Two Decisive Moments

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Read it on Kindle: part of the collection, The Best of Jonathan’s Corner

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

There is a classic Monty Python “game show”: the moderator asks one of the contestants the second question: “In what year did Coventry City last win the English Cup?” The contestant looks at him with a blank stare, and then he opens the question up to the other contestants: “Anyone? In what year did Coventry City last win the English Cup?” And there is dead silence, until the moderator says, “Now, I’m not surprised that none of you got that. It is in fact a trick question. Coventry City has never won the English Cup.”

I’d like to dig into another trick question: “When was the world created: 13.7 billion years ago, or about six thousand years ago?” The answer in fact is “Neither,” but it takes some explaining to get to the point of realizing that the world was created 3:00 PM, March 25, 28 AD.

Adam fell and dragged down the whole realm of nature. God had and has every authority to repudiate Adam, to destroy him, but in fact God did something different. He called Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, and in the fullness of time he didn’t just call a prophet; he sent his Son to become a prophet and more.

It’s possible to say something that means more than you realize. Caiaphas, the high priest, did this when he said, “It is better that one man be killed than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50) This also happened when Pilate sent Christ out, flogged, clothed in a purple robe, and said, “Behold the man!

What does this mean? It means more than Pilate could have possibly dreamed of, and “Adam” means “man”: Behold the man! Behold Adam, but not the Adam who sinned against God and dragged down the Creation in his rebellion, but the second Adam, the new Adam, the last Adam, who obeyed God and exalted the whole Creation in his rising. Behold the man, Adam as he was meant to be. Behold the New Adam who is even now transforming the Old Adam’s failure into glory!

Behold the man! Behold the first-born of the dead. Behold, as in the icon of the Resurrection, the man who descends to reach Adam and Eve and raise them up in his ascent. Behold the man who will enter the realm of the dead and forever crush death’s power to keep people down.

An Orthodox icon of the Resurrection.
An icon of the Resurrection.

Behold the man and behold the firstborn of many brothers! You may know the great chapter on faith, chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, and it is with good reason one of the most-loved chapters in the Bible, but it is not the only thing in Hebrews. The book of Hebrews looks at things people were caught up in, from the glory of angels to sacrifices and the Mosaic Law, and underscores how much more the Son excels above them. A little before the passage we read above, we see, “To which of the angels did he ever say, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you’?” (Hebrews 1:5) And yet in John’s prologue we read, “To those who received him and believed in his name, he gave the authority to become the children of God.” (John 1:9) We also read today, “To which of the angels did he ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I have made your enemies a footstool under your feet?'” (Hebrews 1:13) And yet Paul encourages us: “The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet,” (Romans 16:20) and elsewhere asks bickering Christians, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (I Corinthians 6:3) Behold the man! Behold the firstborn of many brothers, the Son of God who became a man so that men might become the Sons of God. Behold the One who became what we are that we might by grace become what he is. Behold the supreme exemplar of what it means to be Christian.

Behold the man and behold the first-born of all Creation, through whom and by whom all things were made! Behold the Uncreated Son of God who has entered the Creation and forever transformed what it means to be a creature! Behold the Saviour of the whole Creation, the Victor who will return to Heaven bearing as trophies not merely his transfigured saints but the whole Creation! Behold the One by whom and through whom all things were created! Behold the man!

Pontius Pilate spoke words that were deeper than he could have possibly imagined. And Christ continued walking the fateful journey before him, continued walking to the place of the Skull, Golgotha, and finally struggled to breathe, his arms stretched out as far as love would go, and barely gasped out, “It is finished.”

Then and there, the entire work of Creation, which we read about from Genesis onwards, was complete. There and no other place the world was created, at 3:00 PM, March 25, 28 AD. Then the world was created.

That is a decisive moment, but decisive moments are not some kind of special exception to Christian life. Christian history and the Christian spiritual walk alike take their pace from decisive moments. I would like to look at the decisive moment in the Gospel reading.

In that reading, the people who have gathered to listen to Jesus went beyond a “standing room only” crowd to being so packed you couldn’t get near the door. Some very faithful friends of a paralytic did the only thing they could have done. They climbed on the roof and started digging through it. I suspect that the homeowner didn’t like the idea. But they dug in, and lowered him, hoping this teacher will heal him.

Jesus saw their faith and said, “Your sins are forgiven.” And people were shocked—there was a very good reason for this! If I have two friends, and one owes the other money, I can’t tell the first one, “Your debt is forgiven. It’s wiped clean.” That’s not my place. Sin is not a debt, or a crime, or even a disease. It’s worse. And Christ told a man who owed an infinite debt to God that his slate was wiped clean and his sins were forgiven. And the reason people were saying, “This man blasphemes! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” was that they understood exactly how significant it was for Jesus to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” Maybe they failed to recognize Christ as God (it is very rare that anyone but the demons identified him as the Son of God), but they were absolutely right when they said that Jesus was saying something that only God had the authority to say.

They were murmuring, and Christ knew why. So he asked them, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Arise. Take up your mat and walk.'” Everybody knew the answer, that forgiving sins was an infinitely weightier matter, but Jesus was about to give a lesser demonstration of the exact same authority by which he said, “Your sins are forgiven.” He said to the paralytic, “Arise. Take up your mat and walk.” And the paralytic did exactly that.

That is authority. That is the authority that commands the blind to gaze on the light of the Transfiguration, the deaf to listen to the song of angels, the mute to sing with God’s angels, the lame to dance for joy, and what is greater than all of these, command you and me, sinners, to be freed from our sins.

Great and rare as the restoration of one paralytic may be, everybody knew that that was less important than the forgiveness of his sins. The story of that healing is a decisive moment.

But it’s not the only decisive moment, and there is another decisive moment that may be much less rare, much less something we want to write home about, but is profoundly important, especially in Lent. I am talking about repentance.

When the Holy Spirit convicts me of my sin, there are two responses I give, both of which I ought to be ashamed of. The first response is to tell God that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Now of course I am not blunt enough to tell God, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” (Perhaps it would be better if I did.) What I say instead is something like, “I can see where you’re coming from, and I can see that you have a point. But I’ve given it a little thought and I’d like you to consider a suggestion that is much better for everyone involved. Would you consider this consolation prize?” Now again, perhaps it would be better if I were honest enough to simply tell God, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” Not only is it not good that I do that, but it is spurning the grace of God.

When a mother takes a knife or a sharp pair of scissors from a little boy, this is not because the mother wants a pair of scissors and is too lazy or inconsiderate to go get her own pair: her motivation is entirely for the child’s welfare. God doesn’t need our repentance or our sin. When he commands us through his Spirit to let go of our sin, is this for our sake or for his need? It is entirely for our own benefit, and not something God was lacking, that we are commanded to repent from sin. And this has a deeper implication. If God convicts us from our sin and asks our surrender to him in the unconditional surrender for repentance, then that is how we will be healed from our sin: it is the best medicine chosen by the Great Physician, and it is out of his mercy that the Great Physician refuses all of our consolation prizes that will cut us off from his healing love. Repentance is terrifying at times; it is letting go of the one thing we least want to give over to God, and it is only once we have let go that our eyes are opened and we realize, “I was holding on to a piece of Hell!” The more we understand repentance the more we understand that it is a decisive moment when God is at work.

The second response I give to the Holy Spirit is even more an affront to the decisive now in which the Lord meets me. I say, “Well, I think you’re right, and I need to repent of it, only now isn’t the best time for me. I’d like to deal with it at another time.” Here, also, things might be better if I were at least honest enough to acknowledge I was telling God, “Your timing is far from perfect.” God lives outside of time, and yet he has all the time there is. There is never reason for him to say with a sheepish grin, “I know this really isn’t the best time for you, but I only have two minutes right now, and I’m going to ask for you to deal with this now even though this isn’t the best time.” When he comes and tells us to repent, now, the reason for that is not that some point later on we may feel more like repenting and that is a better time; the reason is that by the time I am struggling against God’s Spirit I have already entered the decisive moment when I can choose either to be cleansed and freed of my sin, or keep on fumbling for the snooze button while God tells me, “Enough sleep! It is time for you to arise!”

Let us repent, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough

The Horn of Joy: A Meditation on Eternity and Time, Kairos and Chronos

Now

The Transcendent God Who Approaches Us Through Our Neighbor

Death

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In the time of life,
Prepare for death.

Dost thou love life?
Be thou of death ever mindful,
For the remembrance of death,
Better befits thee,
Than closing fast thine eyes,
That the snares before thee may vanish.
All of us are dying,
Each day, every hour, each moment,
Of death the varied microcosm,
The freedom given us as men,
To make a decision eternal,
The decision we build and make,
In each microcosm of eternity,
Until one day cometh our passing,
And what is now fluid,
Forever fixed will be made,
When we will trample down death by death,
Crying out from life to death,
O Death, where is thy victory?
O Grave, where is thy sting?
So even death and the grave,
Claim us to their defeat,
Or else,
After a lifetime building the ramp,
Having made earth infernal,
Closing bit by bit the gates of Hell,
Bolting and barring them from the inside,
We seal our decision,
Not strong enough to die rightly in life,
We sink to death in death,
Sealing ourselves twice dead.
Choosest thou this day,
Which thou shalt abide.

Seekest thou a mighty deed,
Our broken world to straighten out?
Seek it not! Knowest thou not,
That the accursed axe ever wielded in the West,
To transform society, with a program to improve,
Is a wicked axe, ever damned,
And hath a subtle backswing, and most grievous?
Wittest thou not that to heal in such manner,
Is like to bearing the sword,
To smite a dead man to life therewith?
Know rather the time-honeyed words,
True and healthgiving when first spoken,
Beyond lifesaving in our own time:
Save thyself,
And ten thousand around thee shall be saved.

We meet death in microcosm,
In the circumstances of our lives and the smallest decisions,
The decision, when our desire is cut off,
In anger to abide, or to be unperturbed.
Politeness to show to others, little things,
A rhythm of prayer to build up,
Brick by brick, even breath by breath,
Our mind to have on the things of Heaven or on earth,
A heart’s answer of love and submission,
To hold when the Vinedresser takes knife to prune,
The Physician takes scalpel to ransack our wounds,
With our leave, to build us up,
Or to take the gold,
The price of our edification,
And buy demolition in its stead.
Right poetic and wondrous it may sound right now,
Right poetic and wondrous it is in its heart,
But it cometh almost in disguise,
From a God who wishes our humility never to bruise,
To give us better than we know to ask,
And until we see with the eyes of faith,
Our humble God allows it to seem certain,
That he has things wrong,
That we are not in the right circumstances for his work,
When his greatest work is hid from our eyes,
Our virtue not to crush,
Knowing that we are dust,
And not crushing our frame dust to return.
Right frail are we,
And only our Maker knows the right path,
That we may shine with his Glory.

Canst thou not save thyself even?
Perchance thou mayest save another.
Be without fear, and of good cheer:
He saved others, himself he cannot save,
Is but one name of Heaven.
Canst not save thyself?
Travail to save another.
Can God only save in luxury?
Can God only save when we have our way?
Rather, see God his mighty arm outstretched in disaster,
Rather, see glory unfurl in suffering.
Suffering is not what man was made for,
But bitter medicine is better,
And to suffer rightly is lifegiving,
And to suffer unjustly has the Treasure of Heaven inside,
Whilst comfort and ease sees few reach salvation:
Be thou plucked from a wide and broad path?
Set instead on a way strait and narrow?
Give thanks for God savest thee:
Taking from thee what thou desirest,
Giving ever more than thou needest,
That thou mightest ever awaken,
To greater and grander and more wondrous still:
For the gate of Heaven appears narrow, even paltry,
And opens to an expanse vast beyond all imagining,
And the gate of Hell is how we imagine grandeur,
But one finds the belly of the Wyrm constricting ever tighter.

Now whilst the noose about our necks,
Tightens one and all,
Painful blows of the Creator’s chisel stern and severe,
Not in our day, nor for all is it told,
That the Emperor hears the words,
In this sign conquer,
The Church established,
Persecutions come to an end,
And men of valor seeking in monastery and hermitage,
Saving tribulations their souls to keep,
The complaint sounded,
Easy times rob the Church of her saints,
Not in our day does this happen:
For the noose is about our necks,
More than luxury is stripped away;
A Church waxen fat and flabby from easy living,
Must needs be sharpened to a fighting trim,
Chrismated as one returning to Orthodoxy,
Anointed with sacred oil for the athlete,
And myrrh for the bride.
And as Christian is given gifts of royal hue,
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh:
Gold for kingship,
Frankincense for divinity,
Myrrh for anointing the dead,
A trinity of gifts which are homoousios: one,
Gold and frankincense which only a fool seeks without myrrh,
Myrrh of pain, suffering, and death,
Myrrh which befits a sacrifice,
Myrrh which pours forth gold and frankincense.
And as the noose tightens about our neck,
As all but God is taken from us,
And some would wish to take God himself,
The chisel will not wield the Creator,
The arm of providence so deftly hid in easy times,
Is bared in might in hard times,
And if those of us who thought we would die in peace,
Find that suffering and martyrdom are possible,
We must respond as is meet and right:
Glory to God in all things!

Be thou ever sober in the silence of thine heart:
Be mindful of death, and let this mindfulness be sober.
Wittest thou not the hour of thy death:
Wete thou well that it be sooner than thou canst know.
Put thy house in order, each day,
Peradventure this very night thy soul will be required of thee.
Be thou prepared,
For the hour cometh like a thief in the night,
When thou wilt be summoned before Christ’s dread judgment seat.
If thou wilt not to drown,
Say thou not, I can learn to swim tomorrow,
For the procrastinator’s tomorrow never cometh,
Only todays, to use right or wrong.
If thou wilt not to drown,
Learn, however imperfectly, to swim today,
A little better, if thou canst:
Be thou sober and learn to swim,
For all of our boats will sink,
And as we have practiced diligently or neglected the summons,
So will we each sink, or each swim,
When thy boat is asink, the time for lessons is gone.

For contemplation made were we.
Unseen warfare exists because contemplation does not.
Yet each death thou diest well,
A speck of tarnish besmircheth the mirror no more,
The garden of tearful supplication ever healeth,
What was lost in the garden of delights:
Ever banished our race may be from the garden of delights:
‘Til we find its full stature in vale of tears,
‘Til we find what in death God hath hid,
‘Til each microcosm of death given by day to day,
Is where we seek Heaven’s gate, ever opening wide.

The Lord shepherdeth me even now,
And nothing shall be wanting:
There shall be lack of nothing thou shalt need,
In a place of verdure, a place of rest, where the righteous dwell,
Hath he set my tabernacle today,
He hath nourished me by the waters of rest,
Yea, even baptism into Christ’s lifegiving death.
My soul hath he restored from the works of death,
He hath led me in the paths of righteousness,
That his name be hallowed.
Yea though my lifelong walk be through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evils;
Thy rod and thy staff themselves have comforted me:
Thy staff, a shepherd’s crook,
A hook of comfort to restore a sheep gone astray,
Thy rod a glaive, a stern mace,
The weapon of an armed Lord and Saviour protecting,
Guarding the flock amidst ravening wolves and lions,
Rod and staff both held by a stern and merciful Lord.
Thou preparest before me table fellowship,
In the midst of all them that afflict me:
Both visible and invisible, external and internal.
Thou hast anointed me with oil,
My head with the oil of gladness,
And thy chalice gives the most excellent cheer.
Thy mercy upon me, a sinner, shall follow me,
All my days of eternal life even on earth,
And my shared dwelling shall be in the house of the Lord,
Unto the greatest of days.

Death may be stronger than mortal men, yet:
Love is stronger than death.

The Arena

The Damned Backswing

Maximum Christ, Maximum Ambition, Maximum Repentance

Why This Waste?

Espiriticthus: Cultures of a Fantasy World Not Touched by Evil

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Nor’krin

The Nor’krin are tall and strong, with thick, sandy blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and white skin that turns reddish when they go south from their frost-kissed land; the Janra affectionately refer to them as the Northern giants. They love to run across the snowy plains and up to the peaks, to feel the crispness of the air, and to drink the cold and crystalline waters of the flowing streams.

There are not very many of them; they live nomadic lives, spread out across the snowy North, carrying with them only their clothing, their hunting weapons (a large bow and quiver of arrows, an axe, and a knife), a canteen, and a handful of tools and other miscellanea.

Theirs is a culture of oral tradition and folklore, filled with a richness of symbolic thought. Their thought is expressed by storytelling. Some tell of people and actions full of goodness, love, and wisdom; some are allegories packed with symbolic detail; some are both. The evenings — from the meal onward — are times when the clans gather together, and the oldest member tells tales until long into the night, when the fire has died down to embers and the icy mountain peaks glisten in crystalline blue starlight.

(The language is one which revolves around the oral tradition; its grammar is fairly simple, sufficient for basic expression, but there is an extensive vocabulary fitted to epic poems, great tales, and the transmission of a symbol-filled body of lore)

Their experience of sense is primarily aural, centering around the communication and preservation of their tradition. The other senses all play a part in their knowing about the world around them and its enjoyment, of course, but the ears dominate.

Coming of age is very significant in Nor’krin culture. It is the event upon which a child becomes a full member of Nor’krin community, and appreciates it fully, for it is accomplished in solitude. It is the same for male and female, big and small.

Denuded of all possessions save a hunting knife and the clothing on his back, the child begins a solitary trek, south through the land of the Urvanovestilli and Yedidia, penetrating deep into the thick forests inhabited by the Tuz, until he enters a village, and, coming inside a shop, says, “Blacksmith, blacksmith, find me a task, give me a quest.”

There are as many quests as there are questions. Some are easy, some are hard; some are simple, some are complex. Whatever the quest be — be it finding an amethyst in the caves, climbing an immense mountain, answering a riddle, memorizing a book — he leaves the blacksmith shop and does not return until the quest is completed. (It must be said that, though some quests have taken years to complete, recorded history has yet to see a Nor’krin fail. A child leaves the immediate presence of his family, but remains in their prayers; they have great faith, and it is in this faith that they tread securely into the unknown.

Upon the return, the blacksmith begins to ask questions: “What is your name? What is your family? Who are you? What is your story?” — and begins to fashion an iron cross. This cross is at once a cross as any other, and a unique reflection of the person who wears it; no two are alike.

It is with this cross worn about the neck that he returns to his clan, come of age.

Nor’krin greet each other by standing opposite the other, placing the left hand on the other’s right shoulder, and lowering the head slightly; the gesture is a sign of respect.

The emotional side of their culture is not as intense or spectacular as many others, but is present and offers an important reflection of what they value. They know a deep sense of respect and appreciation; when they think of others, the first thought is, “This person is an image of God,” and there is a feeling of respect. The mountains, the trees, and the streams all bear a magnificence which they appreciate. Nor’krin worship services are filled with awe at the One whose glory is declared by tales, by lives, and by the created order. They are traditional liturgical services, where the place of the homily is taken by long tales and stories, conducted by the eldest members of the clan.

The Nor’krin homeland is named ‘Cryona’.


Tuz

Many wayfarers go south, early in life, to buy equipment; they need only wait, and a blacksmith will forge a pair of iron boots which will last for life.

The people are dark and strong; their eyes shine with power and lightning. The average Tuz male is short, stout, very broad-shouldered, and built like a brick wall; a thick, straight, jet black moustache and a thick, curly beard push out of leathery skin. Women are equally short and stout, but do not have such broad shoulders, being (relatively) more plump and less muscled, and do not have the moustache and beard (usually).

Their buildings are hewn of solid granite, with iron doors. The villages are small and scattered, joined by worn paths passing through the rich, deep green of the forest. It is this forest, fertile and full of beasts, from which the heart of their meal comes. They are more than fond of spicy meat stews and bear jerky. Their beer is dark, thick, and strong, and every house has at least a little bit of khoor, a spiced rum which is occasionally used by the other peoples as a pepper sauce.

The Tuz work hard and play hard. They are often hired for heavy work in the construction of Urvanovestilli palaces, and their work rarely receives complaint. After work is over, they tend towards wrestling and general rowdiness; if they are present, Janra children (and occasionally adults) are tossed about.

For all of their rowdiness, the Tuz do possess a great deal of restraint; even after a couple of beers, they seldom give each other injuries beyond occasional bruises and abrasions, and Janra children do not receive even a scratch. (Most of them rather enjoy being tossed about).

The usual greeting is a crushing bear hug, often accompanied/followed by a punch in the stomach, some wrestling or tossing around, etc; it is generally toned down a bit for children and visitors from afar, but there is always at least a spark of rowdy play.

As much as the Nor’krin are at home in the cold, loving everything that is crisp and chilly, the Tuz love heat. Their land is by far the hottest, but that doesn’t stop them from munching on peppers and wrestling around. Blacksmiths’ shops and fire and sun-hot iron — these are a few of their favorite things.

The Tuz also build obstacle courses of stone and iron and rope, which the Janra have no end of finding new and inventive ways to use; a slack rope which Tuz climb along the underside of will be walked — or occasionally run — atop by the Janra; jumping shortcuts, backwards or inverted travel, and acrobatic ways of avoiding raw strength moves are common. Tuz, by contrast, have very slow and methodical paths.

They are, indeed, probably the most constant and unchanging of peoples; the process of maturing is a process of becoming more who they are. Their sense of order is also great; they value greatly the gift of being well ruled.

A child, at the age of ten, is presented to the village elders and the various guildmasters. They spend a day talking with the child and his parents, in order to determine his talents, interests, and personality; then they spend another day talking and discussing amongst themselves; then, on the third day, his profession is announced, along with the master to whom he will be apprenticed. The results are sometimes surprising, but always embody a great deal of wisdom, and the selection of a vocation is a gift for which the child is grateful.

Children learn a way of life filled with discipline, tradition, and respect for elders. It is quite simple, not at all ornate when compared to some other philosophies, but it has a power, a solidity to it, and love, faith, honor, friendship, and hospitality are things that they truly live by. Their families and communities are very close, and their friendships are loyal until death. They do not pay as much emphasis on verbal articulation of teaching as a way of life. There is thought, but in its expression, words take a second place to actions. That a life of faith involves discipline is declared very loudly by Tuz hands.

The are very aware of the value of solitude and prayer; it is a common practice to simply leave, taking nothing save clothing and a hunting knife or axe, and go up into the mountains for a few days of solitude, allowing time to pray and to be refocused.

Their language has, in speech, a very heavy, thick, consonantal feel, full of grated ‘h’s (which is often present in ‘k’s, ‘r’s, ‘g’s, and ‘b’s). The speech is terse and concrete.

Their experience of sense is also very concrete, centered somewhere between visual and aural. Sight tells what is around and where, and what is happening and where. Hearing tells what is happening, and where, and what is being said.

The emotional side of their culture knows such things as accomplishment, tradition, exertion, and discipline. There is an emotion that comes from a job well done and a challenge mastered; they value it. To have a heritage and respect elders as well as enjoy children brings a feeling of right order. To wrestle around, run, or laugh heartily has a pleasure. To control oneself has a joy. Things such as these are what they feel.

Tuz worship services are be short and sweet, with worship embodying a great deal of fervor.

The Tuz homeland is named ‘Rhog’.


Urvanovestilli

The first thing to strike a visitor is the devices. In every house and many shops there is a tinkering room; a large workbench is covered with every imaginable sort of gear, spring, hinge, lever, chain, and shaft; the clock is only the beginning of clockwork. Two nearby cabinets — one filled with tools, one filled with parts and working materials — stand neatly closed; at the touch of a button, a drawer springs out, and shelves slowly slide up.

The craftsmanship of clockwork devices is, along with the study of diverse subjects — theology and philosophy, history and literature, science and mathematics — a hobby that symbolizes the culture. Each piece is created not only for utility, but also for artistic effect. Cuckoo clocks and spring loaded umbrellas, Swiss Army Knives and mechanical pencils, player pianos and collapsible telescopes: mechanical objects such as these fill the land.

The ornate complexity of the devices reflects the ornate complexity of thought. The language, quite possibly the most difficult to learn, allows a speaker to express detailed and nuanced thought in exacting specificity. There are twenty four verb tenses, so that there is (for example) a different past tense for a brief, well demarcated action, and one which occurred over a period of time; there are twenty four other verb forms, which are like verb tenses as to conjugation and construction, but express the verb in an atemporal manner. Their language has much room built in for conjunction and logical connectives, nesting and predicates, as well as subtlety, implication, and allusion.

They have a complex and formal system of etiquette, although it must be said to their credit that they take no offense at a wayfarer who is warm and friendly but does not know their rules; they understand how simple the heart of politeness is.

Their speech is clever and witty, and they are fond of abstract strategy games. They enjoy ornate and complex polyphony, and will spend hours exploring theology and philosophy (two disciplines which they have the wisdom not to separate).

Urvanovestilli culture places a very heavy emphasis on a facet of virtue which they call contrainte. Contrainte is a kind of inner constraint, where order is approached by adjusting conditions inside before conditions outside, and not letting oneself be wrongly controlled by external circumstance. A similar concept is embodied in the words ‘moderation’ and ‘self-control.’

Contrainte enables a man to be free and use that freedom responsibly; it enables a man to have access to drink without getting drunk; it enables him to think constantly without becoming rationalistic. The Urvanovestilli homeland has the richest natural resources in the world, and (with centuries of first rate craftsmanship and efficient work) they are by a wide margin the richest nation in the world. Despite this, they keep a very cautious eye on wealth, so as not to be enslaved by it. Theirs is not a culture of consumption; though some of their interests — art, sculpture, board oriented strategy games, tinkering — generally are pursued in a manner that involves wealth, the bulk — discussions, prayer, dance, imagination, thought — do not. Consumption as a status symbol and waste are both seen as vulgar.

In contrainte is also balance and complement. There is time in solitude and time in community, freedom and responsibility, private and public property, work and rest.

It is in contrainte that an ornate system of etiquette does not obscure love, and elaborate ceremonies do not obscure worship. Just as they do not have their sights set on wealth — they do not look to it for happiness, security, and other things that it can not provide — and are therefore able to enjoy it (among other and greater blessings) without being harmed, so also they set their sights on love and worship, and therefore do not permit rules of etiquette or liturgical forms to make themselves the focus and cause hearts to become cold and dusty.

Contrainte likewise allows them to act efficiently without becoming efficient. Off of work, life takes a calm and leisurely pace; nobody fidgets. It allows them to be very judicious in their use of money, and at the same time very generous; their hospitality is lavish, and it is unheard of for anyone — friend or stranger, native or foreigner — to go hungry in their land.

The single greatest mark of contrainte lies in that, with all of their achievements, they remain open to the gifts of God. Contrainte itself — though they work very hard to cultivate it — is not something that they try to achieve on their own power, but ask for in prayer, expecting to receive as a gift from God. Nor is it set up as the supreme context, the Supra-God to which God must bow down; they know nothing of religion within the bounds of contrainte. Contrainte does not “point to” itself as an object of worship, but rather God; it brings, in worship of God, a desire to grow in faith, hope, and love. It is like being reasonable enough not to be rationalistic.

On the surface, the Urvanovestilli culture appears to be the antithesis of that of the Shal. One is complex, and the other simple; one is rich, and the other poor; in one, people sit and talk for hours; in the other, people sit in silence for hours.

At the very heard, though, they are very much the same; Urvanovestilli, when traveling and visiting the Shal, feel that they are at home; the Shal find the Urvanovestilli to be brothers. They see beyond, rest in God’s love, and love their neighbors.


The Urvanovestilli are quiet, patient, temperate, and refined. They are classically educated and cultured; their country is a federation of republics, each one ruled by a senate in a tradition that has remained unchanged for centuries. Tradition is strong, and families remain together; come evening, three or four, sometimes even five generations sit down at one table, eating and drinking, talking and listening, long into the night. There is a great respect for age, but a respect that in no way despises youth; the oldest spend a great deal of time caring for the youngest. Indeed, one of the first sights to greet a visitor who steps inside an Urvanovestilli mansion is often a grandfather or great-grandfather, with a long, flowing white beard, sitting with a child on his knee.


Urvanovestilli names are long and ornate. The full name is rarely spoken outside of formal ceremonies; even Urvanovestilli do not often pronounce thirty syllables to refer to one entity; all the same, each one is considered important. The names are:

Family name: This is the first and foremost of names, and the most cherished; it is the most commonly used.

Maiden name: Among married women, this follows.

Birth name: This is the name given at birth, and is often used within families and when there are several people of the same family present.

Reserve name: This is a very intimate name, which is not always known outside of family and close friends; it is spoken with a great deal of affection and familiarity.

Baptismal name: This name is chosen at baptism by people who know the person well, and given a great deal of prayer; it is used especially in religious contexts.

Regional name: This tells of the city or village a person comes from, carrying with it connotations of regional flavor and culture. It is used primarily in reference to travelers or (occasionally) people far away.

Friend names: These names (some do not have any; a few have ten or eleven; the average is two or three) come according to friends; a friend can bestow a name, and it becomes thereafter formally a part of an Urvanovestilli full name. When such a name is bestowed, it will become the name used primarily by the person who chose it.

The phrases of politeness — those which would correspond to hello, goodbye, please, thank you, you’re welcome — are all benedictions; they take innumerable forms and beauties according to the people and situation. Blessing is something which they value; they often speak of good things — friends, virtue, art and music, food and drink — as so many blessings from the heart of the Father.

The traditional greeting is a hand raised, open save that the ring finger bends down to meet the thumb, or (when greeting a child) placed atop the head; the gesture is a symbol of benediction. It is followed by three kisses on alternate cheeks.

In youth, Urvanovestilli are filled with a wanderlust. They voyage to many different places, seeing different nations and lands — as well as the variety of their own cities — and enjoy experiences which provide a lifetime’s worth of memories. The wayfaring is never really complete, though, until it becomes the voyage home: the Time sometimes comes after two years of travel and sometimes after ten, but the Spirit always makes it clear. When that Time comes, each Urvanovestilli spends a little longer — perhaps a month — with the people he is visiting, and then leaves, with a very passionate and tearful goodbye.

It is Time to return home, to put down roots, to deepen, to mature; Time to wholly enter into the homeland. From this point on, the Urvanovestilli is no longer a wayfarer. The memories of his travels are cherished and very dear, a set of riches that he will always carry with him, and he will still send blessings, gifts, letters, and occasionally visits to friends in far away lands, but it is no longer time to go here and there; it is Time to grow into family, friends, and city.

Urvanovestilli writings and teaching, the means by which theology and philosophy are transmitted, take many forms — poems, riddles, parables and allegories, personal conversations, to name a few — but the predominant form is a systematic and structured logical argument: point one, point two, point three, subpoint three b, conclusion one… The structure carries allusion, nuance, and beauty; it leaves room for the speaker to make a very beautiful craft of words.

They enjoy being absorbed in thought; it is how they spend a good time of each day. They do not look down on sensation — indeed, they have a great appreciation for what is a very highly developed art, music, and cuisine — but it does not fill their world as it does that of many others. Abstraction and complexities of thought are fundamental to their experience of the world: sensation leads into perception, perception leads into concrete thought, and concrete thought leads into abstract thought. Moments of immersion in the senses are rare, Sensation, being the outermost layer, is governed and enjoyed from within. Its form is generally of aural and visual character; the aural side is shaped by words, and then accommodates the other plethora of sounds, and the visual side is shaped by the forms, the spaces, and the interactions of their devices, and sees something of springs and gears in the world around.

Their faces appear at first glance to be almost expressionless — a faint hint of a smile, perhaps — until you look at their eyes, the first window to the fire and intensity within. Urvanovestilli eyes — whether brown, amber, hazel, grey, or blue — bear an intense, probing gaze; in Urvanovestilli culture, eye contact is almost continual, and reflects a fire, an intensity, a passion, that fills their way of life. It does not take long to be reminded that eye contact is a form of touch; their eyes seem to be looking into your spirit. The gaze, in its intensity, is never cold and calculating, never the chilling, devouring stare of a steel face beyond which lies a heart of ice; at its most intense and most probing, it is the most filled with love, and most easily shows the intense fire within. They can rest — and they know calm and tranquility — but there is a great energy within, an energy that shows itself in their artwork and writings. Those who read their theologians certainly do not fail to notice the depths of wisdom and insight, but what is most striking is their love for God. The passion — of their love for God, for spouse, for family, for their neighbor; of desire to grow in virtue and knowledge, for their work — burns, and their experience of emotion — of discovery, of awe, of appreciation of beauty — is long and intense, complex and multifaceted. This emotion is the other side of contrainte; it is the same virtue that enables them to enjoy wine in temperance, and to be moved to tears by music and theater. It is not a “virtue” of stifling — that would be far too easy, but of control and proper enjoyment. Just as they find abstinence from drink to be too easy, a way of dodging the lesson of moderation, stifling emotion and crushing it would be, to them, a way of dodging the lesson of passions rightly oriented in accordance with holiness and love — not to mention an unconscionable destruction of an integral facet of being human.

Those Urvanovestilli who are the most virtuous, the most filled with contrainte, are nearly always the most passionate.


Urvanovestilli are usually short, but look like very tall in miniature, with clear white skin and jet black hair. The men have a thin and wiry frame, with sharp and angular features. They have flaring eyebrows coming out of a prominent brow, a thin, hooked nose, and tufts of fine hair flaring away from their ears. Skin holds tightly to bones, muscles, and veins, and arms end in long, thin hands with nimble fingers. Their voices are a very soft, almost silent tenor.

The women are somewhat slender, but a slenderness which is graceful and rounded. Their features, as well as their build, bear this slender, graceful, rounded character, and their movements are light and flowing. (If the men know more of passion, the women know more of calm). Their voices are high and clear, with a sound that is like silver, like cold and crystalline water, like clear, light, dry Alsace blanc.

Urvanovestilli worship services are long and complex, with ornate liturgy and ritual. The language is florid and ornate (like that of the liturgy stemming from St. John Chrysostom) and every sentence of the liturgy would embody theological truth. The homilies (although not the only part of the service which varies (much of the liturgy itself changing according to a traditional pattern dictated by a complex algorithm) from week to week) are themselves not that long. They are of moderate length, and differ from the liturgy — which presented different doctrines sentence by sentence — in being a full and well-developed presentation of one single idea, expressed in unequaled detail and eloquence.


The Urvanovestilli homeland is named ‘Flaristimmo’.


Urvanovestilli city — Capitello

Capitello is the capital of the Urvanovestilli land, and the classical Urvanovestilli city.

At the very heart lies a cruciform cathedral. It is an immense domed building, the outside in white marble, covered with statues and spires. Inside, all is dark — or so it seems to a person who first steps in.

Someone who steps in first stands in place, seeing nothing really, perhaps a few points of light in the darkness… and then, very slowly, begins to adjust. It is cool inside, and very still. The silence is a silence that can be heard, a very real and present stillness. As he begins to step into the coolness and the silence, he begins to see light — light that had gone unnoticed at first, but as he steps into it, becomes more and more visible. The light is shining through a thousand candles, each one bringing a little bit of light, a little bit of warmth, to what is around it. Then, after the candles become visible, it is seen what they illuminate — mosaics, worked with colored dyes and gold leaf… and faces.

Outside of the cathedral lies an open garden with fountains and statues. Around the garden lies a circle of seven great halls. In clockwise order, beginning south of the cathedral, they are:

Library: This collection, the largest in the world, has at least one copy of all known writings, and a scriptorium in which they are copied and transmitted.

Device museum: This is a clockwork building filled with exemplary devices (and copies in various states of disassembly).

Senate: This building is decorated with arts and crafts from the cities throughout the land; it is a place where senators (two from each city and one from each village) meet to govern the nation.

Mayorship: This is the local senate, the seat from which public affairs are run; the majority of political power is on a local level (the senate being the head of a confederation), vested in the town elders.

Forum: This is an immense amphitheater which hosts a variety of speakers, panels, and open talks. Lecture is the predominant medium and presentation, but poetry and storytelling occur not infrequently. The forum, along with the evening worship services in the cathedral, walking in the garden, attending a concert, or looking through the art museum, is appreciated as an enjoyable way to spend a night out.

Music hall/theater: This hosts concerts and recitals, theatrical performances, operas, dances, pyrotechnic displays, occasional Janra acrobatic performances, dramatic readings, puppet shows…

Art museum: Half of the space is devoted to permanent exhibits, and half to temporary displays. Most of the finest artwork ever produced by Urvanovestilli, and a good deal of the finest artwork from other cultures, may be seen here.

Outside of the seven halls lies what is called “the mélange”; outside of the mélange lie fields, pastures, and vineyards; outside of the farmland lies forest.

The mélange is a large annulus which contains mansions, shops, roads, paths, public squares, gardens, open lots, little forums and theaters, restaurants, and so on. It is where a great deal of life and culture transpires; in the little nooks and crannies, inside the parlors of the houses, a lot transpires.

The Urvanovestilli enjoy going out, but the enjoyment does not come from despising being at home. The parlors, which have the distinction of being within a person’s home and hospitality, are lavishly furnished, with couches, chairs, lanterns, some instruments, a liquor machine, some sculpture or paintings, often a fountain or clock or… and people enjoy sitting around, talking, reading, performing music…


Urvanovestilli city: Éliré

Éliré is known among the Urvanovestilli as the city of seashells. While most Urvanovestilli cities are built out of white stone, in ornately embellished classical geometric forms, Éliré is built out of sandy yellow stone, in flowing curves; buildings seem like giant seashells. The artwork and jewelry are crafted from seashells and other treasures from the sea — coral and pearls — and the public squares are filled with fountains and pools, where colorful fish swim about.

The people enjoy swimming, and often meet the dolphin population; they enjoy each other.


Urvanovestilli city: Mistrelli

Mistrelli lies in the heart of the Fog Valley; a shroud of mist cloaks the ground, out of which rise trees and tall buildings with spires and towers. Inside the buildings are all manner of tunnels of tunnels, secret passages, and trapdoors; there are clockwork devices in each one. Throughout the city are spread a handful of entrances to a vast underground labyrinth, of which the better part is known; there are all manner of doors and puzzles inside.

The city is full of rose bushes, climbing up the sides of the buildings, over and around gates; most are yellow, but there are some of every color.

The people take a long time to get to know, and their personalities always have hidden gems. Their study of theology emphasizes mystery and the incomprehensible nature of God; Connaissance, a theologian from Mistrelli, began and ended his magnum opus with the words, “I do not know.”


Urvanovestilli city: Fabriqué

Fabriqué is the biggest of Urvanovestilli port cities; it lies on the Tuz border, and is the site where ships — full rigs with multiple masts, many sails, and innumerable ropes — are built. They are polished and ornately carved, well suited for transport and trade as well as a work of art. The crews hired tend to be heavily Tuz — strong and sturdy workers who have no problem tying a rope as thick as a wrist in waves and storm — and set sail to other Urvanovestilli ports and ports around the world, transporting voyagers and cargo to destinations near and far.


Yedidia

The Yedidia culture is a culture of vibrant life. They live in buildings woven out of living trees and plants; the doorways are filled by hanging curtains of leafy vines which softly part as a person passes through.

Their manner of gardening spins out of a wonderful talent for drawing beauty out of the forest; many visitors come for the first time, do not even realize that they have stepped into a garden; they only notice that the forest’s beauty is exceptional there.

The Yedidia are very sensitive to the rest of Creation; they speak in a melodic, lilting tongue of the purest song, but even that language is not the one that is closest to them. The first language of every child is that of rocks and trees and skies and seas. They know how tot call birds out of the forest to fly into their hands; they know how to make plants flourish.

They have ears to hear the crystalline song by which the Heavens declare the glory of their Maker. They appreciate the beauty of the created order as it tells of the Uncreate with a power that can not fully be translated into words — and they use the language of Creation to speak of the mysteries of the Creator, whose fingerprints are everywhere in nature.

They look into the great and unfathomable vastness of space; it furnishes the language by which they tell of the great and unfathomable vastness of the Creator. They know the energy, the great fire out of which the sun pours out light and energy; it furnishes the language by which they tell of the energy and great fire in the heart of the Father, offering warmth and light freely and without cost. They dance in the rain, the life giving water poured out from above; it furnishes the language by which they speak of springs of living water come down from Heaven. They admire the beauty of the lilies of the field, which simply rest in the sunlight, rain, and dew showered on them; it furnishes the language by which they speak of resting in the love poured out. Their eyes are not closed when a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies…

They are sensitive to the silent beauty that is sometimes unnoticed even by the Janra. They enjoy the brilliance of the sun, and the pale blue luminescence of the moon; the gentle warmth of a summer night, and the powerful motion of a pouring rainstorm (and there are few things many Yedidia enjoy more than being thoroughly drenched). They look at the veins of a leaf, the hairs of a caterpillar, the motion of a snail; they listen to the song of birds, the sound of wind whispering amidst the leaves, the splashes of water flowing over rocks; they taste the cold freshness of water, the tartness of lemons, the sweetness of strawberries; they smell the soft fragrance of jasmine, the spice of cinnamon, the freshness after a rain; they feel the velvety softness of a rabbit’s fur, the raspiness of a rhubarb leaf, the roughness of bark, the smoothness of a worn stone, the gentle kiss of a summer breeze, the springiness of pete moss, the shimmering heat of fire long into the night, the light tickle of a crawling gecko, the fineness of a child’s hair, and the warmth of a friend’s face.

They are as intuitive as they are perceptive; the emotions of friends especially, but strangers as well, are quickly understood; be it singing together, a friendly joke, talking, listening, leaving alone, sitting together in silence, holding a hand, giving a hug — they always seem to know.

The Yedidia make wines and incense which even the Urvanovestilli do not come close to. It is, though, the Urvanovestilli who make their garments. Some are short, some are tall; some are slender, some are rounded; they tends towards being fairly short and fairly round, but there is a lot of variety. All, though, have olive skin and dark, shiny black hair; the women wear a long, flowing robe of kelly green, over which cascades of hair fall and spin, sometimes reaching to the waist, sometimes almost touching the ground; the men wear cloaks and tunics of walnut brown. The clothing is soft and light as air; it streams out in the motion and jumps of dance — like their music, smooth, soft, flowing, graceful.

“Dance, then, wherever you may be, for I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.” Theirs is a culture full of joy and celebration; it is full of smiles, and always willing to welcome a visitor. Finding something good, they look for someone to share it with.

They are very sensitive to the cycles of nature, of the day, of the phases of the moon, of the seasons in turn. They shape the regular rhythm of their songs, and provide a sense of constancy and regularity, again, which furnishes the language by which they speak of the constancy and regularity of the Creator.

The traditional greeting is a soft and gentle hug, one which often lasts a while (or a butterfly kiss, or…). That touch, as their faces and voices as they speak, bears a great deal of expression: The phrase of greeting used means, literally, “Here is a person in whom I find joy.” The words remain the same, but the music of the speech colors it to perfection.

Though each culture has its own drink — even the icy cold water enjoyed by the Nor’krin is appreciated by visiting Janra, who recognize it as a gift given without sowing or reaping — drinks are one of the first things that come to mind when most people hear the word ‘Yedidia’.

First of all are their wines. Nearly all of the finest wines are made in their land. Red and white, and a little bit of rose and green, are stored away in caves to age for years, perhaps decades, before being opened to enjoy with friends and memories.

After the wines come cider; it is served hot and well spiced; the spicing is done in many different ways, and gives a wonderful variety to a very soothing drink to warm a cool evening.

There are fruit juices of every color of the rainbow; strawberry, pear, guava, banana, apple, peach, and fig are but the beginning of a very long and flavorful list. There is, though, one strong point of commonality: the fruit is always still attached to the plant a few minutes before it is served.

(the variety of fruit juices is fermented and aged as are grapes to make wine, but that variety of drinks is reserved for very special occasions)

They also enjoy teas and infusions; the trees and herbs provide another spectrum of tastes to sip with friends.

Roots of various plants are sometimes spiced to provide another drink.

Yedidia cuisine varies somewhat from region to region. In some places, it is based on fresh fruit, and in others, on breads, cereals, thick soups and vegetable stews; the latter is spiced, lightly salted, and often has some meat for added flavor. All forms of Yedidia cuisine begin with a small salad (either garden or fruit), have a main course of some form of the local specialties, are followed by a platter with an assortment of breads and fresh fruits, and end with a dessert of cheeses or cured fruit.

Life, to the Yedidia, is one big, long party, and, to the Yedidia, song is the symbol of celebration. They sing in the morning, and sing in the evening; they sing while working, and sing a prayer — hands joined together — before meals. Thought is expressed in song; the first place to look for an expression of their perspective on theology and philosophy is in the verses of their hymns. There are many cherished songs shared across the nation, but there is also much spontaneity and improvisation; their way of speaking/singing is in metered verse, and a wealth of their wisdom is embodied in the rhythm of hymns, regular and dependable as the cycles of nature. The day, the moon, the year — these different cycles are echoed in the structure of verses.

For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, For the love which from our birth over and around us lies: Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night, Hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light: Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, Friends on earth, and friends above; for all gentle thoughts and mild; Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For Thy church, that evermore lifteth holy hands above, Offering up on every shore her pure sacrifice of love: Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For Thyself, best Gift Divine! To our race so freely given; For that great, great love of Thine, peace on earth, and joy in Heaven: Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears, All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise, The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise. This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair; In the rustling grass I hear him pass, He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet. This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and Heaven be one.

The Yedidia are the most alive to sensation; each sense is valued, and each one provides something a little different.

Touch is pre-eminent; it is enjoyed immensely, and they consider it the most informative of senses. Touch tells them of texture and temperature, of moist and dry; by how things respond to pressure, they can feel what is present beneath the surface and what structure it forms; it tells much of emotion. When sensation yields perception, touch provides them with the greatest richness.

Smell is a sense of memories; to walk through an orchard is to remember seasons past. It no less bears a tale of what has happened; each person bears his own distinctive smell, and a place by its smell tells who has passed by. Many different things leave a mark on a placés scent, and to smell is to be told, as if in a far-off memory (indeed, like those that smell mysteriously triggers), what plants are present, what the weather is like and has been, who has passed by, what fruit was picked — though not all of this is perceived all of the time, the fragrance of a place often tells bits and pieces.

Sight is a sense that works by light illuminating all that it shines on (and this is something from which they draw a lesson). It tells of the color, the form, and the beauty of what is around; what is moving and what is still; it tells of what is far away and can not yet be touched. It serves as a guide to what is around, as a guide by which to move and act in an unknown situation, and it bears its own beauty; all of this provides lessons about God and about faith.

The first sound in their mind, and the one they most love, is song. The song of a friend’s voice, the song of a bird chirping, the song of a babbling brook, the silent song of silvery blue starlight — all of these are listened to and enjoyed.

The taste of food tells of the time of year and of culture. Drink and food are a kind of art, and its taste tells both of the time of year and how it was prepared.

Yedidia emotions have a fluid character; they are a sensitive people who are easily moved and who show their emotions quickly. Their celebration is filled with smiles and mirth — as is, indeed, much of life. Tears are held to be very precious — in their language, the same word means ‘tear’ and ‘diamond’ — and they know tears, not only of sorrow, but also of joy. Tears come to greet both memories and powerful music, and mark as both sign and symbol the most significant events in life — farewell and death, yes, but also a loved one regained, and birth, and marriage. Memories and hopes, also, are precious. They know sorrow, but never bitterness; however deep and angst-ridden the sorrow may be, deeper and more healing is the joy. Farewell is always marked by the thought of, “I will be able to enjoy your presence again;” on many a deathbed has been spoken the words, “We will be brought back together again in the heart of the Father. It will not be long.”

Yedidia worship services are filled with songs — celebrations in which everybody participates.

The Yedidia homeland is named ‘Syllii’.


Yedidia character: Sylla

Sylla is relatively short and rounded; she has dark, olive skin and soft, brown eyes. Her hair falls down to her waist, and she wears a long, flowing kelly green robe, as is traditional among Yedidia women; more often than not, a chain of flowers rests in her hair. She chooses to go barefoot, so that she can feel the grass, the moss, the earth, and the stones beneath her feet.

The only possession which she carries is a small harp; a slow strum accompanies a soft and gentle song. She also has with her a pet: a milshh: a small, eyeless animal, about two feet long, with brilliant golden fur that is long and soft, two large, pointed ears, eight short, flexible legs ending in large paws, and a shiny black nose which is always sniffing inquisitively. It is both shy and curious, and it is very warm and affectionate; it is usually very calm and sedate, but often becomes very excited when it smells someone familiar.

A quote:

Fair is the sunlight;
Fairer still the moonlight:
Fairest of all, is the light of thy face.


Jec

The Jec life is filled with faith, humility, and simplicity. They live in small rural villages, where farmland — pastures, fields, orchards and vineyards, the village commons — outlies a few houses, some artisan’s shops, and a simple church.

They are peasants very much like those chosen to be apostles, and the carpenter who chose them. Farmers, blacksmiths, cobblers — clothed in rough, plainly colored robes, they are the sort of people one could easily overlook in the search for the spectacular. It is calloused hands and dirty fingernails that are lifted up to God in worship, and that continue to worship by placing a yoke on a pair of oxen, gathering firewood, peeling carrots and potatoes, or threshing wheat. There are many who are given great wisdom and knowledge, a faith to move mountains, or who speak in the tongues of men and angels, but they do not bear an otherworldly air or a strange electricity; they appear as men and women like any other, usually harvesting barley or carving wood.

Their thought is expressed in parables, little stories, and proverbs, the first and foremost of which are “Love Yahweh your God with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your mind, and all of your might,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is a great sense of community and continuity, carrying the torch passed down by the saints who walked before.

They do not really travel; most are born, live, and die within a few miles of a single point. They do not look down on wayfarers who voyage far and wide to see the height of mountains and the vastness of seas, and enjoy the richness of the visible and invisible artifacts of the variety of cultures, but they pay a lot of attention to what is easy to pass by without noticing. They know their culture, their village, and its people very well.

