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Soft on the Devil, 01/2017

When Cindy Myran doesn’t return home one night, within days everyone in her neighborhood assumes she’s dead, but Ian Phillips isn’t so pessimistic.  She shows up at his door a week later, in need of help and running for her life.  What happens next draws him into a labyrinth of murder, corruption, and danger, where nothing is clear and sinister secrets lurk in the shadows.  Only Ian’s courage, faith, and determination can uncover the mystery and deliver him and those he loves out of darkness and into the peaceful light of safety.

SOFT ON THE DEVIL

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.  The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”  Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”  The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.”  Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing?  Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?  You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”  The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!”  So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.       Job 1:6-12

 

Chapter 1

One of my uncles used to say judging other people based on what you can see is dangerous, because what you see isn’t always a reflection of who they are.  He said the world has a way of slanting things to make a person’s life look different than it truly is, and sometimes people look better, and other times they look worse.  He said more often than not when something bad happens to a person, sickness, tragedy, death, he or she had that evil coming because of the bad stuff they’d done and hadn’t repented of, but occasionally, something terrible happens to someone who doesn’t deserve it at all.  Like with Job, God allows it as a test, to prove His faithfulness and eventually show forth His mercy and compassion.  I don’t know whether or not my uncle was right, I just thought that was a good way to start the story I’m telling, about what I’ve seen and heard since last summer.

A woman in my apartment complex went missing last June.  Cindy Myran.  Most of my neighbors assumed she was dead, given her reputation as a drunk and an addict, and the way she came and went at odd hours, the people who picked her up always shouting, laughing, and making a scene out in the street.  My upstairs neighbor, Gary, said he thought she’d been murdered.

“Women like that get killed all the time,” he told me, a real serious look in his eyes.  “They go out partying and strut around town, hop in cars with the loudest, meanest guy that takes an interest, and sooner or later he gets tired of her yapping and loses control.  Or maybe she gets real unlucky and goes off with a really evil man who breaks her neck one night for the fun of it.”  Gary twisted his hands like he was uncapping a pickle jar.

“Don’t you think she might have moved away,” I asked, “or gone to stay with a friend out of town somewhere?”

“She didn’t tell nobody.  Kelly says she always calls and asks her to get her mail if she’s gonna be gone this long.”

“I know, but it’s possible she forgot to call Kelly, or thinks she already did, like a slip of her memory.”

Gary sneered.

“No, wait.  I’ve got a sixth sense about stuff like this.  I think we’ll see Cindy again.”

I remember being at work that week and feeling a dark cloud over everyone, even with the sunlight pouring through the windows and the people walking in from the lake all tired and rosy.  They’d order a slice of gourmet pizza and a microbrew, and I’d ring it up on the register.  I worked at the café counter of an EarthWay grocery store in the county, where those who could afford it shopped for organically grown, locally farmed meat and produce.  The majority of my customers were married women, and I had to be careful because some of them liked to flirt.  A few of my coworkers liked to flirt too, which may have been why my boss, Vera, put me on the register and kept Rob and Casey on the food line.  The Friday after Cindy went missing, one customer started flirting with me, but it turned out to be something else entirely.

It was after the lunch rush, one-thirty or so, and she walked up as I was counting and clipping the small bills, a lady with straight black hair down to her shoulders, white skin, and dark eye makeup and lipstick.  She scared me a little, I looked up and she was there.

“Can I help you, ma’am?”

“I’m checking out the menu,” she said slowly, her eyes scanning the items overhead.

I set the stacks of ones and fives aside and waited.

“The Portabella Melt sounds delicious,” she smiled.

“It’s one of the favorites,” I said.  “Is that what you want?”

“I don’t know,” she replied, a hint of playful agony in her voice.  “What would you get if you were me?”

“I like the salmon avocado pizza,” I said matter-of-factly.

“That sounds nice.”

I waited while she scanned the menu a little longer.

“I’ll have the Portabella Melt,” she said at last.  “You look like that actor, from those old movies.  What’s his name, um…”

“Joseph Cotten.”

“Is that his name?”

“It’s what people say.”

“Maybe.  Anyway, you’re very handsome.  How much do I owe you?”

“Would you like a drink or dessert with that?”

“No, thanks.”

“Your total is twelve forty-three.  For here or to go?”

“To go, please.”

After running her credit card and handing her the receipt, I told her the food would be ready in a few minutes and we’d call her name at the end of the counter.  Later on, at about seven o’clock as I was leaving work, I saw her again, the same woman, sitting in her car in the EarthWay parking lot nearly six hours after she’d left the café.  She was watching me when I saw her so I turned away real quick and kept walking calmly to my car.  No one followed me out of the lot, but I took a detour from my normal route back to the city just in case.

After dinner that night I turned on the tv.  I usually watch a half hour of news before switching to a movie or doing some reading.  On the Friday night in question there was a story about the school district I lived in, Meremac South, being under investigation for allegations of fraud and abuse of public funds.  They didn’t say anything else about it, the anchor just left it at that, which kind of frustrated me because I’d gone to high school at Meremac South and if someone was stealing money from those schools I wanted to know.

I read the Bible before bed that night, and I remember exactly what I read because of what happened in the middle of it.  Chapter 1 of the Book of Jeremiah.  “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.  I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’”  I must have read for at least an hour, and as I was struggling over one of the Scriptures, a knock came on the door.  The knock was quiet but had an energy behind it that made it feel loud.  I closed my Bible and set it aside, stood up, and went to the door, careful not to make any noise in case it was someone looking for trouble.  When I put my eye up to the peephole, there was Cindy Myran.

This was surprising for a number of reasons.  One, the general consensus in my neighborhood was that Cindy was dead.  I didn’t personally believe this to be the truth, but part of me had been afraid it was.  Two, prior to her going missing she and I never talked.  I’d lent her some quarters and dryer sheets in the laundry room a few times but we hardly knew each other.  Three, I lived on the opposite side of the courtyard in our apartment complex, so even if she knocked on a random door for help the odds of it being mine were slim to none.

