The Three Little Pigs

 

Many, many years before Goldilocks had her big adventure with the Bruin family, there was a family of pigs that lived in a grove in the middle of a wood near a village by a lake. These three pigs were named Kenan, Jared and Javan. Now most pigs were excellent plumbers, although a few were very courageous and fierce soldiers. If you know someone who has ever hunted boar, then they can tell you about just how fierce a boar, or a pig, can be.

Kenan was a ruddy little pig who was the first one to call when your drain was clogged. He was very efficient: sometimes it seemed like the drain was open before he got to your house, but that was just a joke to praise him. Jared was a white pig with a pink tail. He did everything to perfection. Jared was the one to call when you needed to have a sink or bathtub installed. When Jared installed a sink or bathtub it was a beautiful job. And Javan was the best plumber for connecting a pump to a well. Javan was a gray and black pig who tended to overdo things. For example, he would unstop all the drains, not just the one that was plugged, “Just in case,” he would say. And if Javan installed a bathtub it would be decorated, usually with stones, but he would use jewels if he could get them. There was, however, little he could overdo when connecting a well to a pump. What he did overdo made the pump work better, so everyone liked it when he installed a pump.

They had moved to the village after the plumber that lived there had passed away. He had been a very good plumber and had done excellent work, so no one needed plumbing repairs. And few residents clogged their drains because the former plumber had taught the villagers how to keep their drains open. Still, new construction and the antics of children gave the pigs enough work to feed themselves. But Kenan, Jared and Javan dreamed of being more than poor plumbers. They wanted to work hard and build a house.

Kenan wanted to build an adobe house. He listened to stories his Uncle Joab told about the wars. His uncle’s comments about adobe houses fascinated Kenan. When he learned that adobe could be colored he was sure an adobe house would be beautiful. He would top it with a thatch roof. He knew that some did not like thatch because it could burn, but thatch was watertight and, he thought, it would make a very pretty roof for his adobe house.

Jared wanted a pretty white house. He thought he could build it out of pine and oak. He would paint it white on the outside, but stain the inside to preserve the natural color of the wood. He liked the idea of wood so much that he thought he would make the roof of multicolored wooden tiles. His house would be white with a rainbow roof. Nothing would be prettier.

Javan liked the idea of a stone house. He had listened to his Grandmother tell stories, and in some of the stories the hero lived in a stone house with a tile roof. He imagined his stone house with a big fireplace. When it was cold and snowy or rainy he thought his fireplace would keep his house warm and dry.

But it was just dreams. The three pigs began to wonder if maybe they should take a hint from their Uncle Joab and become soldiers. To do that, they would have to go to the castle. Unfortunately, they were not sure where to find the king’s castle. Uncle Joab had not talked much about the castle. It was many leagues distant, that was for sure. It would be easy to get lost trying to find it. Returning to their original town was not wise, either. There were too many cousins, all plumbers. That was why they had moved to this village. So they just stayed in their grove and did the little plumbing the village needed. At least they had food to eat. And they were safe.

One day the village was buzzing with excitement. The King was going to build a summer castle on the lake. This meant lots of work for stone masons, carpenters and plumbers, not to mention bakers and fishermen and taverns. Everyone was happy. Happiest was Haman the banker.

Haman howled for joy when he learned the news. He also howled because he was a wolf. Most bankers were wolves. Who would rob a bank if the banker was a wolf?

He was happy for two reasons. First, everyone would deposit all their money in his bank. But more important, Haman owned all the land near the place where the new summer castle would be built. He would build houses on the land and rent the houses to the King’s servants and soldiers. And he would get rich.

There was one thing that was a huge annoyance. The land that the three little pigs owned was right in the middle of the land he had purchased. See, Haman had learned about the King’s plans from a cousin who was a banker for the King. When Haman tried to purchase the land, only the pigs would not sell. Haman would not offer them a decent price and they had no other place to go. Finally, Haman decided that he would just build all around the little pig’s woods.

