First Friday Fiction on a Second Saturday

Stanley Harris was born during that brief period when American folk music was hitting the top of the popular music charts. After a year or so, the rest of the country moved on to Motown and the Beatles, but Stan’s parents stayed loyal to folk music. Consequently, Stan grew up hearing the music of Harry Belafonte, the Weavers, Woody Guthrie, and other folk singers. Stan knew all the words to “On Top of Old Smoky,” “Goodnight, Irene,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Stan’s parents also kept alive their love for the Big Band hits of the 1940s; Stan can still hear his mother chirping, “A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket.” Broadway musicals were also favored in the family. Every year Stan and his parents sat down and watched the classics on network television: The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, West Side Story. Next to the folk records and the Big Band records in the family collection were cast recordings from Music Man, My Fair Lady¸ and other Broadway shows.

On the weekends the family radio was tuned to the classical music station. Stan took piano lessons as a boy, and in the fifth grade he joined the school band. From Bach and Beethoven to Strauss and Sousa, Stan had a wide musical education. Then, when he entered high school, Stan found his classmates evenly and fiercely divided between fans of disco music and fans of heavy metal. Stan joined the minority of high school students who considered the Beatles vastly superior than anything newer, and finally, a decade late, the Harris house was filled with the sounds of “Hey, Jude,” and Abbey Road.

Jump ahead forty years, and Stan’s music tastes remain eclectic. His children, now grown, are also Beatle fans, with fond memories of sitting on their father’s lap as little children while he sang “Hey, Jude” to them, or, “The Long and Winding Road.” When a professional production of My Fair Lady came to town, Stan bought two tickets and took his youngest daughter to the show. This was the night that changed Stan’s summer.

The actor who portrayed Alfred Doolittle was very strong, dominating the stage and capturing the audience’s attention, as the role requires. The actors playing Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering were also quite adept and talented. At first Stan feared that he was going to be disappointed by the actress playing Eliza Doolittle. She did not show the same strength in the early scenes. Only as the show progressed did Stan realize that she was deliberately taking a subtle and nuanced approach to the part. Her Cockney accent was not exaggerated in the way most actresses portray Eliza. Her character was vulnerable in the first act, contrasting effectively with the inner strength Eliza acquires in the second act. The actress beautifully performed Eliza’s first public appearance, at the horse race, showing Eliza tottering on her high heels and overdoing the cultured manners that Higgins has taught her. For the ball at the end of act one, Eliza emerged truly elegant, even regal.

One brief instant lingered in Stan’s mind after the show. Midway through the second act, the actress allowed herself one brief facial expression and wave of the hand that belonged to the twenty-first century and not to the Victorian era. That brief grimace that young ladies use today to express, “What are you thinking? Are you even thinking?” fit the occasion in the script, if not the setting, and it ingrained the actress in Stan’s mind. It may have been a mistake on the part of the actress, but Stan took it as a sign that the actress was not merely playing a part: she had become Eliza Doolittle, and Eliza had become her. For the three hours of the show, they were one and the same person.

At his age, Stan did not need to be enraptured with a starlet no older than his oldest children. But the Internet was not his friend. Though he left his program behind at the theater, he was easily able to retrieve the name that he had forgotten and to find the starlet’s web site. There he could learn more about her professional career, watch video clips of her acting and singing and dancing, and download photographs of her onto his computer. Had he wanted, Stan could even have written a fan letter to her. He stopped short of that extreme, but when driving in the car he found himself studying the letters in the license plates of other cars, seeing if he could spell her entire first and last name from them before he reached his destination.

All this would have passed in three or four weeks if not for Irene. Irene was a newly hired member of Stan’s department, transferred from another department in the company. At first their paths rarely crossed, while she was being oriented to her new position. But one evening Stan stayed late at the public service desk, filling in for an employee on vacation, and Stan and Irene had their first conversation.

Irene, Stan noticed, strongly resembled the starlet who had played Eliza in My Fair Lady. Irene was a few years older and wore glasses, but she had a similar face, similar hair, and was of a similar build. Both Irene and the starlet brought to Stan’s mind a song he had heard many times in his childhood: “She had a dark and a roving eye, and her hair hung down in ringlets. She was a nice girl, a proper girl….” Irene was friendly, and she was interesting as well. Already obsessing himself over the actress, Stan began to mingle the two women in his mind.