While hesitating for a moment to consider my options, I heard her say, “Open up, Ian, I saw you look through the peephole.”

“Okay,” I said back, unlocking the door.

“Can I come in, please?”

“Of course,” I nodded and let her walk past me.  “Have a seat.  I’ll get you a drink.  Do you like Diet Sprite?”

“Do you have any beer?” she asked, sitting down on the couch.

“I think so.  Yeah, I’ve got a couple harvest wheat ales, and a—”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Okay.”  I brought her a beer and opened one for myself.  “Cheers, you’re alive,” I smiled, raising my bottle.

“You think anyone’d care if I wasn’t?”

“I’d care.  I mean, we don’t know each other, but—Kelly, she’d care.”

“Kelly only cares cause I get her high.  She’d be sad about that, though, you’re right.”

“Can I get you some aspirin or something?  How about food, are you hungry?”

“If you’ve got some granola bars or something I can take with me, that’d be great.  I can’t stay here for long, they might come looking.”

“Who might come looking?”

She chugged the rest of her beer.  “The kind of guys you don’t name unless you do want to die.  Listen, Ian, everyone knows you’re a good person—”

I spat a mouthful of beer onto the wooden table between us, and some of it splashed up on her left knee and thigh.  “I’m sorry,” I coughed, “I didn’t expect you to say that.”

“What?  It’s true.  You have a good reputation, you’re honest.”

“I guess so.”  I handed her a paper towel from the kitchen and started wiping up the beer.

“I need fifty dollars for a bus ticket to Bradson City.”

“I don’t have fifty dollars.  I have five.”

“You work in Pineville and you don’t have fifty bucks?”

“I just settled some overdue rent with John.  I’m a pizza cashier, by the way—how’d you know where I work?”

“You don’t get out much, do you.”  Cindy shook her head, planted her face in her hands.  “Uhhhhhh,” she groaned.

“If you want, I can drive you to Bradson City.”

She peeked up through her fingers.  “You’d do that?”

“Sure.  I’ve got a full tank, you’re running for your life…  It makes sense.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she squealed, jumping up and hugging me.

“I’ll have to call in sick tomorrow.  We can wait till morning, can’t we?”

“No.  Yes, we can,” she smiled.  “Thank you.”

“Alright.  I hope the couch is okay for you to sleep on.  I’ll get you a blanket.”

In the morning, I woke up to find an empty couch, no Cindy, no note, only the blanket folded neatly over the armrest and a few empty beer bottles on the kitchen counter.  “Guess I don’t have to take the day off work,” I said.  I walked across the courtyard to Kelly’s place to ask if she’d seen her the night before.

“Honey, Cindy’s dead.  I thought everybody knew that by now.”

“Everyone thought she was dead, but I don’t assume stuff like that.  I had the feeling she might have dropped by here last night at eleven or twelve.”

“If she did then it was her ghost who showed up.  They found Cindy’s body in the woods down by the lake.  Don’t you have a tv?”

I heard Kelly’s voice speak these words and saw her lips moving, but their meaning didn’t sink in right away.  I shuffled back to my apartment like a zombie and sat down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a plate of untoasted poptarts.  Our conversation the night before revolved through my mind, Cindy’s face, her words, the urgency of her request, faded into the hollow ache of nothingness.  I made myself eat, chewing quickly and washing down the synthetic sweetness with strong black coffee.  Then, standing up, I approached the television, took a deep breath, and pressed the power button.  The screen showed trees, police officers, and emergency vehicles, with a caption reading:  “Woman Found Dead at Hoppersand Lake.”

 

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Undivided Lines

Available at Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com

Undivided Lines is a collection of stories about wisdom, love, adventure, and redemption, featuring a diverse range of characters who brave challenging and life-altering experiences.  From a tenacious senator defending the legacy of his work, to a Native American youth fighting for survival in his homeland, to a new mother traveling the galaxy to solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearance, these stories entertain, amaze, and enlighten.

From Undivided Lines:

The Senator

“The first sign of the decay of nations is when they begin to have common gods.  When gods begin to be common gods, the gods die as well as the faith in them, together with the people themselves.  The more powerful a nation, the more individual its god.”  — Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons

The senator’s crisp white sleeves made a whisking sound as he punched, jab, jab, right cross, left hook, left uppercut, jab…  He kept his chin in and head down, weaving lightly back and forth.  The standing mirror in front of him quaked gently after every punch, faintly blurring his reflection, as he threw his fists harder, faster, exacting a fierce combination of head and body blows until the whole room began shaking, then he slowed, dropped his hands to his sides, stood there and watched himself breathing.

“You don’t get into my line of work unless you care about people and want to make a difference in the world.  I look back at who I was thirty, forty years ago, and it amazes me how much I didn’t know.  It astounds me.  You could fill a library floor-to-ceiling with volumes of books about the staggering depths of my ignorance.  The knowledge I’ve gained since then has changed my opinion about some things, but honestly, the reasons for me staying in this fight are the same as when I started.  My heart’s the same, it’s about heart.”

The boy glanced up at the creases branching out of the corner of his dad’s eye.  “Brandon said his grandpa had a heart attack a while ago, and he died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  May Brandon’s grandpa rest in peace.  Steven, I’m talking about your figurative heart, like your spirit.  When heart attacks happen it’s your physical heart, here…”  He pressed his hand against the boy’s chest.  “That’s what pumps your blood.  I’m talking about the heart you feel with, the heart that makes you strong.”

“Where is that one at?”

“Same place, I suppose.  Only it’s invisible.”

“Invisible?”  The boy’s eyes opened wide as he smiled.

“Never mind.  The point I was trying to make is whatever you decide to do with your life, you’d better make doggone sure you’re doing it for more than a paycheck.  You can farm money trees for all I care, but if you haven’t got a bigger goal than making money, you might as well set those trees on fire.”

Burn money trees?”

“You bet, burn ‘em up.”