Jec culture is a culture of the very small. They see the great in the small; in the Law of Love is seen all of virtue and right action; in a tiny shoot pushing out of the ground they see an immense oak whose branches will someday provide shade; in a simple gift, they see the love that gave it. They are fond of the words, “He who is faithful in little is also faithful in much.” Piety is given expression in the tiny details of everyday life, to which careful attention is devoted. They search to love God by seeing to the needs of whoever they are with.

Gift giving occupies an important cultural position; each gift serves as a little symbol, a little morsel, of love. The gifts are very simple — poverty does not permit the spectacular — but are given generously. A flower, an apple, a song, a blessing, a handshake, a prayer, a poem, a cup of cold water wood carved into a statue or a whistle, an oddly shaped pebble, a skin of wine, a walk, a story, a patterned candle — all of these are given.

Sight, sound, touch, smell, taste — there is nothing really special about their use of senses. They notice and enjoy little details; there is not much more to say.

The language has simple rules and few words; it is one of the easiest to learn, and bears well the load of talking about everyday matters, about personality and friendship, and about God.

When two Jec meet, one is usually coming to visit the other, and something of this notion of visit and welcome is embodied in the greeting. The visitor comes with one arm outstretched and hand open, saying, “I give you my love.” The host clasps the outstretched hand, bowing slightly, and says, “And I return to you mine.” These actions are accompanied by a gentle smile.

They are fairly short, with tan skin, brown eyes, and hair that is usually brown (and sometimes black or sandy blonde).

Their emotions are the emotions of being human, the common points of feeling shared across all culture. They know at least something of laughter and peace and passion and tears and awe; if there is one point that runs strong, it is a sense of tradition, community, continuity, and place; they have a sense of unique importance and a part in the great plan (two concepts which are not really separate in their thought).

Jec worship services are simple, without any real distinguishing remarks — no bells and smells, just a week by week liturgical service presenting the Gospel message and embodying worship. The opening words of each service are, “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh your God is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind, and with all of your might. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love one another.”

The Jec homeland is named ‘Tev’.


Shal

The language is soft, gentle, simple, and calm. It is spoken slowly, as if it were a lullaby; it has few words: simple, little words with rich and profound connotations; ‘Way’, ‘Tao’, and ‘Word’ are like the nouns which are used.

Even the verbs are rarely verbs which tell of action. Rather, they describe that which is; ‘be’, ‘abide in’ ’embody’, ‘love’, ‘nourish’, ‘support’, ‘is the friend of’, ‘know’, ‘receive’, ‘is from’, ‘resemble’, ‘live’, are the essential words which a child would learn as one of our children would learn words such as ‘walk’, ‘talk’, ‘eat’. Just as our language has different words — ‘walk’, ‘run’, ‘jog’, ‘sprint’, ‘mosey’, ‘trot’, for example — which tell of the action of moving by the us of legs, so their language has at least a few different words to tell of being, or understanding, or abiding, or loving. The way of speaking sometimes does not even need verbs; there are more adjectives than adverbs.

The genius of the language is embodied in a flowing prose which is the purest poetry; words with the simplicity of a child. It does not have abruptly ending sentences, but rather slides somewhat like Hebrew; one thought gives form to the next. It has something like the feel of the prologue to John’s account of the Gospel, or his first letter; it has something like the feel of a Gregorian chant; there is nothing abrupt in their speech or music. They speak, but even more, they are silent; there is a communion.

The understanding is one which see beyond, which looks at the surface and sees into the depths. They stand dazzled by the glory of the starry vault, and worship the awesome Creator who called them into being; they look at a friend’s face and see the person behind.

Their culture is a place of perfect order. It is ordered by things being placed rightly; by God worshiped by man, the spiritual ahead of the physical, being beyond doing.

It is of this that God is known in all of his majesty, that spirituality becomes rich and profound, that there is a right state of being. This brings the lesser things to flourish. Men shine as they reflect the glory of God. That which is physical is enjoyed immensely — the warmth and softness of a friend’s touch, the sweetness of a freshly picked orange, the fragrance of a garden of flowers, the sound of a bird’s song, the colors of a sunset — all of these things are received gratefully. Being, they do; they tend the garden, and create.

The order flows from resting in the Spirit and from love; there is no one who thinks of order. The truthfulness knows nothing of oaths; the order knows nothing of rules, nor even of honor and morality.

The culture is best understood, not by looking at men, but by looking at God. God gives generously, and they receive and rest in his love.

There are many people in modern society who, when waiting in an office or at a traffic light, become agitated and begin to fidget; they are hollowed out by an excess of doing. The Shal are innocent of such hurry. They act, but it is a doing which flows from being.

Food, wine, music, incense, touch, silence, storytelling, dance, drama, puppetry — it is not often that they all get together to have a celebration (they prize greatly time spent alone with one person, and then extended families and tightly knit communities).

Shal culture does not exactly have greetings as such; their way of thought works differently.

To say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ is an action of an instant, in two senses. In one sense, it lasts for an instant; no one says ‘hello’ twenty times or shakes hands for five minutes. In the other sense, it marks an instant, the instant where absence becomes presence or presence becomes absence.

The Shal do not really think in terms of instants; time is measured and perceived — or, rather, not measured and not perceived — by moments. A friend is present, and he is enjoyed, and then he is absent, and then there is solitude. In the place of a greeting, the Shal have a presence. With the Shal, you never get the feeling that you are alone and there is another person nearby who is also alone; you never get the feeling that there is a close group of friends nearby and they are inside and you are outside. If a Shal is nearby, he is present; indeed, the Shal have a very present touch.

Life, to the Shal, is full of moments. There is a meal with friends, and then there is reflection in solitude, and then there is a beautiful song, and then there is time with a friend, and then there is prayer, and then there is sleep, and then there is work tending to the trees… There is not interruption or haste; a moment lasts as long as it is appropriate for a moment to last.

Their moments of community are profound; their moments of solitude are even more profound. ‘Withdrawing’ is what they call it; it is a time of stillness, and an expression of a love so profound that all other loves appear to be hate. It is a time of finding a secret place, and then withdrawing — from family, friends, and loved ones, from music and the beauty of nature, from cherished activities, from sensation — into the heart of the Father. It is a time of — it is hard to say what. Of being loved, and of loving. Of growing still, and becoming. Of being set in a right state, and realigned in accordance with the ultimate reality. Of purity from the Origin. Of being made who one is to be. Of communion and worship. Of imago dei filled with the light of Deus. Of being pulled out of time and knowing something of the Eternal.

This withdrawing fills them with an abundant love for other people, and gives them a renewed appreciation for nature and music; it fills them with silence, and fills their words and song.

Their perception of the world is quintessentially tactile. Sight, hearing, and smell all work at a distance; touch perceives what is immediately present. The eyes, ears, nose, and tongue are all organs of sense at one place on the body — more sensitive in some places and less in others, to be sure — and feels all of what is immediately present. Touch provides the physical side of the presence which is so greatly valued.

The emotional side of the culture is filled by peace, in which is embedded joy and contentment. It does not change very much or very quickly — though it encompasses affection, or appreciation of beauty, or a special serenity, or absorption in thought.

Their appearances have the peculiar property of not seeming to be any particular age. If you look, age is not very difficult to judge, but somehow the thought doesn’t come up. They have a rounded shape, soft eyes, and warm, soft skin.

Shal worship services are different from the others. They are characterized, not by the presence of words, but by the presence of a profound and penetrating silence where God is imminent. There are a few words, but they are not where the essence lies.

The Shal homeland is named ‘Liss’.


Janra

The Janra, unlike any of the other cultures, have no homeland; they voyage among the other lands, where they are generally well-liked and warmly received. Their wayfaring is at once literal and symbolic: literal in the sense that they know that they are passing through this earthly country for a better one. They enjoy all of the lands that they visit — they have an informal character, and always seem to be at home — but they know that none of them is really home.

It must be said that they know how to move. They can walk, skip, and run, of course, but that is only the beginning. Trees, buildings, and cliffs are climbed like ladders. Come oceans, rivers, and lakes, they will happily swim. Be it lightly skipping atop a thin wall, or jumping out of a window to grab a tree branch and swing down, or running at top speed through the twisty passages of the Southern mines and caves, they make acrobatics seem another form of walking. Somehow, even flipping through a window or somersaulting under a table, they have an extraordinary knack for barely missing collisions with hard objects; the Urvanovestilli are still debating whether this is the result of skill or luck.

The dances of the Urvanovestilli have a marvelous complexity, and those of the Yedidia are known for their flowing grace, but there is still nothing like the spinning energy of the Janra. The Janra are very adaptible, pulling bits and pieces from other cultures and setting them together in vital new combinations. In some of the dances can be seen bits and pieces — moves of strength that look like Tuz wrestling, or complexity from the Urvanovestilli — and the result is nothing short of breathtaking.

In their adaptibility, they usually speak at least a few words of each language, and usually borrow whatever form of greeting is common in the land they are visiting. They are familiar with the household objects (often enough to use them in new ways). This, combined with a flair for practical jokes, is occasionally enough to annoy the town guards, but (more often than not) their antics leave people laughing, sometimes to the point of tears.

The Janra have a remarkable talent for not remaking God in their image. Their description of Jesus is anything but boring and respectable — a firebrand with a phenomenal knack for offending religious leaders, in the habit of telling respectable pillars of society things such as, “The prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of you.” — and they are known for an honesty that can be singularly blunt. They know that he passed over scribes and lawyers to call, as disciples, a motley crew of fishermen, tax collectors, and other peasants — one terrorist thrown in to make matters interesting. They are, however, just as cautious not to water him into only being a social reformer who had nothing to say about sexual purity.

For all of their sharpness, for all of their ability to bring forth the most embarrassing Scriptural teaching at the worst possible moment, it must also be said that the Janra have hearts of pure gold. Love and compassion are constantly in their thought and action; they are the first to share their food with a beggar, say hello to the person who is alone, or ask, “Are you hurting?” The accusations brought against them are accusations of having too many quirks, not of being unloving.

Their language is of a force that is not easily translated into writing; of course it has nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. and respects masculine and feminine, but intonation, speed, vocal tension, and other factors tell at least as much; they carry connotation and sentiment, express the level of clarity of understanding the speaker believes he has, and many more things. There are also a number of verbal tics, on the order of two or three dozen (‘Eh?’ is, however, not included, and apparently perceived to be a mark of general silliness); in a sense, they don’t do anything, but in a sense, they add a very nice pepper to the speech.

Janra thought involves a kind of sideways logic, which is part of why their ways of speaking are difficult to describe. They take little bits and pieces from different places, and put them together in unexpected ways, making connections that can be very surprising. They are very good at reading between the lines, and sometimes perceive things which were not intentionally meant to be communicated. Sometimes they borrow manners of speech from other people — conversation, structured argument, metered verse, stories, parables, and so on — but their usual way of speaking has all sorts of sideways jumps and turns, with segues that can be rather odd, and often leaves gaps; these gaps are not a matter of sloppiness, but rather something like a joke or riddle where the hole is intentionally left to be filled in by the listener.

“When it comes to games, never try to understand the Janra mind.”

-Oeildubeau, Urvanovestilli philosopher and anthropologist

It is known that Janra sports usually last for at least half an hour, involve a ball, two or more teams, running and acrobatics, and animated discussion. Beyond that, neither the Urvanovestilli’s logic nor the Yedidia’s intuition are able to make head or tail of them. In general, the teams appear to have unequal numbers of players; the players often switch teams in the course of play; teams are created and dissolved; the nature of the activities makes sudden and radical changes; there is no visible winning or losing. There are occasionally times in the course of play when some intelligible goal appears to be being approached… but then, all players seem to be approaching it in a rather erratic manner (when asked why he didn’t do thus and such simple thing and achieve the approached goal by an inexperienced anthropologist, one of the Janra said, “Technically, that would work, but that would be a very boring way to do it,” and then bolted back into play: the extent to which game play is comprehensible heightens its incomprehensibility). Late in life, Oeildubeau hinted at having suspicions that, if the Janra believe that they are being watched, they will spontaneously stop whatever sport they are playing, and instead begin a series of activities expressly designed to give any observer a headache.

Janra come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, showing bits and pieces of other races; they tend to be of moderate to tall height and a lithe build. Most are fairly light skinned (although a few are rather dark); a fair number of them have skin spotted with freckles. They have every imaginable color of hair (black, brown, blonde, grey, white, red, tweed, shaven head, etc). and eyes (brown, blue, hazel, grey, amber, purple, etc). They wear loose clothing in a variety of colors, usually quite vivid; red, purple, and green are the most common of solid colors, and patches or stripes of some pattern or the whole rainbow appear not infrequently. Therefore, Al is a pud.

Their sensation of the world is primarily visual, and in a way patterned after their thought; visualizing and visual problem solving comes very naturally to them. They see, as well as beauty, a world to interact with, and parts to rearrange and make something new. Sound and touch serve largely to complement and extend visual image; taste and smell are enjoyed, but do not play a terribly large role. The other side of the coin (to problem solving) is observing and enjoying, which is also very much a part of culture.

Their emotional life has several sides. They carry with them, in their emotions, a little bit of every place and people they visit — the passion and control of the Urvanovestilli, the peace of the Shal, the festivities and music of the Yedidia, the respect of the Nor’krin, the enjoyment of exercise of the Tuz, the common factor of the Jec. Perhaps the most prominent side of all is laughter. Janra are immeasurably fond of banter and practical jokes, and have an uncanny knack for guessing who is ticklish. There is an element of what is carefree, spontaneous, and given to pure enjoyment of simple pleasures; there is also a large element of being immersed in sidethink, and they enjoy greatly the flash of insight when everything fits together. They are curious and enjoy discovery.

There is another side to this emotion which seems paradoxical, but fits perfectly. There is a difference between childlike and childish, and not a trace of childishness is to be found among them. They enter the Kingdom of Heaven as little children — in particular, like one little boy who stood up before crowds of thousands and asked, “Why is the Emperor naked?” Of all the skills people learn as a part of growing up, they know perhaps least of all closing their eyes and using intelligence as a tool to make oneself stupid. They are moved by what goes unnoticed, smiling at the beauty in a single blade of grass, and weeping at the death of a beggar who, homeless, friendless, handicapped and burned, explained that he was unable to drop a knife taped to his defunct hand for self-defense, but was still shot and killed outside of the White House by men entrusted with the responsibility of protecting innocent life.

There are two things to said about Janra worship. The first is that they adapt and participate in whatever is the local manner of worship (as do traveling Urvanovestilli and other wayfarers) — in that regard, they make no distinction between themselves and the peoples that they visit. The second — and this does not stem from any perceived defect in the other forms of worship, but from who they are — is that they hold their own worship services.

These services do not occur at a fixed time and place (though they occur more frequently when Janra are on the road between different locations), but at random intervals and locations, spontaneously. Anyone and everyone is welcome, and children and sometimes adults of other races are usually present.

They are a warm and informal occasions, where anyone can take the lead, and a great many activities are recognized as worship; the Janra have a particularly strong emphasis on the priesthood of the believer and the sacredness of everyday life. People sit in a big circle, and people or groups of people come to the center to present or lead as they wish.

There is no canonical list of activities that are performed at these services, but the following are common.

* Songs. The Janra sing their own songs (often improvised) or those of other peoples; those of the Yedidia are especially treasured. While singing, the people are sometimes still, sometimes swaying, sometimes clapping, and sometimes dancing with their arms.
* Prayer. One person will lead a prayer, or people will pray popcorn style, or…
* Sermons. A theologian or philosopher will preach a sermon.
* Sharing. Someone will share an insight or experience from personal life.
* Dance. The whole assembly will dance, sometimes in a long, snaking line.
* A joke is told. The Janra are fond of laughter.
* Drama. One of a few people will present a dramatic presentation, play, or skit.
* Group hug, usually in whatever is the common greeting of the land.
* Ticklefest. “Blessed are the ticklish, for the touch of a friend will fill them with laughter.”
* Silence. This is treasured.
* Reading from the Scriptures.
* Reading or recitation of poetry.
* Storytelling.
* Juggling and similar activities.
* Acrobatics.
* Instrumental music.
* Non sequiturs.
* Miming.
* Mad libs.
* Impressions and impersonations of various and sundry people.
* Janra-ball. This occurs in a modified form such that members of other races, while still not understanding anything, are capable of participating. (Nobody gets a headache.)
* Eucharist. This is the most solemn and important moment, and occurs exactly once in a service — at the end.
* None of the above. This category is especially appreciated.


Janra character: Nimbus

Nimbus is fairly short and wiry; he has light, almost white blonde hair, deep, intense blue eyes which sparkle and blaze, and a rich, laughing smile. He wears a loose, shimmering two-legged robe of midnight blue, from the folds of which he seems to be able to procure innumerable items of Urvanovestilli make (for example: goggles (waterproof), telescope, silk rope and grappling hook with spring-loaded launcher, climbing/rapelling harness and gear/self-contained, spring-loaded belay), lantern, tool kit (large blade, precision blade, compass, wire saw, corkscrew, ruler, reamer, chisel, pliers, scissors, needle, punch, protractor, file, and sharpening stone), paper pad, mechanical pencil, supply kit (string, pencil lead, chalk, flask of oil, wire, miscellaneous device components (gears, springs, shafts, etc.), cloth), meal kit, tinderbox, mechanical puzzle, mirror, whistle…).

During childhood, he spent a lot of time in the land of the Urvanovestilli, and began to take an interest in tinkering. He has very much his own way of tinkering, from an Urvanovestilli perspective; he is fond of all manner of kludges. The resulting devices have caused his Urvanovestilli mentors to conclude that he is mad (the truth of the matter being that he is not mad, but produces and modifies contraptions in such a manner as to drive any honest Urvanovestilli tinkerer mad). When the city unveiled a new fountain in the public square, he added a pyrotechnic spark; when, in a public ceremony, the mayor celebrated his wife’s birthday by presenting a specially commissioned music box, the tune somehow changed from “Happy birthday to you” to “The old grey mare ain’t what she used to be.”

He does, however, possess a sense of what is and is not appropriate; his practical jokes never take on a mean or spiteful character, and he does possess a strong degree of contrainte. He does appreciate the variety of cultures he visits, and enjoys Urvanovestilli philosophical and theological discussions.

He is, in short, as Janra as any — left-handed and colorful, warm and compassionate, and a heart of solid gold.

A quote: “What? You think _I_ would do something like that? I’m hurt.” (generally accompanied by a wide grin)


All

“Not all flesh is the same: men have one kind of flesh, and beasts have another kind of flesh, fish have another, and birds another still. There are also celestial bodies, and terrestrial bodies; the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. The sun has one glory, and the moon another, and the stars still another; star differs from star in glory.”

I Cor. 15:39-41

“God does not create two blades of grass alike, let alone two saints, two angels, or two nations.”

C.S. Lewis, _That_Hideous_Strength_

This world is an exploration of good, a set of musings about cultures not fallen. The variety of cultures exists because of the nature of good.*

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell the same Gospel, the same message of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, crucified for the forgiveness of sins and raised from the dead.

They each, however, present this one Gospel with a distinct flavor; it is with a great deal of wisdom and respect for this one Gospel message that Christian tradition has vigorously resisted attempts to reduce the four books to one single, homogenized account. Matthew emphasizes the Kingdom of Heaven and peace; Mark emphasizes action; Luke provides a physician’s account of healing and sensitivity towards the despised; John provides a poetic and mystical account of love and intimacy. It is to faithfully represent this one Gospel that the Spirit inspired the writing of multiple accounts.

Faithfulness to a God of color and vibrancy means anything but a dull, monotonous cookie cut-out series of identical believers; just as a person is most faithfully represented, not by multiple copies of one photograph, but by many different photographs from many different angles, so images of God may faithfully reflect him by being different from each other.

This is why there are different cultures, each with its own emphasis on philosophy and way of life. (Within these cultures, though I have far from described them, should be many different sub-cultures, communities, and individuals. There is a masculine and a feminine side to each culture — or, more properly, each culture recognizes the importance of men who are masculine and women who are feminine). The differences, however, are differences of emphasis, just as the previous analogy spoke of different photographs for the sake of faithfully representing one entity.

It is in this same substance that people of other cultures look at each other and immediately see human beings; the differences are a source of heightened enjoyment between brothers and sisters. It is in this same substance that they love God with their whole being, and love their neighbors as themselves. That there is one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, of all that is, visible and invisible, that God is holy, possessing all authority and all wisdom, that there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, God from God, Light from Light, Love from Love, the Word made flesh, perfect God and perfect man, crucified for the forgiveness of sins and raised from the dead to be the eldest of many brothers and sisters, that there is the Holy Spirit, a fire of love and energy shooting between the Father and the Son, the new structure of obedience, that the fear of the Eternal is the beginning of wisdom, that God created the sky, the earth, the seas, the plants, the animals, and saw that it was good, and then created man in his image, and saw that it was very good, that the order of the universe is spiritual as well as physical, that God loves man and has given him the Law of Love, that man has as facets cultas and culturas, individual and community, that he created them male and female, faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control — things such as these are the reality unequivocally confirmed by all men. Cultural differences provide richness and variety that enhances understanding between brothers and sisters who love one another.

When a character is developed, with a cultural and personal flavor, do not overlook that which is to be common across all cultures and people, the same identity which holds culture and personal uniqueness.

One brief note, in the interest of clarity to avoid unnecessarily offending people: I am a white, male American who has lived in South-East Asia and Western Europe. I find cultures to be objects of great beauty, but make no pretense to be well-versed in all of them, nor to have included each of them in this world. The absence of some cultures is not meant as a statement of “My culture exists because of Creation and your culture exists because of the Fall;” I tried to envision a world not fallen, and began to create it with a background that certainly includes my theological knowledge, but also includes my cultural background and my own personality. If some members of other cultures would like to make a similar creation based on their knowledge, go for it; if you send it to me, I’ll enjoy reading it. I have not, however, myself gone out of my way to include other cultures; I am not ashamed of this. I am grateful to God for the personal and cultural fingerprints that I have left on this creation, and hope that other people, other images of God to whom it is given a slightly different manner of reflecting God’s glory, have been able to read it in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

* Careful readers will have noticed some things — ergo, meat eating, rebuke, the Cross (a symbol of redemption from sin), which do not correspond to Eden. The cultures exist, not always as what sinless cultures might have been in Eden, but sometimes what sinless Christian culture might be today, were such a thing possible. To state some things more precisely: it is a world in which physical evil exists, but not moral evil. I would request that the reader overlook the indirect marks of sin, as the cultures were designed around other concerns primarily.

A Dream of Light

Janra Ball: The Headache

The Sign of the Grail

A Cord of Seven Strands

Surgeon General’s Warning

This work is my first novel(la) and may be chiefly of interest to fans who are interested in my development as an author and want to see some of my work before I got certain things nailed down.

If you read it, probably the biggest key to enjoying it is to remember that with most novels, the priority is plot, then character, then relationships; while in this book the priority is relationships, then character, then plot.

My subsequent (and probably better) novels are The Steel Orb, Firestorm 2034, and in particular The Sign of the Grail.

C.J.S. Hayward

A Cord of Seven Strands
Read it on Kindle for $3!

Read it on Kindle: part of the collection, A Cord of Seven Strands

Chapter One

“Boo!” Sarah, who had been moving silently, pounced on Jaben, and wrapped her arms around him.

“Hi, Sarah. Just a second.” He typed in a few more lines of code, saved his work, and ran make. As the computer began chugging away, Jaben reached down and pinched Sarah’s knee. She jumped, and squeaked.”Aren’t you ever surprised?”

“By some things, yes. But I have a preconscious awareness of when you’re trying to sneak up on me.”

“Even when you’re deep in concentration, programming your whatever-it-is on the computer?”

“Even when I’m deep in concentration, programming my whatever-it-is on the computer.”

Sarah paused, and looked around. They were in the place where their circle of friends met — a big, old house which an elderly couple in the church was allowing them to use. It had many niches and personal touches, nooks and crannies, and was home to a few mice, especially in the winter. (There was a general agreement not to get a cat or mousetraps, but simply to minimize the amount of food left about.) The house even had a not-so-secret secret passage, a perennial favorite of the children who came to visit. This room had deep blue, textured wallpaper, with a painting hanging on the wall: an earth tone watercolor of the sinful woman kissing Jesus’s feet. There were bits and pieces of computers lying about, and a few computer books, some of which were falling apart. That room — and the whole house — was a place that bore someone’s fingerprints, that said, “I have a story to tell.”

“I was listening to the radio,” Sarah said, “and the fire danger has gotten even worse. Things have gone from parched to beyond parched. It wouldn’t take much to start a blaze.”

“I know,” Jaben said. “We can only be careful and pray.”


Thaddeus drove up to the rifle range. He reached into the back seat, and pulled out a blue .22 competition rifle, a box of rounds, some nails, a small hammer, some targets… He sat down on a bench, and slowly cleaned his gun. There was a funny smell, he thought, but he did not pay it much attention.

He went over and nailed a target to a stump, then moved everything in front of him and to the left, lay prone, and slowly waited for target and sight to align, and fired. Nine points. Good, but he could do better. He reloaded, and this time went more slowly. He drew a deep breath, grew still, waited even more slowly for the sight and target to line up, and fired. Ten points, dead center. The same for the third round, and the fourth. “Good.” Confident, Thaddeus fired a fifth shot, and frowned. He had only gotten seven points.

He started to go up to replace the target — “This time if I slow down and really concentrate, I think I can get 50 points.” — and unwittingly kicked over a small plastic bottle. Then he turned around, and said to himself, “I think I’m going to try to shoot the nail.” He lay down, loaded another round, and fired. Lead splattered at the top of the target face, and the target fell. He relaxed, and let his gun down.

“Boy, the sun is blistering hot today.” Thaddeus blinked; the air seemed to shimmer as if it were a mirage. Then he looked around a bit. His eyes widened, and his jaw dropped.

There, in the dry grass before him, were dancing flames.

Thaddeus groaned; he immediately recognized the funny smell he’d ignored. He hadn’t exactly grabbed the right fluid to clean his gun…

He threw his apple juice on the fire, which hissed and sizzled, but did not diminish much. Then he grabbed his gun and ran to his car.

As he drove away, Thaddeus heard the report as the unused rounds exploded.


Thaddeus ran through the living room, upsetting a game of Mao that was being played. He dialed 911. “There’s a fire! Rifle range near this house.” After a few questions, he called a phone tree and hurried those present into the cars. Sarah and Jaben joined Thad in his car — a rusty, ten year old black Cadillac with the driver’s side window broken and deep blue pictures painted on the side — and the other four got into an equally rusty trade van, a nondescript brown with a ladder, some rope, some tools, several rolls of duct tape, some paint cans, some tents, inside. They locked up, and began to bounce up and down some primitive roads.

As they passed, the spreading wall of fire loomed ahead of them.

“What do we do now?” Sarah said.

“Floor it!” Thad said.

Jaben did. He jounced through the straight stretch of road by the rifle range, where everything on the ground was glowing ashes; the heat, coming through the broken window, was incredible, and singed Jaben’s hair. “We’re coming through the other side of the fire!” They did, and flew out. Behind them, they could see a falling sapling land on the van. A quarter of a second earlier, and it would have shattered their windshield.

Jaben breathed a little easier as cool air blew in through the window. “Woo-hoo!” shouted Thaddeus. They slowed down, and drove.

Chapter Two

They continued several miles, and then Jaben pulled into a gas station, low on fuel. As he fueled up, Amos stepped out of the van and walked over.

“What do we do now?”

“Well, I think we’re far enough away, and we’re near Frank’s Inn. It might be nice to sit and collect our thoughts there.”

“Jaben, I like a good drink as much as you do—”

“—Miller Genuine Draft does not constitute a good drink—”

“—but do you really want the smell of a smoky tavern?”

“That’s actually why I thought of Frank’s. The new proprietor is allergic to cigarette smoke, and thought it would be nice to have one place in this county where people can have a good drink with their friends without having to breathe that stuff. I like the atmosphere there. People predicted that it would die out, but it’s flourished.”

“Frank’s it is.”

There was a moment’s silence, as Jaben waited for the tank to fill up. He started to turn away to put the pump up, and Amos said, “You look like you have something to say.”

“I know, but I can’t think of what.” He put the pump up. “It’s one of those annoying times when you can’t put your finger on what you want to say. I’ll think of it later, as soon as you’re not accessible.”

Amos laughed a deep laugh.

Jaben walked in, paid, and drove to Frank’s Inn.


As they walked in the door, Désirée breathed a sigh of relief. A large “Out of order” sign was on the television. There was some rock music playing, but even with the music the din was not too bad. They sat down around a table, and Jaben waved to the bartender.

A bartender walked over, and said, “Hi, my name’s John. Will you be wanting something to eat?”

“Please,” seven voices said in unison.

“I’ll be back with menus in just a second. What can I get you to drink?”

“I’ll have a cherry Coke,” Thaddeus said.

“Sprite,” Sarah said.

“A pint of Guinness,” said Jaben, and winked at the bartender.

“MGD Lite,” said Amos.

“I’m sorry,” the bartender said, “We don’t carry Miller. Can I get you something else?”

“Just give me the closest thing you have to a Miller.”

“Ok.”

“Strawberry daquiri,” said Désirée.

“I’ll have a glass of the house white,” said Lilianne.

“A strawberry kir,” said Ellamae.

“Oh, come, Belladonna, are you sure you wouldn’t rather have a strawberry shake? It looks much more you,” said Jaben.

Ellamae, who had somehow grown to womanhood without losing the beautiful visage of a little child, gave him a look you could have poured on a waffle.

“Could I see some ID, please?”

Ellamae, doing her best to keep a straight face, fished in her purse and procured a driver’s license.

The bartender looked hard at the license, then at her, and said, “Thank you,” returning the license, and walked off.

“Too bad he left,” said Jaben. “He seemed to raise his eyebrows at hearing that name.”

“Who asked you?” said Ellamae, trying to look cross while suppressing a laugh.

“Jaben, would you tell us—” said Amos.

“Shut up,” laughed Ellamae.

Jaben continued. “Belladonna, n. In Italian, a beautiful lady. In English, a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.”

Ellamae, laughing, said, “Die, Jaben, die!”

Some more people walked in the door, and the bartender came back, set seven menus on the table, and began to distribute drinks. “A strawberry daquiri for you, a glass of the house white for you, a strawberry kir for you, a cherry Coke, a Sprite, a pint of Guinness, and — aah, yes, the closest thing we have to a Miller.” He set down a pint of ice-cold water.

Amos looked at his drink a second, and then burst into a deep laugh, shaking his head.

“Jaben, if you ever…” his voice trailed off.

The menus were passed around, and after a little discussion they decided to eat family style. They ordered a meat lover’s pizza, a salad, and some French onion soup.

As the circle of friends sat and waited for the food, the song on the radio ended, and a news report came on. “The forest fire that we have all been worrying about is now burning. Starting somewhere near the campgrounds, it has been the subject of an evacuation effort. The rangers had a helicopter with a scoop at the lake for training exercises, and so the blaze should be put out speedily. Authorities are currently investigating the cause of the fire. Details coming up.”

Thad sunk into his chair.

Lilianne caught his eyes. After looking for a second, she said, “Want to talk about it?”

“Not here.”

“Want to take a walk outside, after dinner?”

Thaddeus nodded.

He really needs to talk — thought Jaben — but he’s not in any hurry. Living in Malaysia for a couple of years has that effect. It changes your sense of time. It changes a lot of things.

Jaben longed to be back in France, longed for the wines, longed for the architecture, longed for the sophistication and the philosophical dinner discussions, longed for the language most of all.

Tu as amis içi,” Lilianne said in broken French. “You still have friends here.”

Yes — Jaben mused — that was true. The friendships in this circle of friends are more friendships in French (or Malaysian) fashion than in the American sense, which is really closer to acquaintanceship than friendship. Here are friendships to grow deeper in, to last for lifetime instead of for a couple of years until someone moves. Here are kything friendships. That is something. And my friends know what is close to my heart, and give me things that mean a lot to me. Désirée, Lilianne, Ellamae, and Sarah each give me kisses when they see me, and Lilianne is taking the time to learn a little French. She doesn’t believe me when I tell her, but she has the gift of languages. J’ai encore des amis içi. And God is the same God in France and America; from him come the best of both. Perhaps it would be fitting to give him thanks now.

Jaben brought his hands up to the table. “Shall we pray?”

The others joined hands. Amos said, “Lord, you are faithful, as you were faithful to Israel.”

Désirée said, “Lord, you are vast enough to care for our smallest details.”

Lilianne said, “Lord, you have the imagination to create all the wonders about us.”

Ellamae said, “You are he who searches hearts and minds, and perceives our thoughts.”

Thaddeus said, “You are the fount of all wisdom.”

Sarah said, “You are the Artist.”

Jaben said, “You are the worthy recipient of all our worship.”

Then Amos said, “Lord, I confess to you that I have harbored wrath against my white brothers and sisters, and seen them first through the label of ‘racist’.”

There was a silence. Not a silence at Amos confessing a sin — that was appropriate at that point of this form of prayer — nor that he would be guilty of that particular sin. It was rather that he had the courage to admit it, even to himself. Ellamae was reminded of a time she had spoken with a Canadian and, after a long discussion, watched him finally admit that he was anti-American. Jaben squeezed Amos’s hand, and said, “I love you, brother.”

Finally Désirée said, “Lord, I have coveted the time of others.”

Lilianne said, “Lord, I have been vain, and not always relied on your help.”

Ellamae said, “Lord, I have held pride in my heart.”

Thaddeus said, “Lord, I have ignored the prompting of your Spirit.”

Sarah said, “I have been quick in temper, and impatient.”

Jaben said, “I have also been proud, and been unwilling to embrace America as I have embraced France.”

Amos said, “Thank you for the many friends and family” — here he squeezed Désirée’s hand — ” that I have.”

Désirée said, “Thank you for the butterfly I saw today.”

Lilianne said, “Thank you for washing us clean from sin.”

Ellamae said, “Thank you for drawing us into the great Dance.”

Thaddeus said, “Thank you for the helicopter.”

Sarah said, “Thank you for letting me paint.”

Jaben said, “Thank you for my time in France.”

Amos said, “Please allow the fire to be extinguished quickly, and not to do damage to our meeting place.”

Désirée said, “Please help me to know the hearts of my friends better.”

Lilianne said, “Please draw my heart — all our hearts — ever closer to you.”

Ellamae said, “Please bless my music.”

Thaddeus said, “Hold me in your heart, and keep my steps safe.”

Sarah said, “Bless my touch.”

Jaben said, “Bless my wonderful friends.”

There was a moment of silence, and then they raised their voices.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heav’nly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

The place grew a little more silent as their harmony filled the room. The stillness was finally broken by Amos saying, “I’m ready for some good food.”

Sarah heard some noise behind her, and turned and looked — there was a waiter bringing the food. As it was set on the table, she waited, and Thaddeus scooped some of the soup into her bowl. She took a sip, and said, “This is certainly turning out to be an interesting day.”

Jaben reached his arm over her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. “I don’t know if I’m going to sleep like a rock tonight, or not be able to sleep at all.”

Ellamae said, “Whenever you say that, you sleep like a rock.”

Jaben mumbled, “I suppose.”

Lilianne took a hearty scoop of salad. “What were we talking about earlier?”

Ellamae said, “Moral theology. Good and evil. Except that I don’t think Jaben really wanted to talk about good and evil. I think he wanted to talk about something different.”

“But he still wanted to talk about moral theology, like the rest of us,” Désirée said.

“How was that again?” said Amos.

Jaben said, “One way to put it would be like this: if goodness is likened to health, and evil to disease and death, then most of the discipline of moral theology may be likened to a debate about the boundary that separates health from disease, life from death. That is certainly a legitimate area of study, but I think it is overemphasized. I would like to see a moral theology that is concerned with the nature of life itself, abundant life. I would like a moral theology that studies people as they dance rather than debate over the boundary line between a dying man and a fresh corpse.”

“Aah, yes,” Amos said.

Thaddeus said, “Western culture has a very disease-centered view of medicine. The point of medicine is to keep a person out of disease.”

“What else would medicine be about?” said Sarah.

“Instead of trying to keep a person out of disease, keeping a person in health. We have some elements of this concept. Preventative medicine kind of makes this step, and gradeschool schedules have physical education. It is picked up by,” Thaddeus shrunk back into his chair slightly, and mumbled the words, “New Age—”

He turned to Jaben, waiting for a wisecrack. When none came, he cleared his throat and said, “New Age is half-baked and goofy, and if you talk with a New Ager about medicine, you’ll get some garbled version of an Eastern religion’s balancing energies or whatnot, but at the heart of that goofiness lies a real idea of cultivating health, a health that is a positive concept rather than a negative concept. That is worth paying attention to.”

Désirée said, “That’s deep.”

Thaddeus paused a second, chasing after a thought. The others read the expression on his face, and patiently waited. Ellamae took a piece of pizza.

“In China, people do — or at least did — pay doctors, not when they got sick, but when they were well. If you think about it, that difference in custom reflects a profound difference in conceptions of medicine.”

Lilianne turned to Amos. “Amos, can you think of a difference in black custom that reflects your ways of thinking?”

Amos paused, looked like he was about to speak, and said, “Could I have a minute to think about that?”

Lilianne nodded.

Sarah said, “Today I had the idea for the coolest painting, and I started sketching it. It’s in my studio — a big watercolor, with all of the colors of the rainbow swirling together. The real essence of the picture, though, will take a lot of looking to see. In the boundaries between color and color lie the outlines of figures — horses, unicorns, men fighting with swords, radiant angels.”

Jaben said, “Interesting. Where did you get the idea to do that?”

Sarah said, “I don’t know where I get my ideas from. I like color, moreso than shape even. I like Impressionist paintings. I guess I was just daydreaming, watching the colors swirl, and I had this idea.” She smiled.

Thaddeus smiled, waited a moment, and then poked her in the side. Sarah squeaked loudly.

Jaben said, “Blessed are the ticklish—” and stopped, as Sarah’s hands were covering his mouth.

“For the touch of a friend shall fill them with laughter,” Amos said through a mouthful of pizza.” Thaddeus poked Sarah again. She moved her hands to cover her side and her knee.

Jaben poked her in the other side. In her laughter, she began to turn slightly red.

“Ok, I thought of an answer to your question,” Amos said to Lilianne. “Our family structures are different. Where you usually have a nuclear family living together and nobody else, we will often have not just a nuclear family but cousins, aunts, great-aunts, uncles… The extended family lives together, tightly knit. The difference has to do with how white culture is about individualism, and black culture is about community, in a sense. Three of the seven principles of Kwaanza — Unity, Collective Work and Responsibility, and Cooperative Economics — are explicitly community oriented, and all seven of them say ‘we’ and ‘our’ instead of ‘I’ and ‘my’. We have all sorts of stories, but you’ll have to look pretty hard to find a black Western.”

“Was it hard way back when,” Ellamae said, “hanging out with a group of otherwise white friends? Is it hard now?”

Amos said, “I’m not sure if you noticed then, but I didn’t say ‘Hi’ to you when you walked by when I was with a group of black friends. It’s just one of those things a black man doesn’t do. It would be a lot harder if I didn’t have some black friends and my family to be around. There are still some people who think I’m trying to act white by hanging around with you.”

“And when you liked Country and Western,” Désirée said.

“We all have our problems,” muttered Thaddeus.

“And when I liked Country and Western, yeah. People say that if you don’t like rap, you ain’t black. Well, I like rap, but liking Country and Western is even worse in some folks’ eyes than not liking rap.”

Lilianne frowned. “Nobody thinks that a white man who listens to rap is trying to act black. I suppose that if I made heroic exertions to be like a member of some other race, people might think I was weird, but I can’t imagine having to cut back on some part of being myself for fear of someone thinking I was trying to act Chinese.”

Désirée nodded. “You got it, honey. It’s hard for us.”

Lilianne squeezed her hand.

Jaben turned to Amos and said, “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. Why did your parents name you ‘Amos’? What with Amos and Andy and all, it seems a rather cruel name to give a little black boy.”

Amos said, “I did get teased, and I ran home crying a couple of times. I asked them why. They explained to me what the name means — ‘strong’, ‘bearer of burdens’, that it was the name of a prophet. Then, when I was older, they explained to me something else.” Here his voice rose. “My parents were determined that Amos and Andy should not have the last word about what it means for a black man to be named Amos.”

Ellamae nodded. “Your parents named you well. They are strong people. So are you.”

“Thank you,” Amos said.

“Who are Amos and Andy?” Sarah asked.

“Amos and Andy were a couple of black comedians who acted the perfect stereotype of black men before their audiences.”

“Ok,” Sarah said. “Kind of like Eddie Murphy?”

Désirée giggled.

“Uh…” Amos’s voice trailed off. After a second, he said, “Jaben, help me out here.”

“Eddie Murphy’s humor is coarse, vulgar, and entirely without class. That stated, he invites his audience to laugh with him, and there is a glow of camaraderie about even Raw. Amos and Andy invited their audiences to laugh at them, to laugh at the stupid blacks. Eddie Murphy is the sort of comedian who would strengthen a racist impression of blacks, but the whole point of Amos and Andy is to pander to racism.”

By this time, the food was mostly finished, and the bartender had brought the bill. They fished in their wallets for cash, paid the bill, bagged the remaining food (none of the pizza or soup was left, but there was still some salad), and got up and walked out. Ellamae caught Thad’s eyes, and the two of them walked off.

Thad and Lilianne stepped out into the privacy of the street. A car passed by; it was twilight, hot but not humid.

“Riflery is one of the times I can most grow still,” he said. “I never touched a gun in Malaysia — was never interested in one, for that matter — and the concentration of riflery is different from the laid-back attitude Malaysians hold. All the same, the slowing down of riflery is a special treat, the one thing you don’t have to fight against hurry to do at its own, unhurried pace.”

Lilianne walked in silence.

“I must have grabbed the wrong bottle. I remember something smelling funny. I ignored that funny smell, all through cleaning my gun, and with it ignored a gut feeling. I didn’t want to know where that gut feeling led; I wanted to clean my gun, and then I wanted to shoot. I fired five rounds — forty-six points — and then shot the nail off the target. And when I looked, a fire had started.”

Lilianne said, “You feel awfully guilty.”

“Shouldn’t I feel guilty? After starting a forest fire?”

“If I had done something like that, would you love me any less?”

They walked in silence past a couple on the street.

Lilianne wanted to speak, but knew the futility of winning an argument. “Amos loves you. Désirée loves you. Ellamae loves you. Jaben loves you. Sarah loves you. I love you.”

The two walked on in silence, turned a corner.

“I’m also scared,” Thaddeus said. “Will I get in trouble? Will I go to jail?”

“You are in God’s hands,” Lilianne said.

“I know, but it doesn’t make me feel any better,” Thad said.

Lilianne stopped walking, turned, and gave him a long, slow hug. “You are in God’s hands,” she said.

“Thanks, I needed that.”

They turned, and walked back in silence. For Thad, it was a silence that was wounded, but also a healing silence, the silence of healing washing over a wound. For Lilianne, it was a praying silence, a listening silence, a present silence. They walked slowly, but the time passed quickly, and they were soon back at the cars, and met the others.

Chapter Three

Désirée stepped away from the tents and walked down the trail. It had been an exciting day, and she needed some time to quiet down.

She moved down the trail noiselessly. Up above was a starlit sky with a crescent moon, and around her were tall, dark pines. Below was a thick carpet of rusty pine needles. As she walked along, her heart grew still.

Thoughts moved through her mind, in images, sensations, and moments more than in words. She smiled as she recalled Sarah asking, “Kind of like Eddie Murphy?” She also cherished the expression on her husband’s face, the look he had when a question arose, and he knew the answer perfectly, but didn’t know where to begin to explaining. That look on his face bore the same beauty as it often did when she teased him.

She saw a glint out of the corner of her eye, and looked. For a second, Désirée couldn’t make out what it was, and then she recognized it as a monarch butterfly, illuminated by a single shaft of moonlight. Désirée prayed, and slowly reached out her hand; the butterfly came to her finger, rested for just a second, and then flew off into the night.

Désirée sat down on a rock in silence. She heard the footfall of a small animal — a rabbit, perhaps. The sounds of insects rang faintly about her; she slapped a mosquito. To her, it was music, music and a kind of dance. She drank it in, praying as she breathed. Standing up, she walked further along the path, as it passed by the lapping shore of a lake. An abandoned canoe lay along the shore.

O-oh God,

she sang.

O-oh God,
Build up your house.
O-oh God,
Build up your house.
Your Kingdom in Heaven,
Your Kingdom on earth.

O-oh God,
O-o-o-o-oh.

A-a-a-a-men.

Stopping in the stillness, she heard a twig snap behind her, a heavier footfall than that of a small animal. Quickly but yet unhurriedly, she melted into the blackness. She looked out, and saw Lilianne’s silhouette against the moonlit ripples dancing on the water.

“Désirée?”

Désirée stepped out of the shadows. “How are you, sister?”

“I wanted to talk.”

“Something troubling you?”

“No, I just wanted to talk.”

“Need to talk, or just be quiet together?”

They walked along the shore together. The path on the shore widened into a clearing filled with tall grass. Désirée took Lilianne’s hand, and they spun around, dancing under the starlight.

After a time, they sat down, and Désirée said, “You know, I just realized something.”

“What?”

“In parts of Africa, one of the biggest compliments paid for dancing is, ‘You dance as if you have no bones.’ Dancing is one of the things that couldn’t be completely taken away in slavery, and… white folk in general would do better to learn to dance. I mean, really dance. There are so many good things about it, and the people who would benefit the most are the last people you’d find dancing. But what I realized is this, maybe something I saw but didn’t believe: you dance as if you have bones, but your dance is no less beautiful for it. It is graceful, and has a different spirit.”

Lilianne’s blush was concealed by the moonlight and starlight.

“Ever sit and cloudwatch?” Désirée said.

“It’s been a while,” Lilianne said.

“What about with stars?”

Lilianne shook her head, her fair skin looking almost radiant in the moonlight.

Désirée and Lilianne lay down on their backs next to each other, looking up into the sky.

Lilianne said, “All I see are isolated stars. It’s not like clouds, where there are clusters.”

“Hush,” Désirée said. “Look.”

“That bright cluster over there looks like a blob, except a sparse and prickly blob.”

“Just relax. Don’t rush it.”

Lilianne lay on her back. The stars just looked like stars. Then she saw how much brighter some were than others. Her mind began to enter a trance, and she almost thought she heard faint, crystalline singing. Then—

“There!” she pointed to the crescent moon. “There, a Phoenecian trading ship, laden with goods, with the moon as its sail.”

Désirée blinked, and said, “That’s it. The biggest jewel in the sky. I hadn’t thought to look for a picture that would include the moon.”

Lilianne sat for a few minutes, breathing in and out, and said, “Let’s not look for any more patterns tonight.” Thoughts moved in her mind about moderation and enjoyment and “A person who is full doesn’t ask for more.” She didn’t want to see any other patterns. She was content looking on that one.

They lay in stillness for — how long? Neither one of them took any notice of time.

“When you were a little girl,” Désirée said, “what did you most like to do?”

Lilianne paused, pondered the question for a few moments, and then said, “I liked to read, or have stories read to me, and imagine — imagine being long ago, and far away. Maybe it would be imagine. I still daydream a lot.”

“I’m not sure why I had such difficulty with the stars tonight — or did I?” she continued. “My daydreaming is somewhere faroff, and seeing things in clouds at least requires that you be right there. Somehow I was able to look at the ship, though my mind wandered. Am I making sense?” She saw the two of them, as little girls, laughing and running, hand in hand, through a field in the summer’s sun.

“Perfect sense, dear. Don’t worry about making sense when you’re telling the truth, my mother always says.”

“What about you, Désirée? What did you like to do as a little girl?”

“Ask questions of the grown-ups, and listen. I would ask questions most of all of my elder relatives. I can still remember asking a question of my grandfather, in his old, careworn rocking chair, and listening to all the stories he’d tell. He’d sit there with his corncob pipe, smelling of smoke and the sweat of hard labor, and speak in this deep, deep bullfrog voice. Listening to him always made me feel like I was curled up in his arms and falling asleep. I liked the new stories he told, but the old ones best of all.”

“What were some of the stories he told you?”

“Let me see… there’s one… wait, I shouldn’t tell you that one.”

“Why not? You can tell me anything, Désirée.”

“Um… You won’t get mad at me if you don’t like it?”

“Désirée, you know me.”

“Ok. Once there was an unusually kind master, Jim, who would talk with his slaves, especially a witty one named Ike. He would tell him his dreams, except, well, they were made more to impress than dreams. And Ike would tell good dreams, too, but they weren’t usually quite as good as Jim’s.

“One morning, Jim said, ‘I had this dream, that I went to Negro Heaven. In there, everything was broken; the houses had holes in the walls and broken windows, and there was refuse in the streets, and the place was full of dirty Negroes.’

“Then Ike said, ‘Wow, master, I had the same dream as you. I dreamed that I went to White Heaven. There, everything was silver and gold; there were great, spotless marble mansion, and the streets sparkled. But there wasn’t a soul in the place!'”

Lilianne laughed. “That’s very funny. It reminds me of Jewish humor.”

Désirée said, “I don’t know much Jewish humor.”

Lilianne said, “Too bad. I’ll tell you a couple of their jokes if I can remember them. Jaben commented that Jewish humor is subtle, clever, and extremely funny.” She cleared her throat, and said, “Tell me another story.”

“Grandpa was always telling stories about the animals, stories that he learned sitting on his grandfather’s knee. Let me see… Aah.

“Brer rabbit saw Sis Cow with an udder full of milk, and it was a hot day, and he hadn’t had anything to drink for a long time. He knew it was useless to ask her for milk, because last year she refused him once, and when his wife was sick, at that.