The next time Stan was at the public service desk on his regular schedule, Irene came downstairs to use the copier by that desk. Stan didn’t know if someone else was using the copier upstairs, and he didn’t ask. They struck up a conversation, and Stan allowed himself to believe what he knew was probably untrue—he allowed himself to believe that Irene had chosen to use that copier at that time only because she wanted to talk again with him.

It was a standard Monday conversation—how was your weekend, what weather we are having, and the like. Stan commented that he had met his daughter’s kitten for the first time, and Irene said that she liked cats but her husband didn’t. The moment was soon over; she was done with the copier and returned upstairs. Stan’s time at the public service desk ended, and he returned to his regular desk. But all day long the song continued to echo in his head: “She had a dark and a roving eye, and her hair hung down in ringlets.”

That ringlets song, by the way, does not have a happy ending. It is sung as a warning to avoid that kind of girl. But Stan has not been particularly good about heeding warnings, not even when they have been part of his life for fifty years. Stan was smart enough to know that he should say goodnight to any thought of Irene, but he also knew what followed: “I’ll see you in my dreams.”

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Car trouble–chastening, or a thorn?

When I am driving down the street and I smell gasoline, I immediately assume that something is wrong with my car. So long as no warning lights are shining on the dashboard and nothing else seems abnormal about the car’s handling, I try to assure myself that someone else’s car is to blame, or perhaps I am smelling a gas station nearby.

Yesterday as I drove to work, I noticed a strong odor of gasoline. Nothing lit on the dashboard, and the car handled normally, so I worked to assure myself that someone else’s car was to blame. My first candidate was the car in front of me, the one with the “WHF” license plate—certainly that car was to blame for the whiff of gasoline in the air. But when that car went through a yellow light and I stopped at the red light, the odor did not dissipate.

I got downtown, turned a corner, and stalled on the tracks. That was a frightening moment. I turned on the hazard flashers, waited a moment, and turned the key. The car started again. Then I noticed that the fuel gage needle was visibly dropping. I had left home with about five-eights of a tank of gas; a dozen miles later, I was approaching a quarter tank. With the car running, I circled around and headed back the other direction, to the mechanic’s shop where I usually take my car.

Ten to fifteen minutes of solid prayer later, I arrived at the shop, about two minutes before they were due to open. When they opened I was first in line—actually, I was the entire line—and so my car was examined right away. The mechanic found that a bolt had broken, allowing the gasoline to leak. An hour later the car was fixed (although the odor remained, filling the garage after I went home yesterday evening and seeping into the house during the night). All I had lost was an hour at work, fifty dollars for the repair, and about ten dollars of gasoline.

My counselor says that I have an over-developed sense of guilt. When things go wrong, I ask what I have done to deserve it. Somehow this sense is particularly strong when it comes to motor vehicles. Some people would say, “Well, it could have been much worse,” which is of course true. But why does trouble have to happen at all?

Some Christians might call my attention to Hebrews 12, the verses about chastening coming from the Lord because he loves us. That approach reinforces my over-developed sense of guilt. I can easily locate things I am doing that are wrong, and I can persuade myself that God is chastening me for my sins. But that approach does not match what I write and teach about the problems we all face. We live in a world polluted by sin. Sin is unfair. We do not suffer for our own sins: the wicked prosper, while the righteous suffer. If such injustice were not allowed, then Jesus could never have borne the burden for our sins, and we could not be forgiven.

Last Sunday I was teaching about Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Three times Paul prayed to God, asking God to remove the thorn, but God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Paul concluded that when he was weak, then he was strong, because his strength came from the Lord and not from himself. I added that our spiritual enemies want to use our problems to make us doubt God—his love for us, or his ability to protect us, or his willingness to take care of us even though we are sinners. When our problems remind us of the suffering of Christ, the price he paid to redeem us, then our enemies lose and we share in Christ’s victory.

My problem was relatively small and relatively easy to fix. All the same, it served to reinforce my anxiety and stir up again the impression that I deserve to suffer for my sins. I had to remind myself to practice what I preach—to permit the small inconvenience and expense of a car repair to remind me of the cross of Christ and his victory over the greatest of evil, as well as the smallest expressions of evil. J.

Addiction and the Internet

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sometimes posts information in bars, knowing that the people who need their help are likely to be found there. But would you send a possible alcoholic into a bar to pick up information on AA?

Monday I came to work and opened my email. Being the first workday of the month, there was an email from Human Resources about health and wellness. The topic of the month is Internet addiction. The email included a link to read more information about Internet addiction, and that link led, of course, to the Internet.