“Wouldn’t that be a waste—”

“No, it wouldn’t be a waste.”  He looked at his son’s blank expression.  “Yes, it would be a waste, but only because of what you could accomplish with all that money, the businesses you could start, people you could feed, and bless, and help out of all kinds of trouble.  The money itself isn’t the thing, is what I’m saying.”

“The money isn’t the thing,” the boy echoed.

“Correct.”

“Isn’t the thing,” he said again, more softly.

The pavilion they were in had a green pyramid-shaped roof made of hard plastic that started to click right then with the impact of heavy raindrops.  Click-click, click, click-click-click, click, click-click, click…

The senator cast an irritated glance upward.  “Did they design this thing to be obnoxious in the rain?”

The pavilion was built on a bridge spanning a small lake in a park near their home, and the fish started jumping once the rain began, launching out over the rippling surface and splashing down, or merely churning the lake with a whip of their tails and descending.

“Whoa!  Did you see that?” the boy asked, his eyes lit like high beams.

“Must have been a five-pounder,” he answered.

Steven jumped up and walked over to the railing, then, feeling the cold rain, leapt back under the roof of the pavilion.  “It’s cold.”

“It’ll stop soon.  You see those clouds over there, the gap over those trees?  The wind is driving ‘em this way.  We may see sunny skies before lunchtime.”

Sitting down again, he turned and asked, “What’s for lunch, you think?”

“Chips,” the man smiled.  “Salsa.  P, b, and j.  Doubt mom’s gonna fix anything today.  She might, though.  Never know.”

The rain slowed to a light drizzle.

The man cleared his throat.  “Steven, I want to tell you something, and this may have been what I was trying to say earlier.  You’re too young now to understand it, perhaps, but I’m not getting any younger myself, so here goes.  Grown-ups, we do the best we can.  We start out as little kids just like you, everything’s new and interesting, the world’s a great big adventure.  We go to school and get jobs, start families, and hopefully put our time and effort into something useful.  The problem is, most of the time, the simple goal of building something, building a career, a life, can be the most difficult task in the world.  And people can hate you for it, even when you’re just trying to help.”

“Hate you?”

“That’s right.  Now life is complicated, son, and the world, it’s a chaotic place.  Chaotic, you know, crazy.  For everything that goes right and smooth and the way it’s supposed to go, there’s about fourteen hundred things that go wrong along with it.  I’m not saying I’ve been a perfect man, far from it.  But I have tried, every step of the way, to steer clear of trouble, both for myself and your mother, for you, Helen, Jenny, and Allen, and most importantly for the American people.  My job is tough, Steve, tougher than you know.  You’ve got to fight and do the best you can to help the highest number of people you can, and half the time you’re killing yourself just to steer clear of the next catastrophe.  Catastrophe, like a disaster, like an earthquake or something.  Anyway, that’s what I tried to do, day in, day out, for thirty some-odd years.”  He smiled.  “So don’t let them tell you different.”

The boy glanced up at him, half-smiled, and gazed out over the water.

“You hungry?  Let’s go get that p, b, and j.”

As they crossed the bridge onto the path that curved up toward the front of the park, it started raining again, harder than before.  The senator hopped a few times and started running, smiling back at the boy, and letting Steven run on ahead.

 

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From the Pit

A jagged diamond of bright white light, fuzzy like he was looking through an unfocused camera, appeared directly above him.  At the same time the pain awoke, a searing fire in his lower back and legs, and then he noticed the cold.  He didn’t want to move in case he’d broken something when he fell, assuming he could move, and assuming he did fall, so he just laid there, blinking up at the jagged white diamond.

The sides of the enclosure gleamed softly beneath the opening, a faint silvery luminescence gracing the edges and faces of the gray-black rock unlike any of the rocks he’d seen in the hills around his home.  “Home,” he thought.  Where was home?  Suddenly a bolt of lightning struck his back, convulsed his whole body, a cloud of steam burst up toward the diamond light, then another, smaller cloud, and another, each one frying his nerves like a blast of fire.  “Note to self,” he thought when the pain had settled.  “Try not to cough.”

How he had landed at the bottom of the pit may have been a useful question to try to answer, but his memories vanished like fleeing shadows; his own name wrestled free from his grasp.  A fall like this practically guaranteed severe brain trauma.  Staring up at the diamond some seventy feet above he felt a rush of gratitude for being preserved alive.  Drawing open his jaw, he whispered a word of thanks, one word, “God.”

Soon after that he slept, he must have, because the next thing he knew the diamond had disappeared and the pit was covered in darkness.  Fixing his eyes on the place where the light had shone down he searched for stars, clouds, the slightest hint of moonlight, yet found nothing, and shutting his eyes again, resolved to sleep until daylight.  Before the numbness could swallow him, a crawling sensation on his right calf alerted him to the presence of some creature lurking there, a small animal with strength, insect or lizard.  With a simultaneous kick of his right foot and flail of his left arm, he managed to smack it off, then laid as still as possible till the fire in his bones subsided.  Sleep overtook him, smiling in the dark.  He could move.

The next day proved somewhat productive, though advancement was slow.  By the hour at which the diamond began to grow dim he’d completed a turn onto his stomach, and had inched forward two or three feet in the direction of what he judged to be the closest wall of the enclosure.  The floor of the pit, mostly sand and gravel with a few large rocks the size of car batteries, felt soaked by collected rain water or maybe thin puddles seeping up from an underground stream.  Whatever its source the liquid was nearly frozen, numbing his flesh on contact.  Sinking into sleep that night, his thoughts narrowed upon the goal of crawling to the wall by the end of the following day.  He remembered a line his brother used to say, a quote from the Bible.  “All things,” he whispered.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Voices, sounds, groaning…  Spirits churning in the deep…  Dull chanting like the songs of a demon choir woke him, drove him up past the surface of oblivion.  He gasped, a quick succession of panting breaths, the gritty taste of sand in his cheek.  He turned his head upright and spat, resting his chin on a smooth flat stone, and blinking his eyes, detected the faint sheen on the nearest wall, twelve, thirteen feet away.  “This is possible,” he assured himself.  Drawing three more deep breaths, he hoisted the weight of his torso onto his right elbow, unleashing a tortured wail, and threw all the power he could summon from his right shoulder and lat into propelling his upper body forward, in the hope that his legs would advance behind him.  The maneuver planted him flat on his face in the rocks, with a succession of gnawing aches pulsing out from the base of his spine.  Ten long minutes elapsed before the agony receded enough for him to open his eyes and gauge the progress he’d made.  The gently luminous wall still shone twelve feet away.