Still, Haman brooded over the woods. The surveyor he had hired pointed out that the grove in the woods would make a wonderful park. Haman could charge a higher rent with that park next to his houses. But there was nothing he could do. He didn’t have enough money to pay the price the pigs needed so they could buy another place to live. Anyway, he realized that the pigs were not going to build houses. They seemed to enjoy living in the grove. So, he could rent his houses and say nothing about the woods. His renters would just assume it was not going to be developed. That was true enough: it would not be developed by him.

But Haman was wrong. The people living in his houses did not like it when the pigs washed their clothes and hung them up in the trees to dry. Plus, the pigs had gotten used to living away from everyone. They didn’t always wear all their clothes. And they piled up plumbing supplies. The place looked like pigs lived there. It was a messy place; just exactly what you would expect if three plumbers lived in a grove of trees, only these were pigs, so it was even more so.

Now Kenan, Jared and Javan didn’t know any of this. The banker had offered to buy their property, but they couldn’t afford to sell it. Later, when the news of the King’s new summer castle spread through the village, the pigs figured out why Haman had wanted to buy their land.

And then they were too busy to think about it. They were the only plumbers in the village and they were working hard. First, they had to work on the houses Haman was building. Then they had to work in the castle. Then they had to do both. There was little time to wash clothes or cook; so they hired a maid and a chef. The wall they built to hide their growing store of plumbing supplies proved inadequate. Instead of cutting down more trees, they built a warehouse up the hill behind the castle. Then they hired a gardener. He expanded their flower garden, planted vegetables, pruned the fruit trees and built a trail through the woods. All the residents of the houses Haman was renting were very happy.

Finally, the work of building the summer castle came to an end. All the sinks, bathtubs and toilets were installed. But the building was far from done. All the land on the far side of the castle had been purchased by the knights and noblemen. These dukes and earls wanted to build their summer palaces too. Eventually the building was done.

Kenan, Jared and Javan looked at their grove and sighed. Everybody in the village had a nice place to live. Everyone but them. Kenan was the first one to pull out the old drawings he had made of the little adobe house he had wanted. He looked at it and, thinking of the wonderful palaces that the barons and knights had, he sighed wistfully. Then he looked at his brothers and said, “I don’t care what the knights and dukes live in. I still want my little adobe house.”

Jared turned and looked at him, “Yeah, and I still want my little white house.” Javan agreed. He still wanted his little stone house. So they stayed up all night discussing the situation.

The next day Jared hired a surveyor, Javan engaged an architect and Kenan directed the gardener to help clear the land. And the tenants of Haman’s houses called on him to complain about the loss of the grove.

But it’s our land!” the three little pigs shouted in unison. They were so dismayed to see the villagers carrying signs that read, “Save Our Grove!” and “Protect Our Trees!” and “Save The Spotted Wren!” and even “The Pigs Hate Nature!” and other signs with similar slogans.

Kenan said, “They didn’t care about the rest of the woods when their houses were built.”

Javan said, “They didn’t care about the environment when the King built his summer castle.”

Jared said, “Yeah, but now they see what they lost.”

Haman offered to buy the woods and make it a park. It would be named in their honor. But he offered them even less than before. “Well,” he said, “I’m doing this to keep the peace. It’s going to cost me and I can’t make any money on the grove. And it will get you out of trouble with the villagers.”

You old coot!” Javan hollered at him. “You stirred up the whole village. You want the grove. You’ve always wanted the grove. Well, we’re not selling.”

Jared and Kenan agreed.

The banker was even more shrewd than the pigs realized. He chained himself to a tree. The three pigs realized that the villagers saw them as the bad guys and the wolf as the good guy. People who had been reluctant to put their money in Haman’s bank now did so. No one would call on the pigs to do any plumbing.

The three little pigs were not stupid. They did not want to destroy the grove, just build their houses in it. They knew that Haman had everyone so upset that no one would listen to them. It took a week for the villagers to calm down. The place they wanted to build their houses was the place they had stored their plumbing supplies. A wall had been built around it to keep unwanted visitors out and to hide the supplies. To silence the protests they moved all the construction equipment inside the wall and began to build their houses.