So what about it, my WordPress friends? How many of us could be described as Internet addicts? Do we think about the Internet all the time, even when we are not using it? Do we resent things like work and meals and sleep because they require time away from the Internet? Has our use of the Internet caused damage to our relationships, our careers, or other important aspects of our personal lives?

I generally frame WordPress posts or responses to posts while I am off the Internet, whether driving or showering or mowing. That is less an indication of Internet addiction than it is a writer’s standard procedure for creating effective writing.

If I am addicted to any sites on the Internet, I am addicted to Sudoku and Nonograms. But that is more an addiction to games than to the Internet per se. If I had a hand-held version of either game, or a paper version, I would play just as intensely as I do on the Internet.

I cannot think of any way that the Internet has damaged my personal relationships. I might check WordPress or Facebook while at work, or sneak in a quick game. But when one logs onto Facebook and sees that one’s supervisor is posting while at work, it hardly seems worth worrying about getting caught.

If anything, I have gained important relationships through the Internet. Not through Facebook—I got a Facebook account mostly to spy on my children, and I have never approved a friend on Facebook whom I do not already know. My WordPress community, on the other hand, has become very important to me. I value my online friends and their ideas and interests as much as I value those of people I know in person. Moreover, I take attacks upon my WordPress friends as personally as I take attacks on people I know in person.

Gains and losses both come from making friends over the Internet. Some people pretend online to be someone they are not. At the same time, communities form sheltered existences where people can reinforce one another’s opinions and viewpoints, no matter how peculiar and uninformed those opinions and viewpoints might be. Trolls roam the Internet, looking for victims to verbally abuse. Internet addiction is real, and it can damage lives and relationships. This Wednesday I walked into a room and saw five members of my family sitting, each using a device, not interacting with one another at all—and this included family members who had traveled from other states to spend special holiday time with their family.

This summer, for several reasons, I have had less time to spend on WordPress and other social media. I am copy-editing a book for a publishing company and putting together another book of my own writing for publication through CreateSpace. At work I am filling in for other people who have taken vacations. I am also playing nonograms a lot more than I should. As a result, I missed some of the news that some of you have shared in the past couple weeks, catching up days later. I sincerely hope I have offended no one by my lack of response to their posts.

But what of it, my Internet friends? Are you concerned about Internet addiction and its effects on your life? Or do you feel safe and secure in your use of the Internet? J.

Five movies for Independence Day

On this fourth day of July, citizens of the United States of America celebrate the independence of our country and remember the freedoms we have as citizens of this country. Americans celebrate with parades, picnics, fireworks, and other traditional activities. Here is a list of five movies that I like to see around Independence Day. Not that I claim they are the best possible movies or that every American should see them. I don’t even watch all five every year, but it’s a safe bet I’ll be watching one of these five movies while others are out watching the firework show.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939): Actor James Stewart and director Frank Capra combine to bring viewers this movie about America’s government. Jeff Smith, played by Stewart, is a simple honest patriot. Named by the governor of his state to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate, Smith finds himself confronted with cynicism and corruption in the nation’s capital. Some elements of the movie fall short—for example, it’s hard to believe that a patriot like Jeff Smith would need a lecture from his office secretary about how a bill becomes a law. Still, the unabashed patriotism of Smith and his supporters—along with the tour of Washington DC’s landmarks—makes this movie a refreshing holiday treat. Some American politicians objected to portions of the movie that depict corrupt politicians (although no states or political parties are named), but the movie was banned in the totalitarian countries of Europe for its celebration of democracy and the power of the common man.

Music Man (1962): Made from a successful Broadway musical, this movie is not about patriotism or the Fourth of July so much as a celebration of the heartland of the United States and the people who live there. Harold Hill is a traveling salesman who markets musical instruments, lesson books, and uniforms, promising to form a boy’s band, even though Hill cannot read a note of music. Marian Paroo is the town’s librarian and must choose whether or not to reveal his scam. With songs including “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Til There Was You,” Music Man joyfully depicts the state of Iowa in the summer of 1912. The dance scene in the library is particularly not to be missed.