The day he’d set for reaching it became one week, and the week became two.  Every attempt to move forward tormented him worse than the last, however this impression faded with the agony itself.  When the sober working of his faculties returned at the end of the day, he believed the pain to be lessening with each new attempt.  Whether or not this was wishful thinking, or the projected longing of sheer faithful desperation, was impossible to say.  He hoped the pain was receding, that his body was healing, but these concerns fell into periphery on the morning he reached the wall.

The full utility of his right arm and most of the use of his left would help him grip the holds and hang there, for a few minutes at least, to catch his breath, before pulling up to the next resting place.  To even begin the climb required a minimum of leg strength to support his body while resting, letting him search out the next viable hold with his free hand.  His legs had proven useless during his journey across the floor of the pit, since any endeavor to bend his knees or push with his feet spiked a debilitating shock into his back, blinding him and nearly rendering him unconscious.  But he felt better now, stronger, like God had empowered him for the second phase of his escape.

Turning so he sat with his back against the wall, he felt behind him for leverage to stand up without bending his legs.  Securing his palms to the edges of two uneven holds about a foot off the ground, he strained up and back, shifting more and more weight onto his outstretched legs, lifting higher, to the highest position his grip would allow, the pain smoldering in his back, until his left palm slipped off the wall and he fell, catching himself with a backwards slide of his right foot, able somehow to support him now.

He stood up for what felt like the first time ever.  He turned around, rocked from heels to toes, heels to toes, leaned his head back and shouted for joy.  The bright diamond beamed down at him from a height that looked insurmountable.  His joy ceased instantly, destroyed by the cruel hammer of reality, and he dropped, hollow, to the ground.

For days he stayed there, curled up by the wall.  The sun would rise, somewhere, illumine the mouth of his pitiful den, grace the cold rock in front of him with a soft blue sheen, and set again, immersing his life in empty darkness.  One day, two, three, he stopped counting, buried his mind in the chambers of his soul where a soft dim warmth still glowed.  Waves of grief passed through, turned him over in riptides of hungriest despair, roaring death pounded nightly at his door, and then, hearing no answer, tore away again, letting warm comfort envelop him and soothe his damaged heart.

One morning as the diamond light waxed brighter up above, he extended his arm, pressed his hand against the cool angular surface, when instantly the stone awoke, enlivened by his touch and animated inside by golden flowing particles of light.  The light poured through the rock, entered his fingers and traveled up his arm, collecting at his core and radiating outward in slowly widening rings.  This occurrence jolted him awake, though he failed to move from his place by the wall.  No physical sensation had accompanied the influx of this new light, but rather an awareness, the sudden activation of knowledge so familiar, so native to his soul, as if a vital circuit were now restored, engaging the harmony and totality of his being.  Silently rolling onto his back, and standing up, he started to climb.

Carefully at first, making certain not to slip, testing the holds with his hands and feet before committing his weight to them, then more quickly, each safe elevation adding new courage, strength, boldness.  Toward the light he struggled with increasing confidence and ease, joints and muscles working smoothly, painlessly, like he’d been built to scale this wall, intentionally designed to conquer this surface.  The stone gleamed brighter and brighter—in an instant he felt it, his right hand breached the diamond entrance of the enclosure and grabbed hold of the jagged shelf.

A combined lift and pull of his arms let him swing his foot over the ledge, and at last he was free, on his back in the light.  Shielding his eyes, cautiously, he looked around.  At first all he saw was mini-blinds.  Light filtered through the horizontal bars outlining a female body standing beside him, speaking quickly and squeezing his arm.  The words grew clearer as his vision sharpened, and he saw her, a young dark-haired woman wearing a stethoscope and black scrubs.

“Don’t try to move,” she told him.  “Can you understand what I’m saying?  Blink once for yes and two for no.”

“I can hear you fine,” he said.

“You can talk.”

“I can talk.”

“Stay still, please, sir.  We’re going to have to run some tests.”

 

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Lighter Side

Square stone tiles the color of white ash formed a rectangular grid on the second floor balcony of the food court at the Vibrant Valley mall.  Half of the tables had been collected and moved into storage for the winter, while the remaining twenty formed a dotted right triangle over the other half of the balcony, leaving a triangle of empty space outside the doors.  A dark-haired girl stood smoking in the corner opposite the staggered line of tables.

The soles of her shoes had started peeling away from the webbed fabric on the toes.  She’d only bought them two months ago, paid eighty dollars for them.  Her feet looked small inside the large square, almost like two hooves.  “They call me Goatgirl,” she whispered, letting smoke flow out the side of her mouth.  She smiled.  “Stop by the Vibrant Valley shopping mall from two to four today and see the amazing Goatgirl.  Watch her clop across the floor in worn-out tennis shoes.  Scratch between her horns and hear her say, ‘bah.’  Be careful, though, she will headbutt you.”  She dropped the cigarette and ground it out on the tile.

“I think you meant bleat,” said a voice as she passed the gap beside the automatic doors.

“Ahh!” she jumped, stumbling backwards.  “What the hell are you doing there?”

“I’m sorry,” he laughed.  The man wore all denim, a denim shirt, jeans, and a tight jean jacket.  His hair was silver and curly.  “I couldn’t help hearing you just now.  You said that goats bah.  Goats don’t bah, they bleat.”

“Alright,” she smiled, continued walking.  “Don’t make eye contact.”  The doors slid open and she stopped, walked backwards to where he was standing.  “What are you doing here?”

“I work here, at the music store.”

That’s where I’ve seen you.  Stocking cd’s at Javelin Records.”

“Guilty.  What are you doing here, Goatgirl?”

