If God is calling, you must obey,” Jeremy offered. “You just said so yourself.”
TrinityJosef and Arville returned, and the four were quickly overwhelmed by the festivities called America’s Witness For Christ. They walked a little way into a field where thousands of people were crowded in the stifling summer air. There was an elaborate stage festooned with thousands of lights. As the day waned into twilight several fireballs were accompanied by explosions. The orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir began to play and sing, manmade fog billowed out upon the feet of the hundreds of actors who marched onto stage dressed as biblical figures and pre-Columbian North Americans, some even wearing headgear antlers.

Suddenly a loud voice like God Himself boomed out: “This is the true story of a people who were prepared by the Lord to be ready for the coming of the savior, Jesus Christ. He came to them in the Americas, but their story began in the Old World, in Jerusalem….”

At different points in the performances a prophet was burned at the stake, and Christ appeared and descended from the night sky. Then a high tech, special effect volcano erupted and fireworks filled the air.

“This is so loud. I talk to God in the silence!” Ephraim shouted. “If this is the way they worship in the outside world, then I don’t want to leave my home. I miss it already. I’m going back there tonight, but before I leave there is something I’m going to do. If you’ll follow me, I don’t want your help, but I do want you to witness.”

He led Jeremy through the crowd toward the stage. There he climbed up unnoticed in the sea of people, went behind the corner of the curtain and slung over his shoulder the coil of rope that he’d noticed there. While up on stage he spotted a sheathed axe; at first he thought it strange to see, but then presumed it was being used for the ropes, hefted it also into his possession and led Jeremy, through people walking in every direction, to the statue of Moroni. They paused and looked up. Then Ephraim opened his Bible and read, by the bright street light. “’But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.’ Deuteronomy chapter seven, verse five. Would you keep this please?”

He handed Jeremy his Bible, then lengthened the rope and expertly threw one end of it up over the statue. It landed over a crook in Moroni’s neck and came back down, and he took both ends and used it to help himself nimbly shinny up the monument. With a quietly amazed crowd quickly gathering, he climbed onto the statue and securely wrapped the rope about its neck. He rappelled down and dropped the end. He went and entered a golf cart he’d espied there when they first arrived, and backed it up to the rope, which he tightly secured to the bumper. He drove it full speed until it was met by Moroni’s resistance. He circled around and back and forth wildly until he suddenly shouted, “Clear the way!” as the statue toppled off its mount. It speared the ground headfirst, then crashed down with a thud.

While the crowd was rippling with curious excitement, they were also blanketed by a surreal calm, and many followed when Ephraim ripped the sheaf off the axe and started walking the road toward the Sacred Grove. That place was not lit, and he entered the darkest corner and started blindly cutting and clearing everything in his path. “I’m coming Lord Jesus!” he shouted repeatedly. “I’m coming home!”


Chapter 4 -- The Treasure in the Chest

Chapter 4

The Treasure in the Chest

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
-- Matthew 5:8

In the morning the Mormons quite serenely set to standing up the statue of Moroni and clearing the brush heaps Ephraim had made of their sacred grove. Jeremy wandered out of their midst and walked several miles to an outlying road.

He’d given little forethought to transportation, and figured he’d get from place to place in whatever manner any particular moment presented. He’d used his thumb on a couple of occasions in younger days, so he licked it for luck and stuck it up. He’d been standing there a good while, and had been passed by many vehicles, when he heard a puttering. He looked down the road and saw a tractor towing a long empty flatbed trailer emerge from behind a little hill and slowly approach. With its enormous wheels he thought it looked like a gigantic locust. He smiled as the tractor’s operator eased it alongside.

“Howdy stranger,” the man said loudly, as he down-throttled the engine. He looked Jeremy over, then continued. “I can lift you about ten miles down the road, and if you want to wait an hour or so while I load up with hay bales, another ten further after that. If nothing better, I’ll get you to a main road somewhere along the way.”

“That works for me,” Jeremy said. He hoisted himself up onto the bench seat and introduced himself to the farmer, whose name was Ralph. “I’m much obliged, and thank you very much!” he shouted.