1776 (1972): Also made from a Broadway musical, this movie uses song, dance, and acting to depict the writing and acceptance of the Declaration of Independence in the Second Continental Congress of the North American colonies of Great Britain. No movie is a purely accurate source for history lessons, but this movie comes close. The actors truly live the parts of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the other founding fathers of the United States. At times humorous and at times gloomy, 1776 does not back away from the harsh realities of war and of American slavery. In the end, though, it is a glowing endorsement of that document created back in 1776 which gave the founding principles of a new nation.

Moscow on the Hudson (1984): Robin Williams plays a Russian musician who defects to the United States while his employer, a Russian circus, is performing in New York City. A landmark movie that can help younger people understand the issues of the Cold War, the movie shows the differences between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but it does not retreat into jingoistic propaganda. Life in Russia has joy as well as gloom, and life in America has sorrow and fear as well as freedom and opportunity. Several other powerful actors depict the population of New York City, a group of people who have traveled from all over the world to take part in the American way of life. Though the film is not entirely family-friendly, it remains one of the clearest proclamations of America’s values during the Reagan administration.

Independence Day (1996): An obvious choice for the Fourth of July, Independence Day tells the story of Earth being invaded by hostile aliens from outer space. Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, and Bill Pullman all shine in their roles of survivors who must confront and defeat this unexpected threat. Goldblum is especially effective as the environmentally-conscious computer expert who perceives the threat earlier than most people and eventually helps to create a solution. Doses of humor spice the action of this movie, including some lines so subtle that they might not be noticed until a second or third viewing. The President’s speech to his troops before the final battle is particularly uplifting and memorable.

Happy viewing, and happy Independence Day!  J.

(originally published July 3, 2015)

The third time’s the charm

Somehow I acquired the information that a vampire or similar undead being could only go into a dwelling place after being invited three times to enter. Some research on the internet this morning has convinced me that the three times is incorrect. That’s a shame, because the story I am about to tell would be much more interesting if it were true. As for being unable to enter without an invitation, that depends entirely on the author or scriptwriter, but it is a very common rule. Given the amount of trouble and damage these beings can accomplish, it’s only fair to limit them in some way. Of course they are accomplished at guile, deceit, and charm to get in the door when they so desire.

Garlic, silver, crosses, and other items are supposed to be effective against the undead. They do not work with telemarketers. Having your telephone number on the official “do not call” list is supposed to keep telemarketers away, but there are exceptions to that rule. Charities and political groups are exempt. Also, if you already have a relationship with a company, its telemarketers can call you to offer new or improved products.

So I was working at home one evening this week when the telephone rang. The caller was from the company that provides our television service. My family does not watch enough live TV (not counting DVDs) to get our money’s worth for that service, but it comes in combination with internet and telephone service. At any rate, this caller wanted to thank us for being good customers and was offering a special deal. A group of new channels would be added to our package at no cost for the next three months and only five dollars a month afterward. She listed the new channels she was offering and simply needed for me to say OK. Since this was a special offer for good customers, she seemed completely convinced that I’d be happy and agree to the offer.

I did not agree. I told her that we wouldn’t bother to watch those additional channels even if we had them, and I did not want to have to try to remember to cancel them after three months to avoid the higher rate. As if she had not heard me, she ran through the entire script a second time, again assuming that I was going to say OK. Again, I thanked her and told her we weren’t interested. At this point she asked what I like to watch on TV. Not mentioning the DVDs, I let her know that mostly I watched sports—especially baseball—and also kept up on local weather and news. Hearing the word “sports” she again tried to sign me up for this special offer, mentioning some sports-related part of the package. I politely declined the third time, and the conversation finally ended.

This is where I wanted to compare the telemarketer to a vampire who must be invited three times before entering the house. Since that is not the case, my analogy falls flat. Clearly, though, this telemarketer had been trained to continue the pitch until the third time she heard a “no.” That is a common sales technique and did surprise me at all.

Two nights later she called again—or, more likely, another telemarketer with the same offer and a similar voice. When she had spoken her spiel the first time, I politely replied that I had turned down that offer just the other day. In a polite voice, I added, “and to save us both time, I say again, no, and a third time, no.” My gambit succeeded: she ended the conversation very quickly and hung up.

It’s not like wearing garlic, but it works. J.

Of sin and sickness

At one extreme we can see that we each need to take responsibility for our own lives. We all made choices, whether good or bad, and then we have to live with the consequences of those choices. If we have problems in this world, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

At the opposite extreme, we can see that we are all victims. We are shaped by things we cannot control: by DNA, by our environment, by chemicals in us or around us. When we make mistakes, and when we have problems, we deserve compassion rather than judgment.