“Brer Rabbit started to think very hard. Sis Cow was grazing under a persimmon tree, and the persimmons were turned yellow, but they weren’t ripe enough to fall down yet.

“So Brer Rabbit said, ‘Good morning, Sis Cow.’

“‘Good morning, Brer Rabbit.’

“‘How’re you feeling this morning, Sis Cow?’

“‘I ain’t doing so well, Brer Rabbit.’

“Brer Rabbit expressed his sympathy and then he said, ‘Sis Cow, would you do me the favor of hitting this persimmon tree with your head and shake down a few persimmons?’

“Sis Cow said ‘Sure’ and hit the tree, but no persimmons came down. They weren’t ripe enough yet.

“So then Sis Cow got mad, and went to the top of the hill, and she lifted her tail over her back and came running. She hit the tree so hard that her horns lodged in the wood.

“‘Brer rabbit,’ said Sis Cow, ‘I implore you to help me get loose.’ But Brer Rabbit said, ‘No, Sis Cow, I can’t get you loose. I’m a very weak man, Sis Cow. But I can assuage your bag, Sis Cow, and I’m going to do it for you.

“Then Brer Rabbit went home for his wife and children, and they went back to the persimmon tree and milked Sis Cow and had a big feast.”

Désirée had been speaking with animation, and Lilianne said nothing for a while. Désirée broke the silence. “You don’t like it?”

Lilianne paused, and said, “No, and I’m not sure why. Hmm… I’ve heard a few more of those stories, but I can’t remember any off the top of my head. I have this impression of Brer Rabbit as the hero, a hero who is characterized by being—” here she paused, “‘intelligent’ is not exactly the right word, and ‘clever’ comes closer but isn’t quite what I mean. ‘Cunning’. Brer Rabbit manipulates and uses the cow, and it is cast in a good light. The cow is mean, so it’s OK to do anything to her. Same logic as ‘Take ten!'” Then she hastily added, “Same logic as a lot of things in white culture as well. Same logic as Home Alone — the burglars are Bad Guys, therefore it’s OK for Kevin to torture them.”

She looked at Désirée, forgetting that the faint light would not permit her to read Désirée’s expression. She paused, prayed a moment, and said, “Did you like that story?”

“My favorite.”

Lilianne shuddered. “It’s a terrible thing to bruise a childhood dream. I’m sorry.”

They lay in silence for a minute.

Désirée said, “I was hurt, but I’m not sure you did anything wrong. When you’re a child, you like things simply because they are, and because they’re yours; everything lies under a cloak of wonder. Those stories were time with my grandpa, and they taught me that there is justice and injustice; they taught me that it is good to use my mind; they taught me that there is a time to trust and a time to be wary. Have you seen those I Learned it All in Kindergarden posters?”

“Yes.”

“I learned it all from Brer Rabbit. I see the problem you point out, but those stories will always be to me the starting-place of wisdom, and a point where I can remember my grandfather’s love.”

Lilianne lay in silence, pondering what Désirée said. Then she slowly reached through the grass, fumbled, squeezed Désirée’s hand, and said, “You ready to go back now?”

Désirée wiped a tear away. “Yes.”

“Let’s go.”

Chapter Four

Jaben asked, “Could I have the canteen?” As Sarah handed it to him, he took a swig of stale water, and rubbed his eyes. The harsh sun blazed in his eyes. “Why don’t we do Bible study now, and then worry about what else to do today? I’m sure we’ll be able to find something,” he said, then muttered under his breath, “though I’d much rather be programming,” and continued, “and, with something to eat, we’ll have the day before us.”

The others yawned their assent, and went back to the tents to get their Bibles.

“Whose turn was it to read? Lilianne’s?” said Sarah.

Lilianne said, “No, I think it was Amos’s.”

Amos said, “Yeah, that’s it.” He paused a moment, and said, “Shall we pray?”

They joined hands, and bowed their heads in prayer. Jaben squeezed Lilianne’s hand.

Lilianne prayed, “Father, we come before you a little excited, a little nervous. We don’t know what the course of the fire will be, or how long it will burn, or why this is happening. We ask that you preserve our meeting place and the property around it, and most of all human life. We thank you that we were able to escape the fire, and we meet to give you glory. Amen.”

They were sitting in a circle, on some logs, around a fire pit. Amos said, “I’ll be reading from I Kings 18, verses 41-46. Elijah has been chastising king Ahab, there is a drought, and Elijah has at the end of chapter 17 been staying with the widow. Earlier in the chapter, he has his famous contest with the prophets of Baal, where he called fire from Heaven down on the bull.” He cleared his throat.

“And Elijah said unto Ahab, ‘Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.’ So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, and said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, ‘There is nothing.’ And he said, ‘Go again,’ seven times.

“And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, ‘Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand.’ And he said, ‘Go up, say unto Ahab, “Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.”‘

“And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel.

“And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.”

Amos had been bending over the Bible, looking intently; now, he rested and sat up.

Jaben said, “Thoughts? Observations?”

Désirée said, “This story is one of my favorites, with the one before it. I like the Elijah stories.”

A minute passed, in which they looked at each other. “Lilianne?” Jaben said.

Lilianne stared off in space.

“Lilianne?” he said a bit louder.

“Huh? Oh, I was having a daydream about three mermaids swimming in a moonlit pool, and chasing the fish around, and petting them…” She paused in thought a moment and said, “I think I got into that daydream by thinking about the water in the story.”

“Sarah?”

“It’s a good story.”

Amos said, “What about you, Jaben? You’ve got to have something to say.”

Jaben said, “I always have something to say when I’ve had my morning bowl of coffee. Ugh, not even an espresso machine. Let me get back to you.”

Ellamae said, “Why don’t we get some more sleep, then go into town and get something to eat, maybe some coffee, and then maybe, maybe, try this again.”

The others nodded their groggy assent and padded off back to the three tents: one for the unmarried men, one for the unmarried women, and one for the married couple.


Jaben woke up, feeling delightfully refreshed. He felt sweaty, and the air was oppressively hot. The air felt slightly humid to him. He sat up, and looked around. Thaddeus was still sleeping, breathing deep breaths. Jaben slid out of his sleeping bag and stepped out of the tent.

The sun was high in the sky, and the sky was clear. He walked around on the pine needles, and lazily yawned. He walked over to a log, sat on a low part, and began to think.

That was a magnificent passage of Scripture, he thought, and the climax to a larger story. I’ve always taken away from it something about the wind of the Spirit. In a land dessicated by drought, the servant is told again and again to go back to look for signs of rain, going back even though he has seen nothing. On the seventh time, the servant sees a cloud the size of a man’s hand. And then, “Gird up your loins and run, lest the rain overtake you!” That’s how the wind of the Spirit blows — nothing for the longest time, and then a faint, imperceptible breeze, and then a storm.

His knee felt funny, as if there were pressure inside.

Now feels like the eye of the storm. Before was the fire, and now a moment of calm, and then there will be cleaning up. But this is a different kind of storm. Or is it?

He felt a soft arm over his shoulders, and turned and looked. Sarah kissed his cheek, and sat next to him.

“Hi, Sarah,” Jaben said, and gave her a hug and a kiss. “Are any of the other women up?”

“Yes, we’ve been up for about an hour. Talking.”

“‘Bout what?”

“Nothing.”

“What kind of nothing?”

“Silly stuff. Girl stuff. You wouldn’t be interested.”

Jaben reached behind her, and touched the back of her neck very, very lightly with the tip of his finger. She curled up.

Jaben looked at Sarah, as she sat back and relaxed. She had straight red hair cascading over her shoulders, and a round, freckled, face, with fair skin and a ribbon of deep red lips. Her body was — ‘fat’ would be the wrong word; ‘plump’, perhaps, or ’rounded’. Gironde. She was attractive. He looked at her, and felt glad that there are some women who do not feel the need to be twenty pounds underweight. Jaben smiled. Sarah plays the perfect ditz, he thought, and getting her into a deep conversation is usually impossible, but there’s more to her than meets the eye.

“Did you go and see the lake?” Sarah said. “It’s still, still, and every now and then a fish breaks the surface, and then ripples spread.”

“I just got up. I paced around, and sat down, and thought. Then you came.”

“Whatch’ya think about?”

“The Bible passage. I was thinking through. I feel that there’s another thought coalescing, coming together, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

A faint rumbling came from faroff.

Sarah looked thoughtful for a moment, and said, “Think it’ll rain?”

“I don’t think so. It could, but… Looking for a prediction of the day’s events in the Bible has the same aura as using it as a tool for divination. The fact that we read that passage today just means that this particular passage is what came up on the schedule.”

“So you don’t believe the Bible applies to our lives?”

“I do, it’s just — not that way. I wouldn’t have been thinking about it if I didn’t believe it applied.”

The land around them darkened, and they looked up. A cloud was between them and the sun.

“Hi, guys. May I join the conversation?” Lilianne was behind them.

Jaben’s hand shot out, and poked Sarah in the side.

“Eep!” Sarah jumped.

Sarah’s face turned slightly red, and she turned to face Jaben. “Do you never tire of tickling me?”

Jaben grinned, and winked. “Never.”

“Oh, well.” Sarah said, in mock resignation. “I suppose it can’t be helped.” She looked at Lilianne. “Do you think it’s time to wake everyone up?”

“Yes, let’s go.”

A few minutes later, they were all out sitting on the logs. Ellamae said, “I think we’ve all had some rest now; food wouldn’t hurt, but it’s nice to be here, and we should be able to pick up that Bible study. What do you think?” Désirée said, “Um…”

“Yes, Désirée?”

“Well,” she said.

There was a rumble of rolling thunder.

“Never mind. Let’s go on with the Bible study.”

Amos opened the Bible. “I liked the part where Elijah said—”

Splat! A fat raindrop splattered across the page.

Amos’s jaw dropped. He wiped the page off, closed the Bible, and looked up.

Another raindrop hit him in the eye.

Soon rain was falling all around them — sprinkles at first, then rain in earnest, then torrents. It was a warm, wet, heavy rain, with the sky dark as midnight, and the scene suddenly illuminated by flashes of stark, blue lightning. The wind blew about them; trees swayed rhythmically back and forth in the rain. Everything about them was filled with dark, rich, full colors, and was covered with the lifegiving waters.

The seven friends joined hands and danced in the rain.

Chapter Five

“Well, look what the cat dragged in today!” said the waitress. The friends had burst in the door, laughing, and soaked to the skin. “I wish I had some towels to give you.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Jaben said, looking around the diner. It was a small, cheery place, with a friendly noise about it. “Seven, nonsmoking.”

The waitress counted out seven menus, and said, “Walk this way, please.”

Sarah said, “Did you see the look on those people’s faces when we walked in?”

Thaddeus said, “Yep.”

They sat down around the table, and began to look through the menus. But not for long.

“Hey, Désirée. Tell us that joke you told me,” said Lilianne.

“Ok,” Désirée said. “There was once an unusually liberal and generous slave owner named Jim, who had a witty slave named Ike. Each morning they would tell each other their dreams (or so they said), and the one with the better dream won. Usually it was the master, Jim.

“One morning, Jim said, ‘I dreamed that I went to Negro Heaven, and in there everything was broken and dirty. The houses had holes in the walls, the windows were broken, and there was mud in the streets, and there were dirty Negroes all over the place.’

“Ike said, ‘Wow, master. We must have dreamed the same thing. I dreamed I went to White Heaven, and everything was spotless and immaculate — gold and ivory — and there were mansions and silver streets, but there wasn’t a soul in the place!'”

Lilianne said, “I remembered the joke I mentioned to you last night, Désirée, but couldn’t remember. There was a Jew named Jacob, who was financially in a bad way. He went to the synagogue, and prayed, ‘God, my bank account is low, and business is bad. Please let me win the lottery.’

“Some time passed, and he didn’t win the lottery. He ran out of money, and was in danger of being evicted. So Jacob went to the synagogue and prayed more fervently, ‘God, I’ve worked for you so hard, and I ask for so little. Please let me, just this once, win the lottery.’

“More time passed, and Jacob lost his house, his car. His family was out on the street. He came to the synagogue, and prayed, ‘Why, God, why? Why won’t you let me win the lottery?’

“The voice of God boomed forth, and said, ‘Jacob! Meet me half-way on this one. Buy a stupid ticket!‘”

There was silence, and then one laugh, and then another. The waitress came back, and asked, “Are you ready to order yet?”

“Um, uh, order. We were telling jokes. Could you give us a few more minutes?” asked Thaddeus.

“Certainly,” the waitress said, walking off.

This time, they made use of their menus, and thought of what to eat. The waitress came at the end, and they ordered — a few sandwiches, some soups, some fish…

“What do you call someone who speaks three languages?” asked Jaben.

“Uh, trilingual?” said Désirée.

“Good. What do you call someone who speaks two languages?”

“Bilingual!” said Sarah, smiling.

“And what do you call someone who speaks only one language?”

There was silence.

“American,” Jaben said.

Lilianne, smiling, said, “Here’s one. An English politician was speaking in a town near the Scottish border. In his speech, he slowly and emphatically said, ‘I was born an Englishman, I was raised an Englishman, and I will die an Englishman.’

“A Scottish voice from the back asked, ‘Ach, man. Have you no ambition?'”

After the chuckles died down, Thad said to Ellamae, “You look like you have something to say.”

Ellamae nodded, and said, “I do, but it’s a story I’m thinking of, not a joke.”

“Go ahead and tell it,” Désirée said.

“My mother has a harelip, as you know; that is a bit difficult for her now, but it was devastating to her as a little girl. She was teased quite a bit, and she would tell people that she had cut her lip on a shard of glass — somehow that was easier to admit than a physical deformity from birth. She was always unsure of herself, embarrassed, feeling less than her peers.

“One of the teachers was a kindly, plump little woman, Mrs. Codman, who had a sunny soul and was the delight of the children. Children would clamor about her, and her heart was big enough for all of them.

“The day came for the annual hearing test, when the children would cup their hands to their ears, and Mrs. Codman would whisper a sentence into their ears — something like ‘The moon is blue,’ or ‘I have new shoes,’ and the children would say what they heard.

“My mother’s turn came, and Mrs. Codman whispered into her ear,” — and then Ellamae spoke very slowly, and her voice dropped to a whisper — “‘I wish you were my little girl.'”

There was silence. Ellamae sat with a kind of quiet dignity; she glowed.

She continued. “Those seven words changed her life. She became able to trust people, to venture forth, to have courage and see her own beauty. I think those words have changed my life, too. Now that I think of it, the unspoken message she gave me throughout my childhood was, ‘I’m glad you’re my little girl.'”

She smiled, in a subtle, subdued manner, her elfin features bore a look that was regal, majestic, aristocratic.

“Wow,” Thaddeus said. “I never knew that about you or your mother.” He paused, closed his eyes in thought a moment, and said, “And I can see how it has shaped you.”

Ellamae’s eyes teared. “Terima kasih.

Thaddeus’s eyes lit up. “Sama sama.

They sat in blissful silence, a silence that spoke more powerfully than words.

Words were not needed.

The food arrived, piping hot; they joined hands and sat together in silence, their wet clothes beginning to dry. Finally, Amos said, “Amen,” and they began to eat without breaking the quiet.

Or at least they did not use their voices; I cannot tell you in full truth that they did not talk. They looked at each other, smiled, squeezed hands, let a tear slide, prayed. No words were exchanged, but a great deal was communicated.

When they finished, the waitress came with the check, and tarried a second.

“Ma’am?” Thaddeus said.

“Yes?” she said, slightly surprised.

“There is something you want to say to us, or ask us. What is it?”

She looked startled, and hesitated.

“You won’t offend us. Promise,” he said.

“Well, uh… You seem a little odd, not talking a whole meal long.”

“That’s not really what’s on your mind.”

“Ok, honey. Why are y’all telling racist jokes?”

Thaddeus said, “Thank you for being honest. To tell you the truth, we were a bit giddy. We probably shouldn’t have told those jokes in a restaurant.”

“No, I mean, why y’all telling racist jokes in the first place? You guys don’t seem the type that needs to tell those jokes. You look me in the eye, for one thing. You confuse me.”

“Do you ever tease your friends? Or do your friends ever tease you?”

“All the time.”

“Do you ever insult your friends? Or do your friends ever insult you? A real insult, I mean?”

“Never.”

“You see these jokes as being insults. Which racist humor may be. But this is not racist humor. It’s racial humor. It’s really much more like teasing.”

“That joke about the Jew was just plain mean.”

“That joke,” Lilianne said, “is a Jewish joke, and was told to me by a Jewish friend. It is quite typical of Jewish humor.”

The waitress hesitated. “But why do you need it in the first place? Don’t race relations matter to you? I would hope so, seeing as how you have a group of friends with both black and white.”

“They matter to us a great deal. What would your friendships be like if there was no room for teasing’s rowdy energy, if you always had to always walk on eggshells? Wouldn’t a friendship be better if it could absorb the energy of teasing and laugh a big belly laugh?”

“Could I have some time to think about it?”

“Take as much time as you want. We come by this town every now and then; we might stop in, and maybe we’ll be able to see you. And at any rate, I think you grasp our point, whether or not you agree with it.”

The waitress said, “Thank you.” She turned, started to walk away, and said, “And thank you for explaining. By the way, I was listening to the radio, and the fire is put out. The helicopter plus that tremendous rainstorm did it, not to mention flooded a few basements.”

“Woo-hoo!” shouted Sarah.

They paid the bill, leaving a generous tip, and headed out the door.

Chapter Six

The vehicles drove slowly along the winding roads, and as they came closer, each heart prayed that the meetingplace would be OK. As they cleared the last turn, they parked the car and the van, and got out in silence.

The meetingplace was reduced to cinders.

“My computer!” Jaben said.

“My paintings!” Sarah said.

As they stood, speechless, memories flashed through each mind, of moments spent there, treasures that were no more.

“I heard a story,” Sarah said through tears, “in which a man was fond of books, and had a massive library. One night, his angel appeared to him in a dream, and said, ‘Your time is near. Do you have any questions about the next world?’

“‘Will I have at least some of my books?’

“‘Probably.’

“‘Which ones? There are some that I really want to keep.’

“‘The ones you gave away.'”

Jaben completed the thought. “And now the only paintings of yours that you can still see are the ones you gave away.” He prayed a moment, and said, “You gave away some paintings that were very close to your heart. Now you can still see them.”

“What shall we do? What shall we do?” said Désirée.

Silence.

Then Ellamae, in her high, pure, clear voice, sang the first notes of a song.

Silence.

She sang the notes again, and reached out her hands.

The friends formed a circle, and joined hands.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above ye heav’nly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

Chapter Seven

“Well,” Amos said, “we should probably go and talk with the Weatherbys about the house.

Sarah slumped. “I don’t wanna talk to them about it.”

Amos said, “Neither do I, but we still should, and they are kind people. This is the first time I’ve thought about visiting them and not wanted to do it.”

“What’ll we say?” said Sarah.

“I don’t know,” said Ellamae, “but that is not reason not to go.”

“Let’s go,” said Jaben.

They slowly got into the van.

The drive to the Weatherbys’ dilapidated mansion seemed unusually long and slow, and Jaben carefully parked the van in the driveway. The friends got up, and walked up the gnarled path to the front door. Ellamae rang the doorbell, and listened to its echo.

“Well, at least the fire didn’t get their home.”

“Some of the plants are starting to bloom. The water was invigorating to them.”

Silence.

Ellamae rang the doorbell again.

Silence.

“Maybe they’re not home,” Sarah said.

“That may be,” said Ellamae. “We should probably leave them a note, and stop back. She fished in her purse for a pen and a notepad.

They talked a bit about what to say, and then wrote down:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Weatherby;

As you know, there has been a fire; it was started by a riflery accident with Thaddeus. None of us were hurt (we do not yet know if others were hurt), but the house you allowed us to use is in ashes.

We do not know what to say. We are very grateful to you for the use of that house, and we know it was a special place to others — children most of all. It was a place of memories for us, and we are the richer for it. We regret both to inform you that that wonderful house of yours is gone, and that you were out when we came, and so have to leave a note.

Thank you for the use of your house. We hope to be able to connect with you in person to speak about this.

The Kythers
Amos, Désirée, Jaben, Thaddeus, Sarah, Ellamae, Lilianne
 

The friends walked back, and got back into the van. “Where do we go now?” said Sarah.

“There’s the cave where we used to meet before the Weatherbys let us use the house,” said Lilianne. “Why don’t we go over there?”

“I want to give a gift to the Weatherbys,” Sarah said.

“What do you have in mind?” said Jaben.

“I don’t know, something special. Maybe something we could make.”

Jaben turned the keys, and they drove off.


The cavern was refreshingly cool, with air slowly passing through, sounding like a faint breathing. Amos’s flashlight swept over a few small crates that served as chairs and larger ones that functioned as tables, candles, matches, some flashlights, papers, some blankets, some sweaters, a sleeping bag, a pillow, a few other odds and ends, and a toolbox. Jaben struck a match, and lit the three wicks of a large candle. Amos turned the flashlight off.

Sarah picked up a moist flashlight, and pressed the switch.

Nothing happened.

She opened it, and dumped out two corroded D cells.

“Why do we store all of our bad batteries in our flashlights?”

Ellamae, shivering slightly, put on a sweater. It was loose around her elfin frame.

Sarah snuggled up against Thaddeus, and put an arm over Lilianne’s shoulder. “You know, it’s been a long time since we’ve role played.”

“Where were we?” Thaddeus said, interested.

“You were in the village, outside the castle. Looking for something — I don’t remember what.”

“And something happened when we drank from the spring,” said Lilianne. “It was a cold spring, like the one running through this cave.”

Sarah said, “Remember the time we went deep into this cavern, and found that pool this stream empties into, and petted the blind, eyeless fish?”

Lilianne nodded. Sarah had enjoyed that a great deal, and would have waded in had the others not stopped her.

Jaben closed his eyes, and appeared to be concentrating. “You are under a tree outside a chicken coop in the Urvanovestilli city Candlomita. There are children running around. About a hundred feet away, you see a troupe of performing Janra. One is juggling daggers and singing, one is playing a flute, three are doing acrobatics, and two are talking.”

Lilianne said, “‘Janra always make a day more interesting. Let’s go over.'”

Sarah said, “‘Yes, let’s.'”

Amos said, “‘Janra always make a day a little too interesting, if you ask me.'”

Sarah said, “‘Spoilsport!’ I take Rhoz by the hand and start walking over.”

Jaben said, “A little Janra girl comes running, with brightly colored ribbons streaming from her wrists and ankles, and says, ‘Spin me! Spin me!'”

Sarah said, “I take her to a clear spot and spin her.”

Jaben said, “The path is narrow, and there are people passing through. There aren’t any good places to spin her.”

Sarah said, “I pick her up, give her a hug and a kiss, and say, ‘What’s your name?'”

Jaben said, “She says, ‘Ank. What’s yours?’ and, before giving you time to answer, grabs your nose and says, ‘Honk!'”

Sarah said, “I’m going to set her down.”

Jaben said, “She runs over to Rhoz and says, ‘Hey, Mr. Tuz-man! Throw me!'”

Amos said, “I’m going to pick her up and toss her about, while walking to the other Janra.”

Jaben said, “A young Janra in a shimmering midnight blue robe approaches you, holding a small knife and a thick, sculpted white candle. He says, ‘Greetings, fellow adventurers. May I introduce myself? My name is Nimbus, and I would like to offer you a greeting-gift. This is a candle which I carved. Perhaps, when you light it, it will remind you of the hour of our meeting.”

Amos said, “I’m going to take it and look at it.”

Jaben said, “Wrapped around the candle is a bas-relief sculpture of a maiden touching a unicorn, next to a pool and a forest grove. The detail is exquisite.”

Amos said, “I’m going to hand it to Cilana for safe keeping and say, ‘Thank you, Nimbus. I hope to be able to get to know you.

“‘Do you know anything about the crystalline chalice?'”

Jaben said, “‘The crystalline chalice? Yes, have heard of it. I used to own it, actually. The last I heard of it, were rumors that it was either in the towers of the castle, or possibly in the depths of Mistrelli’s labyrinth. But those are only rumors, and they are old rumors at that.'”

Sarah said, “What time is it?”

Jaben looked at his watch, and said, “7:58.”

Sarah gave him a dirty look, and said, “You know what I mean.”

Jaben grinned and slowly said, “Oooh! In the game!”

Sarah continued to give him a dirty look, and said, “Yeeees.”

Jaben said, “It is now dusk; you have been on your feet all day, and feel tired, dirty, hungry, and thirsty.”

Sarah said, “‘Nimbus, would you like to join us for dinner?'”

Jaben said, “‘I would love to, but I told a group of friends that I’d meet them for some strategy games and discussion. If you’re looking for a good bite to eat, I would recommend The Boar’s Head;’ and here he turns to Rhoz, ‘it’s the one place in this whole area where you can get a good beer. You know the saying, “Never drink Tuz wine or Urvanovestilli beer!” Well, they don’t serve any Urvanovestilli beers. Plenty of Urvanovestilli wines — they even have Mistrelli green.”

Ellamae’s eyes widened.

“‘But for beers, they have a couple of Yedidia and Jec lagers, and then a Tuz stout, and then a Tuz extra stout, and then a Tuz smoked!'”

Amos looked up. “‘Thank you, Nimbus.'”

Jaben said, “Nimbus bows deeply, and then walks away at a pace that manages to somehow be both slow and relaxed, and move faster than you could run. After he leaves, a small, multicolored ball rolls between your feet.”

Amos, Désirée, Ellamae, Thaddeus, Sarah, and Lilianne said, in unison, “We run, post haste!”

Jaben said, “You move along, and manage to clear the game, although you hear its sounds behind you. When you slow down, you come to an intersection of three streets; there is a beggar here.”

Ellamae said, “I’m going to give him a silver crown, and say, ‘Hi, there! Could you tell us where The Boar’s Head is?'”

Jaben said, “The beggar points along one of the streets, and says, ‘Two streets down, on the corner.’ You reach the inn without event, and a pretty waitress leads you to a table. She recommends boar in wine sauce, and the chicken broth soup.”

Amos said, “‘If there are no objections, I think we’ll go with that. I’d like a double of the Tuz smoked.'”

Ellamae said, “I’m going to set the candle Nimbus gave us in the middle of the table, and light it.”

Jaben said, “The wick does not burn like most wicks; it sparkles brightly.”

Ellamae said, “Interesting. I’m going to watch it.”

Jaben said, “The wick burns down to the bottom, and then appears to go out. A thin column of white smoke rises.”

Ellamae said, “That’s odd.”

Thaddeus said, “‘I’d like a glass of mild cider.'”

Jaben said, “She turns to you and nods, and then something odd happens. The candle begins to shoot brightly colored balls of fire. One of them lands in a nearby patron’s drink, and another in some mashed potatoes. Most of them bounce down and roll around on the tablecloth, which catches fire. The waitress pours a pitcher of cider from a nearby table over the burning tablecloth, and turns to you, puts her hands on her hips, and says, ‘Guests will kindly refrain from the use of pyrotechnic devices while inside the restaurant!'”

Amos buried his face in his hands, and then said, “‘He gave us a Roman candle!'”

Jaben said, “‘Well of course it’s a Roman candle! What did you think it was?'”

Amos said, “‘No, you don’t understand. A Janra named Nimbus met us and gave us what looked like a perfectly ordinarily candle.'”

Jaben said, “She rolls her eyes, and says, ‘Oooh, Nimbus! Please excuse me one moment.’ She walks away, and in a moment returns with something in her hand. ‘Please give this to Nimbus for me.’ She heavily places a large lump of coal on the table.”

Amos said, “I’m going to take it, and say, ‘Thank you. And who should I say that this lump of coal is from?'”

Jaben said, “‘Oh, he knows perfectly well who I am. We’re good friends, even if he is always trying to tickle me.'”

Thaddeus and Lilianne both poked Sarah in the side.

Amos waited until the others had finished ordering, and said, “‘Well, Nimbus was right about at least one thing.'”

“‘Ooh?'” Lilianne said.

“‘When we lit the candle, we remembered the hour of our meeting with him.'”

Chapter Eight

She stepped onto the construction site, and looked. The building’s frame was almost complete, and workers were beginning to lay conduit and 4×8″ sheets for the floors.

A young man — short, pale, wiry, and with sweaty black hair showing from under his headgear — walked over. “This site is dangerous. You need to wear a bump cap.”

“A what?”

“A hard hat. Like I’m wearing. C’mon, I’ll take you to get one.”

They walked along in silence. “Penny for your thoughts,” he said.

“Oh, I was just thinking about a book I’m reading.”

“What’s the title?”

“I’m not sure it’s something a construction worker would recognize, let alone read,” she said.

“Try me,” he said.

Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts, by Franky Schaeffer.”

“Aah, yes. Like Why Catholics Can’t Sing, only better. I liked, and wholly agree with, the part about the deleterious effects of pragmatism. Franky’s father wrote some pretty good books as well; have you read How Shall We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture? The history of art is summarily traced there. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture is another good title on that topic.”

Her jaw dropped. “How long have you been a construction worker?”

“Only a few months. I’ve worked in a number of other professions — truck driver, child care worker, and firefighter, to name a few, and enjoyed them all. Why do you ask?”

She did not answer the question, but said, “Forgive me for asking this, and I know I’m breaking all sorts of social rules, but why on earth are you working as a construction worker? Why aren’t you working as a software engineer for instance?”

He smiled and said, “Well, I do program in my spare time; I’ve written a couple of applications in Java. But that’s not answering your question.”

He stopped walking and closed his eyes in thought for a moment, and then said, “I suppose there are a two reasons, a lesser and a greater. For the lesser — have you read Miyamoto Musashi’s A Book of Five Rings?”

“No; I don’t think I’ve heard of it.”

A Book of Five Rings is considered by many to be the canonical book on martial arts strategy. It—”

“You’re a martial artist, too?” she said, her jaw dropping further.

“No, but martial arts embody a way of thinking, and that way of thinking is beneficial to learn. A Book of Five Rings was written by Miyamoto Musashi, the greatest swordsman in Japanese history, perhaps the greatest swordsman in world history. The book itself is cryptic and deep, and is used as a guidebook by some businessmen and some computer techs, though I came to know about it by a different route. After a certain point, Musashi would enter duels armed with only wooden swords, and defeat master swordsmen armed with the Japanese longsword and shortsword.

“One of the pivotal statements is, ‘You must study the ways of all professions.‘ And Musashi did. In the book, he likened swordsmanship to building a house, and he was an accomplished artist; he left behind some of Japan’s greatest swords, paintings, and calligraphy. Not to mention a lot of good stories. Anyway, his legendary stature as a swordsman came in large part through his extensive study of disciplines that are on the surface completely unrelated to swordplay.

“I had not encountered that book yet in college, but (though my degree is in physics) I studied in subjects all across the sciences and the humanities. And I learned more outside the classroom than inside.”

The woman closed her mouth.

“Now I am, in a sense, moving to another phase of my education, learning things I couldn’t learn in an academic context.”

By this point, they had reached a van.

“And your other reason?” she said.

“My other reason? It’s work. Honest, productive, valuable work. It may be less valued in terms of money, and I may eventually settle down as a software engineer — I’ve gotten a few offers, by the way. But I am right now building a building that will house books, for people to read and children to dream by. It will give me pleasure to walk in these doors, check out a book, walk by a little girl, watch her smile at the pictures in a picture book, and know that I helped make it possible. Surely that smile is worth my time.” He reached into the van, and pulled out a bump cap. “Here’s how you adjust the strap to fit your head. The cap should rest above your head, like so, rather than being right on it. That gives the straps some room to absorb the shock if something falls on you from above.”

The woman, looking slightly dazed, extended her hand and said, “We’ve talked, but I don’t think I’ve introduced myself properly. My name is Deborah.”

The man shook her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Deborah. My name is Jaben.”

Chapter Nine

Ellamae heard a soft knocking on the door. “Come in, Sunny. I’ve been waiting for you.”

A little girl with long blonde hair walked in, and held up her mouth for a kiss. Ellamae gave her a peck, and then helped her up on the piano bench. “What are you today?”

“I’m a flower. A daisy.”

Ellamae thought for a second, and then said, “The petals on a daisy go around; if you move your finger along, you come back to the same one. With music, it’s the same, but there’s a twist. If you trace along the notes, you come back to the same one.” She played a few notes, and then closed her eyes and said, “To you, are the notes a circle, like the petals of the daisy, or a line, like the piano keyboard is laid out?”

“A circle! A circle!” Sunny said enthusiastically.

“Ok. I want you to improvise something for me that sounds like a circle. It’s interesting to me that you hear it that way.”

“Why?” the little girl asked.

“Why do I want you to play a circle, or why is it interesting?”

“Why is it interesting?”

“Because you hear things in ways that I don’t, and sometimes I learn something new from you.”

“Even if I’m a little girl?”

“Especially if you are a little girl. To me, the notes sound like a line, and so I want to hear you play. I want to hear the circle through your ears. Besides, it will help me teach you.”

“What keys can I use? The big ones, or the little ones, or both?”

“Right now I want you to stay with just the big keys, although you can feel the tips of the little keys to help you keep your place. And remember that, when you are not talking with me or your parents, you need to call them the white keys and the black keys.”

“Why?”

Ellamae closed her eyes in thought. “A smooth surface and a rough surface feel different, right?”

“Yes.”

“And loud and quiet sound different, right?”

“Yes.”

“There is a difference between the white keys and the black keys that is like those differences to a sighted person.”

“On some pianos, the big keys and the little keys feel different. The big keys feel smooth, like hard plastic or glass. The little keys felt smooth, but a different kind of smooth, like bare wood. And on Gramp-Grampa’s piano, the big keys feel like that funny stone in Polly’s cage. I don’t like pianos where the big keys and the little keys feel the same. Is that what you mean?”

Ellamae played a few notes, a musical question. Sunny played a startlingly simple answer.

“You hear and you touch, but they are different, right?”

“Yes, they are different.”

“Well, seeing is different from hearing and touch, in the same way. It’s hard to describe. Describing seeing to you is kind of like describing music to a man who doesn’t hear.”

“But music is like dancing! And swimming! And skipping!”

“Well, ok, I guess you’re right.” Ellamae’s eyes lit up. “Imagine that you took off your shirt, and wherever you went, everything became really small and pressed up against your chest and your tummy.”

“That would be fun! And confusing.”

“But do you see how that would help you know where things are around you?”

Sunny frowned for a second, and said, “I think so.”

“That is what seeing is like.”

“I wish I could see!”

“I do, too. But you know what? You see a lot of things that other people don’t. Your sense of touch picks up on things that most people don’t — like one of my friends, Sarah.”

“I want to meet her!”

“That can probably be arranged. Anyway, you hear things that other people don’t hear. When we improvise together, you do things that I wouldn’t imagine, and in a way I can hear them through your ears. When you play music, you let other people hear the things you imagine, and that is a great gift.”

Ellamae placed the child’s hands on the keyboard, her left pinky on middle C. “Now, I want you to play music in a circle.”

Sunny struck middle C, then the C an octave above, then the C an octave below. She played these three notes, venturing an octave further. Then she added D, F, and G, almost never striking two consecutive notes in the same octave. Then she added E, first playing fragmented arpeggios, and then all five notes, and then the whole scale, ranging all across the keyboard — quite a reach for her little body! Ellamae didn’t like it at first; it sounded jumpy and disjointed. Then something clicked within her, and she no longer heard the octaves at all, but the notes, the pure colors of the notes, arranged in a circle. This must be what it is like to have perfect pitch, she thought. Sunny wound the music down.

“That’s very good, Sunny. Sometimes I think I learn as much from you as you are learning from me. Did you practice ‘By the Water’ this week?”

The little girl placed her finger on her lip.

“Do you still remember how it goes?”

Smiling, the child started to plink the tune away, in a light, merry, happy-go-lucky way. Ellamae said, “That’s how we play ‘At the Circus.’ ‘By the Water’ is slow and restful, like Mommy reading you a story at bedtime. Think about drinking hot cocoa when you are sleepy. Can you play it again?”

Sunny played the song again, but this time at a placid adagio place. Her touch was still light, but it was light in a soft way.

“That’s good, Sunny. Now, would you scoot over a little, to the right? Let’s play Question and Answer.”

Sunny moved, and Ellamae sat down on the bench next to her. Ellamae played a phrase, and the little girl responded. Then she played something slightly different, and the child varied her response. Ellamae played a slightly longer question, and Sunny played a much longer, merrier, dancelike answer.

“That’s good, Sunny. Keep your hands dancing on the keyboard.”

Ellamae started to play a complex tune, and at the very climax stopped playing. Sunny, without missing a beat, picked it up and completed it. Then Ellamae joined in, and the two began to improvise a duet, a musical dialogue — sometimes with two voices, sometimes with one, sometimes silent. Many threads developed, were integrated, and then wound down to a soft finish.

They sat in silence for a while, breathless, and then Ellamae reached atop the piano.

“I have something for you, Sunny.”

“A CD!” the girl said, with excitement.

“Yes, this is a Bach CD. For practice this week, I want you to spend a half hour listening to the Little Fugue in G minor. Have the CD player repeat on track seven. Then I want you to spend half an hour improvising with the theme. Stay on the big keys; it’ll sound a little different, but stick with it. Next time, I’ll show you a way to use some of the big keys and some of the little keys.”

“Cool!”

A knock sounded from the door. “Is Sunny ready to go yet?”

Sunny gave Ellamae a hug, and turned away. “Mommy! Mommy! Look what Teacher gave me!”

With that, she was off, leaving Ellamae in silent contemplation.

Chapter Ten

Thaddeus marched down the steps, into the unfinished basement. He ducked under low hanging pipes and air ducts, not bothering to turn on the lights because he knew its nooks and crannies so well. He stepped onto a screw, yelped, and then ducked into a place called “the corner.”

There was an armchair among the various odds and ends — old, tattered, and very comfortable. He wrapped a blanket around himself in the cool air, and sunk in.

He closed his eyes, and began to pray:

“Our Father,
who art in Heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory forever.
Amen.”

He began to grow still, grow still.

As he became quiet, he examined himself, confessed his sins. He began to sink deep into the heart of God, and there he rested and loved. Words were not needed.

Thaddeus held his spirit stiller than his body, in a listening silence.

“Yes, God?” he asked without words.

He sat, still, in wordless communion, feeling with his intuition, with the depths of his being. And waited.

Gradually, a message formed in his heart. A message of task, of needed and even urgent action, of responsibility.

What kind of assignment, what kind of need? he thought.

Silence. A dark cloud of unknowing. Darkness and obscurity.

What do I do? he wondered.

Wait, child. Wait.

Thaddeus had a timeless spirit; he knew not and cared not whether three minutes had passed, or three hours. He let himself feel the notes of the timeless hymn and Christmas carol, “Let all mortal flesh keep silence.” If he rested in God, he could wait.

Thaddeus slowly returned to consciousness, and left, his heart both peaceful and troubled.

Chapter Eleven

RING! Sarah picked up the phone.

A businesslike and official voice said, “Hello. May I please speak with the Squeaky-Toy of the house?”

“Oh, hi, Jaben. What’s up?”

“Amos said he was going to meet me for dinner to talk about some stuff, and he hasn’t shown up. I called Désirée, and she said he’s not in any of his usual haunts. It’s not like him to break an appointment, and I was wondering if you would happen to know anything about it.”

“Wow, no I don’t. The last time I saw him was in the cave. By the way, do you know where my red bouncy ball is?”

“No idea.”

Chapter Twelve

Six friends stood in the cave in the early, early morning; none of them had slept well, and Jaben hadn’t bothered to have his morning bowl of coffee.

“I called the police,” Désirée said, “and they said that he can’t be officially treated as a missing person until he’s been gone for twenty-four hours. They asked me a number of questions — his height, weight, physical appearance, when he’d last been seen, and so on — and then left.”

“I was praying yesterday,” Thaddeus said. “I was praying, and I had a feeling of — urgency, but even more strongly of waiting. I’m confused. Usually, when God tells me to wait, it is for a long period of time. This was an eyeblink. Does this mean that the waiting is over, or that I — we? — should still wait?”

No one answered.

“What do we do now?” Sarah asked.

“We can sing,” Ellamae said. “Sing and pray.”

“Sing?” Désirée asked incredulously. “At a time like this?”

“How can you not sing at a time like this? If you can’t sing at a time like this, when can you sing?” Ellamae replied.

Désirée nodded.

Ellamae’s high, pure voice began, and was joined by other voices, deeper voices.

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all about me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How he loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How he watches o’er his loved ones, died to call them all his own;
How for them he intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing, ’tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

Désirée’s heart had calmed considerably during the singing. “Let’s sing it again,” she said. And they did. Then her voice led a song:

“My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the sweet though far-off hymn that hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul— how can I keep from singing?

“What though my joys and comforts die? The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round! Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

“I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am his— How can I keep from singing?”

“Can we pray now?” There was considerable concern in Ellamae’s questioning.

Désirée hesitated, and then said, “Yes. I am calm now.”

They joined hands and closed their eyes. For a while, there was silence, finally broken by Désirée’s tear-choked voice. “Lord, keep my husband safe.”

The songs held new meaning to her.

Jaben said, “I think of myself as a theologian, but I do not know the answers to the questions on our hearts. Lord, hold us in your heart.”

The faint echo of a gust of wind was heard in the cave.

Sarah began to hum, “I love you, Lord,” and the others joined in.

“Why?” asked Désirée.

Silence.

As the time passed, the silence changed in character. It became deeper, a present silence. The faint sounds — of air passing through the cavern, of people breathing, of cloth rubbing against cloth as people moved — seemed louder, more audible, and yet part of the silence.

“Lord, we come to you with so many things on our hearts,” Ellamae said. “In the midst of all this, I wish to thank you for the many blessings we have enjoyed. I thank you for my music, and for all my students, especially Sunny. She is such a delight, and I look forward to seeing her abilities mature. I thank you especially for Amos, for the delight he is to us, his patience, his deep laughter.” Voices had been saying “Amen,” and Jaben added, “for his taking teasing so well.” “If this is the last we have seen of him, we thank you for allowing us to pass these brief moments with such a friend,” Ellamae finished.

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” Lilianne joined. “Lord, we come before you in confidence that you have adopted us as your children, and whatever we ask will be done. May our request be your will, drawing on your willingness, as we ask that our fellowship be restored, and our friend and brother be found.” They sat for a time, continuing to hold each other’s hands, crying, listening to the silence. Then a squeeze went around, and with one voice they said, “Amen.”

It had been an hour. The hugs were long and lingering, and Jaben felt the kisses a little more. The six friends out of the cave and into their days’ activities, their hearts deeply troubled and even more deeply at peace.

Chapter Thirteen

Ellamae had come over to Désirée’s and Amos’s little white house, ostensibly to help with the housework. They were washing and drying dishes and chattering when the doorbell rang.

Désirée, in the middle of scouring out a dirty pot, said, “Could you get that, honey? My hands are kind of full.”

Ellamae set down the dish she was drying, and the towel. She walked over to the front door.

There was a police officer there, and something about his demeanor said that he did not bear good news.

“Mrs. Godfrey?”

“She’s in the kitchen, washing dishes. Come on in.”

Désirée had rinsed and dried her hands, and came into the living room. She shook the officer’s hand. “Hi, I’m Désirée.”

“Officer Rick. Would you be willing to sit down for a second?”

With trepidation, Désirée sat down in the armchair. Ellamae perched on the edge of the couch.

“Following up on a call, we found your husband’s car in a ditch by the roadside. The windows were broken, and the n-word was spray painted all over the sides.”

Désirée brought her hand to her mouth, and her eyes filled with tears. She suddenly looked like a very small woman in a very big chair.

Ellamae closed her eyes in pain. The officer continued. “We are presently fingerprinting the car, and beginning a search of the area. We will call you if we find out anything definite. I’m sorry to bear this news.”

Ellamae walked over, and wrapped her arms around Désirée. “Thank you, officer.” She paused a moment, and said, “I think we need to be alone now. Sorry you had to bear this news.”

The policeman said, “Yes, Ma’am,” and stepped out the door.

Désirée and Ellamae stood, held each other, and wept.

Chapter Fourteen

Jaben walked up the steps of the sanctuary slowly. Sarah was standing next to him, and squeezed his hand; he touched her, but did not feel her. The friends walked into the church quietly; the other members of the congregation gave them a little more space, and a hush fell. Désirée held on tightly to Ellamae’s arm.

“Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” the celebrant said.

“And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen,” the congregation answered.

“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen,” the celebrant prayed.

The processional hymn was Amazing Grace, words and notes that flowed automatically, thoughtlessly, until the fourth verse:

“The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.”

Jaben had been thinking, a lot, and he held onto those words as a lifeline. With them came a little glimmer of hope that his beloved friend might be OK.

“Glory to God, glory in the highest and peace to His people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King. Almighty God and Father,

“We worship You, we give You thanks, we praise You for Your glory.”Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God,
“You take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
You are seated at the right hand of the Father, receive our pray’r.
For You alone are the Holy One, for you alone are the Lord.
For You alone are the most high, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God, the Father.

“Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.
Amen. Give glory to God.
Amen. Give glory to God.

“Amen. Give glory to God.”

In the music, Jaben felt lifted up into the divine glory — a taste of Heaven cut through his pain.

The celebrant said, “The Lord be with you.”

The congregation echoed, “And also with you.”

The celebrant bowed his head and said, “Let us pray.

“Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ came to seek out and save the lost: grant that we, looking in the divine Light you give us, and thinking in the holy wisdom you bestow on us, may succeed in the endeavors you set before us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A reader stepped up and said, “A reading from Ruth.

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.’

“The Word of the Lord.”

“Thanks be to God,” the congregation answered.

The celebrant said, “We will read the Psalm together in unison.”

The whole congregation read aloud, “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.'”

Two tears slid down Lilianne’s and Désirée’s cheeks.

“The word of the Lord,” the celebrant said.

“Thanks be to God,” the congregation answered.

“A reading from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians,” another reader announced.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’

“The Word of the Lord,” concluded the reader.

“Thanks be to God,” answered the congregation.

Jaben mulled over the texts.

The congregation rose, singing, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Opening our hearts to Him.
Singing Alleluia! Alleluia! Jesus is our King.”

“A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke,” said the celebrant.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’

“The Gospel of the Lord.”

“Praise to you, Lord Christ,” answered the congregation, and sat down.

The celebrant walked behind the pulpit, and said, “There was a Baptist minister who would every Sunday stand behind the pulpit and say, ‘The Lord be with you!’ And every Sunday, the congregation would answer, ‘And also with you.’

“One Sunday, he said ‘The Lord be with you!’ as usual, but the microphone was turned off, and his voice did not carry very well in the large sanctuary. The congregation did not respond.

“He tapped the microphone, and saw that there was no sound, and so he said in a loud voice, ‘I think there’s a problem with the mike!’

“The congregation answered, ‘And also with you.'”

There was a chuckle throughout the congregation. Jaben’s nose wrinkled in distaste. Jaben objected strongly to Kant’s idea of Religion Within the Bounds of Reason. He was quite fond of Chesterton’s statement that, among intellectuals, there are two types of people: those that worship the intellect, and those that use it. He objected even more strongly to America’s idea of Religion Within the Bounds of Amusement. It wasn’t that he didn’t like a good joke, or having a bit of fun. It was just that he didn’t confuse those things with edifying instruction in the Word of God. When his irritation wore off, he began to sink into thought.

Jaben slowly turned the Scripture passages over in his mind. Each one seemed to say something about Amos.

It was then and there that Jaben Onslow Pfau decided that he would do everything he could, whatever the cost, come Hell or high water, to rescue Amos Regem Godfrey, his dear and beloved friend and brother.

Chapter Fifteen

There was a clamor of people around the friends. A black man, standing 6’8″ at just under 300 pounds, built like a brick wall, and bearing a gentle radiance, approached them, along with his little mother. The woman said, “I remember when Amos and my son were wee little boys, and there was rain after a heavy truck drove through the street. They both played in the mud, happy as pigs in a blanket!”

The man said, “If there’s anything we can do to help, just tell us.”

Jaben said, “As a matter of fact, Bear, yes, there is.”

“Yes?” the man said eagerly.

“Could we join you for dinner? I need to think, and having more company and less work to do would help me.”

“Certainly,” Bear said. “It would be a pleasure,” his mother added.

“What are we having?” Thaddeus said eagerly.

“Rice and gravy, fried chicken, and peach cobbler.”

“Mmm, soul food,” Thaddeus said, smiling. “I’ll try not to drool on the way over.”

“Ok,” Bear said, his deep voice rumbling into an even deeper laughter.


Different people were in and out of the kitchen at different times, although Grace, Bear’s mother, and Lilianne were always in. A pleasing aroma filled the house; Thad wasn’t the only one who found it hard not to drool.

Bear picked Jaben up and squeezed him in a big Bear hug. Then he set him down, and, placing his arm over Jaben’s shoulder, asked, “So, whatchya thinkin’ about, Bro?”

Jaben closed his eyes. “I want to find Amos, if he’s dead or alive. I know you’re supposed to leave this to the authorities, but it is on my heart to do so. I want to do whatever it takes, whatever the cost, to find him.”

Sarah walked out of the kitchen, her ears cocked. “I’m in.”

“Me, too,” said Lilianne’s voice.

“How’re you going to do that?” Bear asked, his eyebrows raised in curiosity.

“Don’t bother me with details.”

“I’m going with you, too,” said Ellamae, and squeezed his hand.

“Do you want to use my gun?” Bear asked. His gun was legendary in the town as an elephant gun with a laser sight.

“Bear, you know I can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a sniper rifle.”

“I’m in,” said Thaddeus, his eyes wide with interest. “Could we go out in the forest and shoot a few crabapples?”