“Think nothing of it!” Ralph replied. “Why don’t we wait until we reach the field to try and talk, instead of shouting? In the meantime I like to listen to music while I ride.” He reached under the steering column and retrieved a set of headphones similar to the ones he was wearing, and handed them to Jeremy. “These work pretty well. They muffle the sound, but there’s also a radio built in! You can change the station with the tuner, which is behind the right ear!”

Jeremy adjusted them comfortably around his ears then turned his eyes to the horizon and his mind in on his thoughts. He tuned a channel to his liking and melded the music with the hum of the road.

An hour or so later they rolled onto a field, where bales of hay uniformly dotted many acres. Ralph cut the engine and the tractor gently rolled to a stop. “Well, Jeremy,” he said, “you can get off here, or you can wait while I load the trailer and ride the rest of the way with me.”

“Or I can give you a hand,” Jeremy said.

“I was sort of hoping you might say that,” Ralph replied. “Here, I’ll trade you.”
He handed Jeremy a pair of work gloves and took the headphones and they commenced to stacking bales on the trailer.

“So who exactly are you, and where are you headed?” Ralph asked.

“I’m a catholic priest,” he answered. “I’m just wandering around America seeing how different people worship. I’m letting the Spirit lead the way, and wherever I end up is where I’m going. If someone offers me a ride to Tacoma tomorrow, then I’ll head in that direction; if someone has a seat on a boat sailing to Miami, then Miami it is. Otherwise I’ll just put one foot in front of the other.”

“That’s a nervy show of faith,” Ralph answered. “Well, Father, if you’d like you’re more than welcome to spend the night on my couch. I don’t live far from where we’re dropping the hay, and you could even stay for a couple days if you like.”

He didn’t have to think twice. “Thank you, I accept. And please, don’t call me father.”

“My apologies, Jeremy; I’m just trying to be respectful.”

“And you are,” he answered. “That’s one of the many conflicts with the Bible that makes me crazy about Catholicism. The church doctrine decrees that priests be addressed as ‘father,’ yet Jesus specifically said to ‘call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your father, which is in heaven.’ If the church was true to Christ, I wouldn’t be referred to as father.”

They set to the task and an hour later the trailer was loaded, an hour after that they were at their destination down the road, and an hour after that they were seated at Jed’s table drinking coffee.

“Well, Fat—uh, Jeremy. I have read the Bible, cover to cover, but I’ve got to confess, I really don’t understand Catholicism. I went to a Catholic church once, and didn’t feel very comfortable. It was very stiff. I felt like I was sneaking into a meeting of someone’s private club.”

“The church can be uptight.”

“And I really don’t understand much of what they do. What exactly is the rosary and the hail Marys? Where in the Bible does it say you have to kiss some beads while uttering certain words to prove my faith? How does that get you into heaven?”

“The rosary is nowhere in the Bible, nor the accompanying prayers,” Jeremy explained. “They are rites that were incorporated into church doctrine over the centuries. I’m sure someone somewhere in time convinced a pope that beads would be a great moneymaker if the congregants could only buy them from the church, and that some special council was convened to incorporate them into the catholic doctrine. Isaiah said: ‘This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.’ And Christ also spoke of kissing beads while mumbling when he said: “When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”

“Then what is the right way to worship?” Ralph asked. “You are the priest. Where should I go to church, and how should I pray?”

“That’s up to you. The outward display means little with God. He wants your love, which comes from your heart, which is why he sent his Son. Consider the very first words of the New Testament. ‘The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David.’ David is the greatest king in Jewish history, and Christ the king of mankind. Christ descended directly from the line of David, and when God chose David, it was on account of his heart: ‘And…he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will. Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Savior, Jesus.’

To Christ is given the kingdom, and to populate that kingdom ‘the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.’ It’s repeated over and over throughout the scriptures. Jesus taught: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’ And it is written in Deuteronomy: ‘But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.’ And in the Psalms: ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the LORD.’ And back to Jesus, when he said: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ Therefore you should live as if God is staring into your heart at every moment, because He is.