She thought for a moment.  “Killing time.”

“That’s rather impolite, don’t you think?”

“Eye for an eye,” she said.  “Time kills all of us, so…”

“Ah,” he laughed.

“Just returning the favor.”

“You don’t work here?”

“Nope.”

The droning hum and choral rush of cars on the highway filled the space in their conversation.  The girl’s expression conveyed sadness mixed with confusion, a perplexed melancholy, as she peered at the concrete, then back up at him, and nodded goodbye.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Minette,” she told him.

“Well, Ninette, there’s an old—”

“No, Minette, with an ‘m.’  Like Minnie Mouse.”

“Well, Minnie Mouse, there’s an old Bob Dylan song, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody.’  It goes:  You may be an ambassador to England or France—”

“I don’t really like Bob Dylan.”

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance—”

“He’s a little before my time.”

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world—”

“And his voice sounds kind of… nasally.”

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls,” the man sang in a low, bluesy baritone.

She started laughing.  “You’re a lunatic, aren’t you.”

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody,” he sang louder, “yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody.  Well it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”  He punctuated the verse with a sky-splitting howl.

“You are… a true maniac,” she said, still laughing.  “What’s your name, Bob Dylan?”

“K.R.,” he bowed.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too.  I hate to break it to you, K.R., but I don’t believe in God or the devil, so that song doesn’t really apply to me.”

Glancing at the horizon, he asked, “What about your parents?  Do they believe?”

“My parents are from China.  They’re non-practicing Buddhists, I guess.”

“Brothers?  Sisters?”

“Solo Minette.”

“Well, Solo Minette, the force is with you, whether you believe in it or not.  Let me show you something.”  K.R. pushed off the wall he was leaning against.  “Creak,” he groaned, walking out from the cutout by the doors and across the empty side of the balcony.

“Where are you going?”

“Come on, Minette, join me by the railing for a moment.  I wish to impart some wisdom.”

Directly below the balcony, one of the mall’s main entrances stood at the vertex of a giant parabola opening out toward the parking lot.  The patio of an Italian café formed the left side of the arch, from where they were standing, and the psychedelic windows of an art gallery and supply store formed the right.  Shoppers approached from the lot a couple hundred feet away.

“Now humor me, please, Minette, and just observe these people for a minute.”

She stepped up to the railing, looked down at the shoppers.  A few teenage boys in a row, joking and laughing, not much younger than her.  An elderly woman digging around in her patchwork bag while she shuffled past the vibrant paintings in the art shop window.  A middle-aged married couple discussing something serious or troubling as they hurried inside.

“Okay.  What’s your point?”

K.R. stretched his hands over the railing, palms down.  “What do all these people have in common?”

“They have money.  I mean, they can afford to come and buy stuff, so they must have money.”

“Probably so,” he nodded.  “What else?”

“They’re all from Vibrant Valley?”

“No, you don’t know that,” he shook his head.  “They’re all alive, Minaret!”

“Are you high right now?  Seriously, did you just smoke like a bunch of pot?”

“No,” he grinned, “I don’t smoke anymore.  I’m trying to illustrate an important truth here.  Look,” he pointed at the hillside beyond the parking lot.  “You see that grass on the embankment?  It’s tan and dry, right, it’s dead.  Now look at the bushes down by the patio.  Green, lush, radiant.  They’re alive.  Do you see the contrast?”

“Yes.”

“It’s night and day, like the difference between seeing a dead person and a live one.  Have you ever seen a dead body?”

“My grandpa, when I was three.  I don’t remember it very clearly.  What’s your point, K.R., I’ve got loitering to do.”

“Life, child.  My point is life.  You said you didn’t believe in God.  I’m telling you that life is proof that there’s a God, life itself.”

Minette turned back toward the parking lot and the oncoming shoppers.  Their faces looked sullen and vacant now, their gestures cold and mechanical.  “War,” she said.  “Sickness, hatred, anger, jealousy, death…  If you ask me that’s proof there is no God, or if there ever was then it’s like that philosopher said, God is dead.”

“Friedrich Nietzsche.  I don’t think he meant that exactly.  God is the very source of life.  The source of life can’t die.  I’m tired.”  He walked a few paces to the nearest table and sat down.

She leaned forward with her arms crossed on the railing and slid down toward him.  “Are you married, K.R.?”

“No, ma’am, I am not.”

“You were, though.”

“Yes, ma’am, I was.”

Minette gasped.  “She’s not dead, is she?”

“Unfortunately not,” he laughed.

“What a diabolical thing to say.  There it is again.”

“There what is again?”

“Proof, that there isn’t a God.”

“How’s that?”

“Well,” she sat down beside him.  “You were married.  You proposed to…”

“Natalie.”

“You proposed to Natalie, she said yes, I presume, you walked down the aisle, spoke your vows to one another, till death do you part, you kissed each other, and so on, and however many years later, you broke up.  Did you get married in a church?”

“Our Lady of Peace.”

“A Catholic church no less.  So, if God brought you two together, why would He separate you?  Why would He let that happen?”

The sun had emerged from a screen of wispy clouds as she was talking.  K.R. had to squint in order to look at her.  “I asked Him the very same question.  Want to know what He said, Ms. Minnie?”

“God actually talks to you?  You really are a lunatic.”

“He answered by telling me He didn’t split us up, or even let us split up, and in His eyes we’ll always be married.  In the kingdom, that is.”

“But you’re divorced.”

“Yep, and she’s remarried.”

“How…?”  She raised her hands, shaking her head.

“It’s a great mystery, Minnarino.  I can tell you this, though.  Nothing that is loved is ever lost.  Wise man said that.  Peace out, little sister.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Cd’s to stock.  Bob Dylan cd’s,” he smiled back.  “Hey, maybe I can get you a job there.  What do you say?”

She thought for a moment, glanced down at her worn-out tennis shoes.  “Yeah, check and see, will you?”

“Come on then, Minaret.”