“Just a second while I go get it.” Bear disappeared up some stairs.

“Honey, you know I’m in,” said Désirée.

Bear returned, carrying a very large rifle. He held it out to Thaddeus.

Thaddeus hefted it, and said, “Let’s go.”

As the two walked out the door, Thaddeus asked, “Why do you use such a massive gun, Bear? Nothing you hunt needs that kind of firepower.”

A stick snapped under Bear’s weight. “I don’t know. It’s me, I guess. Same reason I use a sixteen pound sledgehammer, or thirty-two when they’ll let me bring one. Part of it is toy and… you know the saying, ‘The only difference between a man and a boy is the size of the toy.'”

“How do you turn the laser sight on?” Thaddeus asked. “I’ve never used one.”

“Here,” Bear said. “Like this.”

Thaddeus lowered himself to the ground, and said, “See that crabapple tree out at battlesight zero? See that crabapple that sticks out to the far left?”

“Battlesight zero for this gun is about three times what you’re used to.”

“Oh, yeah. Thanks. I’ll adjust accordingly. Anyway, see that crabapple?” “The really little one?” Bear asked. “Uh-huh.” Thaddeus grew still, his body’s tiny swaying decreasing and decreasing. The tiny crababble glowed red. Then it stopped glowing, and Thaddeus closed his eyes.

Boom! A resounding, thunderous gunshot echoed all around.

The crabapple was no longer there.

Thaddeus rubbed his shoulder, and handed the gun to Bear.

“I’m sorry, Bear, but I can’t use that gun. It’s much too heavy for me, and the kick from that one shot is going to give me bruises. I can feel it now. I really appreciate the offer; I have for a long time longed to fire Bear’s gun. But I can’t use it. I need to stick with my .22.”

“You are a true marksman, Thaddeus, and a good man. I hope that you don’t meet anything that requires the firepower to take down a grizzly.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” Thaddeus said. “I heard this from Jaben. Which is better to have if you’re attacked by a grizzly: a 10-gauge, or a hollow-nosed .45?”

“Ummm…” Bear hesitated.

“The shotgun, because you can use it as a club when it runs out of ammo.”

Bear laughed a deep, mighty laugh, and then they walked back. That man, Bear thought, was not entirely telling an innocent joke.

Chapter Sixteen

Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring. “We’re sorry, but the number you have dialed is an imaginary number. Please hang up, rotate the phone clockwise by ninety degrees, and dial again. Beep!

“C’mon, Jaben. Pick up the phone.” The voice paused, and reiterated, “Pick up the phone.”

Jaben picked up the phone. “Leave me alone, Thad! I’ve talked with Bear, and he’s given me time off. I need to do some thinking.”

“Amos is in Mexico.”

What?!?

“Amos is in Mexico.”

“How do you know that? Did he call you? Is he OK?”

“No, he didn’t call me. I was just… praying, and Amos is in Mexico.”

“Ok. That changes my plans.”

“Mine, too.”

“Let’s meet at the cave tonight. Could you call the others? I still need to do some processing.”

“I already have called the others.”

“Ok, see you there.”

“See ya! Wouldn’t want to be ya!”

Chapter Seventeen

Only one candle flickered, but the cave did not seem dark. The air was cool, but the Kythers were much too excited to feel cold. They were there with a mission, with a purpose.

Jaben said, “I think we should take a day to prepare, and then leave for Mexico. In a way, a day is not nearly enough time, but in another way a day may be more than we can afford. We need to use the time wisely. What will you do? I will work on securing material provisions.”

Lilianne said, “I will pray. Pray and fast.”

Thaddeus said, “I will talk with God.”

Désirée said, “I will talk with my kin for support.”

Sarah said, “I don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe tell loved ones goodbye for a while, I’m going on an adventure.”

Ellamae said, “Plant a tree.”

“What?” Sarah asked.

“Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he knew what the Lord were coming the next day. His answer was very simple: plant a tree. It was the ultimate scatological response. Instead of nonstop singing, prayer, fasting, and wailing about ‘I am a worm!’ he reasoned that he had been planning to plant a tree, and if that was worth doing at all, it would be worth doing when the Lord returned. So he said he would plant a tree. Apart from packing, I’m just going to spend my day normally, and then go.”

“I’m with you,” said Sarah.

Chapter Eighteen

Ellamae smiled at the familiar knock on the door. “Come in, Sunny,” she said.

Sunny bounced in. “Teacher, teacher, I’ve been waiting to play for you.” She jumped up on the piano bench.

“Go ahead and play,” Ellamae said, looking with wonder on this little child.

Sunny began to play, and Ellamae listened with a shock. She had not taught the girl about different keys yet — other than C and the pentatonic key of the black keys, which were plenty to start with — and the child was confidently playing music in G minor. It sounded vaguely like Bach, at very least a set of variations on the theme of his little fugue — and then Ellamae realized what she was listening to. Ellamae was listening to a fugue in one voice.

She realized with a start that the music had shifted to the key of E minor, and was growing fuller, richer, deeper. Many different threads were introduced, developed, and then integrated. The music rose to a crescendo and then came to a sudden and startling conclusion. There was silence.

“Do you like it?” Sunny said, a bashful smile on her face.

“Yes, I like it very much. Did it take you all week to compose?”

“I didn’t compose it, Ellamae. I improvised it.”

“Sunny, how would you like to take a walk?”

“A walk? Where?”

“To go visit my friend Sarah. I’ll leave your mother a note, and not charge for this lesson. I’m going to look for my friend Amos, and I may not be back for a while. I love the keyboard, but I’d like to spend these last moments doing something else. Will you come with me?”

“I would love to!”

Ellamae wrote out a note, and taped it to the door of the lesson room, and then said, “C’mon, Sunny. Take my hand.”

As they walked out, Sunny turned her face up to the light, and said, “The sunlight is warm today!”

Ellamae said, “It is. Perhaps feeling sunlight is better than looking at sunlight. What did you do this past week?”

Sunny said, “I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do,” replied Ellamae.

“I got to ride a horse bareback with my Mom. That was fun. The horse was hot, and I could feel him breathing in and out, and I could feel the wind kissing my face.”

“Is wind a mystery to you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Sighted people find wind to be confusing; we can see what it does, like blow leaves around, but we can’t see the wind itself. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is like wind that way.”

“I don’t find wind confusing. I feel it, and hear it, and hear what it does. It’s like a friend, moving around me and hugging me. Is that like the Spirit? I don’t find God to be confusing; he’s like a friend, or a warm bowl of soup, or… I don’t know what else to say, but he isn’t confusing.”

Ellamae pondered these words. Perhaps later the child would know the side of God that is wild and mysterious — or was everything so wild and mysterious to her that she made her peace with them, and was not frightened at the wild mystery of God? This was a voice that could call God ‘Daddy’, and be completely unafraid.

“Is that like the Spirit?” Sunny repeated. “Is that like the Spirit, Teacher?”

“I don’t know. I’m not a theologian. I think it is, but in a different way than Jesus meant. Maybe wind is different to blind people and sighted people. I wonder what else is—”

“What’s a theo-lo-, a the-, a the-o-loge-yun?” Sunny interrupted.

“A theologian is someone who devotes his life to studying the nature of God, and faith, and hope, and love. A theologian is somebody who reads the Bible and learns deep lessons from it.”

“Why aren’t you a theo-logian? I think you’re a theologian. I’m a theologian. Today I learned that God loves me. That’s a deep lesson. I think everybody should be a theologian.”

“Yes, but a theologian is somebody who does that in a special way, and is more qualified—wait, that isn’t right, a theologian is—” Ellamae paused, and closed her eyes. “I don’t know. I don’t know what makes a theologian. Maybe you and I are theologians. I don’t know.”

“But I thought grown-ups knew everything!”

“Nononononononononono!” Ellamae said. “Grown-ups don’t know everything. Here’s a story I was told when I was a little girl like you in Sunday school.

“An Indian and a white man were standing together on a beach. The white man took a stick, and made a small circle in the sand. He said, ‘This is what the Indian knows.’

“Then he made a big circle around the small circle, and said, ‘This is what the white man knows.’

“The Indian took the stick, and made a really, really, really big circle around both of the other two circles, and said, ‘This is what neither the Indian nor the white man knows.'”

They were walking along a primitive road, and Ellamae bent over, saying, “Give me your finger. Point with it.” She drew a small circle along the dirt, and said, “This is what children know.”

Then she drew a larger circle, overlapping with the former circle, but not engulfing it. “This is what grown-ups know. Grown-ups know more than children know, but we also forget a lot of things as we grow up, and some of them are important. So grown-ups know more than children, but children still know some pretty big things that grown-ups don’t.”

Then she walked around in an immense circle, dragging Sunny’s fingertip through the sandy dirt. “This is what neither children nor grown-ups know, but only God knows. Do you see?”

Sunny’s face wrinkled in concentration. “Yes. So you want to tell me the things I ask, but you don’t know them.”

“Yes,” Ellamae said, continuing to walk along.

“What do children know that grown-ups don’t?” asked Sunny.

Ellamae took a long time to answer. “You know how sometimes I say something, and you ask me a question, and I change what I said? That’s because you brought up something I forgot, like singing being like dancing. There are other things. Jesus said to become like a little child to enter; children know how to believe, and how — ‘honest’ is close, but not quite the right word. When a little boy says, ‘I love you,’ he means it. Children know how to imagine and make-believe, and how to play. Most adults have forgotten how to play, though a few remember (maybe by taking time to play, maybe by making work into play). That is sad most of all. This life is preparing us for Heaven, and what we do in Heaven will not be work or rest, but play. You live more in Heaven than most grown-ups.”

Sunny listened eagerly. “But you remembered.”

“Yes, but not easily. And not all of it. I am lucky to have friends who know how to play.”

By this time they had reached Sarah’s house, and Sarah saw them and came out to greet them. They sat down on a log, with Sunny in the middle.

“Teacher tells me that you’re tickulish,” Sunny said.

“Maybe I am and maybe I’m not,” Sarah said.

Sunny poked Sarah in the side. Sarah squeaked.

“Sarah is not a Squeaky-Toy,” Sarah said, sitting up and looking very dignified (and forgetting that Sunny was blind).

Sunny poked Sarah in the side. Sarah squeaked.

“Sarah is not a Squeaky-Toy,” Sarah reiterated.

Sunny poked Sarah in the side. Sarah squeaked.

Sarah grabbed Sunny’s hands. “I hear you like music.”

“Yes, I like it a lot. I especially like to play piano. What’s your name?”

“Sarah.”

“I love you, Sarah-Squeak.”

“Thank you, Sunny.” She paused, debated whether or not to say “It’s ‘Sarah’, not ‘Sarah-Squeak’,” and continued, “What do you think of when you play music?”

“Music stuff. Do you play music?”

“No, but I paint. Painting is kind of like music.”

“What do you do when you paint?”

“Well, I take all sorts of different colors, and I use differing amounts to make different forms and shapes, and when I am done people can see through my painting what I was thinking of, if I do it well.”

“I take different notes, and I use differing amounts to make different melodies, and when I am done people can hear through my music what I was thinking of, if I do it well. Yep, painting is like music.”

Sarah pondered the painting of rainbow colors she had been working on. “You know, I’d like for you to do something with me sometime. I’d like for you to improvise a song for me, maybe record it so I can hear it a few times, and I’ll see if I can translate it into a painting.”

“What about words? Can you translate it into words?”

“I can’t translate music into words. I don’t know if anyone can. But maybe, if I tried hard enough and had God’s blessing, I could translate it into a painting of color. Hmm, that gives me an idea of music for the deaf.” She turned to Ellamae. “What about a video where each instrument or voice was a region of the screen, and the color went around the color wheel circle as the notes go around, and the light became more intense as you went up an octave? And they became bigger and smaller as the notes became louder and softer?”

“I’d like to see that. Music for the deaf,” Ellamae said.

“Miss Sarah, please hold your arm out and pull up your shirt sleeve,” Sunny said.”

Sarah, curious, did as the child asked.

Sunny placed her fingers on Sarah’s bare arm, and started to play it as if it were a piano keyboard. “That is music for people who can’t hear,” she said.

Sarah and Ellamae nodded.

Chapter Nineteen

Thaddeus slowly got out materials — the right materials — and started cleaning his gun. Ellamae ducked in the doorway, and said, “What’s up?”

Thaddeus said, “Cleaning my gun. Taking care of details.” He looked at a small box of ammunition, and said, “And you?”

“I don’t think we’ll be needing that,” Ellamae said. “No good will come of it.”

“There’s more than people in Mexico. There are animals. I’d prefer to be prepared,” Thaddeus said.

“No good will come of it,” Ellamae said.

Chapter Twenty

Jaben thought about his visit with the Weatherbys. He called to apologize and explain why they wouldn’t all be able to come then to talk in person, and they gave him — unasked-for, undeserved — a thousand dollars in traveller’s cheques. He was very happy for the money. The friends had plenty of equipment from their other adventures, but money was tight, and he hadn’t known where it was going to come from. Perhaps Bear.

When he finished packing the van, it contained:

  • Children’s toys: a truck, a doll, a top…
  • Thaddeus’s .22 competition rifle.
  • A small box of ammunition.
  • Gun cleaning supplies.
  • A large box of MREs, military rations (“‘Meal Ready to Eat’ is three lies in one,” a marine had told them, but they’ll keep you moving).
  • Books:
    • The Bible, in four different translations (one Spanish, one French, and two English).
    • Madeline l’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, the very first book (besides the Bible) that he thought of to bring along. (He identified very strongly with Charles Wallace.)
    • Jon Louis Bentley’s Programming Pearls, for serious thinking about programming.
    • Larry Wall’s Programming Perl, for light and humorous reading.
    • Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business, for pleasure, and to use road time to explain to his friends exactly why he believed that television was a crawling abomination from the darkest pits of Hell.
    • Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. When Jaben first saw this book sitting atop a television, he thought, “The author could only think of four?” For that, he found this book to be far deeper than Postman’s, and (in thinking about what to pack) thought it would be a good book to help appreciate nature and Mexico.
    • A Treasury of Jewish Humor, edited by Nathan Ausubel. Jaben found Jewish humor to be subtle, clever, and extremely funny, as did Lilianne; the others were beginning to catch on.
    • Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince, to share with Sarah most of all.
    • Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self, which he had read much too quickly and wanted to peruse, at least in part, to better understand his own culture.
    • Philip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial. This book, apart from some web articles, was the first contact he had that changed the way he looked at academia. He thought there were some arguments to add to the ones in the book, but he couldn’t put his finger on them.
    • Oliver Sack’s An Anthropologist on Mars, to stimulate his mind and help show him different ways of thinking.
    • A small box of black pens (which had the most tremendous knack for disappearing) and a hardcover blank book to write in.
  • Three climbing ropes.
  • Four notebooks, three of which were half-filled with miscellaneous scrawl.
  • The traveller’s cheques.
  • A heavy-duty, broad-ranging medical kit, including a snakebite kit.
  • Lanterns.
  • Kerosene.
  • Various people’s clothing, personal toiletries, etc.
  • Three large hunting knives, one of which had a serrated back.
  • A water drum.
  • Tents, groundcloths, and sleeping bags.
  • About 50 pounds in batteries.
  • Seven lantern flashlights.
  • Six canteens.
  • Five Swiss Army Knives.
  • Four pair of binoculars.
  • Three coils of bailing wire.
  • Two rolls of duct tape.
  • Sarah’s red bouncy ball.

Jaben packed it in as best he could; the equipment was smaller than it sounded, and they had a big van. He arranged it like furniture, and then called the others to come in. They joined hands in prayer, and hit the road at sundown.

Chapter Twenty-One

“Hello, and thank you for choosing Kything Airlines, where we not only get you there, but teach you how to pray. We will be cruising at an altitude of about fifteen to thirty-five hundred feet after hills, railroad crossings, and speed bumps, and zero feet otherwise. Our destination is Mexico City, Mexico, with an estimated time of arrival in thirty minutes. This is your copilot Jaben speaking, and our captain for this flight is Thaddeus.”

“Dude,” Thad said, “this van does like zero to sixty in fifteen minutes when it’s loaded like this. But your point is well taken. I’ll try not to speed.”

“Yeah, I know. If this van were a computer, it would be running Windows now. Anyways, I’d like to take this time for a debriefing on Mexican culture,” Jaben said.

“Don’t we usually pray when we start off on a trip?” asked Sarah.

“Yes, but I would like to use the time to talk about Mexican culture when it will make a clear impression on people’s minds,” Jaben answered.

“But prayer is more important!” Sarah insisted.

“Yes, it’s more important, but the more important things do not always take place first. Important and urgent are two separate things. You put your clothes on before you visit your friend, even though visiting your friend is more important,” Jaben explained, although he was not satisfied with his example.

“I still think prayer is more important,” Sarah said.

I’m not going to get into an argument, Jaben thought. An argument is definitely not the right way to start off this trip. “Very well, then, Sarah,” he said. “Why don’t you pray?”

“Me?” Sarah said with the earnest pleasure of a child. “I would love to.

“Dear Father, thank you for this trip, for all the good times we’ve had with Amos, even the time he named me Squeaky-Toy (even though I only let Jaben use that name). Father, I pray that you would help us find Amos, and Father, help us bring him back safely. And, oh, Father, please let him be all right. Amen.”

Jaben took a couple seconds’ more prayer to cool down, and let go of his angry thoughts about Sarah. Then he said, “Ok, for a primer on Mexican culture… let’s see. Touch. When you enter or leave a room, you give everyone a firm handshake; if you don’t, everyone will think you’re rude. Kissing cheeks is OK among girls, and side hugs are OK on special occasions. In general, we’ll have to back off on touch in public, and particularly avoid what would look like couples’ PDA. This means both you and me, Sarah. We should talk less, and particularly avoid extended public conversations between the sexes. In general, avoid real, deep kything except when we’re alone and away from eyes. Wait, that’s not exactly right. Etiquette is very important, and chivalry and ‘ladies first’, and you stand when an elder enters. Address people by honorifics. Be formal; to quote Worf, ‘Good manners are not a waste of time.’ Mexican culture is much more community oriented than but our peculiarities in community that can be misunderstood in the United States, will be misunderstood in Mexico.”

“Is Mexican culture higher-context than American culture?” Ellamae asked.

“Mmm, good question. Most cultures are less low-context than American culture; some Native American cultures are as high-context as the Japanese, and I think the Romance cultures are high-context. So by general guesswork and geneology, I would expect Mexican culture to be higher in context level. Except I don’t know much about what that context is. There are some superstitious remnants of Roman Catholicism, but Rome is more a behind-the-scenes, unseen force than it is the pulsating life in the Catholics we know, especially Emerant. Like the grandmother in Household Saints. Um, what else… aah, yes, time. You’ll fit in perfectly, Thaddeus. The rest of us, particularly me, will have to work on it. When you agree to meet someone at noon, that’s noon, give or take two or three hours. Mexicans will wonder what the hurry is all about. Try not to fidget.”

“How does Hispanic culture compare to black culture?” asked Désirée.

“Very similar; the two are probably closer than either is to white American culture. On, and girls, avoid eye contact with men; everybody, avoid flirting,” Jaben stated.

Sarah said, “I can’t wait to get to Mexico. Seeing another country will be so much fun!”

Jaben said, “Sarah, as I remember, you haven’t been out of the country, right?”

“No,” she said.

“Ok. A couple of tips on crossing cultures: prepare to have expectations violated that you didn’t even know you had. Crossing cultures is both wonderful and terrible, and it’s particularly rough the first time. Or at least I’ve heard it is for most people; I don’t experience culture shock the same way. It will look to you like people are doing all sorts of things the wrong way, and some of them will indeed be wrong, but a great many are just different, and some of them better,” Jaben said. “Try not to complain, or at least not to take a complaining attitude.”

“Oh, dear!” Sarah said. “That sounds frightful.”

“It is, and it isn’t,” Jaben said. “You’ll love Mexico, and, knowing you, you’ll walk away with at least twenty different paintings in your head, and be able to execute all of them perfectly. Which reminds me, did anyone bring a camera?”

There was no response.

“Good. We are not coming as shutterbug tourists, and taking a bunch of pictures wouldn’t be proper. Let’s see… what else… Aah. Does anyone know the Hacker’s Drinking Song?”

“Nope,” said Lilianne.

“Ok, let me sing the first two verses.

“Ninety-nine blocks of crud on the disk,
Ninety-nine blocks of crud,
Patch a bug and dump it again,
One hundred blocks of crud on the disk.

“One hundred blocks of crud on the disk,
One hundred blocks of crud,
Patch a bug and dump it again,
One hundred and one blocks of crud on the disk.”

The others joined in with a thunderous noise:

“One hundred and one blocks of crud on the disk,
One hundred and one blocks of crud,
Patch a bug and dump it again,
One hundred and two blocks of crud on the disk…”

They continued singing noisily until the wee hours of the morning.

Chapter Twenty-Two

“Wake up,” a voice said. “Wake up; the sun is high in the sky.”

“Oh, hi, Lilianne, can’t I sleep more?” Thaddeus said.

“No, we should get moving.”

“I like to be well-rested when I drive. My reflexes are faster.”

“Speaking of faster, I’d like to congratulate you on the stop you made when you decided you were too tired to drive. I didn’t know this van could stop that fast,” Lilianne said.

“Could I have just a half-hour more sleep?”

“I’m setting my watch.”

After another half-hour of sleep, Thaddeus was indeed alert; they drove along, stopping at an IHOP for breakfast. The conversation consisted mostly of how to rearrange the equipment to be more comfortable, and breakfast was followed by about half an hour of rearrangement. The friends got in, their stiffness reduced, and felt better about sitting down. This time, Ellamae rode shotgun.

“I’m bored,” Sarah said as they hit the road.

“How would you like to play riddles?” Jaben asked.

“I would love to!” said Sarah.

Jaben said,

“A man without eyes,
saw plums in a tree.
He neither ate them nor left them.
Now how could this be?”

“That’s impossible!” Sarah said. “A cabin on a mountain—”

Sarah paused. “Are the eyes he doesn’t have literal eyes, like you and I have?”

“Literal eyes.”

“Not like the eye of a storm?”

“Not like the eye of a storm.”

“And he literally saw? Did he see in a dream?”

“He literally saw, as I literally see you now.”

“Exactly the same?”

Jaben closed his eyes. “There is a slight difference, that is understandable if you know a bit of biology or psychology.”

“That’s not a fair riddle!” Sarah said. “You know that only Ellamae knows psychology. Don’t give me a riddle I can’t answer!”

“You do not need to know of biology or psychology to solve this riddle. In fact, I never thought of connecting this riddle with biology or psychology until now.”

“I know what the answer is,” said Ellamae.

“What is it?” Jaben asked, smiling.

“The man had only one eye. He took some of the plums, but not others.”

Sarah sat, silently, and then said, “Ooooooooh.”

Jaben said, “Et voila!

“How did psychology tell you that?” Sarah asked, confused.

“Put one hand over your eye,” Ellamae said. “Do you notice anything different in how things look?”

“Yeah, everything looks flat like in a picture.”

“Your depth perception (things not looking flat, but having depth) is what happens when your brain takes input from both eyes (which are in slightly different positions, and see something slightly different) and puts them together. A man who had only one eye would see slightly differently from someone with two eyes — like you did when you covered one eye with your hand.”

“Ok, what’s the next riddle?”

Jaben chanted in a lyrical voice,

“‘Twas whispered in Heaven, ’twas muttered in Hell,
And echo caught faintly the sound as it fell;
On the confines of earth ’twas permitted to rest,
And in the depths of the ocean its presence confes’d;
‘Twill be found in the sphere when ’tis riven asunder,
Be seen in the lightning and heard in the thunder;
‘Twas allotted to man with his earliest breath,
Attends him at birth and awaits him at death,
Presides o’er his happiness, honor, and health,
Is the prop of his house, and the end of his wealth.
In the heaps of the miser ’tis hoarded with care,
But is sure to be lost on his prodigal heir;
It begins every hope, every wish it must bound,
With the husbandman toils, and with monarchs is crowned;
Without it the soldier and seaman may roam,
But woe to the wretch who expels it from home!
In the whispers of conscience its voice will be found,
Nor e’er in the whirlwind of passion be drowned;
‘Twill soften the heart; but though deaf be the ear,
It will make him acutely and instantly hear.
Set in shade, let it rest like a delicate flower;
Ah! Breathe on it softly, it dies in an hour.”

The van was silent for a minute, and then Ellamae said, “The letter ‘h’.”

“You have a sharp mind,” Jaben said.

A light of comprehension flashed in Sarah’s eyes, as she murmured parts of the riddle to herself, and then she said, “Give us a riddle that will take longer to solve, and that Ellamae won’t get.”

Jaben closed his eyes, thinking, waiting. Then, as if not a moment had passed, he pulled a duffel bag onto his lap, and said, “What have I got in my pocket?”

“What have I got in my pocket? What have I got in my pocket?” Sarah said, again murmuring to herself, and said, “I know! A pair of pliers!”

“No,” Jaben said. “My pliers is on my knife. And it’s something very specific, not my wallet.”

“A picture of me!” she said, beaming.

“No, I forgot to pack that. But I usually carry a picture of you in my pocket. I like to look at you.”

“Ok, I give up. What is it?”

Jaben put the duffel bag back, reached into his pocket, and pulled out an annulus, which had a metallic shimmer and yet was not of metal. He handed it to Ellamae, and said, “Hold it in the sunlight.”

Ellamae smiled, and said, “The sunlight is hot, and yet the CD-ROM remains cool. On the inner edge of the central hole I see an inscription, an inscription finer than the finest penstrokes, running along the CD-ROM, above and below: lines of fire. They shine piercingly bright, and yet remote, as out of a great depth: 42 72 65 61 64 20 61 6E 64 20 74 65 6C 65 76 64 73 69 6F 6E 73. I cannot understand the fiery letters and numbers.” She looked very elfin.

“No,” said Jaben, “but I can. The letters are hexadecimal, of an ancient mode, but the language is that of Microsoft, which I will not utter here. But this in the English tongue is what is said, close enough:

“One OS to rule them all, One OS to find them,
One OS to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

Chapter Twenty-Three

The friends stopped for a picnic lunch on the grass. Thaddeus remarked that it was a cool day, although sunny, and the women protested until Jaben pointed out that Thaddeus, having lived in Malaysia and spent a lot of time with Indians, used the words ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ to distinguish weather that will melt a brass doorknob from weather that will merely make it a bit mushy. They ate MREs and talked de tout et de rien, of everything and nothing, and then packed up the waste and left.

As they got into the van, Jaben picked up A Treasury of Jewish humor, and said, “Here, from the introduction. An anti-Semite says to a Jew, ‘All our troubles come from the Jews!’

“‘Absolutely! From the Jews—and the bicycle riders.’

“‘Bicycle riders! Why the bicycle riders?’

“‘Why the Jews?'”

There was a chuckle, but Désirée said, “You know, Jaben, your jokes are good, but I think we’re all kinda laughed out now. Or at least I am. Why don’t we do something else?”

“Did Jaben pack A Wind in the Door?” Sarah asked.

Lilianne smiled. All of the Kythers had read the book cover to cover at least three or four times, and Sarah knew it by heart. It was the book from which they had taken their name, alongside a lesser and obscure document listing 100 ways of kything.

Jaben rummaged among the bags, and produced a small, battered black book. “Lilianne, why don’t you read?”

Lilianne took the book gently, and said, “Since we all know Wind so well, I’m just going to open it at random, look until I find something good, and read it aloud, and then we can talk about it. Lessee…” she opened the book to the middle, and read silently, then said, “Aah, here. Page eighty-one. Meg and Proginoskes are talking.

“Meg says, ‘Okay, I can get to the grade school all right, but I can’t possibly take you with me. You’re so big you wouldn’t even fit into the school bus. Anyhow, you’d terrify everybody.’ At the thought she smiled, but Proginoskes was not in a laughing mood.

“‘Not everybody is able to see me,’ he told her. ‘I’m real, and most earthlings can bear very little reality.'” Lilianne closed the book.

“That’s my favorite part!” Sarah said, with an animated smile. “Or one of my favorites; I like positive parts. But ‘most earthlings can bear very little reality’ is true. Most people, when they grow up, lose their childhood. I don’t mind that they become adults. That’s good. But they stop being children and that’s really sad. You can’t be a true adult without being a child. Some people have asked me when my interminable childhood was going to end, and I have always told them ‘never’. I was surprised and happy when Jaben told me, ‘You have somehow managed to blossom into womanhood without losing the beauty of a little girl.’ Jaben was the first to understand me.

“Children are able to bear reality. They are so expert at bearing reality that they can even bear not-reality just as easily. Santa Claus and Easter bunny and fairies don’t harm them like they’d harm an adult, because they are from the same source as a deeper reality — faith and goodness and providence and wonder. This is why, when children pray, things happen. People are healed. Their prayers are real. This is also why Chesterton said, ‘A man’s creed should leave him free to believe in fairies,’ or kind of. A child who looks at some leaves and sees the wee folk is wrong, but not nearly as wrong as the adult who looks at the human body and sees nothing but matter. Not only because the error is worse, but because the child knows he is a child and wants to grow up, and the adult thinks he already isgrown up. I still want to grow up; it’s a shame when a person’s growth is stunted by thinking he’s grown up. Anyways, God is too big and too real for us to deal with — so is his Creation — but most children can bear something they can’t handle, and most adults can’t bear much of anything they can’t handle. Like death; our culture denies death, whether it is tearing the elderly and dying out of their houses and isolating them in hospitals and nursing homes, or this whole porn of death like Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. And that philosopher Kant’s — what was it called? The book that cut faith into —”

Religion Within the Bounds of Reason,” Jaben said.

“Like the Jews who told Moses, ‘We don’t want to see the Lord. Be our prophet for us that we don’t see him, so we don’t die.’ I count myself really, really, really lucky to have friends who can bear reality, who kythe, who touch me, who look into my paintings, who can see that I am not a ditz.”

Thaddeus winked at her. “Yes, Squeaky-Toy.”

“Hey!” Sarah said. “Only Jaben is allowed to call me that.”

“Me rorry,” Thad said affectionately.

A silence fell. Jaben began to hum a strand from a French lovesong — <<Elle est femme, elle est gamine,>> and when Sarah asked what he was humming, he explained that a man was singing of his beloved, that she was both a woman and a child. Sarah smiled, not feeling the slightest hint of romantic interest. Jaben was presently undecided as to whether he wanted to live celibate or married — presently not dating anyone, not seeking to, but not closed to the possibility — and yet was fascinated by lovesong and love poetry. It had taken Sarah some time to understand that his collection of erotica — from all places and all times — was not pornographic and was perused without lust by un chevalier parfait, sans peur et sans reproche. She was finally persuaded, not by the force of his arguments (for she knew how often forceful arguments could be wrong), but by the passion and the purity of his heart. Jaben had memorized Baudelaire’s l’Invitation au Voyage, and had made his own translation of the Song of Songs because, he said, politics had coerced translators into bowlderizing the English rendition and using wooden literality to obscure its meaning. Sarah had turned a very bright shade of red when Jaben explained to her the meaning of “I have entered my garden;” her skin matched her shining hair, and Jaben had revelled in her beauty. Thereafter, and after Jaben gave explanations to un-bowlderize other areas of the Bible, she always giggled at certain texts. Sarah found it quite curious that most of the sexual content in the Bible was softened considerably, but none of the violence; in her mind, it was connected not only to the behavior of many Christians — who wouldn’t touch a film with nudity (not even Titanic, which Sarah loved and Jaben hated), but didn’t flinch at movies that were rated ‘R’ for violence, let alone cartoons that show how funny it is to drop an anvil on someone’s head — but to a movie ratings system that, in the words of one magazine article, found “massaging a breast to be more offensive than cutting it off.”

These — and many other things like them — were thought about in the car. Some of them were discussed; others did not need to be said aloud, because of the common understanding between them; this gave the dialogue a unique potency and depth, and thus it remained the next day, and the day after, until when — as they were in Texas, approaching the Mexican border — something interesting happened.

Their radiator blew out.

Chapter Twenty-Four

“Well,” Jaben said. “we just passed a town. Let’s some of us stay with the van and some of us go in. Drink a goodly bit of water, he said, grabbing a canteen, “and we’ll hope to be back soon.” They talked amongst themselves, and Thaddeus, Jaben, and Sarah decided to go, leaving Désirée, Lilianne, and Ellamae to sit in the van’s shade.

“Do you think you could ever write like Kant,” Sarah said.

“Certainly,” Jaben answered, “if I tried hard and studied a certain book.”

“Which of Kant’s books?” Sarah asked.

“Not one of Kant’s books,” Jaben said. “The Handbook of Applied Cryptography.”

Sarah’s eyes lit up, and then filled with perplexity. “You don’t like that type of deep philosophical writing?”

Jaben said, “It is hard to think deep thoughts. It is harder still to think deep thoughts and record them faithfully. It is hardest to think deep thoughts and record them faithfully in a manner that people will understand. That is what I aim for.”

As they walked around, they passed an abandoned 1950’s truck, rusted and with one window broken. A small animal scurried behind a tire.

“Stop,” Sarah said. “I want to look at this truck.” They stopped, and Sarah stood, looked at the truck, tilted her head, bent over, walked a bit, and walked further. Then she finally said, “Okay. I have my picture ready,” and continued talking into town as if not a moment had passed.

After stopping in a gas station, they found an auto body and repair shop, and junkyard, advertising, “Largest parts selection in fifty miles.” There was a tall man who was sitting in a rocker in the shade outside the shop, and rose to greet them. “Hello, folks. May I help you?”

“Yes. Our van’s radiator blew out, and we were looking for a mechanic.” Jaben tried not to wince, thinking about the damage that the repairs would do to their funds.

“I wish Bear were here. He’s so good with cars,” said Sarah.

“You know a guy named Bear? The Bear I know is almost seven feet tall, weighs three hundred pounds—”

“—and has an elephant gun with a laser sight,” Jaben finished. “How do you know him?”

“He’s my cousin.” Now all those present were astonished. “How do you know him?”

“He’s my friend and my boss. My name’s Jaben, by the way, and this is Thaddeus and Sarah.”

“I’m Jim. I think I might have heard of you. What are y’all doing down here?”

Jaben’s smile turned to a frown. “We are looking for our friend Amos, who has disappeared, and whose location we do not know.”

Jim’s jaw dropped. “Amos has disappeared? Bear said the best things about him. They used to play together as little boys, and—ooh, I’m not going to tell you that story, because Bear and Amos (if you find him) will kill me.”

Jaben said, “He has, which is why we’re on this adventure. It may be a fool’s errand, but we want to see it through.”

The mechanic looked at him with a deep, probing gaze. “Your friendship runs that deep?”

“Our friendship runs that deep,” said Jaben.

The mechanic closed his eyes for a second, then said, “Come on over to my truck. I’ll throw a blanket in the bed so the metal doesn’t burn you, and there are a few containers of iced tea in the fridge. Y’all look like you’re melting. The repair is on me. What’s the make and model of your van?”

Jaben was so surprised that he forgot to tell James the requested information. Sarah ran up and gave him a hug and a kiss. Thaddeus asked, “What can we do to thank you?”

The mechanic took out a notebook, and wrote something on it. “This is my number. You can give me a call when you find Amos, or give up the chase. And, if you want to do something else, you can bring Amos by here when you find him. I’ve always wanted to meet him. Did Bear ever show you that gun of his?”

Thaddeus pulled his shirt collar aside to reveal several bruises. “These black and blue marks are from firing it, once. He offered to let me take his gun with us, but I can’t handle a gun like that.”

“Yep, that sounds like something Bear would do. He’s a big man with an even bigger heart. Would you step inside? The fridge is there, and some of my tools. I’ve got several vans with radiators in the junkyard. Any of you handy with tools?”

Jaben raised his hand.

“All right. Here’s my leather gloves; I don’t want you burning your hands. Let’s go.”

Chapter Twenty-Five

Jim invited them to stay for the night — which they did, unrolling their sleeping bags in the living room. In the morning the women especially were happy to have a real shower. After a breakfast of eggs and bacon, Jaben asked about where to get certain supplies, and insisted on paying for a siphon, a 12-pack of cigarette lighters with 7 left, a stack of old newspapers (USA Today, Jaben was glad to see, so he wouldn’t feel bad about burning them), and a couple of other odd items. They drained the water drum and refilled it afresh, and left with a hearty goodbye and thank you, hugs and a kiss from Sarah.

There seemed to be not much change on the road from Texas to Mexico; they stopped at a border town on the way to change some money, and two or three hours after crossing the border, they came on the town of Juarez and decided to stop for lunch.

The marketplace was wild, colorful, and full of smells. It had an energy about it that was lacking in American supermarkets. “Ooh, look!” Sarah said, and walked over to a vendor. There were several paintings, and she was looking intently at a small painting of a seashell on the sand. “Two hundred pesos,” the vendor said.

Jaben looked at the painting, looked at the vendor, and pulled out seventy pesos. “Este dinero es suficiente.

The vendor seemed slightly surprised, and took the money.

As they walked over to the fruit stands, Jaben said, “I don’t mind that you bought that picture, Sarah, but we are not here as tourists, and money is tight. Please don’t buy anything else we don’t need.”

“But Jaben, look!” Sarah said, holding the picture up.

He looked, and there was a glimmer of comprehension in his eyes. The picture was a deep picture, and he would need some more time to understand it. The artist must have been talented. “Thank you for buying it, Sarah,” Jaben said slowly.

Picking up a few oranges, Jaben asked the vendor, “Cuánto cuestan estas naranjas?

Uno peso.”

As well as the oranges, they purchased some bananas, avocados, and a chili pepper or two for Thad to munch on. The friends sat down in a corner, and talked, and watched the children play. They were kicking a rock around; their clothing was well worn and their bodies thin, and yet the children seemed to be playing in bliss. One of them walked over, and Ellamae gave the little girl half of her orange. Thaddeus pulled out a knife and was about to cut up one of the avocados, when Sarah reached into the pockets of her baggy pants, and said, “I know why I brought my red bouncy ball along!”

Jaben said, “No, wait. Sarah!”

Sarah had already rolled the ball down the street. A child kicked it, and it knocked the avocado out of Thaddeus’s hand, and looked very sheepish. Then Sarah batted it back to the children, and—

Perhaps the best way to describe the ensuing chaos would be to say that it would have given Amos a headache, and that Jaben loved it. The ball was tossed around; people said things in English and in Spanish, not understanding the words and yet somehow understanding the meaning; there was dance; there was chaos. At one point, two teams formed, but they were trying to give the other team possession of the ball, and then that shifted, and then there were three teams, and then none. At one point, the friends and the children were all hopping on one foot; at another, they were all weaving a pattern in the air with their hands. There was touch; there was tickling; there was dodging. At the end of the joyous romp, Jaben sat down, exhausted; Sarah took the ball, and placed an arm over Jaben’s shoulder (Jaben shifted away, and said, “Not here. Remember what I told you.”), and said, “So, Jaben, how’d you enjoy your first game of Janra-ball?”

Jaben laughed. “I didn’t think it was possible.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

As they drove along, the desert gave way to rocky land. The friends pulled over about an hour’s drive away from Mexico city, and got out to go.

Ellamae and Sarah started to head around a rocky corner — the first words out of Sarah’s mouth when they stopped were, “I really need to pee!” — and stopped cold in their tracks. Ellamae, her voice stressed, said, “Thaddeus, come here. There’s a rattlesnake raised to strike.”Jaben said, “Whatever you do, don’t move a muscle. Be a statue.”

Sarah said, “Still is the last thing I can be right now. I’m—”

Jaben said, “Recite to me the subjects of your last five paintings.”

Sarah said, “I can’t do that. I’m too scared.”

Jaben calmly said, “Yes, you can. What is the first—”

Bang! A gunshot sounded. Ellamae and Sarah jumped high. The rattlesnake fell to the ground, dead.

Thaddeus was crouched on a rock, holding a smoking gun. He loaded another round, and then walked over. He drew a hunting knife. “You guys know that rattlesnake meat is considered a delicacy?”

Sarah quivered, and said, “Thank you, Thaddeus. Now if I can change my pants—”

Ellamae looked in his eyes, and said, “I’m sorry for what I said about your gun. You saved my life.”

Thaddeus opened his mouth to say something, then closed it as he had nothing to say. Finally, he said, “You’re welcome.”

Jaben said, “Thaddeus, I’ve always wondered why you didn’t even get a gun with a clip. Not that you have to have a semi-automatic, but…” his voice trailed off.

Thaddeus and said, “This was the only good rifle that was within my price range when I brought it, and I brought it for target practice, not for hunting. But as to the other aspect — I just decided that I wanted to practice until my aim was good enough that I would never need to shoot twice.”

Ellamae said, “Again, thank you.”

They set up camp, and soon fell into a deep sleep.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Two warriors, clad in back, holding unsheathed katanas, silently approached each other in the forest. A sliver of moonlight fell. They circled around each other, slowly, crouched, waiting.

Then one of them swung, and there was a counter. Silence. Another swing. A flurry of motion. They circled.

They were both masters, and as they fought — one of them swinging, the other swiftly evading the razor sharp blade — it became apparent that one was greater than the other.

The greater swordsman lowered his weapon and closed his eyes, and in an instant the lesser struck him down.

Ellamae awoke, greatly troubled by her dream, but decided to tell no one.

As she drifted off to sleep again, Ellamae wondered who had really won the duel.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

They pulled into Mexico City early in the morning, the stench of smog only a hint of how bad it would get. Thaddeus had no difficulty finding the governmental buildings, nor Jaben in finding the appropriate bureaucrats. Getting anything useful out of them was a different matter.

As the friends sat down for lunch, Jaben said, “I’m a little disappointed at progress, but not surprised. Mexican bureaucracies are almost impossible to navigate if you don’t know someone on the inside.”

“That stinks!” Sarah said. “Aren’t the officials supposed to help people?”

“Sarah, culture shock is difficult. It’s a leading cause of suicide, right up there with divorce. There is great beauty in seeing a new country, but also great pain. I’m surprised at how well you’re adapting; you’re in the hardest part now,” Jaben said.

“Stop talking philosophy at me!” Sarah snapped, and then repeated her question. “Aren’t officials supposed to help people?”

“Yes, but in this culture you don’t just see someone when you want something from them. Relationships are very important, and you cultivate a relationship with someone inside the bureaucracy before trying to get something out of them. In a way, what we are doing is rude, asking for services without taking the time to first establish a connection. Except we have to be rude, because—”

“I still think it stinks,” Sarah said.

“I would rather we were dealing with an American bureaucracy, too. American bureaucracies are sluggish and Machiavellian and do things wrong, but they have a rare achievement in being responsive to the needs of strangers — a Brazilian I know was amazed when he got a scholarship after just filling out a form, without knowing anyone on the inside. But we don’t have that now; we are looking for Amos in Mexico, and therefore have to deal with a Mexican bureaucracy. I didn’t expect much, but I wanted to check just in case. Being open to the wind of the Spirit blowing, eh?” Jaben answered.

“So what do we do now?” Désirée asked, rubbing her arm nervously.

“We go to Tijuana,” Thaddeus stated.

“What?” several voices said in unison.

“The voice of the Spirit says to go to Tijuana.”

“Ok,” Désirée said.

They finished their lunch in silence, and got into the van. As they pulled out of the city, Lilianne said, “Thaddeus, I’d give your driving in Mexico City about, oh, an 8.7.”

“Really?” Thaddeus said, his eyes widening. “On a scale of 1 to 10?”

“No, on the Richter scale.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine

As they drove, Jaben said, “Sarah, remember that one time when you asked me what I didn’t like about television, and I said, ‘Sarah, I’d really like to explain it to you, but I have to go to bed some time in the next six hours?'”

“Yeah, I remember that. Why?” Sarah said.

“We’re going to have a few days driving to Tijuana, and I think this would be a good time to give your question the answer it deserves,” Jaben said.

“Ok,” Sarah said thoughtfully. “But you still like Sesame Street?”

“I grew up on it, but no. I do not like Sesame Street,” Jaben said.

“Why not?” Sarah said, with sadness in her voice.

“I mean to give your question the answer it deserves.”

Ellamae cocked her ears, attentive. So did Lilianne.

“I have a number of thoughts to give. I would like to begin by reading the foreword to Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, the first one I read on that score:

“‘We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

“‘But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another—slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns us that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

“‘What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyrrany “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

“‘This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.'”

Jaben closed the book.

Chapter Thirty

Jaben said, “Let’s see. The first part of Amusing talks about how different media impact the content of discourse. Somewhat overstated, I think, but an extremely important point.”

Sarah asked, “You mean there’s a difference between reading something in a book and reading it on the web?”

Jaben replied, “Yes, there is. The web appears — and in some ways is — an author’s dream come true. It is a kind of text where you can read about a surgical procedure and click on a link to see an MPEG of it being performed, or have transparent footnotes that actually pull up the document quoted. All of this has wonderful potential, but there is a dark side. For starters, a book has to be purchased or picked up at the library, which means that you have to invest something to get it, and if you’re reading it, you have to get up and walk to put the book away and get another one. This makes for some commitment to the present document, which is not present on the web. Furthermore, putting color pictures in books is prohibitively expensive. This makes it more likely that a book which draws people’s attention will do it with substance. But images are far cheaper on the web, and images grab attention much faster than books do. So if you’ll look at a corporate website, you will find sound bites and flashy pictures, and almost nothing thought-provoking. The web has potentential to be far better than books, but it also has a strong tendency to be much worse.

“You mean with all the porn that’s out there?” Sarah asked.

“Well, that’s a part of it. But even apart from that — have you ever gone to look for some information on the web, and found yourself clicking all sorts of silly links, and looked at your watch and realized that an hour had gone by, completely wasted?”

“Well, yeah, but I thought that was just me.”

“It’s not just you. It’s the Web.”

Sarah pondered this in silence.

“Technology — some more than others — is something I treat like a loaded gun, or like alcohol. It can be beneficial, very beneficial, but you should never lay the reins on the horse’s neck, and never treat it as something neutral. It has a sort of hidden agenda. Have you heard of the Sorceror’s Bargain?” Jaben explained.

“No, what’s that?”

“In the Sorceror’s Bargain, the Devil says, ‘I will give you power if you will give me your soul.’ But there’s a problem — obviously, you lose your soul, and less obviously, it isn’t really you that has the power at all. All that has really happened in the exchange is that you’ve lost your soul. You haven’t gained anything.”

“That stinks,” Sarah said.

“It does, and something of that is what happens with technology. Mammon and Technology are twin brothers, and I think I see part of why Jesus said, ‘No man can serve two masters. Either he will love the one and hate the other, or else hate the one and love the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.’ What I find fascinating is that he did not refer to money as a slave, but as a master. With technology — have you noticed that I use e-mail for all sorts of technical and intellectual matters, but never for personal matters? That I walk over and talk with you in person?”

“Yes, and it means a lot to me,” Sarah said.

“Technologies have an obvious benefit, and a less obvious, insidious cost; there is always a cost, and with some it is worse than others. With—”

“Are you a Luddite?” Sarah asked.

“I am at present riding in a van; one of my hobbies is writing computer programs; I have a massive collection of books; I eat prepared foods, wear clothes, telephone people, and speak language. All of these are technologies, and I use them in clean conscience. Someone said of war, ‘I don’t think we need more hawks or more doves. I think we need more owls.’ I don’t want to be a hawkish technology worshipper or a Luddite dove. I want to be an owl.

“As I was saying, television has an incredible darkside. It is a sequence of moving images that stimulates the senses and makes brain cells atrophy. I fervently believe that, since the beginning of time, the twilight hours have belonged to the teller of tales and the weavers of songs. You know I like music, and role play, and listening to Désirée tell stories, and all sorts of things. But television is among pass-times what nihilism is among philosophy, what Bud Lite is among beers. That is why, I think, the author of the 100 ways of kything said, ‘Television is a crawling abomination from the darkest pits of Hell. It is a pack of cigarettes for the mind. It blinds the inner eye. It is the anti-kythe. A home without television is like a slice of chocolate cake without tartar sauce.'”

Chapter Thirty-One

Jaben said, “The second half of the book deals with how television is impacting public life, how everybody is always expecting to be amused. A good place to start is,” he said, flipping through the text, “let’s see…”After some more flipping, he started fiddling with the folded sheet of paper being used as a bookmark. “I’m not sure that there’s a good, concise place to begin, and the problem may get worse with Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.”

“The author could only think of four?” Ellamae asked.

Jaben idly opened the sheet of paper, and then his eyes widened. “This’ll do nicely. It must have been left as a bookmark by the previous patron to check the book out. It’s a seminar announcement:

“The Middle School PTA is sponsoring a free parent education seminar — Why are we slowing down?”

“We’re being pulled over,” Thaddeus said.

Jaben reached into his wallet and pulled out 70 pesos, handing them forward to the front.

They stopped, and Thaddeus unrolled the window. “Buenos dias, señor.” He held out the money; the officer took it, said “Gracias,” and walked back.

Jaben put his foot on the petal and rolled up the window at the same time.

“It’s really cool that in Mexico you can pay a speeding ticket on the spot without having to go into an office. That would have cost us so much time,” said Sarah.

“Why are you smiling, Jaben?” Sarah asked, after a moment had passed.

“That wasn’t exactly paying a ticket, Sarah.”

“Well what was it then.”

“A little bit of grease on his palm.”

“You bribed a police officer?” Sarah asked, incredulous.

“Yes, Sarah. It’s not the same as in America.” Jaben said, folding the paper, sticking it in the book, and closing the book.

“I can’t believe you did that!” Sarah said. “Does breaking the law only count in the United States, not in Mexico? There is no authority except from God, and Romans 13 and all.”

“Sarah, do you know why the cop pulled us over?”

“Because Thad thinks that he’s in Malaysia.”