Not everyone was against the pigs. There were many residents who had sold their property to the banker and later regretted it. They knew what Haman was doing. Some of the carpenters and stone masons were more than happy to work for the three pigs. So it wasn’t too long before the houses were built. And then they took the wall down.

Haman was furious. With the three houses already built he knew he couldn’t force the pigs off the land. Jealousy and envy began to eat at Haman. He owned all the land around the woods. And he had made offer after offer to buy it. It was the pigs who were stubborn and greedy. They knew what the land was worth, especially since it was the only grove in the whole village. All the firewood had to be brought in from the forest, except what the pigs grew in the grove and the woods that surrounded it. Haman’s greed ate at his heart. He thought about the grove and gardens in the little wood. The gardens could be expanded. He could charge for access to the gardens. He could…he could do nothing. He had to get the pigs evicted from the grove.

The old wolf of a banker huffed and puffed around his den. He took a book from the shelf and tried to study it. Then he closed it, put it back and huffed and puffed some more. Then he took another book from the shelf. He huffed and puffed and studied his books and huffed and puffed and studied his books and soon it was three in the morning. It’s a good thing he was a banker and kept bankers hours: he was almost late in opening the bank. But he was in a dark, foul mood. He nearly bit off the heads of his tellers. His vice president, Wiley Coyote, resigned, saying he was moving to the desert. And that ruddy little Kenan withdrew the rest of his money, saying he was going to invest in the stock market. Haman stomped around the bank, huffing and puffing and that he would somehow blow those houses down.

Finally he heard himself. Well, he couldn’t blow houses down. He was a wolf, not a tornado. He sat down in the big easy chair he put clients in when he was going to trick them. He had closed many a deal plying the occupant of this chair with brandy and cigars.

He poured himself a glass of brandy and lit a nice cigar. The brandy and the cigar helped him calm down. The little white pig’s wooden house was not much of a problem. Jared had used some big steel pins to hold the four sides of his house together. All Haman had to do was pull out the big steel pins and when anything fell on it, the house would fall. Kenan’s house was different. Adobe wouldn’t blow down. But the roof would burn and that would be enough. Javan was another matter entirely. He always overdid everything. The fireplace was a prime example: the chimney was big enough, so Javan said, for three Santas to come down. The walls of the house must have been two feet thick. Not even the King’s castle was fortified like that. He could destroy two houses for sure, but he didn’t know how to get rid of the third one. Maybe there was another way.

His thoughts kept returning to the environment issue. It had almost worked before. No one realized the pigs were building their houses behind that wall. After they tore the wall down they said they were not going to do any more building, but keep the grove, gardens and the little wood just as it was. That was the key. The villagers were satisfied that the environment of the little wood was safe. He just needed to change that idea.

About a week later the pigs found out that their neighbors, Haman’s tenants, were coming into the little wood and cutting down trees for firewood. This was not a good thing, as the little wood was not big enough to supply all the firewood they needed. So the pigs called a village meeting to discuss what could be done. Haman howled for joy when he heard about it, because he had made the suggestion to his tenants that they could get firewood very easily from the pig’s woods.

The mayor called the meeting to order. Kenan and Jared reported the firewood problem and offered a solution. They would charge the going rate for imported firewood. Villagers could get their firewood from the great forest and not from the little wood, since it would be cheaper.

Haman jumped up and began to question the pigs. He twisted their words to make it look like the pigs wanted to make huge profits from the little wood. He made it sound like the pigs were not good custodians of the little wood. And he suggested that the village elders select a committee to oversee the wood and protect it. Suddenly, the pigs realized that Haman was going to be the chairman of the Council for the Protection of the Little Wood: the CPLW. Haman was asking that he be named the Warden of the Littlewood and Forest or WoLF.

The pigs panicked. They ran back to their home and started building a strong fence to protect their property. They also refused to allow anyone on their property, for firewood or any other reason.