 

IC Front Cover

Intended Consequences–Essays

Available at Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com

From Intended Consequences:

Wishing

Perhaps the worst thing about living in Missouri is the distance from the ocean.  A thousand miles to the Atlantic and two thousand to the Pacific, the city of St. Louis sits securely landlocked in the middle of the Midwest.  You start to feel it too when summer begins, when the rising temperatures, blinding sun, and boiling air start prompting visions of crisp blue waves and white sand beaches, of running and diving into the surf, then stretching out and relaxing in the shade.  There are plenty of swimming pools around but it’s not the same, pools are crowded and boring compared to the sea, like playing with Hot Wheels instead of driving an actual car.  And the only way to get to the coast would be to fly there for a week and who has time for that?  So here I am, in a coffee shop in a mall, watching people drink iced coffee while I write a pointless essay about wanting to be somewhere else.

The last time I swam in the ocean was over fifteen years ago, my tenth grade spring break in Destin, Florida.  My friend’s grandparents had a house down the beach a couple miles from the hotels.  It was quiet, and at night if you walked down to the water and listened to the waves rushing over the sand you felt alone and content in a universe as infinite as the ocean is mysterious, the moonlit waves drawing back and back and back into rolling darkness.  One night at 3am or so I awoke and went down to sit by the water, and for no reason at all jumped up and ran figure eights in the sand, as fast as I could, until I couldn’t breathe and collapsed on the beach with burning lungs.  Not sure why I did that—I think it had something to do with freedom.

Another memory from the trip took place a hundred yards out from shore, nothing tragic, no shark attack or near-death drowning, just a feeling of staring out at the horizon, faintly sinking and rising, melting with the sky, and feeling close to God.  Moments like those rarely happened to me back then and I didn’t recognize what it was at the time, but now I know it was Christ reaching down to bless me, to let me know as a kind of bread crumb that He loves me, that God watches over us, even when we don’t believe, and with Him is complete and radiant joy.  Everything fused in that second on a raft off the coast of Destin, and since then there’s been nowhere else I’d rather go to get away for a while, away from dry land, from routine, and from real life.

Walt Whitman wrote a poem entitled, “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life,” about walking the edge of Long Island and feeling humbled and inadequate.  The poem begins:  “As I ebb’d with the ocean of life/As I wended the shores I know/As I walk’d where the ripples continually wash you Paumanok/Where they rustle up hoarse and sibilant/Where the fierce old mother endlessly cries for her castaways/I musing late in the autumn day, gazing off southward/Held by this electric self out of the pride of which I utter poems/Was seiz’d by the spirit that trails in the lines underfoot/The rim, the sediment that stands for all the water and all the land of the globe.”

Whitman uses the Native American name, Paumanok, for Long Island, the place of his birth.  I wonder if the Native Americans had a name for St. Louis.  If they did it probably had something to do with rivers.

 

Brotherhood

One of my church brothers told me a while ago that we have to treat every day like it’s Day 1.  It made sense then with what was happening in my life and I remember this statement from time to time when the cares of the world start weighing on me.  Regardless of our progress in any area of life, our families, work, friendships, spiritual growth, there’s an open invitation to help other people out, and when we make that our goal and pursue different ways to help others, new doors open up and new opportunities present themselves.

Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail talks about brotherhood in idyllic and majestic terms.  He so exalts the idea it seems that if he had one dying wish, he’d ask for all Americans to live as brothers and sisters, bonded by love, securely able to withstand social turbulence and survive whatever conflicts arise with a foundational, brotherly love intact.  Dr. King dreamt of such a place, of one national family.  The late Sixties weren’t so different from today.  Violence between police and citizens, especially African American citizens, plaguing the news every week, sharply divided political parties clashing in dismal arguments, and frightened people yearning for peace, stability, and brotherhood.

Since the beginning of this election year I’ve made a point of trusting God for our national welfare, and instead of panicking over the latest catastrophe, praying and reading Scripture on behalf of those in power, the civil authorities, and the oppressed.  Prayer helps more than anyone gives it credit for, and God hears every syllable of every word we speak in love.  Families pray for each other.  Brothers look out for one another automatically, as a rule.  Jesus teaches in the Gospel of Luke, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10)  The Lord promises that those who do show faith and responsibility in the less important things will be promoted to leadership roles in the kingdom.  Details like kind words, respectful manners, and common courtesy reflect a heart that belongs entirely to God and go a long way toward healing people.

When families disagree, the details are what hold them together.  My brother might hate the fact that I’m a Beatles fan, but as long as we keep it respectful, and I don’t make fun of his weird antler statues, there won’t be a problem.  The same dynamic works for politics—as long as people operate under the agreement that we are or at least should be a family, the major disagreements won’t tear us apart, and reconciliation will occur.  Details hold families together when the world tries to break them down.  Details matter.

Details matter so much that fifty years ago people sacrificed their lives for equal seating in restaurants and on buses, for the right to eat and drink in the same places as everyone else, and for the right to be regarded publicly as citizens by their government, because those superficialities revealed the state of America’s heart toward African Americans.  Martin Luther King knew that better than anyone, which is why he gave his life for brotherhood, the kind that fills the heart and manifests throughout the world.  He closes his Letter from a Birmingham Jail like this:  “If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me.  If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.”

 

Kind of Blue

Jazz originated in New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, evolving to produce some of the most creative and varied music the world has ever heard.  Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue holds the honor of being one of the most highly valued jazz albums, and one of the most influential records of any musical genre in history.  Recorded in New York in 1959 and released that year, the album features Bill Evans on piano, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chambers on bass, John Coltrane and Julian Adderley on saxophones, Miles Davis on trumpet, and pianist Wynton Kelly on one track.

The use of improvisation makes jazz unique, gives the music life and power, and carries an emotional energy through the sound waves like currents of electricity.  The solos on Kind of Blue feel like echoes of an invisible music more real and powerful than the notes we hear from the trumpet and saxophones.  The drums, bass, and piano maintain a gentle structure for the horns to dance over, trancelike, then more upbeat, alternately crying and singing, sadness, weeping, fusing into mellow joy.