“Uh, ok. You have a point there. But do you know why else he pulled us over?”

“Yes, he was going to write a ticket.”

“No, the cop had no intention whatsoever of writing a ticket.”

Sarah closed her eyes in concentration for a minute. “Are you saying he pulled us over in the hope of receiving a bribe?”

“No, I’m saying he pulled us over in the certainty of receiving a bribe.”

“Well, if a corrupt cop pulls us over, why don’t we go in and report him?”

“Sarah, do you know what would happen if we did that?”

“Yes, they’d put him under discipline.”

“Not exactly.”

“Ok, I give up. What would happen?”

“We’d be laughed out of court,” Jaben said.

Sarah opened her mouth, then closed it.

“Police officers are paid much too little, like the majority of other Mexicans, and it’s an accepted part of the culture. In our country, bribes are associated with corruption and subversion of justice, but in Mexico they do not have that meaning. It’s just an informal income distribution system with very little overhead. The outrage you are experiencing is culture shock.”

“So there’s nothing wrong with Mexico? All there is is difference? You can critique American culture, but Mexican culture is off limits?”

“No; there are a great many things wrong with Mexican culture, some of which make me sick. It’s a macho culture, but women hold all the power —”

“Go, women!” Sarah cheered. Jaben decided not to recite Ambrose Bierce’s definition of ‘queen’, and continued, “—and it’s an unhealthy, manipulative power that they hold. If you were my wife, you might get me drunk and steal money from my wallet. The phenomenon exists in the United States; it’s just not so stark. It’s why there were all those bumper stickers saying, ‘Impeach President Clinton and her husband.’ In many families, the husband’s off doing his own thing, drinking with his buddies, and the wife is meeting her emotional needs with her children, especially her oldest son. It’s not incestuous, but it’s very unhealthy. In contradistinction to our own culture’s exaggeration of ‘leave and cleave’, a man will choose his mother and sister over his wife and children. They have the opposite error. Mexican culture emphasizes family and community, but certain aspects of familial community are very unhealthy. Their culture is as much marked by the Fall as our own.”

Sarah sat in thought, and said, “Why do you condemn these things, but condone bribing an officer?”

Jaben said, “Later, I’d like to talk with you about implications of fundamental beauty. But for now, just trust me on this.”

“Ok,” Sarah said slowly. “I’ll trust you.”

Chapter Thirty-Two

“The Middle School PTA,” Jaben read, “is sponsoring a free parent education seminar by So-and-so, a highly sought after seminar leader who combines practical strategies with a high energy ‘you can do it’ approach to parenting middle schoolers. So-and-so has been a professional communicator for over 20 years as a parent, teacher, clinical counselor, author and professor at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. She has addressed school districts, corporations and community organizations throughout the Chicago area on the subject of parenting. Noted for her ability to get audiences involved using a highly interactive humorous format, she has consistently received the highest level ratings for her warm, knowledgeable and practical presentations.

“So-and-so will tackle how to help your child develop attitudes and skills essential to withstanding peer pressure. She will also provide concrete ways to encourage building self-esteem in both our children and ourselves through practical techniques that actually work. Drawing on her years of experience in working with teenagers, So-and-so shares proven ideas you can use immediately. Don’t miss this lively, inspiring and humorous session!” Jaben folded the sheet of paper, set it in the book, and closed it.

“What’s wrong with that?” Désirée asked.

“Well, it doesn’t distinguish between the presenter being entertaining and her being an expert in dealing with adolescents,” Ellamae said.

Jaben said, “On one televangelist’s show that Postman addresses, the saved get to play themselves before and after, and, Postman says, they are saved twice: by being brought into the presence of Jesus, and made a movie star. To the uninitiate, Postman says, it is hard to tell which is the higher estate.” They discussed a bit more; Jaben did not say much of anything additional, beyond encouraging the others to sit down and read the book, and that a week of careful television watching and attending consumer oriented services (for which he recommended a perusal of Why Catholics Can’t Sing), listening to people, and otherwise examining American life would reveal a lot to a perceptive mind. Asked about Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, he said, “That’s another discussion for another day.”

Chapter Thirty-Three

Sarah said, “What was that about fundamental beauty?”

Jaben said, “There is a trinity of the good, the true, and the beautiful, in which we must neither confound the elements nor divide the substance. Those three words describe the same — being, but in different ways. And there is something I have called ‘fundamental beauty’, for lack of a better term in any language, to refer to something that is fundamental and is of the character of beauty that is shared between different things, things that may look different on the surface. My favorite example is singing and dancing — in one sense, they are not very much alike at all — one is sound, the other is motion, and (my physics training notwithstanding) the two are not the same. But in another, deeper way, there is something very much the same about them. They are both beautiful in the same way. They share the same fundamental beauty.

“The Chinese character for ‘metaphor’ is a compound character, a little like an English word like ‘doughnut’, and the constituent characters are ‘hidden’ and ‘analogy’; there can be a hidden analogy, a shared fundamental beauty, between two objects that may look very different. A recognition of shared fundamental beauty seems to me to lie at the heart of all metaphor, and the more striking and poetic the metaphor the more disparate on the surface the two things are, and the more closely they share a fundamental beauty. When a poet compared a woman to a red, red rose, the comparison was not anatomical in character, nor along any other literal lines; he was rather seeing a shared fundamental beauty.

“The present grandmaster of ninjutsu, Masaaki Hatsumi, wrote in Essence of Ninjutsu about talking with a photographer who took pictures of horses, and had to deal with a basic problem: horses know when they’re being watched, and stiffen up. When she takes a picture, she stands with her back to the horse, waits until the horse relaxes, and then swiftly turns around and snaps a shot before the horse can tense up. He commented that it is like the ninjutsu 5th degree black belt test, where the master stands with an unsheathed katana over the disciple, and then sometime in the next thirty minutes gives a shout and brings the sword down. The disciple has to get out of the way. The grandmaster saw a likeness between the two disciplines at that point; you might say that he saw the same fundamental beauty, and commented that two disciplines, no matter how far apart, will share something in common. This kind of point of connection might also be why Musashi wrote in A Book of Five Rings, ‘You must study the ways of all professions.’ If so, it is most definitely not a lesson which should be confined to martial artists.

“What I realized in our discussion about bribing cops is that, not only is it possible for two different-looking things to share the same fundamental beauty, but it is possible for two similar-looking things to have very different fundamental beauties. I hesitate to use the term ‘beauty’ in reference to bribing a cop, but the fundamental essence of bribing an American cop and bribing a Mexican cop are different. They look the same, but the heart is different, just as ninjutsu and horse photography look quite different, but at that one point are very similar.”

Sarah looked pensive for a few minutes, and said, “I see, Jaben. I really see. I’m glad I trusted you on this one.”

By this point, it was getting very late, and so they pulled over and got ready to set up camp.

Chapter Thirty-Four

They stopped in the rocks, and began to unload the groundcloths, sleeping bags, and tents. They were unpacking, when they heard a rustle. “What’s that?” Ellamae said. Immediately, Thaddeus had his gun aimed at the sound.

Five bandits stepped out from behind the rocks, followd by more. They were armed with rifles. “Drop your gun,” the leader said, in a thick but understandable accent.

Thaddeus casually cast aside his rifle.

“Give us your money, your women.”

“No,” Thaddeus said, stepping forward. “It will not help you.”

“We will kill you,” said the leader.

“No,” Thaddeus said.

“Give now!”

“No,” Thaddeus said.

The angry leader aimed his gun, grinned wickedly, and pulled the trigger.

Click. The gun jammed.

The leader angrily shook the gun, struck it against the rock, and successfully fired three shots into the air. Then he took aim once again, and pulled the trigger.

Click.

“My God is bigger than your gun,” said Thaddeus.

The man threw down his gun, and drew a wicked-looking knife. He started advancing.

Thaddeus had the knife with a serrated back, but did not draw it.

Thaddeus looked intently into his eyes.

The brigand slowed his pace.

Thaddeus kept his intense, probing gaze.

The brigand stopped.

Thaddeus closed his eyes for a moment, and then looked with all the more focus.

The brigand stood still, returning his gaze.

Te amo,” Thaddeus said in broken Spanish, praying with his whole heart that it wouldn’t be misunderstood.

The brigand sheathed his knife, took his gun, and walked away.

One by one, each of his thirty companions followed, leaving the six friends alone.

“Thanks be to God,” Ellamae said.

Thaddeus collapsed in fear, relief, and exhaustion.

Chapter Thirty-Five

Packing away the equipment after eating another round of MREs, the friends got into the van. Désirée rode shotgun, and the others got into the back. “And the Four Arguments?” Ellamae said, looking at Jaben.

“I’m not going to treat them all; there’s a reason why those arguments are given in a long book. It’s necessary for a fair treatment. I’m only going to mention, for example, the argument that ‘the programming is the packaging, and the advertising is the content’, and advertising’s role in harmful manipulation. But I do want to treat Mander’s argument of artificial unusualness, in conjunction with a transposed argument from Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind.

“Television is inherently boring,” Jaben began.

“Tell us something new,” Désirée said from up front.

“No, really. Even more than you think. Have you ever had a professor tape a class session, and be bored silly with the videotape even though your professor was an engaging speaker? Television has lousy picture quality, and the viewing area is only a tiny portion of your visual field, and the sound is terrible. It’s a sensory medium, but its stimulation is second rate at best.

“When a person has a handicap, he can sometimes find ways to work around it, and become far stronger than a normal person would be. You know how weak I was in gradeschool. This happened with television; they found a number of unnatural ways of making material artificially unusual, kind of like taking a dull technical document and making it appear interesting by italicizing lots of text and putting an exclamation point at the end of each sentence. They do things like camera changes, or moving the camera, or adding music, or putting in computer graphics. These things are called technical events, and the rate of technical events seems to be going up; when Mander wrote his Four Arguments, he claims that the average rate of technical events was one every ten seconds; Postman wrote a few years later, and said that the average rate of technical events was one every three and a half seconds; last time I watched television and counted technical events, it was toeing the line of one technical event per second. This is why, if you go to Blockbuster and rent an old movie — even an old color movie — it appears boring. The number of technical events to keep you stimulated is much lower, and it doesn’t meet your threshold for interesting. It makes an interesting experiment to watch ten minutes of regular programming (doesn’t matter whether it’s sitcoms, tabloids, X-files, news, or other mindless entertainment), ten minutes of commercials, ten minutes of PBS, ten minutes of a movie from this decade, and then ten minutes of some 1960’s movie, and monitor both the number of technical events, and how excited or bored you are. This, incidentally, ties in to sex and violence in TV and movies; it’s not just that some of the producers have questionable morals, but also that a bit of skin flashing across the screen is stimulating in a way that wholesome shows cannot be. Two people respectfully talking through a disagreement doesn’t have nearly the same camera appeal as a bit of a fistfight.

“This is where Allan Bloom comes in. In The Closing of the American Mind, he talks about different things that are crippling American students — interestingly, though he is not writing from a moralistic perspective, he is concerned about many of the same things we are, such as promiscuity and divorce of parents. He could be quoted in a sermon to argue that sin is harmful and that, in fact, God has given us moral law, not for his own good, but for our own good, just as the Bible says. One of the things he says in particular as a crimp on American students is drugs. The argument is terrifying, and if it were believed by our youth, it would keep them away from narcotics like no ‘do drugs, do time’ posters ever could.

“The argument is very simple. Once you have done drugs — once you have cheaply and for nothing experienced the godlike heights of pleasure associated with the greatest successes — a heroic victory in battle, or the consummation of a marriage — what, in your day to day life, could you possibly experience to compete with that? What can possibly compare? Suddenly, everything is bleak, dull, grey, boring. Everything.

“It would be like — remember that time when we were in the cave, our eyes comfortably adjusted to the candlelight, and Sarah thought that Désirée and Amos looked so cute snuggling, and whipped out her pocket camera and snapped a picture? There was an instantaneous and tremendously bright flash of light, and then none of us could see anything, not even the candles’ flames. This is why, by the way, I never use a flashlight when I am outside; I regard it as an implement of blindness rather than an implement of sight, because it brightly illuminates one area but prevents you from seeing the others. That’s why, when Lilianne offered me a flashlight that one time, I said, ‘No thanks, I want to see.’ If you have to use a flashlight, you will never step out from a cabin into brilliant summer moonlight, and I don’t know how to tell you — fair is the sunlight, fairer still the moonlight, fairest of all is the light of thy face —

“Television, video games, movies, are things that embody the same fundamental ugliness as drugs. Non-chemical narcotics, you might call them. The strength of this is hard to recognize if you’ve used them enough to get inured to them, but I remember the first time I watched that one James Bond movie, with 007 and 006 and that Georgian pilot… I was on the edge of my seat with lust after the usual James Bond opening of half-naked women — I believe the proper term for that is ‘artistic porn’ — and it still quickens my pulse to remember how my heart was pounding when James Bond was free falling and climbing into the free falling airplane. If you’ve seen the movie, you probably didn’t experience it that way. Hollywood needs to build a stronger and stronger brew to have the same effect on people, and I was much more strongly affected by the movie than most other people would — just like I would be extremely affected by what would be to a drug addict just a little bit to tide him over until he needed more.

“After you’ve watched TV, where all the men have high-paying jobs and all the women look sexy in their tight clothes, and there’s a camera change every second, and there is music and perhaps a laugh track, and every conversation is exciting and witty — just what, exactly what, in your normal experience is going to compete with that? Talking with your friends has lulls in the conversation, and not everything is a witty retort; running provides you with something like the same camera change, but the people who go for long runs aren’t the people who sit in front of a television. A book, however profound, is not stimulating enough to even lose a competition with television. So people watch television, at, what, six hours a day? Television is kind of like alcohol; a little bit can be good (or, in the case of television, tolerable), a lot at once induces a stupor, and a lot over time rots the brain.”

The discussion that followed was vivid and animated. Sarah was disappointed to learn that Sesame Street had been created by a group of former advertisers, and listened with interest to Jaben’s argument that advertising embodies the same fundamental ugliness as porn: “It arouses desires that cannot have a righteous fulfillment, in this case spending money on material possessions beyond even what natural greed would produce. This is, incidentally, why a television is the most expensive household appliance you can buy; it deducts from your pocketbook for long after you’ve paid it off.” Lilianne was particularly interested in this claim; her way of believing (each believer, she said, who is in full orthodoxy has very much his own way of believing) placed a particular emphasis on living simply. “What should I do with my television, then?” asked Lilianne, who felt that she would never look at a television again in the same way. Jaben’s reply was simple: “Give it to Thad. He could always use a new target.”

Chapter Thirty-Six

It was not long before they arrived in Tijuana, and searched everywhere. They searched high and low, in the resorts and in the slums; they prayed; Lilianne said glumly, “We’re looking for a needle in a haystack.” After a week of searching, Jaben said, “This city is too noisy. I need to go out into the countryside to think.”

The friends drove aimlessly, and pulled over for a lunch of MREs. Each person grabbed one, and they sat down on the edge of a cornfield.

“So what do we do now?” Sarah asked.

“I don’t know,” Thaddeus said. “I felt positive that the Spirit was pulling us to Tijuana.”

“At least we tried to be faithful,” Ellamae said.

Jaben pulled out the Windows CD-ROM, placed it on the tip of his index finger, and ran his thumb along the edge. “I wonder. I think—”

“Why is the ground trembling?” Sarah asked.

The friends dropped their food and staggered to their feet.

There, not fifty feet away, molten rock was spewing into the air. A chunk landed ten feet away.

The heat was incredible.

Jaben hurled the annulus into the lava, where it disappeared in a burst of lambent flame. “Let’s run!”

They did run, and this time Thaddeus’s driving was estimated to be about a 9.5 on the Richter scale. They drove and drove, and after a time realized they were lost.

“We’re approaching a small village,” Lilianne said. “Maybe they’ll be able to tell us where we are, or how to get to the nearest city.”

“We’d better not,” said Jaben.

“Men! Always refusing to ask directions,” Sarah said.

“It’s not that, Sarah. You know I ask directions at home,” Jaben said.

“Which is why you should do it here, too,” Sarah said, crossing her arms and nodding her head.

“It’s standard procedure in Mexico, if you don’t know where something is, to make up directions. They could give us driving directions to Brazil,” Jaben said.

“They could hardly leave us more lost than we are now,” Lilianne said.

Jaben said, “Slow down. I want to get out.”

Thaddeus stopped the van.

Jaben got out, and walked to the doorway of the nearest hovel. “Por favor,” he asked, “disez cómo encontrar—”

“Jaben?” a faint voice queried from the darkness within.

Amos!

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Amos was weak and slightly emaciated, but hardly ever had the friends seen so beautiful a sight as he — Désirée had never been so happy. They gathered around him, and laid hands in prayer; healing flowed through Ellamae’s fingers, and Amos stood up, strengthened.

Por favor, dinez con nosotros,” the peasant said.

It was a simple meal; the friends were each given a few corn tortillas.

“This isn’t much food,” Sarah said. “How much do they have?”

“Eat it,” Jaben said. “This is more than they can spare. The family will go hungry tonight.”

“I know!” Sarah said. “We could give them some of our MREs.”

“No,” Jaben said. “I’d be happy to give them, but to a great many Mexicans, corn is food and food is corn. Our own ancestors had difficulty finding food in a New England whose waters were teeming with lobster. Each culture has its own baggage, and these simple folk are giving us the only food they know. A gift of MREs would not do them much good.”

Sarah wasn’t the only one to wipe a tear from her eyes.

The meal was mostly quiet; Amos explained how he had been abducted, beaten, and left for dead in a field, and how the peasants had taken him in and slowly nursed to health. “Will this make it hard for you not to hate white people?” Jaben asked.

“Very hard,” Amos said. “But you’re worth it.”

The peasant family consisted of a grandmother, a mother, a father, a teenaged son, a preteen daughter, two little boys, and a baby girl. They were all thin, and lines of suffering were etched on all but the youngest of faces, but at the same time there was a real joy, a glow, about them. “I would like to go to mass with them, if they go to mass, but we should really be going back,” Jaben thought. “I need to get back to work.” Still, he did not wish in the least to haste this moment.

After the meal, they said goodbye, gave abrazos, and then Jaben reached into the sheath on his left hip and pulled out a thick Swisschamp Swiss Army Knife, showed them every one of its twenty-seven features (the children liked the magnifying glass), and then ceremoniously handed it to the father. The man’s eyes lit up.

Sarah stared at Jaben; she knew what that knife meant to him, where he had taken it. Then she ran to the van, and ran back, and threw her red bouncy ball to the children, gave them each a kiss, and departed.

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Jaben said, “Amos, you’re the guest of honor. Would you like to make the reading selection? We have Darwin on Trial, An Anthropologist on Mars, A Wind in the Door, Four—

A Wind in the Door,” Amos said.

Jaben handed him the small volume. Amos opened it, flipped one way, flipped another way, closed the book, opened it, turned a few pages, and said, “Aah, here. Page 82.” He read terrifying words as Proginoskes showed Meg a moment when stars had been murdered — Xed.

“I’ve had a lot of time to think, and to feel, and I’ve realized something. It is a chilling feeling — un-Named, Xed — to know that someone hates you. Their brutality, their words, their blows hurt, but not nearly as badly as the real knowing that there was hate. My stomach hurt so much when they were done beating me, but the pain was nothing. Désirée, remember the time when we were dating, and I got my thumb in your eye? I know that hurt, but it only hurt physically. With hate it is different. It is a hurt of the spirit, and it is worse. Terribly worse.

“I am drawn to Wind, as you are, for its bliss and beauty. But it shows as very real the power of evil, and this passage was the one my heart was drawn to. I never knew how real the story was until I knew that there were men who could kill me. Hate is a very real power, and I have come to appreciate that, in the end, Proginoskes gave everything he had to give to stop the Echthroi. He gave until there was nothing left to give. Hate is so evil, that sometimes it costs that much.”

Amos opened his mouth, then closed it, then began to weep. Ellamae and Sarah crawled across the baggage; Ellamae was first, kissing him on the forehead, and Sarah wrapped her arms around him. Their tears began to mingle with his, and soon all but Thad (who was with them in spirit) joined in the embrace; no one offered him anything to say, because they saw his pain was so great. And they stayed together for hours.

Chapter Thirty-Nine

There was healing in Ellamae’s touch, and that of the others — restoration not only for Amos’s wounded body, but for his broken soul. Their love was a healing balm, and after a day of weeping and eating MREs as fast as he could keep them down, Amos graced them with his deep, rich smile, and a day later he called for a rousing chorus of “99 bottles of beer,” sung very loudly and very off-key, sometimes in several keys at once. This was one of Amos’s favorite traditions, and it had surprised more than a couple of people who knew how truly good his baritone voice was. They were in Texas, approaching Jim’s village, when something interesting happened.

Their radiator blew.

Jaben and Amos walked into the village, although by the end of the walk they had each drunk a canteen dry, and were thirsty and sorefooted when they reached Jim’s shack. Jim rose to greet them, and said, “Hi, Jaben, and is this Amos? Why the sheepish grin, Jaben?”

Jaben shuffled, cleared his throat, and said, “I’m embarrassed to say this, but could we impose on you for another radiator?”

Jim laughed, and said, “Sure. I just got another van of your make and model in this week. I thought your new radiator had a bit more life in it. Would come with me to the yard? I’ll step inside for my tools.”

Jim was pleased to make Amos’s acquaintance, and it was mostly those two who were talking as Jim and Jaben worked on the radiator (“You’d make a great mechanic,” Jim said — “I might try that when my present position ends,” Jaben replied). It wasn’t that long before the friends’ van had a new radiator, and it wasn’t long after that that they were sitting at Jim’s regular table, with the card table pulled up, eating collard greens and smothered pork chops.

Sarah opened the conversation, by saying, “I’m grateful to you, Jim, and I trust you.”

Jim smiled, and said, “Thank you. Out of curiosity, why do you trust me?”

“Your touch is that of a trustworthy man.”

“How can you tell that from touch?”

“You know when two strangers are sitting next to each other on the bus, and their legs are touching? Their bodies are touching, but their spirits aren’t touching. They aren’t really touching.

“I’ve had hugs that felt like handshakes, and handshakes that felt like hugs; what most people know is that a touch means different things depending on how much of the body is touching and where, but what most people don’t know is that a touch also is different depending on how much of the spirit is touching and where. Children’s hugs can be the best, because when they’re touching you, they aren’t doing anything else, not anything; you’re their whole universe, and you’re wrapped in their trusting arms. There is something in the touch of a child who has not yet learned to draw back, just like there is something in the words of a child who has not yet learned guile. I don’t mean that young children can’t lie, or pull back — but a child who will transparently lie about stealing cookies still doesn’t know how to put guile into real and honest communication, and a child who draws back and says ‘I don’t want to hug you’ still doesn’t know how to draw back when he’s touching someone. I —”

“So that’s why your hug reminded me of a child,” interrupted Jim.

Sarah began to blush, and continued. “You can tell a lot about a man by the way he touches. Kind of like what you can tell by whether and how he looks you in the eyes — eye contact is a form of touch — only moreso. Your touch has a lot of strength — even apart from your calloused hands, I can tell that you spend a lot of time applying force when you fix things — but it is a strength with complete control and gentleness. You are strong, but I do not fear you. And it is a touch that draws me into your heart. You have a big heart. If you were a man whom I couldn’t trust, you would be holding something back; you can tell when a person’s holding back, and his touch says, ‘There is something about me that I don’t want you to know.’ But your touch doesn’t say that. It’s transparent. Even when you gave me a handshake, when I touched your hand, I felt your heart.”

Jim sat, with his mouth open. “What else do you know about me?”

“Not much,” Sarah said. “I’m not an astrologer.”

“You saw more of Sarah than she usually shows at first glance. Most people think she’s a ditz,” Lilianne said.

Jaben got up, and gently pulled Sarah’s hair aside, so he could see part of her scalp.

“What are you doing?” Sarah asked.

“What an odd tattoo,” Jaben said. “It says, ‘Do not exceed 65 PSI.'”

Sarah hit Jaben, and he sat down.

Amos said, “It’s so good to have your friendship, your community, your banter.

Désirée said, “It’s so good to have you back, Amos. Our communion is restored; our fellowship is complete.”

Amens circled round the table. They joined hands over the meal:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

They dug in, and for a time people were silent as they enjoyed the meal. Then Thad said, “I had a mystical experience when we were driving out of Tijuana. It was my first mystical experience while driving.”

Jim raised his eyebrows, and said, “A mystical experience while driving? I thought they came in church, and deep meditation, and things like that. I’ve never had one. I’m too ordinary.”

Thaddeus smiled, and said, “Those moments are gifts from God, that come quite often unexpected. The biggest qualification you can have is a sense of need before God. And there is something ordinary about the mystical — no, that’s not quite right, or maybe there is. There is something mystical about the ordinary. Mysticism is not this strange and remote thing; it is very near to us, and you may know more mystics than you think. Every child is born a mystic. The problem is how to keep him that way.”

Jim said, “So how do you become a mystic? Do you read a book, or spend a lot of time praying, or whatever?”

Thaddeus said, “I don’t know. I don’t know how I became a mystic. It’s not something you can achieve by doing the right things; it’s a gift from God. It’s kind of like asking what we did to achieve being given two radiators; the answer is that we did, quite properly, nothing; we cooperated with your gift and God’s, but it was given. Prayer can be helpful, but if you try praying six hours a day to make yourself a mystic —

“To borrow from a Zen koan:

“A master observed that a novice was very diligent in prayer; he prayed an hour a day more than anyone else, and could shut out all distractions. One day, the master asked the novice, ‘What are you doing?’

“The novice said, ‘I am praying hard to make myself a mystic.’

“The master took a tile, set it before the novice, and began to polish it vigorously. ‘What are you doing?’ the novice asked.

“‘I am polishing this tile to make it into a mirror,’ the master answered.

“‘You can’t make a tile into a mirror by polishing it!’ the novice protested.

“‘And neither can you make yourself into a mystic by prayer,’ the master answered.

“Prayer is a fundamental part of mysticism, and there are good books — I can think of Experiencing God and, let’s see, Tales of a Magic Monastery, which is my personal favorite. But if you go to a book and say, ‘This will make me a mystic,’ you are setting yourself up for failure.”

“What was your last mystical experience like? How did you manage to drive and have a mystical experience at once? How much more often do they come when you become an experienced mystic?” James asked.

“I don’t know how to describe it. I was driving, and I was with God, and I was suddenly very aware of his presence and love for me, in, under, and through everything around me. I was also intensely aware of my surroundings; it helped me drive, if anything. But I would not too much dwell on mystical experiences; they are a blessing, but there are far greater blessings, those that non-mystics think are dull next to mysticism. It’s hard to explain,” Thaddeus answered.

James said, “I am still listening with interest.”

Thaddeus said, “I feel like I’m in a bind, like I can only explain these things to someone who needs no explanation — and, in saying this, I probably sound otherworldly and mysterious and an initiate of circles you cannot hope to probe. It is not like that at all. Perhaps my best advice is this: if you value mysticism, forget completely about being a mystic, and seek God with your whole heart. God will make you a mystic if he wants.”

Jim said, “I am already doing that.”

Thaddeus said, “Then I have nothing to add to you.”

Ellamae held her plate, and said, “Could you give me a pork chop?” and then, receiving the food, said, “I think you were following God when you gave us the radiator. It helped us receive our friend back. And the story about that —”

“What is the story about you finding him? Were the Mexican police much help?”

An animated recounting of the story’s events followed, and lasted long into the night. They stayed the night, showered, packed up, and headed on the road home.

Chapter Forty

Jaben said, “Ellamae, why don’t you choose our Bible reading today? It’s been a while since we read the sacra pagina.”

Ellamae said, “I’d like to read the extended commentary on the words ‘The just shall walk by faith,’ as found in Hebrews chapter eleven. It’s my favorite passage of Scripture.”

Jaben handed a Bible and a flashlight to Lilianne, and said, “Lili, will you do the honors?”

Lili took the book reverently, opened it, flipped a few pages, and began, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Because of it the ancients were well attested. By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible. By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice greater than Cain’s. Through this he was attested to be righteous, God bearing witness to his gifts, and through this, though dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and ‘he was found no more because God had taken him.’ Before he was taken up, he was attested to have pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned about what was not yet seen, with reverence built an ark for the salvation of his household. Through this he condemned the world and inherited the righteousness that comes through faith.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and maker is God. By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age — and Sarah herself was sterile — for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy. So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.

“All those died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on the earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had the opportunity to return. But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

“By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.’ He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol. By faith regarding the things still to come Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and ‘bowed in worship, leaning on the top of his staff.’ By faith Joseph, near the end of his life, spoke of the Exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his bones.

“By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that he was a beautiful child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharoah’s daughter; he chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasure of sin. He considered the reproach of the Anointed greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the recompense. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s fury, for he persevered as if seeing the one who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. By faith they crossed the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted it they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after being encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with the disobedient, for she had received the spies in peace.

“What more shall I say? I have not the time to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous, obtained the promises; they closed the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped the devouring sword; out of weakness they were made powerful, became strong in battle, and turned back foreign invaders. Women received back their dead through resurrection. Some were tortured and would not accept deliverance, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death at sword’s point; they went about in skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted, tormented. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts and on mountains, in caves and in crevices in the earth.

“Yet all these, though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised. God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect.”

Lilianne closed the book.

Sarah said, “That’s awesome.”

Ellamae said, “The part I like best about this is that there was no distinction made between those who were miraculously saved and those who died in faith. None whatsoever. In Daniel, the three men, Shadrach, Mechach, and Abednego say, ‘Our God can save us, but even if he does not, know, O king, that we will not bow down.’ Some manuscripts even say, ‘if he cannot.’ It reminds me of—

“Thaddeus, when you were looking down the barrel of that brigand’s gun, what was going through your mind?” she asked

“My heart was completely at peace,” Thaddeus said.

“Did you know that the gun was going to jam?”

“No.”

“Did you pray that the gun would jam?”

“No.”

At this, Ellamae was surprised. “What did you pray?”

“I prayed that God’s will would be done.”

There was silence for a second, and then Jaben said, “I like how the text says that we are strangers and aliens, that this world is not our home: we look for a better country, a heavenly one. I fit in better in French culture than American culture, but not even very well there; no culture on earth is a home. Each culture is a cave, as Bloom reminds us, and I can’t wait for the day when I will climb out of the caverns and behold the sun in all its glory.”

Amos said, “The chapter reminds me of the words, ‘Here I stand, ready to live, ready to die.”

Ellamae said, “‘My name is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. If by life or death I may serve you, that I shall.'”

Jaben said, “Jewish tradition holds that the prophet Isaiah was sawn in two.”

“Interesting,” Lilianne said. “What was the story?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t spent nearly as much time studying the Talmud and Jewish tradition as I should. Maybe reading the Babylonian Talmud will be my next project.”

“All things in this chapter point to the King of the Jews,” Ellamae said. “Every righteous man was a shadow of the One who was to come. And there is more — I cannot say it.”

The conversation went on for hours, days. Before they knew it, the friends pulled into a driveway…

Chapter Forty-One

It was dusk as the van pulled out, finally at home, and slowed down. Everybody got out, yawning, Thaddeus still, out of habit, carrying his rifle slung over his shoulder. They closed the van doors and walked along, silently, when —

a roaring sound was heard

“Look out, a bear!”

the Spirit moved in Thaddeus’s heart like rapid fire. “Shoot it.”

Thaddeus, bewildered, was pushed into a dimension beyond time, out of ordinary time, and automatically took what seemed an eternity slowly aiming the gun into the bear’s mouth, frozen open, hoping by some providence to sever part of the time

fired

a resounding, thunderous gunshot echoed

the bear staggered

Thaddeus looking at his smoking .22 in confusion

BOOM! another gunshot echoed

the bear staggered

BOOM! another gunshot echoed

the bear staggered

BOOM! another gunshot echoed

the bear fell

a stick snapped

a massive man, holding a massive gun, walked out of the forest

the gun still aimed at the dying bear

“Bear!” Désirée said. “Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes!”

“You’re back. Is that Amos I see? How are you, Amos?”

“Happy.”

Bear drew a few paces back from the grizzly’s body, cautiously set his smoking gun down, still pointing at the grizzly, and then drew all seven friends into his enormous, thick, strong, gentle arms. “Good to have y’all back, folks. Good to have ya back.”

Chapter Forty-Two

It was good to be back in church. The seven friends filed into the sanctuary and sat down.

“Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” the celebrant said.

“And blessed be his Kingdom now and forever. Amen,” the congregation answered.

“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord,” the celebrant said, joined by the congregation in saying, “Amen.”

Then came the opening hymn:

“Here in this place new light is streaming,
Now is the darkness vanished away,
See in this space our fears and our dreamings,
Brought here to you in the light of this day.
Gather us in— the lost and forsaken,
Gather us in— the blind and the lame;
Call to us now, and we shall awaken,
We shall arise at the sound of our name.

“We are the young— our lives are a myst’ry,
We are the old— who yearn for your face,
We have been sung throughout all of hist’ry,
Called to be light to the whole human race.
Gather us in— the rich and the haughty,
Gather us in— the proud and the strong;
Give us a heart so meek and so lowly,
Give us the courage to enter the Song.

“Here we will take the wine and the water,
Here we will take the bread of new birth.
Here you shall call your sons and your daughters,
Call us anew to be salt for the earth.
Give us to drink the wine of compassion,
Give us to eat the bread that is you;
Nourish us well, and teach us to fashion
Lives that are holy and hearts that are true.

“Not in the dark of buildings confining,
Not in some heaven, light-years away,
But here in this place the new light is shining,
Now is the Kingdom, now is the day.
Gather us in and hold us forever,
Gather us in and make us your own;
Gather us in— all peoples together,
Fire of love in our flesh and our bone.”

Then all the voices stepped into the timeless, eternal song:

“Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King, Almighty God and Father,
we worship You, we give You thanks, we praise You for your glory.
Glory to God.

“Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God.
You take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
You are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer, receive our prayer.

“For You alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord.
You alone are the Most High. Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit
In the glory of God the Father, in the glory of God the Father. Amen. Amen.”

“The Lord be with you,” the celebrant said.

“And also with you,” answered the congregation.

“Let us pray,” the celebrant began.

“Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we, the redeemed, may obtain what you promise, make us work with you the work of your redemption; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” The congregation joined in, “Amen.”

“A reading from the book of First Kings,” the reader said.

“Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, ‘What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?’ ‘Give me your son,’ Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed.

“Then he cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?’ Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!’ The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, ‘Look, your son is alive!’ Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.'”

“The Word of the Lord,” the reader said.

“The psalm will be read with the women on the even numbered verses, and the men on the odd numbered verses.”

The women began, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.”

The men answered, “You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!”

“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

“From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.”

“The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the Lord will praise him— may your hearts live forever!”

“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,”

“for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.”

“All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive.”

“Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.”

“They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it.”

“A reading from the book of Acts,” the reader said.

“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and had a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’

“‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what to do.'”

“The word of the Lord,” the reader said.

“Thanks be to God,” answered the congregation.

The congregation rose, singing:

“Alleluia, alleluia! Give thanks to the risen Lord,
Alleluia, alleluia! Give praise to his name!”

“The holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to St. Luke,” the celebrant said.

“Glory to You, Lord Christ,” the congregation answered.

“Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

“When the Pharisee who invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said. ‘Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’

“Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’ ‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came to your house. You did not give me any water fro my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'”

“The Gospel of the Lord,” the celebrant said.

“Praise to You, Lord Christ,” the congregation answered.

“‘There is a Redeemer,'” the preacher began, “‘Jesus, God’s own son,’ begins one song. I’m not going to inflict my singing voice on you, but that’s how the song begins. Today I want to talk to you about the message of redemption in the Gospel, in the whole Bible. This is one of the most important messages in Scripture.

“Forgive and forget. Forgive and forget. That’s what our culture says, and I don’t agree with that. I’ve thought and prayed, and I really don’t agree with that. If you forgive, you don’t forget. If you forget, you don’t forgive. God takes evil, and makes it better than if nothing had gone wrong. The New Jerusalem will be better than Eden ever could have been — that’s how powerful a God we serve. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthane? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? These were the words that Christ cried in agony on the cross, and they were not new. He was quoting, and more specifically he was quoting the first verse of the twenty-second psalm. In those days, people emphasized memory a bit more than we do now. They didn’t memorize Bible verses; they memorized the whole Bible. To those who were looking on, the Pharisees leering at him, Jesus was quoting the whole psalm, the Psalm of the Cross: I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me. They divide my clothing among them; for my garments they cast lots. They pierced my hands and my feet. These words, and others, foretold the exact way and manner of Christ’s death, and in quoting them, Jesus was saying, ‘Look, you who have pierced me. This prophecy is fulfilled this day in your midst.’

“The beginning of psalm twenty-two is a psalm of lament, but the end is a psalm of triumph, and those are the verses we read earlier in the service. The cross is the balance point of the story, but not its end. God’s strength at work is very powerful, and they take the cross, because it was the most evil moment, the hour when darkness reigned, and placed it at the heart of his triumph. Christ trampled death by death, and when he rose from the dead, the power of death was forever broken, like the stone table in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And not only can death not hold him any longer, but death is now too weak to hold those who believe. When the body dies, the spirit is held in God’s heart until the resurrection we await, when the dead in Christ shall rise first, and the body will surge with power and be reunited with the spirit. That is how God has redeemed death.

“I want to tell you something important. God isn’t just trying to restore Eden, he has a whole, new, bigger project. He can redeem me; he can redeem you. He redeemed the sinful woman in our Gospel reading, and not only left her with a new beauty but left behind one of the most beautiful stories in the whole Bible — and that story was very widely circulated among the ancient Church. The point of saving us, Lewis tells us, is to make us into little Christs. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else. God is transforming us so that we may become gods and goddesses to reign with him forever in the holy City. Let me repeat that. God is transforming us so that we may become gods and goddesses to reign with him in the holy City.

“I would like to tell you a story. I prayed, and hesitated now — Lord, I pray, bind me from saying anything that would harm these little ones, bind the power of the Evil One, and keep me in your heart. But I’ll tell the story, with a warning that I don’t agree with all of it. When I told it to one young man, he asked me, ‘So, do you really believe that God created man just to prove a point?’ I stepped back and said, ‘No. I don’t believe that. That’s not why I told the story at all; it’s just that I don’t know how to tell the story without it looking that way.’ So I ask you to excuse my weakness, and I pray that you will see what in this story I mean to tell: God’s power and wisdom as manifest in his redemption.

“In the very beginning, before God created the heavens and the earth, he created angels, stars of light to shine in the light of glory. He created one star higher and holier than any of the others, and named him Lucifer, the Light-Bearer.

“Lucifer saw his own wisdom, majesty and glory, and told God, ‘I want you to give me my rightful place, as head of you as well as head of the angels. I am wiser than you.’

“God could have zapped Lucifer then and there, and that would have established his power. But not his wisdom. So God decided on something very different.

“‘Very well, then,’ God said, ‘Prove it. I’ll unfold my plan, and you’ll unfold yours.’

“The great Dragon shouted in rebellion, and swept the sky with his tail, and flung down a third of the stars, and a third of the stars chose to become dragons, vipers, worms.

“Then God created Heaven and earth; he set the stars, in their courses, and created glory after glory after glory: no two blades of grass alike, thousands upon thousands of species of beetles, and as the crowning glory man, created godlike in his image, pure, holy, spotless.

“Then the Dragon appeared in the form of a serpent, and beguiled the woman, and the woman pulled the man down with her. The whole creation became accursed, and began to rot, with poison seeping in a wound.

“‘Well, then,’ the Dragon said, ‘Who is wiser now?’ And God wept.

“Then God pointed to one person and said, ‘You see that man?’

“‘Yes,’ the Devil said.

“‘Hey, there!’ God said to the man. ‘You in the desert. Build a huge boat.’

“And the man did. When the wind and rain came, the man and his household were saved.

“Then the Devil walked on the earth, and said, ‘I see not one who is righteous,’ and God said, ‘Have you considered my servant Job?’ And Job, bewildered, saw his children and his property taken away, and then his health — and cried in agony, cursing the day of his birth, but refusing to curse God like the Serpent said he would. In the midst of his misery, Job said, ‘I know that my redeemer liveth, and in my flesh I shall see God. Though he slay me, yet shall I praise him.’

“The story unfolded, and God sent a prophet to give his people Law. When they strayed, he sent prophets, never tiring of loving them. Finally, in the fullness of time, he sent his Son, to become a man.

“This man was a stranger in a strange land, and passed through the world like a flame. The Serpent spoke beguiling words into the ear of one of his disciples, and he was betrayed, and nailed to a piece of wood, and left to die. And darkness reigned.

“‘Surely you will acknowledge,’ said the Serpent, ‘that I am wiser?’

“God raised his Son from the dead, in a new and incorruptible life, surging with power. And the Devil trembled with fear.

“His Spirit filled those who were his Son’s disciples, and they burst forth with new life. The Serpent tried everything to stop them — even making some of the people God had called to persecute them. God was not discouraged; he called one of the persecutors to join in the new life.” The preacher took off his glasses, and said, “I’d like to read to you now from one of the letters written by that persecutor:

“‘Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

“The Church — I mean you and me, not just people who wear a white collar — stands as a family for Christ, his brother and sister and mother, as children for God the Father, as God’s magnum opus, as a servant to the world, as a witness to the world, as a mother and family to those who believe, and lastly as a warrior against Satan. This is the secret God has concealed in his bosom, and his many-sided wisdom is displaying so that all of the angels and even all of the demons, Satan himself, can look and see the wisdom of God’s plan.

“Christ came once; he will come again, and then every knee shall bow. Then the redeemed shall stand holy, spotless, pure, and perfect, gods and goddesses, sons and daughters of God, to enter into his eternal paradise. Then the Dragon will look and see beyond any question or doubt that God’s plan is wiser. Then, and only then, will Satan and all his minions be cast into the lake of eternal fire.

“I’d like to conclude by saying that Heaven is off in the future, but it is also here now. We can, and should, bring Heaven down to earth. Each time we forgive, each time by God’s grace we work good out of evil, there is Heaven. When we arrive at the Holy City, we will see that Heaven has always been very close. Let’s pray.

“Lord, thank you for being the Redeemer, and calling us out of our sin, out of our filth. Thank you for calling me out of my slavery to the bottle and my worship of alcohol. Help us to be co-workers and co-redeemers with you, with hearts that are holy and lives that are true. In Jesus’ name, amen.

“Will you please stand?”

The congregation rose, and said with one voice,

“I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
Maker of Heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

“I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from Heaven:
by the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into Heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
I believe one holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.”

A deacon said aloud, “Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church;”

The congregation answered, “That we all may be one.”

“Grant that every member of the Church may truly and humbly serve you;”

“That your Name may be glorified by all people.”

“We pray for all bishops, priests, and deacons;”

“That they may be faithful ministers of your Word and Sacraments.”

“We pray for all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world;”

“That there may be justice and peace on the earth.”

“Give us grace to do your will in all that we undertake;”

“That our works may find favor in your sight.”

“Have compassion on those who suffer from any grief or trouble;”

“That they may be delivered from their distress.”

“Give to the departed eternal rest;”

“Let light perpetual shine on them.”

“We praise you for your saints who have entered into joy;”

“May we also come to share in your heavenly kingdom.”

“Let us pray for our own needs and those of others.”

A time of silence ensued.

The celebrant said, “Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.”

The friends knelt in silence.

“Most merciful God,” the celebrant began, joined by the people,

“We confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name.
Amen.

The celebrant raised his hand, and said, “Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

“The peace of the Lord he always with you.”

“And also with you,” the congregation answered.

The friends exchanged the Kiss of Peace; Jaben placed his lips on Sarah’s cheek and planted a kiss. It was not romantic, erotic, or sexual, but it was very much real. Their bodies touched; their spirits touched. Jaben gave the kiss his whole attention; he wasn’t doing anything else, not anything. This is why—Sarah thought afterwards—the Kiss of Peace between friends should not just be a handshake, but a hug, or even better a kiss. And why I like Jaben’s kisses best of all.

The kiss bore the same fundamental beauty as singing

dancing

a small white feather in the air

a placid lake

deep green seaweed swaying under the ocean

a glass of dry white wine

silence

stillness

moonlight

starlight

crystalline ice

a fire of roses

a child falling asleep in its mother’s arms

agape

life.

Someone said that, when thinking of singing Alleluia, one should not so much think of “We start and stop this song,” as, “There is a song which always has been going on and always will go on, and when we sing, we step into it for a time.”

This kiss was not a momentary kythe, but a moment stepping into the Eternal Kythe.

It lasted less than a second, but it filled eternity.

The offering plates were passed around, and the voices joined together singing the doxology:

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him, all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.”

The celebrant said, “The Lord be with you.”

“And also with you,” answered the congregation.

“Lift up your hearts,” the celebrant said.

“We lift them to the Lord.” the congregation answered.

The celebrant said, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”

The congregation answered, “It is right to give him thanks and praise.”

The celebrant said, “It is right and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth. For by water and the Holy Spirit you have made us a new people in Christ Jesus our Lord, to show forth your glory in all the world. Therefore, we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of Heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:”

The eternal Song arose like incense:

“Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of pow’r and might.
Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.

“Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of pow’r and might.
Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.

“Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest.

“Blessed, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

“Blessed, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.”

The celebrant said, “Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.

“He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.

“On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.’

“After supper he took the cup of wine, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, ‘Drink this, all of you. This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.’

“Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith:”

The whole congregation said, with one voice,

“Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.”

The celebrant said, “We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts.

“Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom.

“All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ. By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.

“And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say:”

Celebrant and congregation joined voices in a natural, almost chantlike recital:

“Our Father
which art in Heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil,
for thine is the Kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory forever.

Amen.”

The celebrant said, “Alleluia! Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;”

“Therefore let us keep the feast! Alleluia!” the congregation answered.

All said in unison,

“Most merciful Lord,
your love compels us to come in.
Our hands were unclean,
our hearts were unprepared;
we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table.
But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation,
and share your bread with sinners.
So cleanse and feed us with the precious body and blood of your Son,
that he may live us and we in him;
and that we, with the whole company of Christ,
may sit and eat in your Kingdom.
Amen.”

The celebrant held up the elements, and said, “The gifts of God for the People of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

The congregation was seated for a moment, and then rose with the power and energy of a song:

“The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and all creation is shouting for joy.
Come, dance in the forest, come, play in the field,
and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.

“Praise for the sun, the bringer of day,
He carries the light of the Lord in his rays;
The moon and the stars who light up the way
Unto your throne.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and all creation is shouting for you.
Come, dance in the forest, come, play in the field,
and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.

“Praise for the wind that blows through the trees,
the sea’s mighty storms, the gentlest breeze;
They blow where they will, they blow where they please
To please the Lord.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and all creation is shouting for joy.
Come, dance in the forest, come, play in the field,
and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.

“Praise for the rain that waters our fields,
And blesses our crops so all the earth yields;
From death unto life her myst’ry revealed
Springs forth in joy.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and all creation is shouting for joy.
Come, dance in the forest, come, play in the field,
and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.

“Praise for the fire who gives us his light,
The warmth of the sun to brighten our night;
He dances with joy, his spirit so bright,
He sings of you.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and all creation is shouting for joy.
Come, dance in the forest, come, play in the field,
and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.

“Praise for the earth who makes life to grow,
The creatures you made to let your life show;
The flowers and trees that help us to know
The heart of love.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and all creation is shouting for joy.
Come, dance in the forest, come, play in the field,
and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.

“Praise for our death that makes our life real,
The knowledge of loss that helps us to feel;
The gift of yourself, your presence revealed
To lead us home.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and all creation is shouting for joy.
Come, dance in the forest, come, play in the field,
and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.
Sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.”

As they came up to receive communion, Jaben thought, “The body and blood of Christ. Real food and real drink.”

Thaddeus thought, “The body of Christ, the Church. I am mystically united with the whole body of Christ, across all ages and all nations, and — what I hold more special still — I drink the divine life.”

Désirée thought, “United again with my husband; made one in two ways now.”

Amos thought, “United again with my wife; made one in two ways now.”

Lilianne thought, “Here is a magic beyond anything in my daydreams, anything I can dream of.”

Ellamae thought, “This chalice holds a fluid more precious than ichor. This cup is the Holy Grail.”

Sarah thought, “God descends to meet my senses, and oh, how I appreciate that taste, that touch. He goes Within me.”

They sat in silence after returning to their seats.

“Let us pray,” the celebrant said.

The congregation joined him in saying,

“Eternal God, heavenly Father,
you have graciously accepted us as living members
of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and you have fed us with spiritual food
in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;
through Christ our Lord.
Amen.”

The celebrant raised his hand in blessing, and said, “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! May the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you for ever.”, and the congregation said, “Amen.”

They sang a recessional filled with joy:

“For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.

“Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

“For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light.

“Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

“For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild.

“Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

“For Thy church, that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering upon every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love.

“Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.”

“For Thyself, best Gift Divine,
To the world so freely given,
For that great, great love of Thine,
Peace on earth and joy in heaven.

“Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.”

The celebrant raised his right hand in benediction, this time lowering his ring finger to meet his thumb. “Go forth into the world in peace, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

The congregation answered, “Thanks be to God.”

Chapter Forty-Three

Jaben was awoken by a phone call. “Be at Mortmain’s Cove at 6:00 PM, and bring your friends along.” He set the phone back on the receiver, and looked at his clock. 3:43 AM. Jaben scratched his head in puzzlement, and then drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Forty-Four

The friends’ van pulled around the corner, and they piled out. “I wonder what this could be about,” Désirée murmured.

Jaben put his arm over Ellamae’s shoulder, and said, “Ellamae, there’s this one joke I’ve got to tell you. You’ll laugh so hard, your breasts will fall off.”