Everyone began to be angry with the pigs. They marched around with banners that said, “Save our Little Wood” and “Pigs are pigs” and “The Grove and Garden for our Children.” The newspaper printed stories from environmentalists which told about how the Little Wood was the last refuge of the spotted wren and a haven for other small creatures.

It was Javan who came up with the idea that might save them. He called some environmentalists to come visit them. He also had the newspaper editor join them. The environmentalists looked at what the pigs were doing to preserve the Little Wood. They approved of the fence, saying it would help protect the Wood. They approved of the way the pigs were managing the grove. They also offered some advice as to how to make things work better. The pigs agreed to their ideas. The editor printed all of this in the next edition. Then the villagers stopped being so upset.

At the next village meeting the pigs reported on their activities and asked that they be named the CPLW. They did not need a WoLF. That position should be changed to the Protectors in the Grove or PIGs.

Haman had lost his battle. Haman had lost the Little Wood and the Grove. He was furious. But this time he did not go home and sit in his den and huff and puff and look at books. This time he did not yell at the bank employees. This time he did not sit in the easy chair and drink brandy. This time he went to the little pigs’ grove.

The pigs were in the village making plans with the environmentalists and the village elders. They didn’t even notice that Haman was not around. Haman climbed over the fence and went to Jared’s house. He pulled out the big steel pins that held up the walls and the roof. Then he crawled up on top of Javan’s house and waited.

When the pigs came home they didn’t suspect anything. Kenan went into his house and started to fix some supper. Haman came to his door and hollered, “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me come in!”

Kenan looked out the window and saw Haman. He also saw murder in Haman’s eyes. “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin chin” he stammered.

Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll burn your house down.” With that, Haman climbed back up on Javan’s house and began to shoot fire arrows into Kenan’s roof. It quickly caught on fire. Kenan ran to Jared’s house.

Jared!” he hollered, “Haman’s set my house on fire!”

Jared let him in just before Haman bellowed, “Little Pigs, Little Pigs, let me come in!”

This time Jared stammered, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin chin”.

Haman bellowed, “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll knock your house down!”

Jared looked up and saw that the pins had been pulled out. He grabbed Kenan and they ran to Javan’s house. Haman had climbed back up on Javan’s roof and began to throw rocks at Jared’s house. It quickly fell down. But Jared and Kenan were safe inside Javan’s stone house.

Haman again bellowed to the pigs, “Little Pigs, Little Pigs, let me come in!”

This time Javan stammered, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin chin”.

Haman bellowed, “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!” He quickly began to beat on the door.

Now the pigs were scared. Even though there were three of them, Haman was a very big wolf. He might even kill one of them before the others could stop him. So they pushed furniture up against the door.

This was part of Haman’s plan. He wanted them to block the door so they couldn’t get out. Then he would jump down the big chimney and attack the pigs.

But Haman had forgotten about Javan. Javan always overdid everything. And tonight Javan overdid building a fire to roast his beets with garlic. He had build a fire big enough to roast a beet the size of an elephant!

Now, because the chimney and the fireplace were so very big, Haman didn’t realize just how big the fire in the fireplace really was. So, when Haman jumped down the chimney to attack the pigs, he was very badly burned.

It took the pigs a good long time, but they did manage to get Haman to the village doctor. Haman was burned all over, but his left foot was severely burned. It took many weeks his burns to heal.

The village elders forced Haman to pay for rebuilding the pig’s houses. And the village sent for Wiley the Coyote to come and manage the bank until Haman got better. But Haman never did get better. He was rather quiet in the mental hospital, but if someone mentioned “pigs” he would go berserk.

Goldilocks

Long, long ago in a time way back before the great flood, some of the animals could talk. For, after the time of Paradise, much of what was in Paradise still existed. If men no longer lived forever, they still lived very long lives. As time went by, their lifespans became shorter and shorter. The same with animals’ speech. Some of the birds, like parrots, have kept their ability in a very small way; but back then almost every animal had some ability to speak in human language.