We all land somewhere between these two extremes. Sometimes when we try to talk about responsibility, we talk past each other, addressing ourselves to the extreme position we think we are hearing rather than to what the other person is actually saying. What can be said, then, to try to find a meeting point where genuine discussion can take place, consisting more of light than of heat?

  • A sin is still a sin. When any of us does what God forbids, or fails to do what God requires, God holds us responsible. He does not allow us to blame the devil, or the way our parents raised us, or television, or video games, or whatever chemicals might have been involved.
  • Sin damages creation, including people. “The wages of sin is death,” and all the other pains and sorrows that afflict people in this world are likewise the results of sin. There is no one-to-one correspondence between sin and suffering, though. Sin can be regarded as a pollution that corrupts the entire world and harms all people.
  • Life is not fair. God is just and fair, but evil is random and unfair. God limits the harm done by evil, but he permits evil to happen so people can see the difference between good and evil and prefer what is good. Moreover, if God were limited to being just and fair, the sacrifice of Jesus could not redeem and rescue sinners. God permits the injustice of evil so he can provide the greater blessings prompted by his love, his grace, and his mercy.
  • In one sense, every problem in this world is a spiritual problem. Because all problems flow from sin—from rebellion against God—the only ultimate solution for all problems is the righteousness of Christ and his redemption.
  • On the other hand, we are living in a material world. Nearly all of our problems will have a material component. In this sin-polluted world our bodies are vulnerable to accidents, injuries, diseases, allergies, poisons, and the like. In addition to the benefits of God’s grace to take away our sins, we need doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, counselors, and other professionals to help us with our problems. At times we need medicines, casts, crutches, eyeglasses, hearing aids, and other material assistance to support us with our material problems.
  • Mental and emotional sicknesses, including anxiety and depression, also have material components. Among the possible causes of mental illnesses are poor nutrition, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, current stress, previous trauma, abuse, chemical imbalance, physical illness, side-affects of treatment for physical illness, guilt and shame over ongoing sins or past sins, and many more.
  • Among the appropriate responses to mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression, are a physical check-up, faith-based counseling, secular counseling, medication, and hospitalization. Because these illnesses have so many different causes, no single response deals with all cases. A medication or a faith-based counselor that restores the health of one person might be unable to help another or even harmful to another.
  • Mental illness is not a choice. While it might appear that one can address another person’s eating disorder by providing him or her with food, much more is happening inside that person than a choice not to eat. People with depression do not want to feel depressed; they want to feel better. While examples can be given of mental illnesses that began with bad choices—substance abuse and addiction, for one—the person with the illness cannot and should not be expected to fix his or her problems by his or her own strength.
  • Healthy living and good choices can reduce a person’s vulnerability to many illnesses, including mental illnesses. However, they do not guarantee perfect health. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or depression can all strike a person who has made good and healthy choices for a lifetime. None of these illnesses is the result of a particular sin or of committing more sins than the healthy person without that illness.

I could go on. Much more remains to be said. Perhaps this is enough, though, to begin a useful conversation. J.

Parallels of Wonder Woman and Full Metal Jacket

Last week the movie Wonder Woman was shown for free at the park downtown, and so I got to see it again. I’ve not gotten deeply involved in the superhero genre, but Wonder Woman had sufficiently good reviews for me to see it in a theater, and I enjoyed it. The story has enough depth and the characters and settings are sufficiently interesting to make me want to see it more than once. Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the title character is nicely done. I have to be cautious expressing my admiration for her, though, because I have a daughter who looks much like her—something apparent not only to her father but also to her coworkers. So I don’t want to rave overly much about the actresses appearance or talent.

During the sniper scene in the Belgian village, I began to think of Stanley Kubrick’s movie Full Metal Jacket, which also includes a sniper scene. In the last few days my mind has found many other connections between these two fine movies.

First, they are both about war. Not only do they include wars or have wars in the plot—both movies explore the meaning and significance of war. Although Full Metal Jacket does not have a figure like Ares to personify war, it demonstrates the same thought that Ares speaks to Wonder Woman: war springs from the violent tendencies embedded in human nature. The very fact that we entertain ourselves by watching movies about war underlines that point; if we were too horrified by war to watch it on the big screen, we might have a better chance to restrain it in real life.

Both movies divide neatly into a training section and a combat section. In spite of the many differences involving the training of warriors, there are similarities in the training technique. For example, in both movies the instructors demand the best of their warriors, urging them to push beyond their limits and achieve more than they thought possible.