Then he glanced down at her chest for a moment, and said, “Oh, wait. You’ve already heard it.”

Ellamae did not immediately react, then her mouth opened with a most delicious expression of “I can’t believe I just heard what I thought I heard,” and started laughing, and hit him in the arm. “Naughty, naughty,” she said.

Thad said, “Ok. You are in a field. There is a clown suit, a crowbar, and a laptop here. Above are ominous clouds.”

“I go west,” Amos said.

“I do not recognize the verb ‘I’.”

“Take clown suit.”

“Taken.”

“Wear clown suit.”

“The clown suit is about three sizes too small for you, and its colors clash with each other and your skin. Definitely you. You see—”

“Hullo, what’s this?” said Ellamae.

Another van came up. It had no license plates.

Four men in white sheets stepped out. Two of them were carrying shotguns, and one of them was holding a box, about a fifteen by fifteen by six inches. The last one stepped out, and said, “Which of you is Jaben?”

Jaben stepped forward and said, “Me.”

“Jaben,” the Klansman said with a sneer. “Don’t you think that when we get rid of one of them, it is with good reason?”

“We have rescued our friend,” Jaben said calmly. “Is that not good reason?”

“No. You are ashamed of being white, and you are a disgrace to our race.”

“I am very proud of being white,” Jaben said. “I am proud of all the paintings and philosophy and poetry my race has produced. And I believe that loving others of your race comes before loving people not of your race.”

“You do?” the Klansman asked with some surprise.

“Most definitely. But I don’t think race defines the end of love. I believe in loving myself, my kin, my race, all of humanity, in an ever expanding circle of love. Your love of your kindred helps you love whites who are not your relations; my love of whites helps me love men who are not white. I am the richer for the friendships I have had with people who are not white, most of all Amos and Désirée. You would be the richer if you could expand your circle of love as well.”

The Klansman snorted. “I did not come here to discuss philosophy with you. I came to challenge you to a duel.” He opened the box to reveal two silver handguns. “Each of these is a .45.”

“I don’t believe in fighting. You can as much win a duel as win an earthquake.”

Another Klansman fired a warning shot into the air. The echo resounded. “You will enter this duel, or we will mow down you and your friends, starting with the two of them.”

Jaben closed his eyes, and prayed silently. His friends — not touching him, not moving — prayed with him. Then he opened his eyes, and said, “Ok.”

Ellamae looked at him in absolute shock.

Jaben said — loud enough for the Kythers to hear — “Trust me,” and walked over, and whispered something in Ellamae’s ear.

Ellamae gulped.

Jaben walked over to the Klansmen, took one of the pistols. He stepped to the side, pointed the gun up, and turned his back.

The Klansman took the other pistol, and stood back to back with Jaben.

“One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.”

Jaben turned, fired a shot into the air, and dropped his gun to the ground. “My brother!” he cried, facing his adversary.

The Klansman turned, took aim, and shot him through the heart.

Chapter Forty-Five

Ellamae was the first to reach him, and caught him before he reached the ground. She knelt down and held him, his hot blood coursing over her shirt. She kissed him on the forehead, and Jaben smiled. Then the life left his eyes.The others gathered around, for one last embrace. Thaddeus closed Jaben’s eyes, which were still open, vacant, empty. Ellamae’s voice once again rose in a song that was high, clear, pure. It was immediately joined by Sarah’s voice, Thaddeus’s, Lilianne’s, Désirée’s, and Amos’s.

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

Amos could not sing. His voice was choked with tears.

“It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

“My sin! O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin! not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the Cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

“And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be made sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.”

They sang a second time.

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

“My sin! O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin! not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the Cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

“And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be made sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Amos choked back tears long enough to say, “Let’s sing it a third time.”

This time, they sang more slowly:

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed his own blood for my soul.”

Here they all stopped, and for a time there was only a sound of tears. Then the song continued, loudly, powerfully, mightily.

“It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

“My sin! O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin! not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the Cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

“And, Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be made sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

“Amen.”

Lilianne looked up, and looked around. The Klansmen had all fled in terror.

The Kythers had been so deeply enraptured in the song that they had not even heard the sound of the van.

“The gun!” Sarah said. “We still have a gun with their fingerprints on it. Maybe the police can trace whoever it was, and bring them to justice.”

Ellamae picked up the gun with two fingers, as if she were holding a dead fish, and moved it a few paces away. Then she went into their van, took out a container and a cigarette lighter, poured some kerosene on the gun, and lit it.

“No,” she said. “That is not the way.”

She looked at Sarah, and said, sadly, “An eye for an eye only ends by making the whole world blind.”

Chapter Forty-Six

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Désirée said. “Or that his life was cut so short.”

“I don’t believe that he’s gone,” Lilianne said. “Or that his life was cut short.”

“Explain,” Désirée said, raising her eyebrows.

“You know Hebrews chapter 11, that great chapter cataloging all the heroes of faith? After that, Paul writes, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perserverance the race marked out for us.’

“The image is that of a stadium, where all those who have completed the race and received their laurel wreaths are standing around, excited, cheering on those who are still running. I may never hear from Jaben again this side of Heaven, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t here with us, watching us, praying, smiling on us. Jaben only lived a few years, but he managed in his own special way to cram more living into the scant years that he did live, than many people would live in a hundred years. I don’t know how to explain it, but his life was complete.”

The conversation gave way to a deep and powerful silence, a silence on which Jaben smiled.

Chapter Forty-Seven

Friends and family gathered inside the church, weeping.

The pastor began,

“I am the Resurrection and the Life, says the Lord.
Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live
and whoever lives and believes in me
will never die.

“I know that I have a living Defender
and that he will rise up last, on the dust of the earth.
After my awakening, he will set me close to him,
and from my flesh I shall look on God.
He whom I shall see will take my part:
my eyes will be gazing on no stranger.

“For none of us lives for himself
and none of us dies for himself;
while we are alive, we are living for the Lord,
and when we die, we die for the Lord:
and so, alive or dead,
we belong to the Lord.

“Blessed are those
who die in the Lord
Blessed indeed, the Spirit says;
now they can rest for ever after their work.”

“The Lord be with you,” the pastor said softly.

“And also with you,” answered the congregation, even more softly.

“Let us pray.”

There was a deep, still, empty silence, a wounded, grieving silence, that after a time took the form of the celebrant’s words:

“O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our brother Jaben. We thank you for giving him to us, his family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

“Amen,” all said together.

“Most merciful God,” the celebrant said, “whose wisdom is beyond our understanding: Deal graciously with Amos, Désirée, Lilianne, Ellamae, Thaddeus, Sarah, Wallace, Elizabeth, and Bear in their grief. Surround them with your love, that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss, but have confidence in your goodness, and strength to meet the days to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

An Amen filled the church.

“A reading from the Song of Songs,” said the reader.

“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a sigil on your arm.
For love is stronger than death,
more relentless than Hades.
Its flame is a flash of fire,
a flame of Yahweh himself.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.

“The Word of the Lord,” the reader said.

“Thanks be to God,” the congregation answered.

“A reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

“What you sow must die before it is given new life; and what you sow is not the body that is to be, but only a bare grain, of wheat I dare say, or some other kind; it is God who gives it the sort of body that he has chosen for it, and for each kind of seed its own kind of body.

“Not all flesh is the same flesh: there is human flesh; animals have another kind of flesh, birds another and fish yet another. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies; the heavenly have a splendor of their own, and the earthly a different splendor. The sun has its own splendor the moon another splendor, and the stars yet another splendor; and the stars differ among themselves in splendor. It is the same too with the resurrection of the dead: what is sown is perishable, but what is raised is imperishable; what is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; what is sown is weak, but what is raised is powerful; what is sown is a natural body, and what is raised is a spiritual body.

“The Word of the Lord,” the reader said.

“Thanks be to God,” the congregation echoed.

All rose, and the pastor said, “The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.”

The congregation answered, “Glory to you, Lord Christ.”

“‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You trust in God, trust also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many places to live in;
otherwise I would have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you to myself,
so that you may be with me
where I am.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’

“Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said:

‘I am the Way; I am Truth and Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.'”

The pastor closed the Bible, saying, “The Gospel of the Lord.”

The congregation answered, “Glory to you, Lord Christ.”

The pastor paused, and began, “A conservative, someone said, is someone who interprets the book of Jonah literally and the Song of Songs figuratively. A liberal is someone who interprets the book of Jonah figuratively and the Song of Songs literally.” He paused, and then continued. “I’m not sure where that would place Jaben; I don’t know how Jaben interpreted Jonah, but I do know that he interpreted the Song of Songs on at least three levels: a literal level, a figurative level, and a level of human relationships. He explained to me the last one by saying that if marriage is the crowning jewel of human relationships, as the Bible leads us to believe, then we should expect a book devoted to marriage to not only be a book about marriage, but a book about every human relationship. ‘Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes, that wreak havoc on our vineyards’ means to deal with the little problems that wreak havoc on a relationship, and that is sound advice for a marriage and sound advice for any other friendship.

“The Song of Songs was Jaben’s favorite book, so much so that he made his own translation — that and, he said, the fact that existing translations are highly bowlderized. Remind me to tell you sometime later what happened when the scholars working on the NIV made mistake of translating the greatest Song well. What you have in your Life Application Bible isn’t what the translators—

“I normally read from the King James at funerals, but Jaben would not have liked that. The King James, he said, is a wonderful monument of Elizabethan prose that should respectfully be permitted to rest in peace. So other readings in the service were taken from the New Jerusalem Bible, the most current English equivalent to the French Bible de Jérusalem that Jaben read, but the passage from the Song of Songs was from Jaben’s own translation. I would read other passages, but there are children listening.

“I thought about having ‘His Banner Over Me Is Love’ sung at this service, but I decided not to, for two reasons. The first reason is that it is a bouncy song, and does not very much sound like a dirge. And the second and most important reason? Jaben would have rolled over in his grave. The ultimate emasculation of an erotic text, he said, is to take a woodenly literal translation that obscures its meaning, and make it into a children’s song. Come to think of it, I will tell you of one portion of Jaben’s translation. He translated ‘His banner over me is love’ as ‘He is gazing on me with desire.’

“Jaben was a brilliant man; he spoke four languages fluently, received a bachelor’s degree in physics, and did things with computers I can’t begin to understand. He was also quite a joker. I’ll never forget the time he was talking with a senior political science major who was looking for a job, put an arm around his shoulder, and said, ‘What did the computer science graduate say to the humanities graduate?’ ‘What?’ ‘I’ll have the burger and fries, please.’

“And yet, as I think about him, not his humor, nor even his intelligence, strike me as most important about him. To explain exactly what was most important, I will in a moment tell you about his death.

“Jaben believed in living counterculturally. He believed in working to establish a culture of life in the midst of a culture of death. He always, always had time for people, from the youngest to the oldest. He would play with children, and sit at the feet of the aged and listen to their stories. He wouldn’t have anything of disposable relationships—he kept up correspondence with his friends in France, and made a conscious decision to stay with his friends here until death. God alone knew how soon that death would come.

“His friend Amos was abducted, and I have never seen friendship so deep as in that seven-stranded cord of friends. He and the other friends left, and traveled through Mexico to find Amos, and at last came back as seven friends, singing loudly and off-key. That is quite a story, to be told another time. But when he came back—

“Amos was abducted out of hate, a hate that is real and not only white against black. Amos is struggling hard not to be consumed by the same hate that consumed his adversaries, and I ask you, brothers and sisters, to pray for him. He bears a heavy burden. The men who left Amos to die in Mexico were enraged that he be brought back alive, and insisted on a duel — their way. Jaben was not allowed to choose the place and weaponry as used to be the etiquette when duels were fought. The place was Mortmain’s Cove and the weapon was a magnum .45. Jaben deliberately fired into the air, and then his opponent shot him through the heart.

“His last words, spoken to his murderer just before his death, were, ‘My brother!’

“His next to last words, whispered into Ellamae’s ears as he faced death, were, ‘Tell my brothers and sisters that I love them.

“To understand the full extent of these words, let me tell you something. Jaben was an only child.

“When he said, ‘Tell my brothers and sisters that I love them,’ he was talking about you. And me. He loved us, and loves us still.

“When Jesus knew that his hour was approaching, he said over and over again, ‘Love one another’ — the heart of Christian ethics — and ‘There is no love like this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ That is exactly what Jaben did. He gave his life as a ransom for Amos and the others. He decided to try to rescue Amos, whatever the cost — even his life.

“He gave more than money or time. He gave himself, his life. He lived well. He died well. We have before us the body of a man, of a hero. He is no longer with us. But his love remains.

“Let us pray.

“Lord, thank you for the scintillating light that shone in your servant Jaben. We stand bereaved; his candle burned short, but it blazed. Grant that each of us may learn from him and carry him in our hearts, and that you would enfold him in your own heart. Draw us into your heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

The congregation began to rise, as the pastor said, “In the assurance of eternal life given at Baptism, let us proclaim our faith and say,”

One united voice said,

“I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

“I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.”

The pastor said, “Lord, help us to be like you, just as your servant Jaben was like you. Let us be shaped in your image, in preparation for that day when we shall ever be changing from glory to glory, in your presence even more fully than he is in your presence. Help us to know that we are strangers, we are aliens, we are not of this world, even as Jaben was not of this world, and is in it no longer. Draw us all into your eternal home, with its many dwelling places, in your eternal heart. Amen.”

The pastor stood in silence for a full minute, the silence breathing life into the prayer. Then he closed his eyes, and said, “Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you our brother Jaben, who was reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Grant that his death may recall to us your victory over death, and be an occasion for us to renew our trust in your Father’s love. Give us, we pray, the faith to follow where you have led the way; and where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages.” The congregation joined him in saying, “Amen.”

The pastor and the others ordained walked over to the coffin, and prayed, “Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints,”

The people joined him, saying,

“where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither signing, but life everlasting.”

“You alone are immortal,” the pastor continued, “the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

All said in unison,

“Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.”

The pastor turned to the body, and said, “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Jaben. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.” And all the people said, “Amen.”

The pastor raised his hand in benediction, and said, “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always,” and the congregation joined him in saying, “Amen.”

“Let us go forth in the name of Christ,” the pastor said.

“Thanks be to God,” the people answered.

As the body was carried out from the church, the people chanted:

“Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and giving life to those in the tomb.

“Into paradise may the angels lead you.
At your coming may the martyrs receive you,
and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.”

Chapter Forty-Eight

Désirée said, “Remember Sarah’s first time making hamburgers? She put raw meat on top of hamburger buns, and then put them in the oven at 550. When someone smelled smoke, the buns and the outside were burnt to a crisp, and the inside of the burgers was still raw. We scraped off the charred buns, and put fresh ones, and Amos said, ‘Jaben, would you return thanks for this meal?’

“And Jaben folded his hands, and bowed his head, and began, ‘Lord, bless the hands that repaired this meal…'”

A chuckle moved among the friends.

“Or remember,” Désirée said, “the time when Bear ate a steakhouse out of shrimp, and the time after that that Jaben outate Bear? I never saw Bear stare like that. Or you, Amos, dear.” She gave her husband a squeeze.

“Or remember that time on the internet when Jaben advertised free, automated technical support for all versions of Windows, and created a CGI that would read in a user’s question, and then display a page that said, ‘Your computer appears to be infected with a piece of malicious code known as Windows. To remedy this problem, try upgrading to the most recent version of Debian or Redhat.’ Man, some of the flames he got after that!

“Or remember the time Jaben installed a Blue Screen of Death screensaver on Bear’s laptop? I never seen Bear so mad.

“Or remember the time when he went into a bike shop, and opened the entire supply of locks the store had around a bar, and walked up to the front counter, and said, ‘These aren’t very effective, are they?’

“Or remember the time when Sarah was working on a paper, and called out, ‘How do you spell “Approximately?”‘ And Jaben answered, ‘Q-F-R-3.’ And Sarah said, ‘No, really. I want a real spelling of a real word,’ and Jaben answered, ‘A-L-M-O-S-T?’

“Or remember that one last time when he called his medical insurance, waited for thirty minutes listening to music, and then said, ‘Hello. I’m calling to inquire as as to whether mental health will pay for singing lessons for the voices in my head?'”

The six friends were holding hands in a circle, laughing, weeping. Ellamae wiped a tear from her eye, and then softly whispered, “Fare thee well, Jaben. Adieu.”

Chapter Forty-Nine

Jaben looked. “Aah, Pope Gregory. There is something I’d like a theologian’s feedback on.”

“Yes?”

“My theories of prophecy. When I have asked people on earth to look at it, they have said that the theories are too deep to comment on.”

“Aah, yes,” the Pope said with a twinkle in his eyes. “They are great favorites in this realm. It serves to continually astonish us how someone so intelligent, so devout, and so open to the Spirit’s leading could be so completely wrong.”

Jaben looked, then smiled, then laughed, then laughed harder, then roared with laughter. His whole form shimmered with mirth. His laughter echoed throughout Heaven, and shook the foundations of Hell. Finally, he stopped laughing, and said, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.”

He paused a second, and asked, “Will you introduce me to the folk here?”

“Mary!”

“Welcome, child,” smiled the lady. “I have been waiting for you for ages.”

“What news do you have to tell me?”

“Désirée is with child, though she does not know it, and will give birth to a man-child who will be no ordinary child.”

“What will his name be?”

“His name shall be called Jaben.”

“And what do you have to tell me of yourself?”

“Only this: I love you.” She held him to herself as a little child.

Jaben asked Gregory, “Who was the greatest saint of all? Paul? Francis of Assisi? Theresa of Avila?”

“Come, let me show you to her.” He introduced her to a little girl. “This child’s name is Roberta. She lived in fourteenth century Italy, and you have not heard of her. She died at the age of seven in an epidemic, and she was not particularly attractive or bright — she was slightly retarded — she worked no miracles, and she was very easy to ignore (and most everyone did ignore her). She certainly wasn’t canonized. If you were to find an earthly account of her life, it would strike you as that of an ordinary and somewhat dull child. But here, we look at things a little differently. God saw into her heart, and saw faith, hope, and love such as never has occurred in mere man before and will never occur again.”

“Hi, Mister,” the child said. “May I please hold your hand?”

They walked along, and saw three men talking. “Who are these?” he asked Gregory.

“These are Peter, Augustine, and Aquinas.”

Jaben felt a moment of awe, and said, “May I join your theological discussion?”

“What a funny idea!” Aquinas said. “We weren’t discussing theology. There is no need for that here. You don’t need a picture of a friend when you can see his face. We were doing something far holier — telling jokes.”

“Aah, wonderful. May I tell you my favorite joke? It involves you three.”

“Certainly. Sit down.”

“There is a seminary student who is about to finish his studies, when he is killed in a car accident. He goes and waits outside the Pearly Gates.

“Peter asks the first person in line, ‘Who are you?’ And then Augustine replies, ‘I’m Augustine.’ ‘Prove it,’ Peter says. So you talk for a time about the Civitas Dei, and Peter lets him in, saying, ‘Welcome to Heaven, my dear friend.’

“Then Peter asks the next person in line, ‘Who are you?’ And Thomas replies, ‘I’m Thomas Aquinas.’ ‘Prove it,’ Peter says. So the two talk for a time about how Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics can enlighten our understanding of the Natural Law. And he says to Aquinas in turn, ‘Welcome to Heaven, my dear friend.’

“Finally, it’s the seminary student’s turn, and so you ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He replies, ‘Well, I’m, like, Nabal, and I was, like, studying all this really cool stuff in seminary about how we can bring together the best in, like, Christianity and New Age and other religions, and how it’s OK to honor the goddess in our worship, and then this car, like, creams me, and so here I am.’

“Peter pauses a second, and says, ‘Very well, then. You’ll have to prove who you are, just like Augustine and Aquinas.’

“‘Augustine? Aquinas? Like, dude, man, who are they?’

“‘Welcome to Heaven, my dear friend.'”

They were swept up with a merry, joyful mirth, and then, another voice called out, “Come! Sing the great song! Dance the great dance!”

He was swept away in a tempest of fire and wind and motion — wholly wild, wholly uncontrollable, wholly good. Song was over it and in it and through it. Notes flowed in and out to something beyond notes, and this incredible unfathomable motion was somehow also perfect peace. It was neither work nor rest, but play — pure, unending, awesome, wondrous play.

At last he found himself before a throne of seven stones.

“Daddy! I have been so longing to meet you!”

“Why, child? You have known me from childhood.”

“But oh, Daddy, how I long to touch your face.”

“Blessed are you who long to touch my face, for that you shall. Come. Touch.”

After a time, the Father said, “What else is on your heart, child?”

“Many things, but only one thing.”

“Yes?” “My friends, and the men who murdered me. I want them to know each other, to be reconciled, and I want them all to be with me in the New Jerusalem. Oh, Daddy, will you give me that?”

“Absolutely.”

With that, Jaben sunk into the Father’s heart of love, never again to leave.

soli deo gloria
marana tha
 

Espiriticthus: Cultures of a Fantasy World Not Touched by Evil

Firestorm 2034

The Sign of the Grail

Within the Steel Orb

Evangelical Converts Striving to be Orthodox

Satire / Humor Warning:

As the author, I have been told I have a very subtle sense of humor.

This page is a work of satire, inspired by the likes of The Onion and early incarnations of The Onion Dome.

It is not real news.

CJSH.name/converts

The Steel Orb
Read it on Kindle for $3!

Anytown, USA. The Parish Council at St. Patrick of Ireland Very Antiochian Very Former Evangelical Orthodox Very Orthodox Very Orthodox Church is working hard to become more Orthodox, in all that it means to be Orthodox.

Fr. Joseph explains. “It’s part of our Protestant heritage to turn outward in warmth and evangelism. But as an Evangelical Orthodox congregation, we realized that Orthodoxy is the fulness of what we were reaching for, and it’s time to free ourselves from our Protestant heritage and become more truly Orthodox. True Orthodox know how to serve and even evangelize—as the monks did in Alaska—while remaining an inward-looking church that extends a rather chilly lack of welcome to visitors. We can turn a cold shoulder if we try.”

As a result, the Parish Council will be holding a brainstorming session on ways to make the parish less friendly to visitors. The council will be handing out prizes for best ideas, including a thick accent, a long and bushy beard, and a series of motivational tapes on how to have a more lukewarm approach to morals.

Objections were raised in the parish to the effect that there was no Evangelical Orthodox Church in 19th century Russia. 19th century Russia was not available for comment.

Archdruid of Canterbury Visits Orthodox Patriarch

Devotees of Fr. Cherubim (Jones) demand his immediate canonization and full recognition as “Equal to the Heirophants”

Athanasius: On creative fidelity

Your fast track to becoming a Bishop!

Contemplation


Read it on Kindle for $3!

Enjoying something from legal English

A lawyer, one Dr. Sandburg, wrote The Legal Guide to Mother Goose, doing his professional best to rewrite “Jack and Jill went up the hill” with the full precision of a legal document:

The party of the first part hereinafter known as Jack
And the party of the second part hereinafter known as Jill
Ascended or caused to be ascended
An elevation of undetermined height and slope
Hereinafter referred to as hill,

And it must be conceded that the English of legal documents is rarely held up as an example of how to communicate to people without extensive legal training. However, there is one point where we would do well to pay close attention to legal English.

“Enjoy” is a word frequently used in contracts, appearing like:

4. ________ will enjoy an unlimited right to sell, redistribute, publish, make derivative works to…

And “enjoy” means something that is alike powerful and beautiful here. It does not mean—one is tempted to say “has nothing to do with”—an agreement that someone will have pleasure. Contracts like this, even when they say “enjoy”, really do not have much to say about how much fun and pleasure either party will take from the agreement. “Enjoy” is a technical term that means something like “derive the full benefits from”, so that:

4. ________ will enjoy an unlimited right to sell, redistribute, publish, make derivative works to…

means something like:

4. ________ will derive the full benefits from an unlimited right to sell, redistribute, publish, make derivative works to…

And with that view in mind, let’s take a look at the opening question of the Westminster Catechism:

Q: 1. What is the chief end of man?

A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

“Enjoy” may here include taking delight from God, but I would like to point something out. In this famous catechism, what is enjoyed is not a legal right. (For that matter, Orthodoxy can get along quote well without the Western obsession with rights.) What is enjoyed is not a legal right such as contracts deal in, but God himself.

“Mission exists because worship does not.”

There is something in Protestant missions I would like to look at and then deepen.

Among devout Protestants who care most deeply about mission, there is a saying, “Mission exists because worship does not.” The premise of this emphatic saying is that God has never created anyone for the purpose of missions. Every man who ever has been created has been created for one goal only: worshiping God. Or in the language of the catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him together.” And some are quick to point out that these are not two separate things: glorifying God and enjoying him are the exact same thing. No one is created for mission; everyone is created for worship. But there is a tragic reality. Some people are not in a position to fulfill the purpose for which they are made. And because some people are deprived of the glorious worship they are made for, and there is this gap in worship, the Christian Church as a whole, and some Christians in particular, should serve in missions.

There are differences between Orthodox and Protestant understandings of mission: Protestant training, such as Wheaton College’s Institute for Cross-Cultural Training, give a kickstart in both anthropology and linguistics, training people to learn languages and communicate well in cross-cultural situations. The Orthodox history of missions does not ignore language or culture, but its best mission work is to have monks who are trained in holiness go out among people and let their holiness itself speak. If one reads of a St. Herman of Alaska, whose mission work is still bearing fruit in Alaska today, the story is overall not of an endeavor to understand language and culture, but of a man pouring himself out in love for God and having successful missionary activity precisely because he followed the maxim, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his perfect righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you as well.” I’ve attended courses at Wheaton’s Institute for Cross-Cultural Training and every person I spoke with was devout. But the content of the training itself, focused on language and culture, is by Orthodox standards a secular idea of how to succeed as a missionary. The Orthodox idea that the best missionary is a monk pursuing holiness as fully as he can, and that missions work when you live among people and seek first the Kingdom of God.

Ascesis exists because contemplation does not

Ascesis, meaning the spiritual disciplines of the Orthodox walk, means an open-ended list that includes prayer, fasting, church attendance, giving to the poor, spiritual stillness, and other things. It is profoundly important in Orthodoxy. But in an even stronger sense than we can say, “Mission exists because worship does not,” we can say, “Ascesis exists because contemplation does not.” And the observation here is not that there are others who are missing the glory they were made to share. The observation is that we have fallen short of the glory we were made to share, and we need the purifying fire of ascesis. We and others need ascesis, but this is the point. We were not created for ascetical toil. We need ascesis because we have fallen away from the contemplation we were made for, the contemplation which is another name for enjoying God.

And I have wanted to speak of contemplation but find myself falling short. Of our sins and our need to be polished in ascesis it is easy to say something adequate. But for contemplation, words fail me, or at least my command of words. Contemplation is a joy and other things pale in comparison next to it: yet even to speak of it as a joy is misleading, as misleading as reading a contract and think that “enjoy” means nothing more than assuring that someone will experience pleasure. Better, perhaps, is to say that I thirst for honor, I want worldly accolades and am too ungrateful to be satisfied with the worldly honors I have. But when I taste contemplation, such honors grow strangely dim and I find myself wanting what is really good for me, thisting and sated for real honor, real achievement, real love of others, and the debris I chase after in temptation looks like… in Silence: Organic food for the soul I wrote:

…is that we are like a child with some clay,
trying to satisfy ourselves by making a clay horse,
with clay that never cooperates, never looks right,
and obsessed with clay that is never good enough,
we ignore and maybe fear
the finger tapping us on our shoulder
until with great trepidation we turn,
and listen to the voice say,
“Stop trying so hard. Let it go,”
and follow our father
as he gives us a warhorse.

And so I am left saying that enjoying God in contemplation is beautiful beyond beauty, and words fail me, and ideas too. I want to tell of God and contemplation above all else, and nothing I can say fits them.

Enjoying apples

Apples are a powerful symbol in Orthodoxy. It is not just that the Song of Songs has a lovesick bride say, “Refresh me with apples.” Apples appear again and again in the spiritual treasure housed in the lives of the saints. The saints are refreshed with apples; a priest prays to see what paradise is like, and St. Euphrosynos appears to him in a dream and invites him to take whatever he desires. He chose three apples, and the cook Euphrosynos wrapped them up. The priest awoke from the dream and was astonished to find three apples, wrapped as they had been in the vision, fragrant beyond all measure. (When he told what happened, the cook ran to flee from worldly honor.) Another story tells of an abbess, at the end of her life, being given three apples from paradise. It is perhaps a reminiscence of this that in The Magician’s Nephew, Digory is sorely tempted to steal a Heavenly apple, comes clean about his covetousness, is told of all the evils that would have flown, and then to his astonishment is commanded to take such an apple as he desired to his ailing mother. And he returns home from Narnia and its garden:

…so the fruit of that mountain garden looked different too. There were of course all sorts of coloured things in the bedroom: the coloured counterpane on the bed, the wallpaper, the sunlight from the window, and Mother’s pretty, pale blue dressing jacket. But the moment Digory took the Apple out of his pocket, all those things seemed to have scarcely any colour at all. Every one of them, even the sunlight, looked faded and dingy. The brightness of the Apple threw strange lights on the ceiling. Nothing else was worth looking at: you couldn’t look at anything else. And the smell of the Apple of Youth was as if there was a window that opened on Heaven.

Such apples are no concoction that began in a fantasy writer’s imagination, however creative. There are saints who have tasted them. But what makes the apple so astonishing is that such apples are a bit like contemplation.

Akathist to St. Philaret the Merciful

Doxology

Incarnation and deification

Silence: Organic Food for the Soul

A Detailed Mathematical Model

CJSH.name/complex

This model represents a mathematician’s second attempt at making a mathematical model, and as such is very detailed, complex, and at times hard to keep track of. It is being kept on the web primarily as a courtesy to people who are already using it. If you are not a heavy gamer, and are not used to complex mathematical models, I strongly suggest that you use this simpler model. This document may still be useful, as a wealth of detail about mechanical devices and other creations, but newcomers are warned that using this as an actual model for game play may be difficult.


Section I: General model

Section I A: Getting Started


The parts of this document are as follows:

Another document, “From zero”, introduces the concept of role play and deals with all of the non-numerical parts of getting started; this document tells how to deal with numbers and dice.

For basic introduction and getting the feel for the model:

Section I B attempts to explain some of the basic concepts. Section IV develops a sample character sheet, a sheet used to store basic information useful to play; it demonstrates what a player goes through in order to set things up. Section II F gives some numbers to use as reference points, for questions like “What should be the difficulty for thus-and-such?” Section III gives a quick key to abbreviations used throughout the work.

For developping a character sheet:

Section II A tells how to generate a character’s attributes — numerical ratings that tell how talented a character is in various areas — and section II B tells how to adjust them for age, gender, and race. Section II D gives the basic list of skills and tells how they are to be adjusted by attributes. Section II H gives starting experience, and section II G tells how much experience it takes to raise a skill to a certain level.

For modelling play:

Section II I tells how, when a character attempts an action, to roll dice to decide whether the character, with skill A, succeeds at an action with difficulty B. Section II J deals with combat and damage. Section II K deals with random encounters of animals and people, and describes what animals are in the world. Section II L deals with equipment.

Optional rules and Other:

There are several optional rules which may be used to enhance play and give it more detail. Section I C is the first such section, dealing with skills ratings. Section II C gives miscellaneous numbers about the races. Section II E gives numbers referenced in II C. Section II M gives rules about the time taken for various actions, and performing actions simultaneously. Section V comments on the model.


Section I B: The Basic Idea


This is essentially a skill-based model, a modified version of another model to use dice. It requires the use of two six-sided dice of different colors — for the sake of simplicity, the two dice will be referrered to as r (red) and b (blue), and read as producing numbers ranging from 1 to 6. For example, 6*r+b would be read as ten times the number on the red die, plus the number on the blue die, which would in effect produce a random number from 7 to 42. It is, while not necessary, helpful in some cases to have two ten-sided dice.

In general for skills, attributes, ratings, etc., a 0 is average, and the number (positive or negative) tells how far above or below average that creature is. The scale is exponential; 10 points correspond to doubling/halving. So someone with a strength of 20 and a dexterity of -10 would have a strength of 2*2=4 times average, while someone with a dexterity of -10 would be half as dexterous as the average person. The game generally uses the attributes in the form given — essentially, how to adjust an average ability — and doesn’t really deal with an absolute scale.

A character’s skill will have an av (adjusted value), equal to the bs (base skill), minus the skill’s dl (difficulty of learning), plus the character’s al (ability to learn), plus the gaa (governing attributes addend). When the character attempts an action, the skill’s difficulty will be subtracted from the av, and then dice will be rolled to see if the attempt was successful.

If an action is being taken against another character (for example, haggling), that person’s av is the difficulty.


Section I C: Additional Rules


Some skills are related to each other by an ld (learning difference). If skill X and skill Y are related by an ld of 5, then a character’s bs (exclusive of experience) in skill x is at least the number five less than his bs in skill Y. So a character who had a bs of 15 in skill X would have a minimum bs of 10 in skill Y. The ld’s are additive (if X and Y have ld 5 and Y and Z have ld 10, X and Z have ld 15), but explicitly listed differences supercede the values that are calculated from additivity. If there are two or more ld’s contributing point values to a specific skill, and/or a nonzero untrained base, the total is not the sum of the point values. It is the maximum.

Learning may take place under a tutor who has a skill of at least the skill level that the character is training to; in that case, the learning is at half price. The experience given starting characters takes this tutelage into account.


Section II: Charts

Section II A: Attributes


Several random numbers generated as r – b: the number on the red die, less the number on the blue die.

These values are numbered n1 through n36.

The attributes are read roughly as how far above or below the average they are: a +10 would be a fair amount above average (twice the average), while -10 would be moderately below average (half the average), with zero being average. The maximum possible is 25, and the minimum -25.

Here are the calculated attributes:

ag (Agility)		n1+n2+n3+n4+n5
al (Ability to Learn)	n1+n6+n7+n8+n9
ch (Charisma)		n1+n6+n10+n11+n12
co (Constitution)	n13+n14+n15+n16+n17
de (Dexterity)		n1+n2+n3+n18+n19
in (Intelligence)	n1+n6+n7+n20+n21
kn (Knowledge)		n1+n6+n7+n22+n23
me (Memory)		n1+n6+n7+n24+n25
pe (Perception)		n1+n6+n26+n27+n28
sp (Speed)		n1+n2+n29+n30+n31
st (Strength)		n13+n14+n32+n33+n34
wi (Wisdom)		n1+n6+n7+n35+n36

Section II B: Attribute Adjustments


All adjustments are addends: they are added to a character’s base attribute. All adjustments are 0 unless otherwise specified.

Attribute:     ag  al  ch  co  de  in  kn  me  pe  sp  st  wi

Race: Nor’krin 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 5 0 0 5 0 Tuz 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 10 0 Urvanovestilli 0 0 2 0 5 5 2 3 0 0 -10 0 Yedidia 0 0 5 0 0 3 0 0 10 0 0 0 Jec 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Shal 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 -5 0 5 Janra 20 0 5 0 0 4 0 0 2 5 5 0

Gender: Male 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 Female 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 5 0 -5 0

Age: Child 5 10 2 10 0 -8 5 0 10 10 -4 -10 Young Adult 5 5 0 5 5 0 -4 0 5 5 5 0 Middle Aged 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 Old -4 -4 0 -4 -4 -3 5 -3 -4 -4 -4 5 Extremely Old -10 -10 0 -10 -10 -5 5 -8 -10 -10 -10 10


Section II C: Racial Non-Attribute Statistics.


A character’s actual lifespan is calculated by multiplying the racial base by his constitution (constitution not adjusted for race, gender, or age), except for the border between child and young adult, which is not adjusted. For example, a Janra with a non-adjusted log of constitution of .8 would become a young adult at 16, middle aged at 41, old at 73, and extremely old at 89. A character will die of old age at an age of his maximum adjusted lifespan times the square root of x1, where x1 is uniformly distributed over [0,1].

Age:		Child	Young Adult	Middle Aged	Old	Extremely Old
Nor'krin	0-15	16-30		31-60		61-90	91-120
Tuz		0-15	16-25		26-40		41-50	51-60
Urvanovestilli	0-30	31-100		101-300		301-400	401-500
Yedidia		0-20	21-50		51-120		121-160	161-200
Jec		0-15	16-30		31-60		61-90	91-120
Shal		0-50	51-200		201-600		601-800	801-1000
Janra		0-15	16-50		51-90		91-110	111-120

Speed of movement is given in both miles per hour and feet per second. A character’s speed of movement is equal to the racial base multiplied by his speed, adjusted for age and gender but not race. Females suffer a 10% speed penalty.

Speed: mph:	Walk	Jog	Sprint	fps:	Walk	Jog	Sprint
Nor'krin	2	4	14		2	5	21
Tuz		1	2	8		2	3	12
Urvanovestilli	3	5	20		4	7	29
Yedidia		2	3	12		2	4	18
Jec		2	4	14		2	5	21
Shal		1	2	6		1	2	9
Janra		5	7	30		7	11	44

Adult height is normally distributed with mean m and standard deviation s.

Height:	Male:	m	s	Female:	m	s
Nor'krin	6'6"	3"		5'8"	3"
Tuz		4'6"	2"		4'3"	2"
Urvanovestilli	5'2"	1.5"		4'8"	1.5"
Yedidia		5'4"	2.5"		4'6"	2"
Jec		5'6"	2.5"		5'2"	2"
Shal		5'6"	2"		5'2"	1.5"
Janra		6'0"	3"		5'6"	3"

As is adult weight:

Weight: Male:	m	s	Female:	m	s
Nor'krin	200#	29#		150#	25#
Tuz		200#	28#		150#	22#
Urvanovestilli	100#	9#		70#	7#
Yedidia		150#	22#		100#	14#
Jec		130#	18#		110#	13#
Shal		145#	16#		125#	11#
Janra		150#	23#		130#	22#

Section II D: Skills


Here is a listing of skills/areas of knowledge/abilities. It is meant to be illustrative rather than exclusive. (Partially borrowed from AD&D)

Following most skills are: untrained base (general, and then with values for specific races following, separated by commas if need be: (N)or’krin, (T)uz, (U)rvanovestilli, (Y)edidia, Je(C), (S)hal, and (J)anra); dl; base time (s=seconds, m=minutes, h=hours, d=days; w=weeks; y=years. A hyphen (‘-‘) for untrained base means that an untrained character is incapable of attempting that skill. A trailing c means that an action is continuous and must be checked with that frequency — for example, moving silently); gaa elements.

An untrained attribute of 0 does not mean that a character is incapable of performing that action. It means that he has no special training above what is common.

The gaa element is the number of times that an attribute is to be added. For example, st 2, co 1 would mean that the gaa is twice the character’s strength plus his constitution.

(Other comments may follow as appropriate.)

Acquisition, 0, J 10; 0; 1d; ch 1, pe 1
Acrobatics/Tumbling 0, Y 10, J 20; 0; 2 s; ag 1, st 1
Acting 0; 0; 30 m; ch 1
Ambidexterity costs 5 points
Animal Handling 0, Y 20, C 10; 0; 5 m; ch 1
Animal Lore 0, Y 20; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Animal Training 0, Y 10; 0; 3 w; –
Anatomy 0, U 10, Y 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Anthropology -, U 10; 0; 1 m; in 1, kn 1, me 1
Appraisal 10, U 20; 0; 1 m; pe 1
Artistic Skill (Specific Medium) 0; 0; 1 d; in 1
Attack (Specific Weapon) 0, N Axe 10, N Knife 10, N Longbow 20, T Crossbow 10, T Dagger 20, J Dagger 10; 0; Axe 2 s, Crossbow 30 s, Dagger (Hand to Hand) 2 s, Fist 1 s, Halberd 8 s, Lance 15 s, Longbow 5 s, Longsword 5 s, Mace 7 s, Rapier 3 s, Shortsword 3 s, Two-Handed Sword 10 s; Hand to Hand de 1, sp 1, st 1 (Lance strength of mount), Missle de 1, sp 1 — Note: Hand to Hand and Missle are each generalizations of attack; if a character wishes to generalize to all weapons, the cost is dl 15 instead of 10.
Balance 0, J 20; 0; 1 s; ag 1
Biology 0, U 10; 0; in 1; 1 m; kn 1, me 1
Blacksmith 0; 0; 1 h; de 1
Blind Action 0, Y 10, S 20, J 10; 0; pe 1 — if a check is made for blind action, an action may be taken blind at twice the normal difficulty.
Bowyer/Fletcher 0; 0; 1 d; de 1
Brewing 0; 0; 1 w; –
Building 0; 0; 5 w; de 1
Carving 0; 0; 30 m; de 1
Carpentry 0; 0; 1 w; de 1
Catch 0; 0; 1 s; de 1
Ceremonies 0, U 10; 0; 1 h; kn 1
Charioteering 0; 0; 5mc; ag 1
Chemistry 0, U 10, Y 10; 0; 30 m; in 1, kn 1, me 1
Climbing 0, J 10; 0; 1 m(c); ag 1, st 1 — this must be checked every 20 feet.
Clockwork Device Craftsmanship/Engineering 0, U 20; 0; 1 d; de 1, in 1
Cobbling 0; 0; 1 h; de 1
Cooking 0; 0; 1 h; –
Cold Tolerance 0, N 20, C 10, J 10; 0; 1 wc; co 1
Cultures (specific culture) 0, U 5, J 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Dancing 0, U 10, Y 20, J 15; 0; 5 mc; ag 1
Dodge 0, Y 10, J 10; 0; 1 s; ag 1, sp 1 — if a character attempts to dodge in the middle of an action, that action is lost. Dodging may, of course, be executed concurrently with other actions with both actions at double difficulty. The difficulty of hitting a dodging creature is the difficulty of normally hitting the creature plus the creature’s dodge value.
Doublejointedness costs 5
Endurance 0, N 20, T 10, J 10; 0; 15mc; st 1, co 1 — if a character fails an endurance check after fifteen minutes of vigorous activity, he is exhausted and will have all actions at double difficulty until he has rested (not sleep necessarily — sitting or other inactivity) for twice the duration of the exercise. If a second endurance check is failed, all actions are at four times normal difficulty until aforementioned rest time is taken; if a third check is failed, the character falls asleep and sleeps for five times the duration of activity.
Engineering 0, U 10; 0; 1 h; in 1
Etiquette 0, U 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Farmer 0, C 20; 0; 1 y; kn 1
Fencing (specific weapon) 0, U rapier or possibly other weapon 20; 5; as per attack/parry (dodge); as per attack/parry (dodge)
Fire-Building 0; 0; 15 m; de 1
Fisher 0; 0; 1 h; pe 1
Gambling 0, U 10, Y 10; 0; 5 m; pe 1
Gardening 0, Y 20; 0; 5 w; –
Gem Cutting 0; 0; 1 h; de 1
Geography 0, U 10, J 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Guess Actions — guess from looking at a person what he will do next. 0, U 10, Y 20; 0; 2 s; pe 1
Haggling 0; 0; 5 m; ch 1, pe 1
Hear Noises — hear almost silent noises. 0, Y 20; 0; 1 m; pe 1
Heat Tolerance 0, T 20, Y 10, S 20, J 10; 0; 1 w; co 1
Heraldry 0, U 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Herbalism 0, U 10, Y 15; 0; 15 m; kn 1
Hide 0, Y 10, J 10; 0; 10 s; ag 1, pe 1
History 0, U 10, J 5; 0; 5 m; kn 1
Hunting 0, N 20, T 20, Y 10; 10; 1 h; pe 1
Illusionism 0; 0; 1 m; de 1
Improvisation (Musical) 0, Y 20, J 10; 0; 5mc; in 1
Incense Making 0, Y 10; 0; 1d; –
Janra-Ball — incomprehensible to members of other races. -, J 20; 0; 10 mc; ag 1, al 1, de 1, in 1, me 1, pe 1, sp 1, st 1
Jewelry Work 0; 0; 1 d; de 1
Juggling -; 0; 1 mc; de 1
Jumping 0, J 10; 0; 2 s; ag 1, st 1
Jury-Rigging 0, J 10; 0; 5 m; in 1
Keen Eyesight 0, U 20, Y 10; 0; 5 s; pe 1
Languages (Specific Language(s)) 0, J 5; 0, U 10, C -10; 1 mc; kn 1 — of course, the language(s) the character grew up speaking are free with a native proficiency.
Leadership 0, U 10; 0; 1 d; ch 1
Leather Working 0; 0; 1 h; de 1
Literature 10, U 20; 0; 15 m; kn 1
Mapmaking -; 0; 1 d; kn 1
Massage 0, Y 10, S 20; 0; 10 mc; de 1
Mathematics -, U 20; 0; 15 m; in 2
Mediation 0; 0; 1 h; ch 1, in 1, pe 1
Medicine 0, U 10, Y 10, J 10; 0; 10 m; kn 1
Mining 0; 0; 1 d; –
Move Silently 0, Y 10, S 10, J 10; 0; 1 mc; ag 1, pe 1
Musical Composition 0, Y 10; 0; 1h; in 1
Musical Instrument (Specific Instrument) 0, U 10 (one specific), Y 10 (one specific); 0; 5mc; de 1
Navigation 0; 0; 1 d; pe 1
Open Locks -; 0; 5 m; de 1, pe 1
Persuasion 0; 0; 30 m; ch 1, in 1
Philosophy 0, U 20; 0; 10 m; in 1, kn 1
Physics -, U 10; 0; 10 m; in 1
Poetry Composition 0; 0; 1 h; in 1
Pole Vault 0, J 10; 0; 10 s; ag 1
Pottery Making 0; 0; 10 m; de 1
Public Speaking 0, U 10, J 10; 0; 30 m; in 1, ch 1
Pyrotechnics -, U 10; 0; 1 h; in 1
Reading/Writing -, U 20; -10; 10 mc; in 1
Read Emotion 0, Y 10 (+5 to both Yedidia and non-Yedidia females); 0; 15 s; pe 1
Repair 0, U 10; 0; 30 m; in 1
Riding (Specific Animal) 0, U Horse 20, Y All 20; 0; 10 mc; ag 1
Rope Use 0; 0; 20 s; de 1
Sailing 0; 0; 1 d; –
Search 0; 0; 5 m; pe 1
Shouting — shout loudly and prolongedly without tiring vocal chords. 0, T 10; 0; 5 mc; –
Singing 10, Y 30; 0; 10 mc; ch 1
Smell Creature — smell what creatures are around and have passed by. 0, Y 10; 0; 10 s; pe 1
Sports 0, T 10, J 10; 0; 30 m; ag 1, st 1
Stonemasonry 0; 0; 1 d; –
Storytelling 0; 0; 1 h; ch 1, in 1
Strategy Games 0; 0; 1 h; in 1
Swimming 0, Y 10, S 10, J 20; 0; 15 mc; ag 1, st 1
Symbolic Lore 0, N 20, U 10, C 20; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Tactics 0, U 10; 0; 1; 10 m; in 1, pe 1
Tailoring 0; 10 1 d; de 1
Technology Identification 0, U 20, J 10; 0; 1m; in 1, kn 1
Technology Use 0, U 20, J 10; 0; 1 m; in 1, kn 1
Theology 10, U 20; 0; 10 m; in 1, kn 1
Throw 0; 0; 3 s; de 1
Tightrope Walking 0, J 20; 0; 10 sc; ag 1, sp 1
Tracking 0, T 10, Y 20; 0; 5 mc; pe 1
Trivia 0, U 20, J 20; 0; 1 m; kn 1
Ventriloquism -; 0; 15 sc; –
Weather Sense 0, Y 10; 0; 5 s; pe 1
Weaving 0; 0; 1 h; de 1
Wilderness Survival 0, N 20, T 15, Y 20, J 10; 0; 1 dc; pe 1
Withdrawing/Meditation -, S 20; 1; 1 h; wi 1
Woodlore 0, Y 20, S 10; 0; 1 m; kn 1, wi 1
Wrestling 0, T 20, J 10; 0; 1 mc; ag 1, sp 1, st 1 — a wrestling match can have three states — neutral, one character has advantage, one character has pinned. It starts out neutral, and each minute it goes one increment in favor of the character who wins the check.


Section II E: Learning Differences


Learning differences are an optional rule which players may take advantage of to gain higher skills. Calculating every possible attribute is not necessary; players may simply use what they choose to look for and find in order to gain higher effective skills.

Below are lds for skills, in dictionary order. Unlisted pairs of skills have no ld except as possibly calculable through chains.

The format is skill, skill, ld.