A departure from the style of his earlier work, Davis shifted from hard bop to modal jazz with Milestones in 1958, furthering his experimentations with modality on Kind of Blue.  At a time when American music, culture, values, and society were rapidly changing, artists like Davis cleared new paths for others by simply doing what they loved.  The Sixties saw wave after wave of brilliant, unprecedented, soulful music flooding out of the United States and Great Britain, a creative movement founded on the bold work of fearless artists of the 40’s and 50’s.  Popular music contributed a uniquely powerful voice to the national community, a vitality which healed and bonded people when bitter disagreements kept trying to make our nation split.

People talk about jazz’s quality of incorporating “wrong” notes into the music, pressing on through failed attempts and using the rhythm as a platform to speak hints of some far greater truth, so that really there are no mistakes in jazz, no “wrong” notes, because it’s all one big try anyway.  The musicians get together and give it their best shot to reach the unreachable, maybe they come close and maybe they don’t, but at least they gave it a shot.  Miles probably wouldn’t care too much that the Library of Congress selected his album for the National Recording Registry, or that Rolling Stone ranks it among the top 20 albums of all time, but he definitely does care that his music speaks truth to people, revealing the eternal.

America has a lot of music playing today, jumbled, broken music, jagged signals flying around and scattered voices trying to sing along.  The invisible music of truth gets drowned out by all that noise, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still playing.  Another thing people say about jazz is the most important notes are the ones you don’t hear—not that those notes aren’t being played, only, silently.  Miles teaches us the best thing one can do in life is miss.

 

readingflyer1

Robert Lampros Author Reading

Link to Event Homepage

DATE AND TIME
Tue, October 11, 2016
7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
(Free Admission)

LOCATION
University City Public Library
6701 Delmar Boulevard
University City, MO 63130

DESCRIPTION
Robert Lampros, Author Reading/Book Signing. Intended Consequences, and Last Year’s Resolution. The author will present both a work of nonfiction and a short novel, the first an essay collection about faith and Christianity as it relates to life in contemporary America, the second an Apocalyptic romantic comedy.

Robert Lampros is an author of Christian poetry, essays, and fiction who lives in St. Louis. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. His books include Fits of Tranquility, Afternoon, and Last Year’s Resolution.

 

20161006_071033

Games

The breath, before the starting whistle,
open air over grass or dust,
teams in formation, crashing forward
in halting visions of their minds,
a stillness captured by the light.

Days when battles stormed the earth
like rumbling torrents of hailing skies,
when shields landed silently
on the dark red ground, survivors
cried to each other, lifting their eyes.

What people do for sport, for glory,
power, money, fame, might haunt them,
cast them in a towering flame,
the victories of yesterday may crumble
into glowing ashes of one’s own shame.

Rising into sight above the field,
does the sun perceive the bodies,
fallen temples of lost and angry souls?
Will the winners sense the shaded eyes,
or feel the warmth that makes us new?

 

resrec

Last Year’s Resolution (novel)

Available at Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com

A couple weeks before Solitaire High School’s winter break, Eddie stopped by for a quick talk followed by a question and answer session with the students.  The school enrolled about a hundred and fifty kids, who all gathered in the gymnasium with the administration and faculty after lunch.

The principal introduced him as, “Mr. Edmund Stovender, the most talented writer of his generation,” an epithet that embarrassed him but succeeded in rousing the attention of the distracted students.  After speaking for half an hour about his childhood in Iowa, his love of books as a teenager, his early career, and the lessons he’d learned from his novels, he concluded on a note of encouragement, stressing the importance of faith and perseverance in one’s quest for achievement in any field.  “Does anyone have any questions?”

A young lady in the second to last row raised her hand.  “Hi, Mr. Stovender, my name is Margaret, my friends call me Marge.  What are you working on now, if you don’t mind telling us?”

“Oh, not at all.  It’s a new type of project for me, a medieval science fiction novel about a space knight, Sir Remo Daggenthorp, who travels the galaxy protecting civilizations from attacks by various plagues, predators, invasions, and things.  It’s kind of a metaphor for my own spiritual journey.  Who’s next?  You there in the red hat.”

“How much money you got?”

“Excuse me,” said one of the teachers, “do you mind elaborating on your last statement?  How exactly is that a metaphor for your spiritual life?”

“Sure, sure.  Well, it’s no secret that there’s a war happening right now, in our country, the world, and the universe, and like any good human I’m trying to do my part to crush the devil.  Good vs. evil, Light vs. dark, Love vs. hate, you know how it goes.  ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’”

“Are the aliens like the locusts from the Book of Revelation?” asked a young man in the first row.

“Not necessarily, although there is a species of mutant condor from the planet Taldrathon which bears certain similarities.  No, I think of the alien invaders as evil influences, such as hatred, anger, jealousy, lust, greed, carelessness, unrighteous fear, anything that threatens our peace and safety here…  Including the monsters from Revelation, of course.”

“My neighbor saw one on the roof of the Makermart last week.  He said it was big, and had giant knife-teeth.”  A number of students gasped.

“It’s alright,” he said, “don’t worry about the hell creatures.  They can not touch us who have faith.  Are there any more questions?”

“How long have you been married to Ms. Altnikov?”

He laughed nervously, “Actually, Marie and I aren’t technically married in the official legal sense of the word, although we do plan to marry soon, at some point.  With all the fire and wrath this past summer it’s been difficult to set a date—”

“Christmas,” called Marie, and the students turned and looked.

“Sorry, what?”

“You and me, let’s get married on Christmas.”  Shrieks and laughter arose from the crowd.

“Okay, if you wish.  Christmas Day.  And you’re all invited,” he raised his voice as they broke into cheers and applause.  “Everyone in Solitaire is invited!”

Ed-dee, Ed-dee, Ed-dee, Ed-dee…”  They clapped and cheered as he walked over to hug Marie and kiss her cheek on his way out.

“Thank you, students,” he waved from the door.  “God bless you all, and God bless America.”