In both movies the instructor is violently removed before the combat section begins.

Both movies have the warriors traveling to combat in a different and unfamiliar part of the world. In both cases they have to adjust to foreign situations. And in both movies they confront an enemy that is determined to win by any means possible—corrosive poisoned gas, or booby-trapped toys.

Then of course there is a sniper in each movie.

A much longer list could be made of differences between the two movies, but the similarities are far more interesting. The story of war is much the same whether it is told by Homer or by Oliver Stone. Whether our heroes are ordinary mortals or the offspring of the gods, we still see them wrestle with the senseless violence of war and destruction. The questions are easy to ask; the answers are harder to find. J.

What President Trump is doing

Mainstream media now reports that the White House staff is piecing together scraps of paper that President Trump has shredded by hand. United States law requires the preservation of these papers, even though the President has acted to destroy them. I hope that the staff has consulted with professionals from the National Archives about these scraps of paper. If they are using transparent tape to reassemble the scraps, the long-term damage to those papers will be far greater than if they just took each set of scraps and stored them in an envelope or file folder.

Mainstream media reports situations like this to try to create and promote the idea that Donald Trump is unworthy to remain President. Like the Democratic party (who, ironically, just telephoned and asked me for one hundred dollars to reverse the course of Trump’s administration while I was typing the previous paragraph), many members of the mainstream media are not willing to accept the decision made by American voters in November 2016. I did not vote for Trump in the primaries or the general election that year, and if he was up for reelection this year I would not vote for him. But he is President—he deserves respect from all citizens, including those who report the news. Trump is, in fact, doing an admirable job of playing to the dark side of the mainstream media. Responding to him, the media sounds shrill, petty, and obsessive. They are helping the President keep the support of those who elected him—Nixon’s silent majority, the Reagan Democrats, the voters who usually tilt “blue” when casting their votes but will swing toward a conservative who seems to understand and relate to common Americans.

Donald Trump’s success is neither as a businessman nor as a politician, but as an entertainer. Years ago he discovered how to build a popular image of himself and keep it in front of the American people. A businessman in the White House would strive to maintain a calm and orderly atmosphere and present it as such to the public. Trump knows that the people really want drama and excitement. He provides it. His legendary ego and bluster are all part of an act that he performs for the American people, and his supporters love him for it.

In 2020, Trump will be able to campaign with the statement that he kept every promise he made the voters in 2016, or that at least he tried. Where promises have not been kept, Trump can blame Congress and the courts, and Trump’s supporters will trumpet his honesty and reliability as a man of his word. On issue after issue—from immigration to tariffs—Trump has held to his word and allowed others to take the blame for derailing his actions. When he is wrong, Trump does not need to admit it. He can blame his opponents for blocking his plans, and then he can turn to another issue.

Dealing with leaders of other nations, Trump has kept his promise to put the United States first. He has taken risks that no other leader would take, and he has prevailed. His strategy of brinksmanship plays well to his political base. While the mainstream media threatens that Armageddon is just around the corner, Donald Trump has continued to chart his own course and achieve his goals.

Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy was summarized by this adage: Speak softly and carry a big stick. Donald Trump speaks loudly, but it works for him. It gets him votes. It keeps everyone’s attention. It makes it unlikely that the Democratic party will find a candidate who can defeat Trump when he runs for reelection in 2020. J.

When God closes a door…

…somewhere he opens a window. Postulant Maria, in The Sound of Music, claimed to have learned that adage from the Reverend Mother. I suspect that the line is a quip created by the scriptwriters Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. The original proverb promises that when God closes one door, he opens another. Although that saying is not taken from the Bible, it is inferred by a reading of Acts 16:6-10 and II Corinthians 2:12-13.

About a year ago, a certain job became open, and the person who told me about the opening also said that he would recommend me for the position. He assured me that I am perfect for the job. The process is lengthy; a self-study had to be completed before the committee in charge of finding a new worker could gather nominations and try to find the best match. Around the end of December they published seven names that had been recommended to them and promised to gather biographical data and other suggestions from the parent organization.

Meanwhile I had all this time to learn more about the job and its location: to see what houses are for sale in the area, to check out stores and restaurants, to read about the community and its history, and get a sense of what people do there for fun. The Internet makes such research ridiculously easy.

