This Week’s Sermon -8/3

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[I’m creating a character for a new game, John North, a Methodist Minister – someone quite removed from my own personality and experience. I thought it might be interesting to write his weekly sermon before each game. A little dramatic irony, a little character exploration, a little I really need to post stuff here more often. This isn’t going to be as long as a ‘real’ sermon, think more of one that you would see on television to establish the episode’s themes.]

Good morning.

I am very happy to see you all here today. I know that’s something I say up here every Sunday, but it’s true. There are a million other places you could be in this world and in your own heads, and yet…here you are. Sitting in this church, together – choosing to hear the Word of God. I know I greet you every Sunday almost by rote – but it’s easy to get in the habit of being polite and not remember what you are really saying. It is a good morning. And I am very happy to see you all here today.

I’ve been thinking about habits a lot lately. Good habits, bad habits – things we do all the time and never even stop to think ‘Why?’. Why am I doing this thing? Every time I drink a cup of coffee, I put in too much sugar and cream, then I stir it up and …then I tap the spoon on the rim exactly three times. I’m sure many of you have seen me do it. It even has the same rhythm each time! A little caffeine jingle that Pastor John does, every time. I don’t know why I do it. I don’t know how long I’ve done it. I don’t know what strange occurrence in my life or in my head made me start doing those three little taps with the spoon.

And now you’re all thinking – ‘why is Mr.  North going on and on about his coffee?’. That’s fair. I bring it up, partly because I like coffee a lot, but mostly because it’s a habit. Something that I do and never think about.

Something that I do and never think about.

Now there’s something that I think we all do and never think about. Hate.

Not the grand sin of Hate or Rage that Jesus warned us against – that fills our head and our hearts and we know we are doing it. It’s a hard battle sometime to remember to Love and Forgive as He taught us, but at least we know we’re in the fight. All of us have that struggle. We win some, we lose some, but as long as we strive with Christ at our side, as long as we choose the better path, then we are truly blessed.

But sometimes we don’t know we’re in the fight. Sometimes we miss the struggle. Sometimes its just a habit. And now I’m talking about the sin of Judgement.

It’s a very easy habit, a very easy darkness to let in your heart – especially now when we all have our screens and our quiet. You look at your phone or your computer and you see someone and you think ‘They are foolish.’ ‘They are ignorant.’ ‘I can’t believe they did that.’ ‘I can’t believe they said that.’ ‘I live my life so much better than they do.’

An easy sin. The sin of Pride – for only when we prize ourselves so highly would we dare to judge another soul. Let us read the Word, Galatians 6:3 – 6:5

For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.

This is from one of Paul’s letters. He was quite the busybody, old Paul. The first Blogger if you like – always writing letters to the different communities of early Christians. The fifth verse is especially fine – ‘every man prove his own work’ – which is a perfect way of saying ‘mind your own business’.But the third and sixth are what stick with me this morning.

We are nothing compared to God. Compared to the endless love of Jesus, how could we ever hold ourselves up above our fellows? We are all nothing and it is important to remember that.

And then the sixth verse: For every man shall bear his own burden.

It hits me in the chest every time. When we judge our brothers and sisters, not only do we commit the sin of Pride – but we also forget this simple truth. Everyone must bear their own burden. And none of us can truly know what the others carry. How heavy, how sharp the edges of their life. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to teach us and die for us, only He truly knows our burdens and is fit to judge us. Only He can lift them from us when our time comes.

The rest of us should remember – and seek to ease the burdens of all we meet. Just as we can say ‘Good morning’ a thousand times, but never truly hear ourselves say it – just as I tap the spoon on my coffee cup – so must we become aware of our habits, our darker habits. Really think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Get in the fight and don’t just blindly repeat the same tepid little evils over and over and over.

It’s going to be hard, but you can do it. I believe in you and all of us that chose to be here today believe in you — and most important God and his son, Jesus Christ are at your side.

Let us pray. I know it’s not as popular, but I’d like to use the Wesley Covenant today.

Thank you all – and now Mrs. Vonda will lead us in our next hymn.

[Any feedback on this post is much appreciated. I’m not trying to mock or parody anyone’s faith – please let me know if I used the wrong term or otherwise said something a Methodist minister would never say.]

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An Empty Internet Gesture

Artist - Senor Salme
Artist – Senor Salme

Hello.

We haven’t spoken for years, probably not since college. Easily a decade. We were not particularly close, just in each others social circle. And now, of course,  we are friends on Facebook.

I’m sure that, at most, I am a minor figure within your mental life. A blip on Facebook, just as you are to me. I’m sure you’ve seen my various status updates, the occasional rant or blog post. Or maybe not, you may have a lot more friends than I, so my thoughts are rarely noticed by you as you peruse the Internet Agora.