Acquisition, Persuasion, 15
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Balance, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Climbing, 25
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Dancing, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Dodge, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Fencing, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Jumping, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Move Silently, 25
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Pole Vault, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Riding, 15
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Swimming, 15
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Tightrope Walking, 10
Acrobatics/Tumbling, Wrestling, 10
Acting, Public Speaking, 10
Acting, Storytelling, 5
Anatomy, Massage, 15
Anatomy, Medicine, 10
Animal Handling, Animal Training, 15
Animal Lore, Wood Lore, 10
Anthropology, Cultures, 10
Attack, Attack (other weapon which is also hand-to-hand/also missle), 10
Attack, Balance, 10
Attack, Dancing, 10
Attack, Hunting, 15
Attack, Riding, 15
Attack, Tightrope Walking, 10
Attack, Wrestling 10
Balance, Charioteering, 10
Balance, Climbing, 15
Balance, Dancing, 15
Balance, Pole Vault, 15
Balance, Riding, 10
Balance, Tightrope Walking, 5
Balance, Wrestling, 15
Biology, Herbalism, 15
Biology, Medicine, 10
Blind Action, Hear Noises, 10
Bowyer/Fletcher, Carving, 15
Bowyer/Fletcher, Carpentry, 15
Building, Carpentry, 10
Building, Masonry, 10
Carving, Carpentry, 15
Catch, Juggling, 25
Ceremonies, Heraldry, 15
Chemistry, Herbalism, 10
Chemistry, Pyrotechnics, 10
Climbing, Dancing, 15
Clockwork Device Craftsmanship, Engineering, 10
Cultures, Languages, 35
Dancing, Dodge, 10
Dancing, Fencing, 10
Dodge, Wrestling 10
Engineering, Mathematics, 10
Etiquette, Heraldry, 15
Fencing, Balance, 10
Fencing, Riding, 15
Fencing, Tightrope Walking, 10
Fencing, Wrestling, 10
Fisher, Hunting, 25
Gambling, Guess Actions 10
Gambling, Strategy Games, 15
Gem Cutting, Jewelry Making, 15
Guess Actions, Haggling, 15
Guess Actions, Read Emotion, 5
Herbalism, Incense Making, 10
Herbalism, Medicine, 10
Hide, Hunting, 15
History, Literature, 15
History, Trivia, 10
Hunting, Move Silently, 15
Hunting, Tracking, 10
Hunting, Wilderness Survival, 15
Improvisation, Musical Composition, 10
Juggling, Throw, 25
Jury-Rigging, Repair, 15
Keen Eyesight, Search, 10
Map Making, Navigation, 15
Massage, Medicine, 15
Philosophy, Theology, 10
Public Speaking, Storytelling, 10
Search, Tracking, 10
Strategy Games, Tactics, 10
Tailoring, Weaving, 15


Section II F: Skill Levels and Sample Difficulties


An unadjusted skill is as follows:

Untrained: 0
Just beginning: 10
Dabbler: 20
Moderately skilled: 30
Proficient: 40
Expert: 50
Virtuoso: 60
Exceptional: 70
World Class: 80
Greatest Alive: 90
Greatest of All Time: 100

The following are examples of actions of specific difficulties for archery, hiding, languages, rope walking, and wilderness survival. They are intended to serve as a guide to setting general difficulties for actions. Common sense should be used to apply to other skills; throwing, for example, will not have anywhere near the range and accuracy of archery.

Very easy: -40
Archery: shooting a barrel 20 feet away.
Hiding: hiding in a darkened storeroom full of miscellaneous garbage, while clad in black.
Languages: “Hello.” Greetings, numbers, etc. Extremely thick accent.
Rope walking: walking across a plank a foot wide.
Wilderness survival: surviving in a Yedidia orchard.

Easy: -20
Archery: shooting a barrel 20 yards away.
Hiding: hiding in a darkened forest, while clad in black/brown/green.
Languages: “Where is the bathroom?” Basic phrases (phrase book style). Accent that can be moderately easily understood by someone used to dealing with foreigners.
Rope walking: walking across a plank half a foot wide.
Wilderness survival: surviving in a Yedidia forest, where fruitful trees and water are reasonably easy to come by, but there are no hostile inhabitants.

Moderate: 0
Archery: shooting an unsuspecting boar 20 yards away.
Hiding: hiding in a forest in normal daylight, while clad in black/brown/green.
Languages: “I don’t want this one. I want that one.” Short sentences using very simple vocabulary. Normal accent which does not hinder comprehension.
Rope walking: walking across a plank three inches wide.
Wilderness survival: surviving in a Jec forest, where there is nothing hostile, but food and water are not so easy to come by, and the forest may get cold at night.

Difficult: 40
Archery: shooting a running boar 20 feet away.
Hiding: hiding in a forest at dusk, while clad in clothing that does not blend in.
Languages: “I’m glad to hear that you’re feeling better. Do you have any idea how the snake got into your house?” Slightly slowed normal sentences using words that would be in the vocabulary of a child. Accent which only shows itself occasionally, or is generally present but faint.
Rope Walking: walking across a tight rope.
Wilderness survival: surviving on the border of the Tuz forest, where the creatures are potentially hostile.

Very Difficult: 80
Archery: shooting a running boar 20 yards away.
Hiding: hiding in a forest in full daylight, while clad in clothing that does not blend in.
Languages: Free, accentless conversation as a native speaker would, using an adult’s vocabulary.
Rope walking: walking across a slack rope.
Wilderness survival: surviving in the heart of the Tuz forest, where creatures tend to be hostile and tough.

Extremely Difficult: 120
Archery: shooting a flying bird 20 yards away.
Hiding: hiding in a low cut field or a bare room, fully lit, wearing clothing that does not blend in. Concealing yourself where there aren’t any obvious hiding places.
Languages: Technical discussions using complex sentence structure, unusual grammatical features, and vocabulary that most adults wouldn’t know. Conversing with some Urvanovestilli philosophers.
Rope walking: sprinting across a tight rope.
Wilderness survival: Surviving in the Ice Peaks in the middle of winter, where the temperature is frigid and wild animals and other food is almost impossible to find.


Section II G: Experience Gains


The basic unit of adventure is the quest. Upon completion of a quest, each character will receive 2 experience points, adjusted as follows (minimum of 0) for role playing, skill use/adventuring competence/party helpfulness, and moral virtue:

Exceptionally poor: -2 Poor: -1 Normal: 0 Good: +1 Exceptionally good: +2

A bonus of 1 point is awarded for an action that solves a substantial part of the quest.

So a character who had role played well, used his skills clumsily, and had shown exceptional heroism and virtue would receive 2 + 1 – 1 + 2 = 4 ep for the quest.

(No animal may gain experience.)

Experience may be devoted to some small subfield of a specific skill: specialization. Learning a specialization costs half as much (has half the ldf (learning difficulty factor)) as/of learning the whole skill. Learning the rest of a skill, up to an area less than or equal to the level of specialization, costs half as much as learning from scratch. There are also generalizations of skill (for example, languages as a generalization of a specific language, or musical instruments as a generalization of a specific instrument), which have twice the ldf of the specific skill. A generalization of a skill already learned would cost half as much as learning the generalization from scratch, IE exactly as much as the skill cost. (This applies, of course, only to as many ep as were placed in the specific skill beforehand). A generalization must be a specific and closely related group of skills; a “combat skills” generalization which included anatomy, archery, dodge, horseback riding, and longsword would be inappropriate.

Experience points may be used to increase skills as follows: a current skill’s base skill’s exponent is looked up (see section II I). To raise a skill to a new level: look up the exponent of the desired new base skill. The experience point cost is the difference. For example, let’s say that a character has a current skill bs of 34 and 2 ep. The exponent of 34 is 11. He adds the 2 experience points, bringing the exponent to 13. The log of 13 is 37, so he has a new skill bs of 37. (It would have cost him 1 point to make the same increase for a specialization, or 4 points to do so for a generalization.)


Section II H: Starting experience


Initial experience is devoted with the character’s al adjusted for everything but age.

Age:		Child	Young Adult	Middle Aged	Old	Extremely Old
Points:		20	30		40		50	60

Here are starting experience allocations for the 10 roles outlined in the general description. 10 ep will be distributed; multiply by 2 for a child, 3 for a young adult, 4 for a middle aged person, 5 for someone who is old, and 6 for someone who is extremely old. If there is/are one or two races given for a role, the experience allocation assumes the untrained bases for that race(s). (A character may have experience devoted any way that is desired; this is an example.) Most starting characters will be young adults.Acrobatic Scout: Hear Noise 1.5, Hide 2, Move Silently 2, Open Locks 2, Rope Use .5, Search 2.

Archer: Archery 10.

Bard: Geography 1.5, Hero’s Tales 1, Mediation .5, Musical Instrument 2, Persuasion 2, Singing 1, Storytelling 1, Trivia 1.

Hunter: Attack (one missle weapon) 2, Hunting 5, Tracking 2, Woodlore 1.

Interpreter: Acquisition 1, Etiquette 1, Haggling 1, Languages 6, Persuasion 1.

Jack-of-All-Trades: Attack .4, Blind Action .4, Climb .4, Dodge .4, Endurance .4, Fire-Building .4, Guess Actions .4, Haggling .4, Hide .4, Hunting .4, Jump .4, Jury-Rig or Repair .4, Languages 2.4, Move Silently .4, Open Locks .4, Rope Handling .4, Search .4, Smell Creature .4, Tracking .4, Wilderness Survival .4.

MacGyver Chemistry 1, Engineering 1, Hide 1, Jury-Rig 5, Move Silently 1, Search 1.

Perceiver Blind Action 1, Guess Actions 3, Hear Noises 1, Keen Eyesight 1, Read Emotion 1, Search 1, Smell Creature 1, Tracking 1, Weather Sense 1.

Scholar Geography 3, History 3, Languages 3, Literature 1.

Wayfarer Acquisition .3, Attack (one weapon) .2, Blind Action .2, Climb .2, Dodge .2, Endurance .2, Etiquette .3, Fire-Building .2, Geography .5, Guess Actions .2, Haggling .4, Hero’s Tales .3, Hide .2, Hunting .2, Jump .2, Jury-Rig or Repair .2, Languages 2.4, Mediation .1, Move Silently .2, Musical Instrument .3, Open Locks .2, Persuasion 1, Rope Handling .2, Search .2, Singing .3, Smell Creature .2, Storytelling .2, Tracking .2, Trivia .3, Wilderness Survival .2.

Woodsman Animal Handling 1, Animal Training 1, Hunting 1, Tracking 1, Wilderness Survival 1, Woodlore 5.


Section II I: Dice and Basic Tables


The first table given will be the exponential table. The left column gives the (approximate) log of the right, and the right column gives the exponent of the left.

-	0

-50 .03 -49 .03 -48 .04 -47 .04 -46 .04 -45 .04 -44 .05 -43 .05 -42 .05 -41 .06 -40 .06 -39 .07 -38 .07 -37 .08 -36 .08 -35 .09 -34 .09 -33 .10 -32 .11 -31 .12 -30 .13 -29 .13 -28 .14 -27 .15 -26 .16 -25 .18 -24 .19 -23 .20 -22 .22 -21 .23 -20 .25 -19 .27 -18 .29 -17 .31 -16 .33 -15 .35 -14 .38 -13 .41 -12 .44 -11 .47 -10 .50 -9 .54 -8 .57 -7 .62 -6 .66 -5 .71 -4 .76 -3 .81 -2 .87 -1 .93 0 1.0 1 1.1 2 1.1 3 1.2 4 1.3 5 1.4 6 1.5 7 1.6 8 1.7 9 1.9 10 2.0 11 2.1 12 2.3 13 2.5 14 2.6 15 2.8 16 3.0 17 3.2 18 3.5 19 3.7 20 4.0 21 4.3 22 4.6 23 4.9 24 5.3 25 5.7 26 6.1 27 6.5 28 7.0 29 7.5 30 8.0 31 8.6 32 9.2 33 9.8 34 11 35 11 36 12 37 13 38 14 39 15 40 16 41 17 42 18 43 20 44 21 45 23 46 24 47 26 48 28 49 30 50 32 51 34 52 37 53 39 54 42 55 45 56 49 57 52 58 56 59 60 60 64 61 69 62 74 63 79 64 84 65 91 66 97 67 104 68 111 69 119 70 128 71 137 72 147 73 158 74 169 75 181 76 194 77 208 78 223 79 239 80 256 81 274 82 294 83 315 84 338 85 362 86 388 87 416 88 446 89 448 90 512 91 549 92 588 93 630 94 676 95 724 96 776 97 832 98 891 99 955 100 1024 101 1097 102 1176 103 1261 104 1351 105 1448 106 1552 107 1663 108 1783 109 1911 110 2048 111 2195 112 2353 113 2521 114 2702 115 2896 116 3104 117 3327 118 3566 119 3822 120 4096 121 4390 122 4705 123 5043 124 5405 125 5793 126 6208 127 6654 128 7132 129 7643 130 8192 131 8780 132 9410 133 10,086 134 10,809 135 11,585 136 12,417 137 13,308 138 14,263 139 15,287 140 16,384 141 17,560 142 18,820 143 20,171 144 21,619 145 23,170 146 24,834 147 26,616 148 28,526 149 30,573 150 32,768

Here is the basic check table. When a character attempts an action, the success index is calculated as the difficulty subtracted from his av, and the two dice (red and blue) are rolled. The check value is (6*r)+b: six times the number on the red die, plus the value on the blue die. The following table gives the minimum value this result must have for the character to succeed at the attempt.

For example, if a character with an av of 57 attempts a skill of difficulty 23, he has a success index of 34. The red die yields a 1 and the blue die yields a 6, so the check value is (6*1)+6 = 12, which by the table requires a minimum success index of 25. His success index is greater than or equal to what it needed to be, so he succeeds at the check.

Check Value	Success Index
7		Roll again, with success index 61 higher.
8		45
9		37
10		32
11		28
12		25
13		22
14		19
15		17
16		15
17		13
18		11
19		9
20		7
21		6
22		4
23		2
24		1
25		-1
26		-2
27		-4
28		-6
29		-7
30		-9
31		-11
32		-13
33		-15
34		-17
35		-19
36		-22
37		-25
38		-28
39		-32
40		-37
41		-45
42		Roll again, with success index 61 lower

Section II J: Combat


All characters* have a maximum health value of co+st+ag+an, where an is one half the character’s adjusted anatomy skill, rounded down. Skills and attributes of an injured creature function at a penalty equal to the difference between their maximum health value and their current health value. So, for example, an animal with a maximum health value of 55 and a current health value of 31 has skills functioning at a penalty of 24 points.

All creatures take damage as follows: the damage is looked up on the log/exponent table, and its exponent (the value that occurs to the right of the damage) is looked up. The same is done for the creature’s current health value. The exponent of the damage is subtracted from the exponent of the current health value. If the value is zero or less, the creature loses consciousness or dies at the game master’s discretion. If the value is more than zero, its log is taken and becomes the creature’s new health value (rounded up).

So, for example, if the animal mentioned with a current health value of 24 points takes an 8 point damage wound, the exponent of 24 is 5.3, and the exponent of 8 is 1.7. They are subtracted to yield 3.6; the log of 3.6 is 18, so the creature’s new health value is 18.

Damage* for a successful attack is inflicted at a value of r+st+wa+de+an+po, where r is the value show by rolling the red die, wa is the weapon addend of the weapon, and po is the poison value of the poison (if any) or other special attack. (Damage for a successful backstab, catching the target unaware, is r+st+wa+de+(2*an)+po.) If a creature is injured in the course of taking an action, it may complete the action at skill and attribute values for when the action was begun, and the injury will take effect on skills and attributes when the action is completed.

An injured creature will regenerate at a rate of -50+(2*co)+st+ms per day, where ms is the medical skill of the creature or other caretaker. The regeneration works as the exact opposite of a wound.

An unarmed character has a wa of -10.

* A creature which has no anatomy skill does not receive agility or anatomy adjustments to health value, or anatomy or dexterity adjustments to damage.


Section II K: Animals and Random Encounters


With many of the rolls, the number is a random number 1-10 or 1-100. Common sense should tell which is appropriate where. If 10-sided dice are not available, 1-10 can be generated with red and blue as will be given below; 1-100 can be generated using 1-10’s for each digit, or as below with an additional die, yellow (‘y’):

1-10: roll (6*r)+b-6:

1-10: read as is. 11-20: subtract 10. 21-30: subtract 20. 31-36: reroll.

1-100: roll (36*r)+(6*y)+b-42:

1-100: read as is. 101-200: subtract 100. 201-216: reroll.

In many cases, one of the possibilities indicated is “special”. Special means that either

1: the game master should decide something special, which is preferable, or 2: if the game master can’t or doesn’t want to, he should reroll for another outcome.

Roll for whether an encounter occurs, and what kind:

			N	T	U	Y	J	S
Encounter occurs	1	1-5	1-3	1-5	1-2	1-4
Encounter is	1	animal	animal	animal	animal	animal	animal
2			animal	animal	animal	animal	animal	animal
3			animal	animal	animal	animal	animal	animal
4			animal	animal	animal	animal	animal	person
5			animal	animal	animal	person	animal	person
6			animal	person	person	person	animal	person
7			person	person	person	person	person	person
8			geographical feature	geographical feature
9			weather	weather	weather	weather	weather	weather
10			special	special	special	special	special	special

Percentile Roll Chart for Random Animal Encounter (N designates the Nor’krin land, and so on):

				N	T	U	Y	J	S
1: Acid Slime Mold			1
2: Acid Spitter				2
3: Anteater				3	1-2	1-2		103
4: Bear					4-5			1
5: Behemoth				6
6: Boar					7	3-5	3	2-3
7: Bulette				8	6
8: Caribou			1-10				4-5
9: Carnivorous Log			9
10: Carnivorous Tree			10
11: Cobra				11
12: Colorspray						4-6	6	4-7
13: Crocodile				12-13
14: Cuddler					7	7-11	7	8-11
15: Deer			11-15	14	8-12	12-13	8-17
16: Dog					15	13	14	18
17: Duck					14	15-16	19-28	12-14
18: Fog Thing				16-17
19: Furred Serpent			18	15-16	17-18	29-30	15-16
20: Garter Snake				17	19-20	31	17
21: Giant Aphid				19
22: Giant Firefly			20		21-22
23: Giant Land Lobster			21
24: Giant Scorpion			22-23
25: Giant Viper				24
26: Giant Walking Stick			25
27: Giant Wasp				26
28: Giant Webthrower			27
29: Glower						23-25		18-20
30: Gorilla				28		26		21
31: Griffon				29	18		32
32: Hawk				30	19	27	33-34
33: Hedgehog				31	20-21	28-29	35	22-24
34: Hnakra				32
35: Horse			16-25	33-34	22-24	30-31	36-37
36: Hoverfeather			35	25-26	32	38	25
37: Hummingbird					27	33	39	26
38: Iceflyer			26-39
39: Icestriker			40-49
40: Ironram			50	36-37	28
41: Jewel Serpent			38	29
42: Jumpcling					30	34-35		27-30
43: Jumper				39-40	31	36	40	31
44: Kriit			51-41	41	32		41
45: Land Octopus			42		37		32-33
46: Lavishnatim				43	33	38-39		34
47: Leviathan				44
48: Mile Long Snake			45			42
49: Milshh					34	40-42		35-38
50: Mimic					35	43-46	43-44	39-42
51: Miroir					36-37	47		43
52: Mishraim				46-47		48	45-46	44-47
53: Monkey					38	49	47	48-49
54: Mouse					39	50	48-52	50
55: Muckdweller				48-49
56: Obstructor				50
57: Ostrich				51	40		53-55
58: Owl					52	41	51	56-58
59: Panther				53
60: Parrot					42	52	59-60	51-55
61: Platypus					43	53	60-61
62: Poison Quilled Porcupine		54-55
63: Porcupine				56	44	54-55	61-62
64: Prairie Dog					45	56	63
65: Rabbit			55-74		46-55	57	64-73	56-59
66: Ram					57-58	56-57	58	76-78
67: Ricochet				59	58	59	79
68: Roc					60
69: Rock Crusher			61
70: Rock Thrower			62
71: Rodent of Unusual Size		63-64	59		80
72: Sand Trapper			65
73: Sea Serpent				66
74: Shocker				67
75: Skunk					60-63	60	81	60
76: Sloth						61		61-70
77: Soft Rolling Stone				64-65	62	82-83	71-74
78: Sparrow					66	63	84	75-77
79: Spinstar				68	67	64		78
80: Stegosaurus				69-70
81: Stinging Insect			70-71
82: Stoneshell				72		65
83: Strider				73	68-71	66
84: Swamp Thing				74
85: Tail Spikethrower			75
86: Tar Baby				76
87: Terrask				77
88: Thousand Legged Roller		78	72-76	67	85	79-80
89: Ticklebug						68-72		81
90: Torpor Beast			79-80
91: Translucent Frog			81	77-79	73-74	86	82-83
92: Trin				82	80	75	87	84
93: Turtle				83-84	81	76	88-90	85-88
94: Tyrannosaurus Rex			85
95: Warm Fuzzy					82-83	77-80	91	89-92
96: Water Sprite					81
97: Wind Hummer				86	84-85
98: Wolf			75-84	87-88	86	82-83	92
99: Wyvern				89-90	87		93
100: Game Master's Creation	85-88	91	88	84-85	94	93-94
101: Nor'krin Encounter			92	89-90	86-87	95	95
102: Tuz Encounter		89-90		91-91	88-89	96	96
103: Urvanovestilli Encounter	91-92	93		90-92	97	97
104: Yedidia Encounter		93-94	94	92-93		98	98
105: Jec Encounter		95-96	95	94-95	93-95		99
106: Shal Encounter		97-98	96	96-97	96-97	99
107: Encounter, Doubled Attributes 99-100 97-100 98-100	98-100	100	100

Animal behavior at an encounter is as follows; a number generated in the range of 1-10 tells how it behaves (‘special’ indicating that the game master should either create a special behavior on the part of the animal, or else simply reroll):

#  Feisty	Herbivore	Pet		Predator	Small Predator
1: attack	attack		attack		attack		attack
2: attack	attack		curious		attack		curious
3: attack	curious		curious		attack		flee
4: attack	flee		flee		curious		flee
5: attack	flee		flee		flee		flee
6: curious	friendly	friendly	friendly	flee
7: flee		ignore		friendly	sneak attack	friendly
8: ignore	ignore		friendly	sneak attack	sneak attack
9: sneak attack	ignore		friendly	sneak attack	sneak attack
10: special	special		special		special		special

Animal age and sex are rolled separately: 1-2 child, 3-6 young, 7-8 middle aged, 9 old, 10 very old; 1-5 male, 6-10 female.

Animal Descriptions

All animals have the following skills: attack 30 (1 s; de 1, sp 1, st 1), blind action 20, dodge 30, hear noises 20, hide 30, move silently 30, and smell creature 20. All predators and small predators can hunt 30, smell creature 30, track 30. Name, attributes, behavior type (feisty, herbivore, pet, predator, small predator), descriptions, comments, and special abilities follow.

Constitution, in some cases, may not indicate exceptional health on the part of the creature, but rather some sort of natural armor.

The attributes are (no is number appearing, a * next to po represents a nonpoisonous special attack):

1: Acid Slime Mold
no	po	wa	ag	co	de	pe	sp	st
1	20*	0	20	10	10	10	20	10
Predator, 4-8' long, not injured by cutting or bludgeoning.  Special damage is
acid.  (It looks like a pale green blob)

2: Acid Spitter no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20* 0 20 20 20 10 10 30 Predator. 5′ high. This creature has a thick torso and head on four stumpy legs, and a tough black hide. Its special damage is acid.

3: Anteater no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 0 Herbivore. As in real life.

4: Bear no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 20 30 10 -10 0 40 Feisty. Grizzly in the Tuz land, polar in Nor’krin land, black elsewhere.

5: Behemoth no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 30 20 -10 -10 70 Herbivore. As in Job.

6: Boar no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 20 10 10 10 10 25 Feisty. As in real life.

7: Bulette no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 0 30 10 10 10 30 Predator. 8-10′ long. Land shark. A tough, sharklike creature that burrows through earth and has short, strong legs. The hide may be sold for 500 au.

8: Caribou no po wa ag co de pe sp st 30 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 30 Herbivore. As in real life.

9: Carnivorous Log no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 20 10 0 10 30 Predator. An animal that looks like a large fallen log. When stepped on, large tentacles will shoot out and drag towards teeth and jaws.

10: Carnivorous Tree no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 20 10 10 10 40 Predator. Like a carnivorous log, but uses branches instead of tentacles.

11: Cobra no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 -10 10 10 10 10 30 -10 Predator. As in real life.

12: Colorspray no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0* -20 10 10 10 10 10 -10 Pet. A short, 2′ football shaped, multicolored creature with several orifices on its back. A very affectionate pet which will spray brightly colored paints on someone it likes.

13: Crocodile no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 30 10 10 10 30 Predator. As in real life.

14: Cuddler no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -40 10 0 10 10 0 -20 Pet. A soft, 1′ black, furred, round creature that cuddles like a Shal and will occasionally squirt water.

15: Deer no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 30 10 10 20 10 20 Herbivore. As in real life.

16: Dog no po wa ag co de pe sp st 10 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 20 Predator. As in real life.

17: Duck no po wa ag co de pe sp st 5 0 -20 10 10 10 10 10 -20 Herbivore. As in real life.

18: Fog-Thing no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 20 10 10 10 10 40 Predator. a 10′ tall beast which emits dense fog, obscuring vision in its vicinity.

19: Furred Serpent no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 0 Pet. 2-20′ long, with soft, sometimes brown fur.

20: Garder Snake no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 -50 Pet. As in real life.

21: Giant Aphid no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 30 10 10 10 30 Predator. 8′ tall if unearthed, in a depressed sand trap hidden by a thin camouflaged cover.

22: Giant Firefly no po wa ag co de pe sp st 20 0 -30 10 10 10 10 10 0 Herbivore. 4′ tall, Fly 5.

23: Giant Land Lobster no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 50 10 0 -10 50 Feisty. 20-30′ long.

24: Giant Scorpion no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 10 10 30 10 10 10 20 Feisty. 5′ long.

25: Giant Viper no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 0 10 10 10 20 10 50 Predator. 50′-200′ long.

26: Giant Walking Stick no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20* 0 0 10 10 0 10 -10 Small Predator. 3′ long, 2′ tall. Poison does not cause damage, but hinders for one day as if damage had occurred.

27: Giant Wasp no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 Feisty. 18″ long.

28: Giant Webthrower no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20* 0 10 20 10 20 20 25 Predator. A 10′ long spider; special attack is throwing webs which do not injure but impair physical action as if injury had occurred.

29: Glower no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 20 10 20 Pet. A phosphorescent half sized bear.

30: Gorilla no po wa ag co de pe sp st 10 0 0 25 10 10 10 10 30 Herbivore. As in real life. Climb 10.

31: Griffon no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 25 20 10 20 20 30 Predator. 8′ long. Half eagle (Fly 10), half lion, loves horsemeat.

32: Hawk no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 10 10 0 Small Predator. As in real life.

33: Hedgehog no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 -10 Herbivore. As in real life.

34: Hnakra no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 25 30 10 25 20 50 Predator. An aquatic creature (Swim 10), a great armored shark/sea serpent 50-100′ long. As in C.S. Lewis’s _Out_of_the_Silent_Planet_

35: Horse no po wa ag co de pe sp st 30 0 0 20 10 10 10 10 30 Herbivore. As in real life.

36: Hoverfeather no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 20 10 10 10 10 0 Herbivore. A 3′ ball of eyes and feathered wings (golden, black, brown, or white).

37: Hummingbird no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 30 10 20 25 40 -50 Herbivore. As in real life.

38: Iceflyer no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 10 10 0 Predator. A 6′ white arctic bird of prey (Fly 10).

39: Icestriker no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20* 0 10 10 25 20 10 10 Predator. A toothed, clawed 20′ acid spitting bird of prey (Fly 10).

40: Ironram no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 0 20 10 0 10 40 Feisty. A 15′ long, piglike furred beast that rams with its bony head.

41: Jewel Serpent no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 40 0 25 20 10 10 10 30 Predator. A red, 5-20′ serpent with an immense red jewel between its eyes which has a phosphorescent glow that lasts until an hour after its death. The gem is worth 5,000 gold, or 10,000 if it is still glowing.

42: Jumpcling no po wa ag co de pe sp st 2 0 0 10 20 20 30 10 -30 Pet. A 6″ beast with many paws that will jump and cling to a person.

43: Jumper no po wa ag co de pe sp st 20 0 -10 50 10 10 10 10 30 Herbivore. A 4′ long beam with two opposite feet that it jumps and bounces off with. (Jump 10)

44: Kriit no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20* 0 10 10 30 20 15 0 Predator. A 5′ tall, long-armed beast that spits acid from behind trees.

45: Land Octopus no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0* 0 10 10 10 10 10 20 Feisty. 8-20′ spread. Like an octopus, but squirts ink — can temporarily blind.

46: Lavishnatim no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -20 25 10 20 10 10 -10 Pet. An incredibly curious, 2′ rodentlike creature.

47: Leviathan no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 40* 0 20 40 10 -10 10 80 Feisty. As in Job. Special attack is breathe fire.

48: Mile Long Snake no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 80 Herbivore(-like). A 20′ high snake a mile long

49: Milshh no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -20 20 10 10 30 20 -20 Pet. A short, 18″, round, eyeless catlike creature with long, golden fur, and eight short legs ending in round paws.

50: Mimic no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 25 10 -20 Pet. A monkeylike creature that will follow and imitate a person.

51: Mirior no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 0 10 10 10 0 Herbivore. A humanoid form with mirrorlike skin.

52: Mishraim no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 0 10 30 Pet. Like a giant 5′ anteater, but with a shorter snout.

53: Monkey no po wa ag co de pe sp st 10 0 -30 20 10 20 10 10 -10 Herbivore. As in real life.

54: Mouse no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 10 10 -50 Herbivore. As in real life.

55: Muckdweller no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 30 10 10 10 10 30 Predator. A black, tentacled, four legged beast that waits in the muck and then draws things down in order to drown and/or eat.

56: Obstructor no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 30 20 20 20 0 50 Predator. A giant (20′) eight armed apelike creature which will use branches, rocks, etc. to form a barrier around prey before throwing rocks at it.

57: Ostrich no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 -10 0 0 0 30 25 Herbivore. As in real life.

58: Owl no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 10 10 10 10 10 0 Small Predator. As in real life.

59: Panther no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 30 10 20 30 10 30 Predator. Climb 5. As in real life.

60: Parrot no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 20 10 10 10 25 -30 Pet. Fly 5. As in real life.

61: Platypus no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 -10 Herbivore. As in real life.

62: Poison Quilled Porcupine no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 0 10 10 10 10 10 0 Herbivore. Like a real porcupine, but three feet long, and, if struck hand-to-hand without appropriate armor, will automatically hit attacker. (When it attacks, its attack does not do poison damage.)

63: Porcupine no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 -20 Herbivore. As in real life.

64: Prairie Dog no po wa ag co de pe sp st 10 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 -15 Herbivore. As in real life.

65: Rabbit no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 20 10 10 20 25 -30 Herbivore. As in real life.

66: Ram no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 10 10 10 20 Herbivore. As in real life.

67: Ricochet no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 30 10 10 20 40 20 Herbivore. A fast, 12 legged (equally spaced) 1′ red-brown creature that quickly bounces off trees and everything else if threatened.

68: Roc no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 0 10 10 20 -20 70 Predator. 100′ tall. A giant bird of prey (Fly 10) that eats panthers.

69: Rock Crusher no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 -10 30 0 0 -20 80 Herbivore(-like). A giant (40′) creature with stony skin that sits and eats rocks.

70: Rock Thrower no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 20 20 10 20 Feisty. A beast with four legs alternated with four arms, throwing rocks.

71: Rodent of Unusual Size no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 300 10 10 20 25 10 Predator. As in The Princess Bride.

72: Sand Trapper no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 20 10 30 30 Predator. 10-15′ high. Lives in sand and shoots up a green tentacle to drag in prey.

73: Sea Serpent no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 20 20 10 10 0 40 Herbivore(-like). 20-40′ long, swim 10.

74: Shocker no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 40* 10 20 20 10 10 10 30 Predator. An immense (10′) deep green to blue lizard with slimy black tentacles that deliver a powerful electric shock, capable of throwing many creatures. Any creature hit by a shocker and taking over 10% damage will be disrupted in the action it was completing, drop what it was holding, and forget what it was doing/be momentarily disoriented. Thick clothing may function as armor against a shocker’s attack, as the electrical damage only takes place if electrical contact occurs.

75: Skunk no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0* -10 10 10 10 10 10 -20 Herbivore. As in real life. (Special attack, as in real life.)

76: Sloth no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -20 10 10 10 10 -20 -15 Pet. As in real life.

77: Soft Rolling Stone no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -30 0 20 0 -30 -10 -30 Pet. A rolling creature that looks like a round, mossy stone. Warm and friendly.

78: Sparrow no po wa ag co de pe sp st 20 0 -20 20 10 10 10 10 -50 Herbivore. As in real life (Fly 10).

79: Spinstar no po wa ag co de pe sp st 50 0 0 30 10 10 10 10 -30 Pet. A blue (tinged with red) 9″ land starfish which whitish feet at the end of each limb and a feeding orifice on one side. Moves by rolling.

80: Stegosaurus no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 0 40 -20 -30 -10 50 Herbivore. As in real life.

81: Stinging Insect no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1000 30 -50 25 25 10 25 20 -30 Feisty. A swarm as in real life.

82: Stoneshell no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 80 10 10 10 10 Herbivore. A creature with a stonehard shell, 10′ tall.

83: Strider no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 25 25 10 10 30 20 Predator. 7′ tall. A predator which moves incredibly quickly (85 mph). It is jet black, has long, strong, thin legs, and will try to run prey into trees.

84: Swamp Thing no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 20 10 10 10 10 50 Predator. A huge malodorous mass of beast. 20-50′

85: Tail Spikethrower no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 20 0 10 20 20 10 10 30 Predator. 9′ long. Like a scorpion, but throws poisoned spikes.

86: Tar Baby no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 -30 30 10 10 0 10 Feisty. A black, tar-covered beast. Any weapon or limb which strikes it will stick and require an hour to free.

87: Terrask no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 80 10 10 10 100 Feisty. An immense, dinosaurian creature (200′ tall), pale grey to black at different spots.

88: Thousand Legged Roller no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 25 10 10 20 30 30 Herbivore. Great multi-colored 6′ ball covered with legs, by which it rolls.

89: Ticklebug no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 10 10 30 30 10 -30 Pet. A little, 6″ furry creature (white, gold, tan, orange, calico, grey, brown, red, or black) with long whiskers, fond of touching other creatures very lightly.

90: Torpor Beast no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 40* 0 10 10 10 10 10 10 Predator. A beast with four limbs and a spiked trunk — spikes inject a potent sleeping poison.

91: Translucent Frog no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -10 25 10 10 10 10 10 Herbivore. An animal such that you can see into its body to look at its inner workings.

92: Trin no po wa ag co de pe sp st 30 0 -20 30 10 10 10 10 -10 Herbivore. This beast is short, round, and flat, with tan fur.

93: Turtle no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 -10 60 0 0 -30 10 Herbivore. As in real life.

94: Tyrannosaurus Rex no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 0 -10 10 10 0 -10 60 Predator. As in real life.

95: Warm Fuzzy no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 0 -30 10 10 10 30 0 -20 Pet. Same colors as a ticklebug, round, 8″, with very long, very soft fur. Can climb (Climb 2) very comfortably and snuggle for hours. Used like teddybears.

96: Water Sprite no po wa ag co de pe sp st 25 0 -20 50 10 10 10 10 -10 Herbivore. An extremely shy and beautiful form that comes out once a year to dance in the moonlight.

97: Wind Hummer no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 0 50 10 10 10 20 -40 Feisty. 1′ tall. A quick, translucent (Dodge 50, Fly 40), stinging creature.

98: Wolf no po wa ag co de pe sp st 20 0 0 10 10 20 10 10 20 Predator. As in real life.

99: Wyvern no po wa ag co de pe sp st 1 30 0 20 20 10 10 10 25 Predator. A flying (10′, Fly 10), red-brown stinging reptilian predator.

100: Game Master’s Creation

Random Person Encounters:

In general, 1-10 people will be encountered. (Hermits will always be encountered alone.) Several factors/scales are given (race, profession, Myers-Briggs personality type, etc.); the GM need only generate as much information as he needs to get an idea of how to play it.

Random personal encounters are, in essence, an opportunity to role play social interaction, and should be played as such. While there are other possibilities, such as trading for equipment or information, the game master should focus on making the encounter an interaction with interesting people who will make play more interesting.

These tables are for encounters out in the wild — generally, parties of people who are mostly adventurers. Encounters in a city or village should be different.

Character race and roles	N	T	U	Y	J	S
1: Janra Acrobat		1	1	1	1	1	1
2: Janra Acrobatic Scout	2	2	2	2	2	2
3: Janra Actor			3	3	3	3	3	3
4: Janra Archer			4	4	4	4	4	4
5: Janra Bard			5	5	5	5	5	5
6: Janra Dancer			6	6	6	6	6	6
7: Janra Hermit			7	7	7	7	7	7
8: Janra Homemaker		8-12	8-12	8-12	8-12	8-12	8-12
9: Janra Hunter			13	13	13	13	13	13
10: Janra Idiot			14	14	14	14	14	14
11: Janra Interpreter		15	15	15	15	15	15
12: Janra Jack-of-all-Trades	16	16	16	16	16	16
13: Janra Juggler		17	17	17	17	17	17
14: Janra MacGyver		18	18	18	18	18	18
15: Janra Masseuse		19	19	19	19	19	19
16: Janra Perceiver		20	20	20	20	20	20
17: Janra Scholar		21	21	21	21	21	21
18: Janra Singer		22	22	22	22	22	22
19: Janra Storyteller		23	23	23	23	23	23
20: Janra Wayfarer		24	24	24	24	24	24
21: Janra Woodsman		25	25	25	25	25	25
22: Jec Archer			26	26	26	26	26	26
23: Jec Baker							27
24: Jec Bard			27	27	27	27	28	27
25: Jec Blacksmith						29
26: Jec Cobbler							30
27: Jec Farmer							31-35
28: Jec Fisherman						36-37
29: Jec Hermit							38
30: Jec Homemaker						39-48
31: Jec Hunter			28	28	28	28	49	28
32: Jec Idiot							50
33: Jec Merchant						51-52
34: Jec Sage							53
35: Jec Stonemason						54
36: Jec Storyteller						55
37: Jec Wayfarer		29	29	29	29	56	29
38: Jec Weaver							57
39: Jec Woodsman		30	30	30	30	58	30
40: Nor'krin Archer		31-33	31	31	31	59	31
41: Nor'krin Bard		34-36	32	32	32	60	32
42: Nor'krin Hermit		37
43: Nor'krin Homemaker		38-47
44: Nor'krin Hunter		48-50	33	33	33	61	33
45: Nor'krin Idiot		51
46: Nor'krin Wayfarer		52-53	34	34	34	62	34
47: Shal Bard				35	35	35	63	35
48: Shal Farmer						36		36-37
49: Shal Gardener					37		38-40
50: Shal Hermit								41
51: Shal Homemaker					38		42-51
52: Shal Idiot								52
53: Shal Masseuse					39		53
54: Shal Poet								54
55: Shal Sage						40		55-56
56: Shal Woodsman		54	36	36	41	64	57-59
57: Tuz Archer			55	37-39	37	42	65	60
58: Tuz Blacksmith			40-41
59: Tuz Hermit				42
60: Tuz Homemaker			43-52
61: Tuz Hunter			56	53-55	38	43	66	61
62: Tuz Idiot				56
63: Tuz Scout			57	57-58	38	43	66	61
64: Tuz Stonemason			59
65: Tuz Woodsman		58	60-62	40	48	68	63
66: Tuz Wrestler			63
67: Urvanovestilli Archer	59	64	41	49	69	64
68: Urvanovestilli Artist			42
69: Urvanovestilli Bard		60	65	43	50	70	65
70: Urvanovestilli Dancer			44
71: Urvanovestilli Dual Profession 61	66	45	51	71	66
	(roll twice, ignoring non-Urvanovestilli rolls.)
72: Urvanovestilli Goldsmith			46
73: Urvanovestilli Hermit			47
74: Urvanovestilli Homemaker			48-57
75: Urvanovestilli Hunter	62	67	58	52	72	67
76: Urvanovestilli Idiot			59
77: Urvanovestilli Interpreter	63	68	60	53	73	68
78: Urvanovestilli Jack-of-all-Trades 64 69	61	54	74	69
79: Urvanovestilli Noble			62
80: Urvanovestilli Renaissance Man 65	70	63	55	75	70
81: Urvanovestilli Repairman			64
82: Urvanovestilli Scholar	66	71	65	56	76	71
83: Urvanovestilli Servant			66
84: Urvanovestilli Specialist			67
85: Urvanovestilli Wayfarer	67	72	68	57	77	72
86: Urvanovestilli Weaver			69
87: Yedidia Animal Handler		73	70	58-59	78	73
88: Yedidia Bard		68-69	74	71	60-61	79	74
89: Yedidia Herbalist			75	72	62-63	80	75-76
90: Yedidia Hermit					64
91: Yedidia Homemaker				73	65-74		77
92: Yedidia Hunter		70	76	74	75-76	81	78
93: Yedidia Idiot					77
94: Yedidia Jack-of-all-Trades	71	77	75	78	82	79
95: Yedidia Masseuse				76	79		80
96: Yedidia Perceiver		72	78	77	78	82	79
97: Yedidia Singer				78	82		82
98: Yedidia Woodsman		73	79	79	83-84	84	83-84
99: Roll once to determine race, then a second time to determine profession
				74	80	80	85	85	85
100: Special			75-84	81-90	81-90	86-95	86-95	86-95
101: Nor'krin Encounter			91	91	96	96	95
102: Tuz Encounter		85-86		92-94	98	98	98
103: Urvanovestilli Encounter	87-91	91-94		98	98	98
104: Yedidia Encounter		92-93	95-97	95-97		99	99
105: Jec Encounter		94-99	98	98-99	99		100
106: Shal Encounter		100	99-100	100	100	100

Myers-Briggs Personality Type:
Shal: 1-3 Extrovert, 4-10 Introvert; Other: 1-7 Extrovert, 8-10 Introvert 1-6 Sensing, 7-10 INtuitive
Male: 1-6 Thinking, 7-10 Feeling; Female 1-4 Thinking, 5-10 Feeling. 1-5 Judging, 6-10 Perceiving

Handedness: Janra 01-75 left, 76-95 ambidexterous, 96-100 right; other 01-94 right, 95-99 left, 100 ambidexterous

Birth Order: 1-3 first, 4-6 middle, 7-9 last, 10 only


Section II L: Equipment, Devices, Chemicals, Herbs, and Money


In the monetary system, 1 gold sovereign (au) = 2 electrum sceptres (el) = 8 silver crowns (si) = 64 copper pennies (cu) = 256 iron tips (fe). Price is variable; a device could easily be sold for twice or half its listed cost here. All coins are of the same weight; 64 of them weigh a pound.

Adventuring equipment as a rule is scarce and difficult to acquire. The ad (acquirement difficulty) given for equipment is e (easy), m (moderate), d (difficult), vd (very difficult), and ed (extremely difficult). The races in whose homeland the items are easily found are designated by first initial (‘J’ denoting Jec rather than Janra, as the Janra have no homeland); items may be found in other lands, but at a difficulty one notch higher (so difficult becomes very difficult, etc.).

The following are illustrations of devices and equipment available. Other equipment in the same spirit (as described in the game master’s introduction, section IV) is encouraged with game master discretion. Each device is slightly different; they may well have modifications (such as a tiny hidden compartment). There should ideally be thousands of unique devices, of which the listed examples are but a tiny hint. Chemical prices, unless otherwise specified, are per fluid ounce, and herbs per ounce. Chemicals which temporarily affect attributes do *not* affect st and co contributions to health value.

Armor made not out of steel but out of special alloys may be found, at one notch higher ad and ten times the price, with all the protection but only half the penalties. When armor reduces damage by a fixed percentage, it should be read as the exponent of the damage which is reduced.

Animals (trained or otherwise friendly) may be acquired at a difficulty of the sum of the squares of their attributes, for half the ad if their behavior type is pet, ad for behavior type herbivore, twice the ad for behavior type small predator, three times the ad for behavior type predator, and four times the ad for behavior type feisty.

What is listed is specifically equipment which will be useful to adventurers. There are an infinitude of other objects which exist — clockwork devices which are built up to perform various tasks (such as play music or be a moving model of the solar system) much as a computer programmer assembles instructions to make a program; herbs which act as spices, or which, when drunk as a tea, have a mild narcotic effect (which herbs are carefully and temperately used, just like alcohol), or chemicals which, when mixed, turn a complex rainbow of scintillating colors — and they would take forever to list. Here is a simple example of what may be useful to adventurers, to give the game master a feel for the spirit of creation.

Devices and Equipment

Cost	ad	Name
5 au	m	Axe/Hatchet (wa 0) (N, T, U, Y, J, S)
3 au	d	Backpack (T, U, Y)
20 au	d	Belaying Device, automatic — a springloaded box with a harness
		at one end, a crank on the side, and which shoots out a
		grappling hook.  This device catches a climber who falls,
		preventing injury, and allowing him to try again if he slips a
		grip (thereby effectively doubling climbing skill).  (U)
4 au	d	Camouflage cloak — usually forest green, dark grey, or black,
		occasionally brown, these can lower the difficulty of hiding by
		one notch (T, U, Y, C)
8 au	d	Cat's Claw — an angled iron or steel clawed boot attachment
		and glove which is highly effective at attaching to climbing
		surfaces; someone wearing a Cat's Claw has a climbing skill
		increased by 10.  (T, U)
50 au	d	Chain Mail: -20 to sharp damage suffered, and -5 to blunt
		damage; 5-st penalty to ag, de, sp; -20 to Move Silently.  (U)
		(For instance, a character with st -5 would suffer a penalty of
		10 to ag, de, sp).
500 au	vd	Chain Mail, "feather": -15 to sharp damage and -3 to blunt
		damage; -10 to Move Silently.  (U)
5-20 au	m	Chest, Locked, Reinforced — size varies with price (T, U, J)
5 au	d	Cloth tape — 50 yards (U)
400 au	vd	Collapsible rowboat — skeleton of iron bars and joints, and
		oil skin surface, when taken apart and packed away, fit in a
		large back pack.  (U)
3 au	d	Compass (U)
10 au	m	Crossbow (wa 0 Urvanovestilli, 10 Tuz; strength difficulty to
		load 0 Urvanovestilli, 10 Tuz) (T, U)
200 au	vd	Crossbow, Pump-Action — a pumping action loads the next bolt
		so that the time to load and shoot is 5s instead of 30s.  (wa
		0, loading requires action of strength difficulty 0)
400 au	vd	Crossbow, Spray — a cup on the front of the bowstring holds
		20 bolts which, when fired, fan out in a spray.  wa 10, and
		effectively increases firer's skill/accuracy by 10.  (But
		cannot be gainfully used with a telescopic sight)
3 cu	m	Crossbow Bolt (T, U)
1 au	d	Crossbow Bolt, Exploding (+20 to wa) (U)
1 au	d	Crossbow Bolt, Harpoon — a fine wire or silk cord is coiled
		inside the shell, and an end can be attached to the crossbow or
		other anchor.
1 au	d	Crossbow Bolt, Poison Injecting (U)
5 au	d	Crowbar (T, U)
2 au	m	Dagger (wa 0 hand to hand, -10 thrown) (N, T, U, J)
80 au	vd	Dagger, Obsidian, Razor-edged (wa 5 hand to hand, -5 thrown)
		(U)
40 au	vd	Dagger, Poison Injecting (wa 0) (U)
60 au	vd	Directional mechanical listening device — a pair of binoculars
		for the ears.  It has a sight and a hard parabolic surface with
		a tube which goes to the ears at the focus — incoming sound
		from the direction it faces is echoed into the tube and heard
		with exceptional sensitivity.
15 au	d	Earhorn — effectively doubles hear noises skill
2000 au	ed	Firestar — a longsword with a hollow, insulated handle and a
		network of veins inside the blade leading to a porous surface
		which will be covered in burning oil (po 20, hotter oil doing
		more damage possibly available upon searching).
25 au	d	Fishing Rod, collapsible (U)
6 au	d	Goggles, Waterproof (U)
2 au	d	Grappling Hook (T, U)
1 el	d	Gunpowder (U)
30 au	d	Halberd (wa 15) (T, U)
200 au	d	Hang Glider (U)
600 au	vd	Hang Glider, Collapsible — can collapse to backpack size and
		pop out at the push of a button (U)
60 au	d	Herbal/Chemical Medicine kit — medicines allow an injured
		character to heal faster.  (Easy medical skill check to avoid
		causing damage (prevents healing that day), difficult medical
		skill check to double rate of healing) (U, Y)
3000 au	vd	Hot Air Baloon (U)
150 au	d	Hummer — a small device which emits a high and low pitched hum
		(inaudible to humans) which is 90% likely to repel wandering
		animals.  (U)
1000 au	vd	Jack/Rabbit Tool — This device has two hardened steel prongs,
		each shaped like a flattened chisel, and a crank which, when
		turned, will slowly (over the course of a few minutes) cause
		the prongs to push apart with very powerful force (100 times
		the strength of the using character), sufficient to easily
		force most doors and chests open.  (U)
10,000 au ed	Juggernaut — a movable room and armored vehicle, capable of
		going over all sorts of terrain at the average jog speed for
		the party inside, which seats 4-8.  A very good place to sleep
		in a Tuz forest.  (U)
1 au	e	Knife (wa -3 hand to hand, -8 thrown) (N, T, U, Y, J, S)
120 au	vd	Ladder, Collapsible — expands at the push of a button, and
		can be collapsed to an object 18"x8"x4".  (U)
40 au	d	Lance (wa 3) (T, U)
5 au	e	Lantern (T, U, J)
10 au	d	Lantern, parabolic mirror — beam of light comes out focused in
		one direction.  (U)
10 au	e	Leather Vest: -7 to sharp damage, -3 to blunt damage, no
		penalties (N, T)
5 au	d	Lighter — like a cigarette lighter, but with a wick and oil
		instead of butane.  (U)
30 au	d	Lock Picks (U)
10 au	m	Longbow (N, T, U)
1 si	m	Longbow Arrow (N, T, U)
10 au	d	Longsword (wa 10) (T, U)
5 au	d	Mace (wa 5) (T)
1000 au ed      Manual of Skill (specific skill) — A Manual of Skill contains
		instructions and insights into one particular skill, so that
		after a month's usage a character will gain five experience
		points in that skill.  Unless the game master explicitly
		specifies otherwise, all manuals of skill when found will be
		in extremely poor condition and will fall apart and be
		completely unusable after one character has used it once. (U)
80 au	d	Medical Kit — allows a character's medical skill to function
		in caring for the healing of another. (U)
10 au	d	Periscope (U)
2 au	m	Pickaxe (T, U, J)
100 au	d	Plate Armor, heavy: -30 to sharp damage, -20 to blunt damage,
		penalties 20-st to ag, de, sp; -20 to Move Silently.  (T, U)
200 au	vd	Plate Armor, light: -15 to sharp damage, -10 to blunt damage,
		5-st penalties to ag, de, sp; -20 to Move Silently.  (U)
50 au	vd	Pneumatic-Powered Liquid Sprayer, glass coated inside.  Some
		are powered by compressed gas cartridges; some are powered by
		pumping to build up pressure.  (U)
15 au	m	Rapier (wa 5) (U)
500 au	vd	Reference Manual (specific skill) — A reference manual, when
		consulted, allows a character to make a skill check as if he
		had five ep more (adjusted for gaa but not al) after one
		hour's consultation in preparation for that specific check,
		and as if he had ten ep more after one day's consultation.
1 au	d	Robe, many-pocketed (U, Y, J)
1 au    m       Rope, 50' (N, T, U, Y, C) 50
50 au   d       Rope, 50', silk (much thinner, smaller, and stronger than a
		normal rope).  (U)
350 au	vd	Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (U)
100 au	vd	Sewing Machine, portable (U)
10 au	d	Shield — its usage skill (block, works exactly like dodge) has
		dl .5.  (T, U)
3 au	m	Slide Rule (U)
3 au	d	Snorkel (U)
2	d	Soft cloth/leather boots/shoes — effectively increases
		wearer's move silently skill by 10.  (U, Y, S)
10,000 au ed    Spider Silk Robe: -30 sharp damage, -5 blunt damage; no
		associated penalties.  (U)
30 au	d	Springboard — with running start, doubles jump skill.  (U)
300 au  vd      Staff, Rocket Launching — launches rockets that explode in 5
		yard r+50-damage fireball)  (U)
50-200 au d	Swiss Army Knife (U)
1 au	vd	Syringe (U)
10 au   d       Telescope, 10x magnification (U)
100 au  64      Telescope, 100x magnification (U)
500 au  vd      Telescope, zoom, 10-250x magnification (U)
50 au   d       Telescopic Crossbow sight — allows for a shot taking twice the
		time and prone to have accuracy increased by 50 if installed on
		Urvanovestilli crossbow and adjusted with a difficult clockwork
		device craftsmanship/engineering check.  (U)
200 au	vd	Tent, framed — collapses to fit inside a moderately sized
		backpack.  (U)
1 au    e       Tinderbox (N, T, U, Y, J, S)
20 au	e	Tool Kit (U)
50 au   d       Two-handed sword (wa 20) (T, U)
10 au	m	Watch (U)
1 au	m	Waterskin (N, T, U, Y, C, S)
15 au	m	Winter Clothing — lowers cold tolerance difficulties one
		notch.  (N, U, C)
1	d	Wire, steel, 5 yards
10 au	d	Wire Saw (U)

Non-Herbal Chemicals

500 au	ed	Adrenaline serum.  One ounce of this hormone per hundred pounds
		of body weight will affect attributes with the following
		adjustments: ag+5, al+15, ch-10, de-5, kn-8, me-8, pe+8, sp+10,
		st+15, wi-15.  At the time of being injected, the injectee must
		make one constitution check, of difficulty equal to ten times
		the number of ounces of adrenaline injected per hundred pounds
		of body weight.  If this check is failed, then the hormone
		causes him to run in fear from any threat until it wears off.
		(Note that this reduces wisdom as quickly as it increases
		strength; a character with wisdom reduced to .1 or less is no
		longer under the control of the player.)  Also, adrenaline
		causes an injured creature (as long as it's still alive) to
		function as if not injured.
100 au	ed	Anabolic steroids.  One ounce of this, appropriately diluted
		and spread over a year with vigorous exercise, will increase
		strength by 2.  (After the year, no further steroid use of that
		level will bring increase.  Increased steroid use will act on
		the base strength, unadjusted by steroids).  The *cube* of the
		number of ounces is subtracted from constitution.
1 au	d	Docility Drug (po 10) — this and other drugs take effect when
		the drug "damage" combined with actual damage brings an animal
		below zero health value (U)
5 au	64	Docility Drug (po 20) (U)
25 au	vd	Docility Drug (po 30) (U)
125 au	1024	Docility Drug (po 40) (U)
625 au	ed	Docility Drug (po 50) (U)
1 si	d	Glue (U)
1 au	vd	Glue, exceptional strength (if allowed to set, is usually
		stronger than the materials it has bonded together) (U)
8 au	vd	Nitric Acid — comes in a glass container (one of few
		substances it will not eat through), with a tiny eyedropper.
		(U)
2 au	vd	Compressed Gas Cartridge (U)
1 cu	e	Lantern Oil (T, U, J)
1 el	d	Lantern Oil, Extra Bright — when burnt in a lantern, can
		illuminate a room as brightly as daylight. (U)
1 au	d	Poison (po 10) (U)
5 au	64	Poison (po 20) (U)
25 au	vd	Poison (po 30) (U)
125 au	1024	Poison (po 40) (U)
625 au	ed	Poison (po 50) (U)
2 au    d       Roman Candle (U)
1 au	d	Sleeping Drug (po 10) — this and other drugs take effect when
		the drug "damage" combined with actual damage brings an animal
		below zero health value (U)
5 au	64	Sleeping Drug (po 20) (U)
25 au	vd	Sleeping Drug (po 30) (U)
125 au	1024	Sleeping Drug (po 40) (U)
625 au	ed	Sleeping Drug (po 50) (U)
1 au    d       Smoke Bomb (U)
10 au	vd	Thermite — a mixture of powdered rust and aluminum which will
		when ignited with a magnesium fuse (generally available
		wherever thermite is available), burn through nearly anything
		— steel, sand, asbestos...).  (U)

Herbs and Herb Derivatives — some herb effects derived from the net.book on herbs. Herbs, in raw form, may be acquired using the herbalism or woodlore skills as well as acquisition, in which case they are obviously free.