At the end of March the committee had received requested information from the parent organization and promised to winnow the list to the most promising candidates, contact them, and arrange for interviews. Every time the phone rang in April and May my heart jumped, thinking, “This might be them.” Finally this week the committee published the three finalists they have selected for the position. My name was not on the list.

During these last two months, I was also recruited for a similar position closer to home. The biggest problem with this position is that they are not able to offer both a full-time salary and health insurance. They are seeking someone who is willing to work two jobs, and since I am currently working three jobs, they thought I might be willing to make the change. After I learned that my name was not on the first list, I agreed at least to talk with the men who strongly want me to take this part-time position.

Here is where it gets complicated. The parent organization for the one position I had hoped to be offered and the parent organization for the one position I have been offered are in parallel branches of the same larger entity. During a half-hour conversation about the part-time position, I was able to ask if my information had been requested from the head of the other branch. The answer was no. So, apparently, the branch head declined to obtain up-to-date information about me for the committee that was seeking to fill a position. It may have been a clerical error or something more sinister; the head of my branch knows nothing about me that would disqualify me for such a job, which is why he is trying so hard to persuade me to take the part-time position.

This part-time position is located an hour’s drive from where I live. I told them that the commute would be a problem. They hoped that I would keep the full-time job I have (with its health insurance and other benefits) and drive that hour once or twice a week to fulfill my part-time duties. I replied that I thought, in order to do my job well, I would need to live in the community. (I am performing a similar job while driving half an hour each way once or twice a week, and I think that is too great a distance.) Eventually, I placed before them something like Gideon’s fleece. If a full-time job can be found for me in or near the community, I am willing to move there and take both jobs, but the full-time job would have to be something comparable to the one I have now. I had already checked. There are no such openings in the area. But they are using what connections they have to check again.

As I see it, if the Lord wants me to take this part-time job, he will provide the full-time job nearby. Otherwise, he has a different plan for me and for that position. That different plan may involve me staying where I am for many more years. It may involve another opening at yet another place. It might even happen that the three finalists chosen at the first place I mentioned will all prove unsatisfactory or will all be unwilling to take the position. Wishing for such a thing to happen is having faith by virtue of the absurd (as Soren Kierkegaard would say). Yet, more than twenty years ago, I was offered a job after a similar committee had selected two finalists and then found itself to be dissatisfied with both.

Meanwhile, I accept with resignation (Kierkegaard again) that the door is closed. I continue to trust the Lord’s planning. And when I find the window he has opened, I will jump through and run as fast as I can. J.

 

Holy Communion (part four)

The Bible says: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (I Corinthians 11:28).

Luther explains: “Who receives this Sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.”

Salvageable adds: Many traditions have become attached to the celebration of Holy Communion. Some Christians eat no food before going to church and receiving the Sacrament, so that they break their fast with the Lord’s body and blood. Some wear their best clothing to church on Sunday, and they do other physical things to prepare for the Sacrament.

Luther calls those actions “fine outward training,” but he says that the most important preparation is faith. Someone who does not believe that Jesus is Lord should not receive the Sacrament. Someone who does not believe that his death on the cross brings forgiveness of sins should not receive the Sacrament. Someone who does not want to be forgiven because he or she loves a sin more than he or she loves the Savior should not receive the Sacrament.

But we do not receive the Lord’s Supper because we are good enough for it. We receive the Lord’s Supper because we are not good enough for God. We do not receive the Lord’s Supper because we have risen above our sins. We receive the Lord’s Supper because we need forgiveness for our sins.

Moreover, we need a share in the Lord’s victory over sin and evil. None of us is personally responsible for all the evil in the world. The devil remains a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. The sinful world around us tries to drag us down to its level. The sin within each of us agrees with the devil and with the sinful world. God limits the power of evil, but he permits evil to exist. He permits his people to suffer the consequences of evil around us, even though we have been forgiven all our sins. God then strengthens us for our life on this battlefield. With his Holy Supper he equips us to battle the devil, the sinful world, and our sinful flesh. With his Holy Supper he shares the victory he has won—for where there is forgiveness of sin, there is also life and salvation.

A Christian is truly prepared for the Sacrament when that Christian knows that he or she is a sinner needing a Savior and when that Christian knows that Jesus is the Savior he or she needs. Knowing our need for forgiveness, we approach the Table of the Lord, prepared to receive his body and blood, and with them forgiveness, life, and salvation. Thanks be to God for this precious gift! Amen.