But I’ve been noticing your posts. More and more. They unsettle and confuse me. They make me realize how little I knew you in the past, and how little understanding I have of the person you are in the present. I am left with small crumbs of data – trying to extrapolate the person that writes the things that you do.

The person that I knew did not speak with such surety, such bone-certainty, such pure and righteous fervor. Did you believe these things when I first knew you? Are they beliefs that you have discovered as you have aged?

I have a belief of my own. A credo of sorts.

Do not argue with people, unless you have something to gain from it.

People with passionate beliefs are not going to abandon them due to a well-turned phrase or a cunning allusion. I can bring every drop of eloquence, and emotion, and craft that I possess; and at the end of the argument nothing has changed. I believe as I do, and you believe as you do. Most arguments – online most prominently – are simply exercises in each party shouting their beliefs louder and louder until everyone walks away in disgust. Points are tallied, victories are claimed, and nothing has changed. I believe as I do, and you believe as you do.

Since there is nothing to gain, there is no purpose in engaging in an argument.

So when people share their beliefs I listen and move on. They share them with cruelty, with derision, with simple faith, with arcane reason, with the tongues of angels, with the acumen of used car salesmen. I listen and move on. At least that is what I consider to be the course of wisdom.

I have nothing to gain, so there is no reason to argue.

If someone continues to display behavior or rhetoric that I find unpalatable, I simply choose to stop listening. Unfriend, unfollow, block — all terms for the act of ceasing to heed. I’ve done it in the past without a second thought. But with your words I find myself reluctant to do so.  You have become a  canker sore in my online consumption.

There is a temerity in certainty. There is an offense in self-righteousness. There is an arrogance in your words.  And that is what galls me.

That your view is the only rational one, that the whole world is crumbling and only you can see it. That people who disagree with you are fools. Uneducated fools who make their own choices based on fear or ignorance or blind sin. If only they will listen, if only they will listen to the good sense that you humbly proffer.

You pick apart the words and thoughts and decisions of those who disagree with a manic glee and a permanent eye-roll. You are so happy to be right, holding each gem of your triumph high for all to see.

You take a very complicated issue and make it very, very simple. And not out of a sense of nobility, or a desire to correct the ills of the world. You just want to be right.

You need to be right.

At least that’s what I believe is the root of this. I’m a cynic. I am far too conversant with the human compulsion towards supremacy, that lizard-brain requirement to be right, right, right. To tear out the eyes of any who are wrong. The holy fire that fills our brains when we are just – smiting the blasphemers and bringing order to the universe. The smug confidence, the knowledge that the other tribe is comprised of simpletons and degenerates.

It’s an old flame in the human mind. The Other Tribe is Evil.

So, why am I writing this to you?

I do not name you, nor address the specific issue that fills me with distaste.  As stated, there is nothing to gain from an argument, so I have no wish to engage in one.

I just want to know…what exactly? I want to know how you can be so sure. What do you gain? Do you truly believe that speaking the way that you do will change the hearts and minds of those who read? Is your belief so pure that you feel that you must speak out?

If this issue is truly important to you, why do you choose this method to promote it?  Surely derision, arrogance, and wrath are not the most effective ways to share your thoughts?

What do you gain?

I am afraid that I know the answer. But I want to be wrong. I want to discover that you truly do not intend these words to filled with bile, that you truly care so deeply about this issue that your passion outpaces your reason.

But I don’t think that’s it.

I think you are empty and sad.

And that is not the fate I would wish for the person I knew long ago.

I don’t understand, and I don’t agree, and I fear that you are living a life of paranoia and don’t even know it. But I will listen, I will keep listening as long as I can and I will not argue.

To the person who I fear you are, I want to say this. Shut up. Shut the fuck up.

To the person who I thought you were long ago, I want to say this.

Goodbye.

Book of Teon V

My left arm is moving. Every time I blink, it inches forward. I do not have the strength to kill this evil.

I must speak faster.

Days passed, and weeks. I slept and ate and healed and learned to speak the strange tongue of Jalyx

Confession Tower by Piotr Gadja

and his people. He was my savior, my first friend on Aufero – and I swore that his kindness would be repaid tenfold.

My left hand…it moves.

So much that happened, so many years. Must speak faster. We found the survivors of the crash and the wreckage. Both my parents were dead. I found myself made Captain of a shattered craft.

Must speak faster.

With time and skill we repaired the music hall in our ship, and called the fleet to the planet. We faced many dangers and complications, but I was determined to make Jalyx’s home a paradise — a place where we could share our knowledge with any who desired it. I should have guarded our knowledge more carefully, there were many who sought to abuse it. But the years were golden, and the songs we sang knew nothing of doubt.

Inside me the flower of evil slowly bloomed.