1 sp m Aloe Vera — when rubbed over sunburnt skin, alleviates pain and causes healing to occur at four times the normal rate. 50 au ed Angel’s Hair — this herb, when dried, powdered, and mixed with water to make a viscous fluid, will, when drunk (one dose per day) reduce aging by 1/4. 1 sp m Coffee — one silver piece’s worth per hundred pounds body weight will bring adjust pe*1.1, sp*1.1, cube of silver piece’s worth per hundred pounds body weight will adjust de*.98, in*.98. Lasts one hour. (U) 1 au d Cofisa Tea — a tea with strong herbal extracts that focuses and intensifies nervous system impulses to the muscles. Adjusts st*1.1, cube adjusts pe*.98. Lasts 15 minutes. 4 au vd Desp — when an extract of this herb is injected, it causes the person to continue strenuous exercise for ten times the normal duration, after which he will fairly quickly fall asleep. 1 au d Docility Drug (po 10) — this and other drugs take effect when the drug “damage” combined with actual damage brings an animal below zero health value (Y) 4 au 64 Docility Drug (po 20) (Y) 16 au vd Docility Drug (po 30) (Y) 64 au 1024 Docility Drug (po 40) (Y) 256 au ed Docility Drug (po 50) (Y) 1 cu d Ficop — A liberal distribution of a paste made of this herb, held on with dressings, (one pound per square foot), will cause burns to heal at four times the normal rate. 1 au m Gentian Violet — this herbal extract, when applied to a bleeding wound, will cause it to rapidly slow, scabbing unless it is a major vessel. 1 au d Hallucinogenic Mushroom Extract — this and other drugs take effect when the drug “damage” combined with the actual damage brings an animal below zero health value. An animal in combat who hallucinates has a 50% chance of being scared off by hallucinations, and, if not scared, has a 50% chance of attacking hallucinations rather than threats (po 10) (Y) 4 au 64 Hallucinogenic Mushroom Extract (po 20) (Y) 16 au vd Hallucinogenic Mushroom Extract (po 30) (Y) 64 au 1024 Hallucinogenic Mushroom Extract (po 40) (Y) 256 au ed Hallucinogenic Mushroom Extract (po 50) (Y) 2 sp d Hedisc — when rubbed on scars daily (one ounce can cover one square inch of scar for one week), causes scars to heal fully within a month (Y) 50 au d Herbal Medicine Kit (Y) 5 au vd Heslriana — when made into a tea and drunk, this adjusts pe+5 noncumulatively for ten minutes. (Y) 1 el d Hofiu — anti-nauseant (Y) 20 au vd Kedlidi — diminishes by half the effect of alcohol (non-cumulatively). (Y) 1 sp d Locriat Tea — This includes a variety of teas which, a day after drinking, will begin to color the drinker’s skin (and, in some cases, hair); the colors will wear off with discontinuation after about a month to half a year (depending on how much has been consumed); possible resultant colors may be described as any color which may be obtained by rubbing a non-opaque dye onto a person’s skin. (Y) 2 au m Nesrit — When burned in a fire, the resulting smoke will leave an odd scent in the air which will repel insects and snakes for one hour (Y). 3 au d Plei Kr’t Sha — this herb, when taken orally, will in ten minutes cause a person for an hour to be aware of painful stimuli but not feel them as pain, and not to be nauseated by grotesque sights or thoughts; used frequently in surgery (Y) 1 au d Poison (po 10) (Y) 4 au 64 Poison (po 20) (Y) 16 au vd Poison (po 30) (Y) 64 au 1024 Poison (po 40) (Y) 256 au ed Poison (po 50) (Y) 1 au d Poison Antidote — Poison antidotes are specific to the plant, and/or creature from which the poison originated. There are three or four common poisons of each strength and several uncommon poisons of each strength (price and ad up by a factor of four) (po 10) (Y) 4 au 64 Poison Antidote (po 20) (Y) 16 au vd Poison Antidote (po 30) (Y) 64 au 1024 Poison Antidote (po 40) (Y) 256 au ed Poison Antidote (po 50) (Y) 1 au d Sleeping Drug (po 10) — this and other drugs take effect when the drug “damage” combined with actual damage brings an animal below zero health value (Y) 5 au 64 Sleeping Drug (po 20) (Y) 25 au vd Sleeping Drug (po 30) (Y) 125 au 1024 Sleeping Drug (po 40) (Y) 625 au ed Sleeping Drug (po 50) (Y) 2 au d Solvi — causes internal blood clots to dissolve (Y) 2 au m Stiv Tea — causes neurons in the eye to fire once per photon detected instead of once every seven, thereby causing a person to be dazzled in bright light, see in dim light as if it were bright, and see in very weak light (moonless starlight, indirect candlelight) as if it were dim. 5 au d Talinor Tea — adjusts in+2, pe-1, sp-1, wears off in one hour (U, Y)


Section II M: Speed and Simultaneity


This section is optional:

The exponent of a creature’s speed is looked up in the log/exponent table, and actions are shortened in duration by that divisor. For example, a creature of speed 10 has an exponent of 2, so he does things twice as fast (he takes half as long to do things).

Creatures may voluntarily speed up or slow down actions, affecting the difficulty as follows: let’s say that a character wants to perform an action 4 times as fast. The log of 4 is looked up in the log/exponent table: 20. This number is added to the difficulty of the action: it is 20 points more difficult to perform the action at 4 times normal speed. Creatures can benefit from slowing down to perform actions, up to a difficulty 10 points lower by taking twice as long.

A character may perform n actions simultaneously with the difficulty for each increased by the log of n: 10 points for 2 actions, 20 points for 4, etc. Common sense should be applied to what can be done simultaneously; archery and horseback riding are sensible concurrent activities, while archery and juggling are not. Running while doing other activities does not require an ability check, but does count as a simultaneous activity (increasing the difficulty of the other activities performed).


Section III: A Quick Key to Abbreviations


Here is what each abbreviation means. It may be convenient to print out this page to have on hand until the abbreviations become familiar.

ad	acquirement difficulty
ag	agility
al	ability to learn
an	one half anatomy skill, rounded down
au	gold
av	adjusted value
b	number resulting from rolling the blue die
bs	base skill
ch	charisma
co	constitution
cu	copper
d	difficult
de	dexterity
dl	difficulty of learning
e	easy
ed	extremely difficult
el	electrum
ep	experience point(s)
fe	iron
gaa	governing attributes addend
in	intelligence
kn	knowledge
ld	learning difference
m	moderate
me	memory
ms	medical skill 
pe	perception
po	poison
r	number resulting from rolling the red die
si	silver
sp	speed
st	strength
ub	untrained base
vd	very difficult
wa	weapon adjustment
wi	wisdom

Section IV: A Sample Character Sheet


Here are parts of a sample character sheet being set up, in order to make the model perhaps easier to understand. I am demonstrating using my stopwatch as a ten-sided die (starting and stopping it, and then looking at the place for hundredths of seconds), and a simple four function calculator. The number of decimal places kept track of is somewhat arbitrary, but I will use two.

First, I decide the character’s race, age, and gender (young Yedidia female). We’ll call her Ocula. (We should also have an idea of what kind of skills she will have — I’ll say a perceiver, although her 30 ep may be devoted any way I want.) Second, I generate 36 numbers as r-b (I roll the red and blue dice, subtracting the value on the blue die from that on the red die — if the red says ‘3’ and the blue says ‘5’, then the number is 3-5, or -2):

n1: 4; n2: 3; n3: 2; n4: -1; n5: -3; n6: 0; n7: 3; n8: -2; n9: 1; n10: 0; n11: 4; n12: -3; n13: -1; n14: 5; n15: 2; n16: 2; n17: 3; n18: 0; n19: -1; n20: 1; n21: -1; n22: -1; n23: 0; n24: -5; n25: 1; n26: 2; n27: -1; n28: 4; n27: -2; n28: 1; n29: -3; n30: 4; n31: 1; n32: -1; n33: 0; n34: -1; n35: 0; n36: 2

Now, using those 36 random numbers, I calculate her attributes as given in section II A, and adjust them as given in section II B:

Attribute		Racial	Gender	Age	Adjusted
ag: 4+3+2-1-3=5		+0	+0	+5	10
al: 4+0+3-2+1=6		+0	+0	+5	11
ch: 4+0+0+4-3=5		+5	+0	+0	10
co: -1+5+2+2+3=11	+0	+0	+5	16
de: 4+3+2+0-1=8		+0	+2	+5	15
in: 4+0+3+1-1=7		+3	+0	+0	10
kn: 4+0+3-1+0=6		+0	+0	-4	2
me: 4+0+3-5+1=3		+0	+0	+0	3
pe: 4+3+2-1+4=12	+10	+5	+5	32
sp: 4+3-3+4+1=9		+0	+0	+5	14
st: -1+5-1+0+1=4	+0	-5	+5	4
wi: 4+0+3+0+2=9		+0	+0	+0	9

For all unadjusted attributes, 0 is average, and how far above or below 0 the character’s attribute is is how far above or below average the character is in that attribute.

Ocula is above average in virtually everything; this is unusual even for a heroine. (If the player does not like the first attributes generated, he may generate new ones — while Ocula is unusually gifted, heroes should be above average.) Ocula is, as compared to other young Yedidia women, mentally sharp, moves quickly, healthy, and exceptionally perceptive.

Now it is time to allocate initial experience. Ocula has 30 points to distribute on skills (above and beyond her untrained bases as a Yedidia female). Using one of the given roles, she will be a perceiver (her experience devoted, as listed in section II H, are blind action 3*1=3 ep, guess actions 3*3=9, etc.).

Now, for a daily encounter check. Will there be an encounter? 1. Encounter. What kind of encounter? 2. Animal. What animal? 19. Duck. How will it be/behave? 3. It is curious.

Upon seeing the duck, she will guess actions to see what it will do. Now we will calculate her guess actions skill.

Her untrained base for Guess Actions is 20. She has 9 ep devoted, so we calculate her bv as follows, consulting the log/exponent table: the exponent of 20 is 4. 4+9=13, so this is what her experience does. The log of 13 is 37, so she has a base skill of 37 for Guess Actions. Her al is added to this (11), and her gaa as well (32). Her av (adjusted value) for guess actions is 80.

Guessing actions for a person under normal circumstances would be of moderate difficulty; guessing the actions of a nonhuman animal is difficult (difficulty 40). Her success index is 80-40=40. The dice are rolled; red yields 4 and blue yields 1. (6*4)+1=25, and looking at the table, she needs a success index of at least -1. Ocula succeeds in guessing what the duck is going to do, namely try to figure out if she is going to attack and, if not, if she is safe to approach.

Later, a young Urvanovestilli man, in his wanderlust, comes through to visit. He has a pianoforte music box which entrances her. He is a bit of a maverick, and tells her that he will bet the music box against a well aged bottle of strawberry wine that he can beat her in a gambling game. She agrees.

He is a good gambler (gambling 30), and has an unadjusted perception of 3, adjusted 8. His al is 5, so his gambling skill is 43.

Ocula is not particularly skilled at gambling, but she can guess actions well — a skill closely related to gambling — and guess actions and gambling have an ld of 10, so she can gamble 70. Skill against skill; she has a success index of 27. Red rolls 5, blue rolls 2, for a roll of 32. She needed a success index of -11 or higher to win, so she won.

Ocula completes a quest, gaining two experience points. She decides to devote both of them to guessing actions. Her bv is 37, which has an exponent of 13. Adding the two experience points make it 15, which has a log of 39. With this two point increase, her new av is 82. (If she had trained with a tutor of sufficiently high av (84 or more — which would have been found on an acquisition skill check of difficulty 84), she would have gotten double benefit out of her experience, adding 4 to the exponent instead of 2, yielding 17 with a log of 41, so her new av would have been 84.)

Ocula’s initial character sheet (without experience from the quest) is as follow:

Ocula Yedidia Female Age: 33

Attribute		Racial	Gender	Age	Adjusted
ag: 4+3+2-1-3=5		+0	+0	+5	10
al: 4+0+3-2+1=6		+0	+0	+5	11
ch: 4+0+0+4-3=5		+5	+0	+0	10
co: -1+5+2+2+3=11	+0	+0	+5	16
de: 4+3+2+0-1=8		+0	+2	+5	15
in: 4+0+3+1-1=7		+3	+0	+0	10
kn: 4+0+3-1+0=6		+0	+0	-4	2
me: 4+0+3-5+1=3		+0	+0	+0	3
pe: 4+3+2-1+4=12	+10	+5	+5	32
sp: 4+3-3+4+1=9		+0	+0	+5	14
st: -1+5-1+0+1=4	+0	-5	+5	4
wi: 4+0+3+0+2=9		+0	+0	+0	9

Health Value: co+st+ag+an=48

Skill		ub	ep	bv	gaa	av
Anatomy		10	0	10	2	18
Animal Handling	20	0
Animal Lore	20	0
Blind Action	10	3
Dancing		20	0
Dodge		10	0
Endurance	0	0
Fire-Building	0	0
Gardening	10	0
Guess Actions	20	9	37	32	80
Haggling	0	0
Hear Noises	20	3
Herbalism	15	0
Hide		10	0
Hunting		10	0
Improvisation	20	0
Jumping		0	0
Massage		0	0
Medicine	10	0
Move Silently	10	0
Keen Eyesight	10	3
Musical Instrument (Recorder)	10	0
Navigation	0	0
Philosophy	0	0
Read Emotion	15	3
Search		0	3
Smell Creature	10	3
Theology	10	0
Weather Sense	10	3
Wilderness Survival	20	0
Woodlore	20	0

Inventory Herbal medicines Pet puma, young male, named Liki n1: 5; n2: 0; n3: 0; n4: -4; n5: 0; n6: 2; n13: 2; n14: 0; n15: 0; n16: -3; n17: 2; n18: 0; n19: 1; n26: -4; n27: -1; n28: 2; n29: 4; n30: 3; n31: 1; n32: 1; n33: 5; n34: -5 unadjusted species gender age adjusted ag: 5+0+0-4+0=1 30 0 5 36 co: 2+0+0-3+2=1 10 0 5 16 de: 5+0+0+0+1=6 20 0 5 31 pe: 5+2-4-1-2=0 30 0 5 35 sp: 5+0+4+3+1=13 10 0 5 28 st: 2+0+1+5-5=3 30 5 5 40 Health Value: 56 Damage: r+40 Skill Points gaa av Attack 30 99 129 Blind Action 20 35 55 Climb 20 76 96 Dodge 30 64 94 Hear Noises 20 35 55 Hide 30 71 101 Hunt 30 35 65 Move Silently 30 71 101 Track 30 35 65 Purse (4 silver pieces, 3 copper pieces, 8 iron tips) Recorder


Section V: Notes and Properties


These are my comments about the model — about properties that I see as desireable and undesireable, plus miscellaneous comments.

It is a discrete, integer, dice-oriented translation of a continuous, real-valued model having the following properties:

Miscellaneous: The model (or, more properly, the racial and age attribute adjustments and racial base skills) is not balanced. I intentionally placed realism above balance in model design.

Undesireable properties:

Desireable properties:

The model is continuous and real-valued.

Related attributes are correlated in value.

What attributes are, and their impact, is appropriate.

Adjustments take the form of multiplicands, rather than addends.

Adjustments make a substantial impact on individual checks, rather than just being a subtle and minute increment.

Attributes adjust skills.

Experience devoted to skills produces an appropriate law of diminishing returns — it takes a little while to learn a little, and a long while to become a virtuoso.

Related skills apply to each other.

The model is simple and unified — one model fits all — and can be easily programmed into a scientific calculator.

Once a character’s skills are calculated, there is no more calculation for a while.

I like the way it handles time and actions.

Having listed other little virtues that this model possesses, I wish to delineate one virtue which I consider cardinal.

This model is small and incomplete; it possesses a limited domain.

It is the wide concensus of gamers that r-o-l-e-play is infinitely superior to r-o-l-l-play; this model is a miniscule thing which governs a timy part of play, and calls for contrainte in use. It governs certain natural abilities and certain developped skills; I would like to point out two major areas of play that it doesn’t touch.

The first is something which is traditionally a part of play and which mathematical models are kept out of: tole play: who a character is, what his personality is, what makes him tick, what his spiritual state is. It is something which is governed by an understanding of how things are done that cannot be reduced to rules and algorithms. On this point, I don’t feel the need to explain further.

The second is something which is traditionally a part of play in some form or other and which is traditionally governed by mathematical models, much to the detriment of play. It consists of things like the motion and gifts of the Spirit, the prayer of faith, divine intervention, etc.

In D&D, a cleric’s prayer power is reduced to another form of mechanized spell casting: a cleric gets such and such many prayers of the following power levels per day, as a function of his wisdom and the number of creatures he has killed. Star Wars is no better: using the Force is just one more skill which happens to be accompanied by some more rules about conduct. Neither is GURPS.

God is good and he is reliable, but he is not safe and not tame, and certainly not predictable enough to reduce to a model. While God is not predictable, incorporating a great deal of randomness in a model won’t cut it. God, when listening to prayers, weighs the petitioner’s faith and motives, the situation, and then makes a decision that, while unpredictable, is governed by infinite love and wisdom. This is, if anything, less, not more, reducible to algorithms than personal interactions. This calls for the GM to pray, rely on the Spirit, and think. God’s action must be handled as the most challenging and delicate role to portray, and it takes a game master created in the image of God to do.

The Commentary

CJSH.name/commentary

Firestorm 2034
Read it on Kindle for $3!

Memories flitted through Martin’s mind as he drove: tantalizing glimpses he had seen of how people really thought in Bible times. Glimpses that made him thirsty for more. It had seemed hours since he left his house, driving out of the city, across back roads in the forest, until at last he reached the quiet town. The store had printer’s blocks in the window, and as he stepped in, an old-fashioned bell rung. There were old tools on the walls, and the room was furnished in beautifully varnished wood.

An old man smiled and said, “Welcome to my bookstore. Are you—” Martin nodded. The man looked at him, turned, and disappeared through a doorway. A moment later he was holding a thick leatherbound volume, which he set on the counter. Martin looked at the binding, almost afraid to touch the heavy tome, and read the letters of gold on its cover:

COMMENTARY
ON THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS
IN ONE VOLUME
CONTAINING A CAREFUL ANALYSIS OF ALL CULTURAL ISSUES
NEEDFUL TO UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE
AS DID ITS FIRST READERS

“You’re sure you can afford it, sir? I’d really like to let it go for a lower price, but you must understand that a book like this is costly, and I can’t afford to sell it the way I do most other titles.”

“Finances will be tight, but I’ve found knowledge to cost a lot and ignorance to cost more. I have enough money to buy it, if I make it a priority.”

“Good. I hope it may profit you. But may I make one request, even if it sounds strange?”

“What is your request?”

“If, for any reason, you no longer want the commentary, or decide to get rid of it, you will let me have the first chance to buy it back.”

“Sir? I don’t understand. I have been searching for a book like this for years. I don’t know how many miles I’ve driven. I will pay. You’re right that this is more money than I could easily spare—and I am webmaster to a major advertising agency. I would have only done so for something I desired a great, great deal.”

“Never mind that. If you decide to sell it, will you let me have the first chance?”

“Let’s talk about something else. What text does it use?”

“It uses the Revised Standard Version. Please answer my question, sir.”

“How could anyone prefer darkness to light, obscurity to illumination?”

“I don’t know. Please answer my question.”

“Yes, I will come to you first. Now will you sell it to me?”

The old man rung up the sale.

As Martin walked out the door, the shopkeeper muttered to himself, “Sold for the seventh time! Why doesn’t anybody want to keep it?”


Martin walked through the door of his house, almost exhausted, and yet full of bliss. He sat in his favorite overstuffed armchair, one that had been reupholstered more than once since he sat in it as a boy. He relaxed, the heavy weight of the volume pressing into his lap like a loved one, and then opened the pages. He took a breath, and began reading.

INTRODUCTION

At the present time, most people believe the question of culture in relation to the Bible is a question of understanding the ancient cultures and accounting for their influence so as to be able to better understand Scripture. That is indeed a valuable field, but its benefits may only be reaped after addressing another concern, a concern that is rarely addressed by people eager to understand Ancient Near Eastern culture.

A part of the reader’s culture is the implicit belief that he is not encumbered by culture: culture is what people live under long ago and far away. This is not true. As it turns out, the present culture has at least two beliefs which deeply influence and to some extent limit its ability to connect with the Bible. There is what scholars call ‘period awareness’, which is not content with the realization that we all live in a historical context, but places different times and places in sealed compartments, almost to the point of forgetting that people who live in the year 432, people who live in 1327, and people who live in 1987 are all human. Its partner in crime is the doctrine of progress, which says at heart that we are better, nobler, and wiser people than those who came before us, and our ideas are better, because ideas, like machines, grow rust and need to be replaced. This gives the reader the most extraordinary difficulties in believing that the Holy Spirit spoke through humans to address human problems in the Bible, and the answer speaks as much to us humans as it did to them. Invariably the reader believes that the Holy Spirit influenced a first century man trying to deal with first century problems, and a delicate work of extrication is needed before ancient texts can be adapted to turn-of-the-millenium concerns.

Martin shifted his position slightly, felt thirsty, almost decided to get up and get a glass of water, then decided to continue reading. He turned a few pages in order to get into the real meat of the introduction, and resumed reading:

…is another example of this dark pattern.

In an abstracted sense, what occurs is as follows:

  1. Scholars implicitly recognize that some passages in the Bible are less than congenial to whatever axe they’re grinding.
  2. They make a massive search, and subject all of the offending passages to a meticulous examination, an examination much more meticulous than orthodox scholars ever really need when they’re trying to understand something.
  3. In parallel, there is an exhaustive search of a passage’s historical-cultural context. This search dredges up a certain kind of detail—in less flattering terms, it creates disinformation.
  4. No matter what the passage says, no matter who’s examining it, this story always has the same ending. It turns out that the passage in fact means something radically different from what it appears to mean, and in fact does not contradict the scholar at all.

This dark pattern has devastating effect on people from the reader’s culture. They tend to believe that culture has almost any influence it is claimed to; in that regard, they are very gullible . It is almost unheard-of for someone to say, “I’m sorry, no; cultures can make people do a lot of things, but I don’t believe a culture could have that influence.”

It also creates a dangerous belief which is never spoken in so many words: “If a passage in the Bible appears to contradict what we believe today, that is because we do not adequately understand its cultural context.”

Martin coughed. He closed the commentary slowly, reverently placed it on the table, and took a walk around the block to think.

Inside him was turmoil. It was like being at an illusionist show, where impossible things happened. He recalled his freshman year of college, when his best friend Chaplain was a student from Liberia, and come winter, Chaplain was not only seared by cold, but looked betrayed as the icy ground became a traitor beneath his feet. Chaplain learned to keep his balance, but it was slow, and Martin could read the pain off Chaplain’s face. How long would it take? He recalled the shopkeeper’s words about returning the commentary, and banished them from his mind.

Martin stepped into his house and decided to have no more distractions. He wanted to begin reading commentary, now. He opened the book on the table and sat erect in his chair:

Genesis

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
1:2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
1:3 And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

The reader is now thinking about evolution. He is wondering whether Genesis 1 is right, and evolution is simply wrong, or whether evolution is right, and Genesis 1 is a myth that may be inspiring enough but does not actually tell how the world was created.

All of this is because of a culture phenomenally influenced by scientism and science. The theory of evolution is an attempt to map out, in terms appropriate to scientific dialogue, just what organisms occurred, when, and what mechanism led there to be new kinds of organisms that did not exist before. Therefore, nearly all Evangelicals assumed, Genesis 1 must be the Christian substitute for evolution. Its purpose must also be to map out what occurred when, to provide the same sort of mechanism. In short, if Genesis 1 is true, then it must be trying to answer the same question as evolution, only answering it differently.

Darwinian evolution is not a true answer to the question, “Why is there life as we know it?” Evolution is on philosophical grounds not a true answer to that question, because it is not an answer to that question at all. Even if it is true, evolution is only an answer to the question, “How is there life as we know it?” If someone asks, “Why is there this life that we see?” and someone answers, “Evolution,” it is like someone saying, “Why is the kitchen light on?” and someone else answering, “Because the switch is in the on position, thereby closing the electrical circuit and allowing current to flow through the bulb, which grows hot and produces light.”

Where the reader only sees one question, an ancient reader saw at least two other questions that are invisible to the present reader. As well as the question of “How?” that evolution addresses, there is the question of “Why?” and “What function does it serve?” These two questions are very important, and are not even considered when people are only trying to work out the antagonism between creationism and evolutionism.

Martin took a deep breath. Was the text advocating a six-day creationism? That was hard to tell. He felt uncomfortable, in a much deeper way than if Bible-thumpers were preaching to him that evolutionists would burn in Hell.

He decided to see what it would have to say about a problem passage. He flipped to Ephesians 5:

5:21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
5:22 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.
5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
5:24 As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.
5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
5:26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
5:27 that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
5:28 Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
5:29 For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church,
5:30 because we are members of his body.
5:31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
5:32 This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church;
5:33 however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

The reader is at this point pondering what to do with this problem passage. At the moment, he sees three major options: first, to explain it away so it doesn’t actually give husbands authority; second, to chalk it up to misogynist Paul trying to rescind Jesus’s progressive liberality; and third, to take this as an example of why the Bible can’t really be trusted.

To explain why the reader perceives himself caught in this unfortunate choice, it is necessary to explain a powerful cultural force, one whose effect cannot be ignored: feminism. Feminism has such a powerful effect among the educated in his culture that the question one must ask of the reader is not “Is he a feminist?” but “What kind of feminist is he, and to what degree?”

Feminism flows out of a belief that it’s a wonderful privelege to be a man, but it is tragic to be a woman. Like Christianity, feminism recognizes the value of lifelong penitence, even the purification that can come through guilt. It teaches men to repent in guilt of being men, and women to likewise repent of being women. The beatific vision in feminism is a condition of sexlessness, which feminists call ‘androgyny’.

Martin stopped. “What kind of moron wrote this? Am I actually supposed to believe it?” Then he continued reading:

This is why feminism believes that everything which has belonged to men is a privelege which must be shared with women, and everything that has belonged to women is a burden which men must also shoulder. And so naturally, when Paul asserts a husband’s authority, the feminist sees nothing but a privelege unfairly hoarded by men.

Martin’s skin began to feel clammy.

The authority asserted here is not a domineering authority that uses power to serve oneself. Nowhere in the Bible does Paul tell husbands how to dominate their wives. Instead he follows Jesus’s model of authority, one in which leadership is a form of servanthood. Paul doesn’t just assume this; he explicitly tells the reader, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The sigil of male headship and authority is not a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns.

Martin was beginning to wish that the commentary had said, “The Bible is misogynistic, and that’s good!” He was beginning to feel a nagging doubt that what he called problem passages were in fact perfectly good passages that didn’t look attractive if you had a problem interpretation. What was that remark in a theological debate that had gotten so much under his skin? He almost wanted not to remember it, and then—”Most of the time, when people say they simply cannot understand a particular passage of Scripture, they understand the passage perfectly well. What they don’t understand is how to explain it away so it doesn’t contradict them.”

He paced back and forth, and after a time began to think, “The sword can’t always cut against me, can it? I know some gay rights activists who believe that the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual acts is nothing but taboo. Maybe the commentary on Romans will give me something else to answer them with.” He opened the book again:

1:26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural,
1:27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

The concept of ‘taboo’ in the reader’s culture needs some explanation. When a person says, “That’s taboo,” what’s being said is that there is an unthinking, irrational prejudice against it: one must not go against the prejudice because then people will be upset, but in some sense to call a restriction a taboo is de facto to show it unreasonable.

The term comes from Polynesia and other South Pacific islands, where it is used when people recognize there is a line which it is wiser not to cross. Thomas Aquinas said, “The peasant who does not murder because the law of God is deep in his bones is greater than the theologian who can derive, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ from first principles.”

A taboo is a restriction so deep that most people cannot offer a ready explanation. A few can; apologists and moral philosophers make a point of being able to explain the rules. For most people, though, they know what is right and what is wrong, and it is so deeply a part of them that they cannot, like an apologist, start reasoning with first principles and say an hour and a half later, “and this is why homosexual acts are wrong.”

What goes with the term ‘taboo’ is an assumption that if you can’t articulate your reasons on the drop of a hat, that must mean that you don’t have any good reasons, and are acting only from benighted prejudice. Paradoxically, the term ‘taboo’ is itself a taboo: there is a taboo against holding other taboos, and this one is less praiseworthy than other taboos…

Martin walked away and sat in another chair, a high wooden stool. What was it that he had been thinking about before going to buy the commentary? A usability study had been done on his website, and he needed to think about the results. Designing advertising material was different from other areas of the web; the focus was not just on a smooth user experience but also something that would grab attention, even from a hostile audience. Those two goals were inherently contradictory, like mixing oil and water. His mind began to wander; he thought about the drive to buy the commentary, and began to daydream about a beautiful woman clad only in—

What did the commentary have to say about lust? Jesus said it was equivalent to adultery; the commentary probably went further and made it unforgiveable. He tried to think about work, but an almost morbid curiosity filled him. Finally, he looked up the Sermon on the Mount, and opened to Matthew:

5:27 “You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.’
5:28 But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

There is a principle here that was once assumed and now requires some explanation. Jesus condemned lust because it was doing in the heart what was sinful to do in the hands. There is a principle that is forgotten in centuries of people saying, “I can do whatever I want as long as it doesn’t harm you,” or to speak more precisely, “I can do whatever I want as long as I don’t see how it harms you.” Suddenly purity was no longer a matter of the heart and hands, but a matter of the hands alone. Where captains in a fleet of ships once tried both to avoid collisions and to keep shipshape inside, now captains believe that it’s OK to ignore mechanical problems inside as long as you try not to hit other ships—and if you steer the wheel as hard as you can and your ship still collides with another, you’re not to blame. Heinrich Heine wrote:

Should ever that taming talisman break—the Cross—then will come roaring back the wild madness of the ancient warriors, with all their insane, Berserker rage, of whom our Nordic poets speak and sing. That talisman is now already crumbling, and the day is not far off when it shall break apart entirely. On that day, the old stone gods will rise from their long forgotten wreckage and rub from their eyes the dust of a thousand years’ sleep. At long last leaping to life, Thor with his giant hammer will crush the gothic cathedrals. And laugh not at my forebodings, the advice of a dreamer who warns you away from the . . . Naturphilosophen. No, laugh not at the visionary who knows that in the realm of phenomena comes soon the revolution that has already taken place in the realm of spirit. For thought goes before deed as lightning before thunder. There will be played in Germany a play compared to which the French Revolution was but an innocent idyll.

Heinrich Heine was a German Jewish poet who lived a century before Thor’s hammer would crush six million of his kinsmen.

The ancient world knew that thought goes before deed as lightning before thunder. They knew that purity is an affair of the heart as well as the hands. Now there is grudging acknowledgment that lust is wrong, a crumbling acceptance that has little place in the culture’s impoverished view, but this acknowledgment is like a tree whose soil is taken away. For one example of what goes with that tree, I would like to look at advertising.

Porn uses enticing pictures of women to arouse sexual lust, and can set a chain of events in motion that leads to rape. Advertising uses enticing pictures of chattels to arouse covetous lust, and exists for the sole reason of setting a chain of events in motion that lead people to waste resources by buying things they don’t need. The fruit is less bitter, but the vine is the same. Both operate by arousing impure desires that do not lead to a righteous fulfillment. Both porn and advertising are powerfully unreal, and bite those that embrace them. A man that uses porn will have a warped view of women and be slowly separated from healthy relations. Advertising manipulates people to seek a fulfillment in things that things can never provide: buying one more product can never satisfy that deep craving, any more than looking at one more picture can. Bruce Marshall said, “…the young man who rings at the door of a brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” Advertisers know that none of their products give a profound good, nothing like what people search for deep down inside, and so they falsely present products as things that are transcendent, and bring family togetherness or racial harmony.

It has been asked, “Was the Sabbath made for man, or was man made for the Sabbath?” Now the question should be asked, “Was economic wealth made for man, or was man made for economic wealth?” The resounding answer of advertising is, “Man was made for economic wealth.” Every ad that is sent out bears the unspoken message, “You, the customer, exist for me, the corporation.”

Martin sat in his chair, completely stunned.

After a long time, he padded off to bed, slept fitfully, and was interrupted by nightmares.


The scenic view only made the drive bleaker. Martin stole guiltily into the shop, and laid the book on the counter. The shopkeeper looked at him, and he at the shopkeeper.

“Didn’t you ask who could prefer darkness to light, obscurity to illumination?”

Martin’s face was filled with anguish. “How can I live without my darkness?”

Creation and Holy Orthodoxy: Fundamentalism Is Not Enough

Dark Patterns / Anti-patterns and cultural context study of Scriptural texts: a case study in Craig Keener’s Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul

The Most Politically Incorrect Sermon in History: A Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount

“Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution

Fingerprinted Collects

CJSH.name/collects

At my congregation, part of the worship liturgy includes a prayer, the ‘collect’, which varies from service to service. I decided to write my own miniature ensemble; they were written first in French (some corrections courtesy of my good friend Robin Munn), and then translated to English. I wanted to make prayers that would be universal and at the same time bear a personal touch: fingerprints.

Why French? I prayed, thought, and felt, and even though my French is not perfect, there are ways it is closer to my heart than English.

français English
Étèrnel, Seigneur Dieu, qui connait toutes les cultures, l’Objet du culte dans les cultures, et qui reste quand-même au-delà des cultures, même la culture juive à laquelle tu as donné tant d’amour: aides-nous a voir grace a nos cultures mais néanmoins ne pas devenir aveugles a ce qui la culture ne peut contenir. En nom du Père qui vivait avant du culture, du Fils qui entra dans une culture et a béni toutes cultures par elle, et du Saint-Esprit qui montre la Lumière de Dieu dans toutes les cultures que l’on permit d’entrer,
Amen.
Lord God, who knows all cultures, the object of worship in every culture, and who is at the same time beyond cultures, even Jewish culture on which you have bestowed so much love: help us to see through our cultures and yet not become blind to what culture cannot contain. In the name of the Father who lived before culture, and of the Son who went into one culture and has blessed all cultures through it, and of the Holy Spirit who shows the Light of God in all cultures where it is permitted to enter,
Amen.
Étèrnel, qui nous as donné des coeurs percés de la memoire de l’avenir que tu nous prepares: laisses-nous sensibles a ton absence, l’imperfection de notre connaissance de ta gloire, et quand-même avoir la force de vivre étrangers hors de notre vrai domicile avec toi. Comme Pierre a tant pleuré chaque jour, et quand on lui démanda pourquoi, disait, <<Desirado Domine,>> aides-nous de tant espèrer que tu nous acceuiles au ciel. Au nom du Père de Gloire, du Fils qui voilait la Gloire de son Pere, et du Saint-Esprit qui souffle sur les eaux, le terre, et bientôt le ciel avec nous en-dedans,
Amen.
Lord, who has given us hearts pierced by the memory of the future you have prepared for us: keep us aware of your absence, our imperfect knowledge of your glory, and at the same time give us the strength to live as strangers outside of our home with you. As Peter cried much each day, and when asked why, said, “I desire my Lord,” help us to deeply hope for the time you will welcome us in Heaven. In the name of the Father of Glory, of the Son who veiled the Glory of his Father, and the Holy Spirit who breathes on the waters, the earth, and soon Heaven with us in it,
Amen.
O Étèrnel, Dieu d’Hénoc: Aides-nous à voir que ce qui se passe habituellement autour de nous n’est pas forcément ce qui ne peut être différent: aides-nous à être ouverts au Saint-Esprit et les mystères que tu nous prépares: donnes-nous la sagesse qui peut ou bâtir un grand bâteau au fond du désert, ou dûr travailler, et silencieusement, aux oeuvres obscures et a l’insu de tous nos juges de ce qui est important. Au nom du Père dont les voies ne sont pas comme nos voies, du Fils qui est la voie, et du Saint-Esprit dont la sainteté est être séparé,
Amen.
O Lord, God of Enoch: Help us to see that the usual patterns around us are not necessarily what must be: help us to be open to the Holy Spirit and the mysteries which you are preparing for us: give us the wisdom which can either build a great boat in the middle of the desert, or work hard and silently on obscure tasks that are ignored by our judges of the important. In the name of the Father whose ways are not like our ways, of the Son who is the way, and the Holy Spirit whose holiness is to be separate,
Amen.
Dieu, le Don Étèrnel: aides-nous à voir que nous avons en nous un vide infini, qui ne peut être rempli que par un objet infini et immuable, c’est-a-dire par toi-même: aides-nous à chercher en tes créatures ce que nous devons y chercher, et d’autant plus chercher en toi-même ce que nous devons chercher en toi. Donnes-nous soif de toi, et ne nous laisse pas à chercher en tes créatures ce qui doit nous mèner a toi-même. Au nom du Père qui désire nous acceuillir tous au fond de son coeur, du Fils qui marchait sur terre et qui connaît comme c’est tellement dûr d’être homme dans un monde brisé, et du Saint-Esprit qui vient pour soulager nos souffrances de ne pas être totalement réunis avec toi,
Amen.
God, the Eternal Gift: help us to see that in our hearts there is an infinite void, which can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, by you hourself: help us to seek in your creations what we should seek among your creation, and much more to seek in you yourself what we should seek in you. Makes us thirsty for you, and don’t leave us us to seek in your creatures what should draw us to yourself. In the name of the Father who wants to welcome us all into the depths of his heart, of the Son who walked on earth and knows how hard it is to be man in a broken world, and of the Holy Spirit who comes to ease our sufferings at not being totally reunited with you,
Amen.
Étèrnel, qui nous a créés en ton image, laisse-nous à connaître que nous sommes d’autant plus grands que les images que nous créons de nous-mêmes: c’est a dire que nos plus grands efforts a créer des gens (non seulement procréer), jadis en statues méchaniques et aujourd’hui par la science cognitive, ne peuvent arriver a ce que tu as fait en nous. Laisse-nous nous connaître à la fois grands et petits, et avoir l’humilité qui vient de connaître la vérité. Au nom du Père Créateur, du Fils trouvé en l’image du crée, et du Saint-Esprit, qui reste un vent que l’on ne peut exclure en essayant de créer un monde hermétiquement scellé, un vent qui souffle étèrnellement,
Amen.
Lord, who created us in your image, let us know that we are much more than the images we make of ourselves: that is, that our greatest to create (and not just pro-create) people, once by mechanical statues and now by cognitive science, cannot come to what you have done in us. Let us know ourselves at once great and small, and have the humility that comes from knowing the truth. In the name of the Creator-Father, of the Son found in the likeness of a creature, and of the Holy Spirit, which is still a wind one cannot exclude in trying to create a hermetically sealed world, a wind which blows eternally,
Amen.
O Étèrnel, qui reste hors du temps, et qui nous invite à la vie éternelle, non seulement en l’avenir, mais en cette vie-ci: laisse-nous de passer cette vie en préparation pour la vie au ciel, petits christs apprenticiés au Christ, et avoir cet amour, ce pouvoir, cette joie, cette vie, aujourd’hui et à l’avenir. En le coeur étèrnel du Père, l’étèrnité temporellement voilée du Fils, et l’amour mystérieux du Saint-Esprit,
Amen.
O Lord, who remains outside of time, and who invites us to eternal life, not only in the future, but in this life here: let us spend this life in preparation for living in Heaven, little christs apprenticed to the Christ, and to have this love, this power, this joy, this life, today and in the future. In the heart of the Father, the Son’s eternity hidden in time, and the mysterious love of the Holy Spirit,
Amen.
Étèrnel, merci de tout ce que tu nous a donnés:
Ton Esprit, au-delà meme des magies auxquelles tant d’autres espèrent;
La terre, et tout ce qu’elle contient, ton oeuvre d’art;
Ton Église étèrnelle, ton chef d’oeuvre, que tu es en train de perfectionner et qui sera parfaite, sans défaut devant ton trône;
Le petit temps passant que nous avons comme l’église militante;
La gloire sans cesse que nous aurons comme l’église victorieuse;
Ton pardon, qui ne nous laisse pas tomber, même quand nous choisissons de tomber;
L’amitié, de laquelle tu ne nous donne pas seulement l’amour de toi en culte, mais aussi l’amour d’autres images de toi;
Les détails matérielx, ou des ordinateurs, ou des arbres, ou des anciens jouets, par lesquelles tu nous bénis, le bon material accompagnant le bon spirituel;
Nos âmes, qui sont des chambres: non seulement chambres dans lesquelles nous viverons en l’avenir, mais aujour d’hui des chambres en lesquelles nous pouvons acceullir d’autres gens;
La beauté qui nous perce même et surtout pendant les plus grands bonheurs, en nous rappellant qu’il y a un bonheur d’autant plus grand qui nous attend;
Père étèrnel, de tout ce qui est nommé ici, de tout que nous oublions de te remercier, de tout que nous n’oserons croire recevoir, et de tout dont nous pensons et avons honte de te remercier car nous le croyons trop petit, au ton nom, et au nom de ton Fils, le don parfait, et ton Esprit, donné encore aujourd’hui,
Merci, et laisse-nous d’apprécier ta bonté.
Amen.
Lord, thank you for all you have given us:
Your Spirit, beyond even the magics so many hope in;
The earth, and all that is in it: your work of art;
Your eternal Church, your masterpiece, which you are perfecting and which will perfect and without defect before your throne;
The short present which we have as the church militant;
The endless glory which we will have as the church victorious;
Your forgiveness, which doesn’t just let us fall away, even when we choose to fall;
Friendship, in which you not only let us love you in worship, but also love other images of you;
Material details, be they computers, trees, or old toys, by which you bless us and let the material accompany the spiritual;
Our souls, which are rooms: not only rooms in which we will live in the future, but today rooms in which we can accompany other people;
The beauty which pierces us even and especially in our greatest happiness, reminding us that there is a much greater happiness which awaits us;
Father eternal, for all that is named here, for all that we forget to thank you for, for all we would not dare expect to receive, and all we think about and are ashamed to thank you for because we believe it to small: in your name, and in the name of your Son, the perfect gift, and your Spirit, still given today,
Thank you, and let us appreciate your kindness.
Amen.

CJSH: A Python 3 Based Experimental, Programmable Linux / Unix / Mac Shell

CJSHayward.com/cjsh

TL;DR

curl http://CJSHayward.com/cjsh/download.cgi > ~/bin/cjsh && chmod 0755 !#:3

What is cjsh/CJSH?

cjsh, developed by CJSH (Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward) is an experimental Unix/Linux command-line shell, designed to search for files for the user instead of making the user search through directory heirarchies manually, and allow much of the power of Python as its command-line scripting language.

It can be downloaded, as in the TL;DR section above, and can be initialized (this takes some time, but it pays off in usage), by running:

dev ~/directory $ cjsh --update
Creating image of file heirarchy; please wait.
This may take some time; it may be worth the wait (but sorry...)
Note that the following works well in nightly crontab:

    cjsh --update --silent

The image is complete. You are free to use cjsh.
dev ~/directory $ cjsh
One moment, please; trying to load data...
Loaded.
Welcome to cjsh. Please visit CJSHayward.com! Hit '?' for help.
--
user @ dev.localdomain - Tue Oct  2 17:00:43 2012
/Users/user
cjsh> [TAB] for index in range(10):
----> echo %(index)d
----> 
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
user @ dev.localdomain - Tue Oct  2 17:02:24 2012
/Users/user
cjsh> 

Those echo statements are not built into the (cjsh) shell. They come from an os.system() statement, and it is possible in this way to interleave shell commands and Python, with Python variables accessible to the shell commands, at least at a basic level.

What are you waiting for? Try it!

License: This project is free software, available under your choice of the MIT and GPLv2 licenses. If you like this software, you are invited to consider linking to CJSHayward.com.

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