“Nicely spoken,” Ralph lauded. “On that note I’m going to put my tired heart to bed and chew on your wisdom while falling asleep. The house is yours. If you’re hungry, eat. There are books and television, blankets and pillows in that closet…make yourself comfortable. If I don’t see you in the morning, the pleasure was mine.”

“Thank you very much, I’ll still be here tomorrow,” Jeremy assured.


Chapter 5 -- The Jesus Christ Show

Chapter 5

The Jesus Christ Show

I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. -- Galatians 2:21

Jeremy made a light snack and a cup of tea then settled into the reclining chair with a book. He couldn’t focus his mind on the words, and in his restlessness he decided to step outside and gaze at the night sky. He softly went into the yard and looked up in awe, then laid down on his back and let his thoughts float to the universe. Time vanished…he dozed off…and his thoughts became dreams.

When he awoke his eyes were drawn to the tractor, which was parked in front of the barn just beneath the full moon. Then he recalled the headphones, and had a sudden and strange urge to listen to music.

He walked over and fished them out from beneath the steering column, clipped them to his head and turned them on. His right hand fumbled with the dial behind the ear, until he suddenly heard a booming, resonant voice say: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen,and welcome to the Jesus Christ show. I’m your host, JC. Come walk with me from the fountain of living water into eternity and we will rock the stars! If you’d like to speak directly with Jesus, I’m taking calls right now at one eight hundred JCROCKSTAR. And if you’d like to be considered for my weekly journal, or to receive a copy, write to PO Box 1714 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We have a lot to get to tonight, so let’s get right to it!”

“The abortionists are at again. Did you hear the ruling in Denver today? Those liberal politicians are going to increase funding for those clinics whose services include abortion. They think they can sneak it behind our backs, or slip it under our noses, but the American people are too smart, and see through the disguise to the ugly evil inside. The only way to correct the horrific wrong, this travesty of the law, is to replace the judges on the highest court, and the only way to do that is to replace the President and his cohorts in charge, and the only way we can do that is to rise up and take over the voting booths. Are you with me, people? Are you with Jesus?”

Jeremy left the radio tuned to the ranting for an hour or so, and his blood simmered listening to the liar who called himself the Lord. He remembered the phone in Ralph’s house, and for a lark decided to dial the number. To his surprise the line at 1-800-JCROCKSTAR rang, and was answered by a man who asked Jeremy his name, roughly what he wanted to say, then put him on hold. Five minutes later he heard JC say, “Next up is Jeremy in Pennsylvania.”

Jeremy stumbled over his own tongue. “Hi J…uh. I don’t quite know how to begin. I’ve been listening for the last hour, and I’m puzzled by your attitude and your stance.”

“Are you now, Jeremy? And who are you that you know enough about me to pass judgment publicly?” JC bluntly asked.

“I’m just a catholic priest out having a look around America.”

“The view from up here is magnificent,” JC boldly proclaimed.

“I do find it offensive that you call yourself Jesus Christ.”

“If I am a new person in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is in me, then I am become Jesus Christ,” JC explained.

“To say it as you do is sin, and since Jesus is without sin, you cannot be who you call yourself,” Jeremy rejoined. “Notwithstanding that it’s simply irreverent disrespect. And by obsessing about lawmakers and legislating sin instead of showing mercy to your brothers and to the poor, you put yourselves under the law.”

“But I’m not a lawbreaker, so it can’t harm me,” JC declared. “And I will bear any and all influence in my power to save others and to make less deadly the sting and the condemnation of the law.”

“Then your own tongue will judge you,” Jeremy rejoined. “If you wield law against a woman’s body, and her will, to save life, then go on to authorize your military to invade other countries and bomb their babies, you are guilty of murder, and the law is become the noose wherein you hang yourselves.”

“And if you support the liberal agenda that governs the law, then the law, in killing others, kills you, according to my biblical view,” JC explained.

“I know a thing or two about the Bible,” Jeremy proclaimed. “Have you not read the truth the Spirit revealed concerning the law through Paul in his epistle to the Galatians?” Jeremy asked. “Therein it is written, ‘received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing the faith? The law is not of faith, but the man that doeth them shall live in them. By the works of the law no flesh shall be justified, but if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

“I do love my neighbor,” JC answered. “As long as he leads a biblical life. It is also written to not be yoked with unbelievers. When the law is contrary to God, the law must be changed.”