That was the curse, the horror of it all. I can see it now. The shining cities, the bridges of purest white, the towers of glass rose again — but everything we built, everything I built had in it a flaw. A shadow. Twisted lines carefully placed by my left hand.  Note by note we sang, but each verse hid a darker chord.

And then my greatest achievement. The Machine. My left hand’s glory.

As I grew in power and fame, my people began to look to me for wisdom. In their grief the Lost could find no satisfaction in the things we built here, nor in the friends we gained. I tried to show them the wonder of our new home, but they would not listen. Their hearts grew hollow and sere — and they begged me. My own people begged me. ‘Oh, Teon – First Singer! Use your skill to take us back Home.”

‘But I cannot. The Dark One waits there, covering an entire galaxy with his malice.’

‘Then build us a weapon. A weapon of Light that can strike him down!’

I knew it was folly, but my hand itched to build it. A colossus, a pure warrior of light.  I could not see…

——

I fell asleep. How long have I been asleep? My hand.

No. No. It is gone. My left hand is gone.

The blue flower blooms.

It isn’t over.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

Jalyx, I’m sorry.

 

The Blood is Good

“The Long Night still comes, pup. But for now we are alive, and there is mead to be drunk.” Grell the Death crooked an arm around Agnar’s neck and dragged him away from the others.

The barbarian found hard hands on his shoulders, warm kisses from matron and maiden, the devil blood still spattered on his arms and face was smeared with bold cries by each warrior singing to the sun. The meadskin swung up and down, up and down and the honey-gold spilled down Agnar’s chin.

Then at once, there was space and silence. A tall warrior stood alone in front of a wide hall. Thunor Sky-

“Hish, Lord of Silence”
Illustration from The Gods of Pegāna by Lord Dunsany, 1905

Breaker stood alone and faced his son. The dancing crowd fell quiet and hushed.

“Who is this warrior?” Thunor asked.

“This warrior is called Agnar.” Grell responded, a ritual.

“And what blood has he spilled?”

“The blood of our enemies. The black blood of Hell, the white blood of the Wolf and the red blood of the North. His own blood.”

“Is the blood good?”

“The blood is good.” Grell said.

“THE BLOOD IS GOOD.” Roared the gathered people of Marankur.

“Has he stood in the snow, has he broken bone, has he danced, has he sung in the flames?”

“All this and more.” Grell said.

“Who is his father?” Thunor said, dark eyes locked with Agnar.

“His…his…”Grell stopped, and looked to his chief for aid. Thunor said nothing, his face cold and hard with a lifetime of pride. A murmur of discomfort rippled through the crowd of gathered barbarians.

“Who is his father?” Thunor Sky-Breaker repeated.

A Hero’s Death

Elijah leaned against the crude statue in the village green. Time and weather had done its work on the stone, its features pitted and scarred. The unknown founder’s face was unrecognizable, but it still stood its ground, keeping watch.

The old soldier ran a whetstone down the edge of his greataxe. Both edges had been grief-sharp for an hour, but he pushed the stone again and again. He stopped, and looked up into the battered face of the statue.

He could relate.

Across the dark green, the sounds of music and merrymaking spilled from the general store. The people of Jackson’s Grove had been saved by the skill and steel of the Ghosts of Gilead, his comrades.  They had shaken off the terror of the unholy attack, buried their dead neighbors and immediately insisted on a party in the adventurer’s honor. Elijah was always surprised at how quickly people could forget the shadows of death, and thrust their heads into the first cake or ale tankard they could find. But he had seen it many times — his brother had lead them to many victories large and small, and here in this tiny town of Jackson’s Grove in the middle of nowhere the same old song. Drunken celebration, life over death.

His brother. Simon. Not a birth-sibling, but a brother in arms. He was always first at the bottle, a fistful of cake and his other hand down a wench’s bodice. Laughing and singing, his weapons and cares propped against the bar and forgotten. His other comrades were just as bad.

No blood-family since the Fall. These slap-dash fighters are the only kin I have left. Swords of Faith preserve me!

So it fell to Elijah to keep watch. No one asked, and no one noticed — except for the times that he gave the warning shout. The dozen-dozen times. His back to the light, sharpening his axe in the darkness.

Desert Rocks by Kekai

Tomorrow morning he’d be the first to rise, as they snored the drink away. Running his hands over the faded map, planning their route — preparing for the dangers to come.  Someone had to, he wouldn’t fail this little legion, now that everything else had fallen to dust.

The stone hissed down his axe-blade. Elijah wiped a bead of sweat off his brow with the back of his hand.

His ears pricked at a whisper of sound, and he bent low pulling the greataxe into both hands.  He scanned the darkened houses ,one by one. The sound had come from the roof of the general store, Elijah shielded his eyes from the light and saw a slim figure slipping down the side of the roof.