*         *         *

A few days before the wedding she interrupted one of his writing sessions to see if he wanted to go sledding.  “Marie, check this out, come here.”  On the desk lay an open Bible, an open magazine, and Eddie’s phone with words on the screen.

“What is this, research?”

“Sort of.  Not for the book though.  Listen to this, Revelation, Chapter 22:  ‘In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.’

“Okay, now listen to this, this is from a story by Vladimir Nabokov they published in The New Yorker a while back:  ‘Embracing my shoulders for an instant with his dovelike wings, the angel pronounced a single word, and in his voice I recognized all those beloved, those silenced voices.  The word he spoke was so marvelous that, with a sigh, I closed my eyes and bowed my head still lower.  The fragrance and the melody of the word spread through my veins, rose like a sun within my brain; the countless cavities within my consciousness caught up and repeated its lustrous edenic song.’

“Now, last one, here are the last two verses of John Newton’s ‘Amazing Grace’:  ‘The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine, but God, who called me here below, will be forever mine.  When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.’”  He took a deep breath and smiled up at her.

“I thought you were working on Nebulaic Stormrider today.”

“I was, I got sidetracked.  Did you follow my reading?  I think the name of God we receive in the New Jerusalem is going to be like the word in Nabokov’s story, a word of eternal praise to Christ, like John Newton describes, having no boundaries in time or space, and by receiving that name on our foreheads it’s like we merge with Him, and we become eternal too, like divine Light or Spirit.”

“Sure sounds nice,” she nodded.

“It’s better than nice,” he laughed.  “It’s…  Perfection.”

“Right, perfection.  So how about it?  You, me, a couple plastic tubs, and a hill full of frozen water.  Sound good?”

“You wanna race me?”

“Pshhh, you know I’m gonna race you.”

Eddie stared intensely at her.  “You wanna race me?”

She bent down so her face was directly in front of his.  “You know I’m gonna race you.”

*         *         *

The days leading up to Christmas were busy and stressful with wedding preparations.  Both the ceremony and reception would take place at the highest point in Solitaire, the rooftop of the Makermart Superstore.  He paid the tent people and the superstore people an extra twenty-five thousand each and hired the staff of the hardware department to stake an orange safety fence around the roof’s perimeter.  He and Marie agreed to spend Christmas Eve apart, so he slept in the guest room of Frank Drummond’s house.  Frank was the town sheriff.

 

warzonecover

Warzone: Nemesis (Book Review)

Available at Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com

A skillfully written, action-packed science fiction novel about the undisclosed truth of the space race, Warzone: Nemesis documents the fight between Russia and the U.S. for alloy-x, an element that could revolutionize space engine technology.  The battle scenes are descriptive and expertly crafted, the characters intriguing and vividly authentic, and overall the story is highly imaginative.  Graham’s writing is at once unique and easily readable, and the novel an extraordinary accomplishment.

Summary:  This is the seventh edition of Warzone: Nemesis, which opens the files of the top-secret war for space, hidden behind the facade of a decades-long cold war between super-powers.  The wrecks of two alien spaceships, and the larger disaster behind the wrecks, gives both the USSR and the USA the rudiments of space travel, and access to the element known only as alloy-x, the key to the interplanetary engines.  Elite fighters recruited anonymously from Special Forces units join the battle between the two countries for supremacy in space, waged on the Moon, on Mars, and on the moons of the outer planets.  To their planet, these men are dead, their histories erased from the record.  Identified only by call signs, they engage in a life-and-death struggle far beyond the view of the public.  Warzone: Nemesis is an action-packed opening novel to the Warzone series, a richly-detailed read for lovers of science-fiction and military fiction alike.  Contrasting ideologies bring the underlying similarities between the commanders on both sides into sharp focus, adding depth to the story, and the levels of research that have gone into the book are clearly visible in the meticulous description of locales and technologies.  Morris E. Graham creates comprehensive battle strategies and interesting psychological twists to keep the battles, and the story, moving along, while touching on some of the many ethical dilemmas that any war brings into the open.

Title:  Warzone: Nemesis (A Novel of Mars)
Author:  Morris E. Graham
Paperback:  322 pages
Publisher:  Morris\Graham; 1 edition (March 4, 2013)
Language:  English
ISBN-10:  0615862985
ISBN-13:  978-0615862989
Category:  Science Fiction

 

colossians

Letter to the Colossians

From Intended Consequences
Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com

Saint Paul’s Letter to the church in Colossae, Turkey, stands out from his other Epistles in its tranquility.  Because he is writing in response to the good report of Epaphras, the Saint who shared the Gospel with the Colossians, and from whom came to Paul no news of destructive conflicts among them, the Letter emphasizes peace, freedom, and unity in Christ, and retains an air of relaxed forward progress.  Following his standard greeting he writes:  “In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.  You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the Gospel that has come to you.  Just as it has been bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.” (Colossians 1:3-6)

Transitioning from commending the new church’s faith to the eternal significance of God’s work, he states with finality the result of what Jesus accomplished on the Cross.  “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13-4)  The priorities of Saint Paul’s mission shine through more easily in this Letter since he doesn’t have to address any specific dysfunctions in the church.  Instead he eloquently builds up the people’s faith by conveying a picture of wholeness of the body of Christ as it’s meant to operate.  Paul’s personal mission is the instruction of new believers for the purpose of a righteous and healthy Church.  “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.” (Col 1:27-9)

Even though this is mainly a Letter of encouragement he makes sure to warn them of a possible danger, that of letting worldly traditions and systems of thought hinder the purity of one’s relationship with God.  “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority…  And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside, nailing it to the Cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Col 2:8-10, 13-5)

For the early Church, the Cross and Resurrection changed everything.  Life as they knew it had ended and a new glorious existence had begun.  For the first time ever the world had seen the person of God in the flesh, one of the Holy Trinity offered freely in sacrifice to liberate humanity from sin and death, and now they’d been tasked with establishing a community based on that good news.  Paul anchors them to the reality of union with God in heaven while reinforcing this connection through the hope of the Lord’s return.  “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” (Col 3:1-4)

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:12-7)