“The whole law itself is contrary to God,” Jeremy rejoined. “Wherefore it is written that ‘Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.’”

“Now you’re telling me I’m fallen from grace,” JC snidely replied. “How very Christian of you. Let’s move along to Rudy in Houston.”

The line clicked and went silent. Jeremy was even more worked up than when he’d dialed the phone. He laid the headphones on the table, found paper and a pen, opened his Bible and searched out a few scriptures. Then he wrote.

O Untimely Birth

By Jeremy from Pennsylvania

Not every bud on the vine matures into fruit; some fall and rot in the earth, and nourish the roots. It can be said that in a manner they are born again.

Miscarriage, stillbirth and crib death account for millions of infant mortalities worldwide every year; it’s been a natural aspect of the human condition since man was cast out of the garden.

The inscrutable, omniscient God, who knows the number of hairs upon your head and all the thoughts in your heart, takes every last babe up into His arms. He also addressed it in His book long, long ago.

Job 3: 11-16 ‘Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck? For now should I have lain still and had been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest… as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw the light. There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.’

It is a biblical truth essentially repeated in Ecclesiastes 4: 3-4, ‘Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.’ And Ecclesiastes 6: 3 ‘If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.’

Would a true child of God abort a fetus? Of course not. Why then do you fret when they you surely regard as the daughters of the devil off their own young?

And why do you seek to legislate the sin of others? We all know who the LORD says is qualified to cast those stones.

Speaking of stones, let us segue to Matthew 3:9, where John the Baptist denounces the Pharisees (the ancient equivalent of today’s self-righteous conservative ‘Christians’), saying: ‘God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.’

Knowing that, do you think that even one soul God determines to be has been or ever will be lost? In John 6:39, Jesus says: ‘And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.’

Jesus also accused the Pharisees repeatedly, including Matthew 23:23: ‘Woe unto ye, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.’

In this you pharisaical hypocrites make a show of your piety by taking up your indignation against abortion, but turn your backs upon the infants the moment they take their place among the living. You despise spending tax dollars on the social programs that would feed, house, educate and give them health care, and by opposing such seek to subject them to the very evils the Bible says they’re better off never knowing. Abortion is abomination, but so aren’t ruthless bankers who devour houses, making people homeless to accumulate money they’ll never spend; and heartless health insurers who alchemize blood by visiting death upon the impoverished; and the soulless politicians who enable and protect them in the name of God. And even if the privacy laws were ever repealed the money saved would not be spent on the resulting babies—it would be divvied by and to the bankers and the insurers and the liars whom the Bible itself says would be better off had they simply been aborted.

As the late hours became the early hours, Jeremy at last drifted into sleep, and was still so doing when he was roused by the presence of Ralph standing over him. “Stay down if you like,” Ralph said. “I am going to start getting ready to work. Do you have any plan?”

“I thought I’d ride out with you and work part of the day then move along from wherever we are,” Jeremy said.

“I’m going close to Punxsatawney to pick up more bales. They’re already rolled.”

“Then I’ll ride along and get off there,” Jeremy said.

“Whatever you like,” Ralph replied. “Coffee and eggs will be ready in ten minutes.”

They ate then went out front and climbed aboard the tractor. Ralph put on one set of headphones and handed Jeremy the other. Jeremy placed them over his ears, and said: “I’ve got to say, these things are fantastic. I put them on and listened to the radio for a couple hours in the middle of the night.”

“Really? If you like them that much, they’re yours,” Ralph replied. Jeremy tried to resist the gift, but Ralph insisted. “Call it your pay for the morning’s work. I can make another pair in an hour. Let me show you the best feature, because I’m so proud of it. Do you see that square bit of glass behind the left ear? That’s a mini solar panel. That’s your power supply, and it charges up enough during the day to run all night.”

“Why thank you so much. These will certainly come in handy, and definitely put to use.”

Jeremy tuned in some music and settled in for the long ride. They worked for several hours loading hay, then had lunch together, said goodbye and parted ways.