It was his brother, Simon.

Not like him to miss a party. Where is he going?

Something in Simon’s face kept Elijah from calling out. The way he pressed himself into the shadows and headed north — clearly not wanting to be followed.

It was probably to meet some farmer’s daughter — or to console a  young widow. But Elijah was his brother’s keeper.

And barely six hours ago they had crossed swords with devils, imps, and horrors from the Blight. The old soldier grimaced, and followed his brother into the night.

—-

Elijah followed at a distance. He was a large man, and no footpad — but the night was moonless, and his brother seemed totally focused on his destination.

A plain wood building. The Church of Linneus. Elijah felt his blood go cold. Linneus was the god of farmers, of shepherds, of the plow. But the church was empty — it’s priest had been the one that brought the devils down on his home. A filthy pact for pleasure of the flesh , Elijah had been sickened to hear. He had prayed to his own Nameless God for the grace to forgive the priest — but it had been futile. His god had been silent, and his own heart had been black and wrathful.

The priest of Linneus had forsaken his holy duty – no punishment was stern enough for that.  The pain of Hell was the least that he deserved.

Why was his brother slipping into the church? Light came from within, his brother had lit a torch. Elijah hastened to the doorway and looked within. His eyes widened in shock.

Simon’s back was to the door, and the torch was jammed into the book holder at the end of the pew. Leaning casually against the altar was a devil made of paper. Thousands of pages, wrapped and folded into a feminine shape with corkscrew horns — the writing of every land covered the paper. A contract devil!

“Say what you want, Simon of Gilead — my ink is ready and time is short.” the devil purred. “Your friends nearly destroyed me today — I delight in the delicious irony of this moment.”

“This only involves you and me.” Simon said. “You leave my friends out of this, or this conversation is over.”

Simon, you idiot. Elijah looked for another entrance into the church, where he could surprise the devil. The windows were too small and high, and he stood at the only door.

“I need a way into Gilead.” Simon was saying.

“Homesick, are we?” the paper devil laughed.

His brother turned his back to the devil, covering his eyes with his hand. Something that he did when greatly angered. “Can you do it?” Simon said fiercely.

“Of course I can – anything you want, son of Gilead. It’s as easy as signing your name — some loops, some lines, and the path opens.” the paper devil cooed.

Simon’s hand slid slowly down his face, his eyes to the ceiling as he thought.

Only Elijah saw the truth of the devil’s words. The paper coiling itself in her hands, forming a whip – barbed and jagged. Her arm raising to strike, the paper-whip silent in the air.

The old soldier shouted a battle cry, and flung the church doors open. “Gilead!”

He shouldered his brother roughly out of the way, and caught the whip in his hand. It coiled around his thick forearm like a serpent, the barbs digging into his flesh. They were paper maggots biting tearing. Elijah felt poison course through his veins and his heart staggered. The devil hissed in frustration and tugged on the whip, pulling it back.

Elijah forced his hand to grip the whip despite the pain. He pulled grimly on the whip, his eyes locked on the devil. The paper-whip was a part of the creature, and she could not let go.

“By the Swords of Faith, by the Temple of Iron Nails.” He prayed, and his god answered.

His greataxe felt weightless in his hand, and began to burn with a pure white light. Elijah smiled, a rare thing.

The devil hissed and fought, but the old soldier’s time was upon him. He was his brother’s keeper, and his strength would not fail. He stood, as he always did.

And he pulled. His vision narrowed as the devil drew closer, screaming in rage. He saw Simon leap onto the devil’s back, his arms locked around her paper throat — but it was on the edge of his sight.

The evil thing came close, and Elijah’s axe fell.

The paper burned in holy fire, leaving nothing but ash. The devil’s scream hung in the church, burning contracts falling around Elijah.

He sank to his knees, his heart beat slower.

Simon grabbed him by the front of his armor, and was saying something his eyes wide with concern. But no sound came out, his mouth moved and Elijah heard nothing.

The old soldier pulled himself to his feet, his brother helping him and continuing to talk silence. He couldn’t find his axe, but he knew what was required. He brought his savaged arm and hand to his head.

“The Watch stands.” he said.

His brother let go with a stricken look, and forced himself to return the salute.

“The Watch is relieved.” Simon said. “Dismissed.”

Elijah couldn’t hear it, but his brother’s voice broke.

Darkness came, and Elijah went. He sharpened his axe and stood guard. There was light and music ahead, but he had work to do.

No one would catch his brothers unaware. Not while he was on duty.

[Story on Demand for N.E. White — hope you enjoyed. But I must be honest, this story has been rolling around in my brain for a while now. Original character concept W. Steven Carroll, with much love and respect to my brother-in-arms.]