Some of the animals could even build things. Today we see the beavers building dams and birds making nests, but way back before the tragedy of Cain and Abel many of the animals had the skills to make and build things. Otters, for example, were marvelous assistants to men in the building of boats. No one had invented the printing press, so books were handwritten, mostly by chickens who were extraordinary scribes. Donkeys were highly respected in their assistance to blacksmiths. Jewelers depended on cats and dogs were excellent chefs. Why, even today, if you have a dog that lives in the house with you, if you start puttering around in the kitchen, your dog will come to see what you’re doing; for most dogs like to supervise the cooking. It’s a part of their original nature.

Some animals have always been able to provide entertainment. Nightingales are well known for their song, even though they can’t actually sing words anymore. Rabbits and squirrels used to perform wonderful little shows for children; and elephants and horses have always been a crowd-pleaser. But it was the bears, with their ability to sing and dance, as well as act, that made them famous. For the bears were the best musicians and dancers in that antediluvian age. Some bear families were very popular, attracting large crowds of their fans. Some of these bears grew a bit wealthy, as they could charge more than the average bear. Many bears were very cosmopolitan. They had nice homes just off Main Street, complete with swimming pools, fish ponds and lots of bee hives. In fact, some of the most famous bears lived in houses that were as wonderful as the houses of men.

There was, however, a small family of dancing bears that were so famous they were known by almost everyone. Their family name was Bruin. Papa Bruin was world famous for his fiddling. He danced with a group called the Ursa Majors. They were famous for their Morris and Sword dances. Mama Bruin played the harp. She was a member of the Ursa Minors, who were a famous ballet troupe. And their baby bear, Little Baby Bruin, was a marvelous tap dancer. She was pretty good on the pipes, too. In fact, she performed a special act where she played a melody that sounded very much like the song we know as “Danny Boy” and she tap danced at the same time! Every time she performed it the audience was speechless.

But fame has a price. Fans were always wanting autographs. And some would sneak up to the windows to peek in and see what the Bruin family were doing. Reporters would then publish stories about them. Everyone, it seemed, knew everything they did. But the worst of it was the haughty airs that some fans would go out of their way to put on. They would make it seem that they were better than you for they had done some special thing with the Bruin family. Most of the time it was an exaggeration, if not a complete fabrication.

The cat, for example, would wander down to the bears’ house and then prance by the cow, bragging about the wonderful tea she had just had with the wonderful dancing bears. The eagle would fly over by the horse and brag about the wonderful fishing excursion he and the Papa Bruin had just enjoyed. Even the butterfly would brag to the bumblebee about the wonderful nectar he had found in the bears’ rosebushes. It was too much! The bears did not have any privacy. Everything they said or did was the subject of much gossip. Little of it true, and some of it downright mean.

So, the Bruin family decided to retire to a house out in the country. It was a lovely ranch style house that had a swimming pool and several berry patches. There were lovely gardens with apple trees and bee hives, and a creek full of trout flowed through the property. But what made it so very wonderful was the distance from town. After the bears moved in they marveled at their privacy. They could get up in the morning and enjoy their breakfast of oatmeal and berries without having to share the morning with nosy fans. Papa Bruin could read his morning paper from front to back while his oatmeal cooled and he didn’t have anyone poke their head in the window to “just say ‘hello’”. Mama Bruin could walk through her flower garden, pick some flowers for the breakfast table and return just as her oatmeal was cool enough to eat. No one stopped to tell her the latest gossip about the goat. And Baby Bruin could rock in her rocking chair while her oatmeal cooled and no one pulled the rocking chair back as far as it would go or pull toady frogs out of their pockets and drop them in her lap. It was just wonderful.

One day Papa Bruin went shopping. While the new house was very very nice, the kitchen stove was not. It was their old stove from their old house. Mama Bruin had not wanted to part with her stove because, she said, she was used to cooking on it; and also, though she would not say it, because it was the first thing Papa Bruin had bought when they got married. Even though it was a grand stove when it was new, it was now a bit shabby; and it was no longer as hot as it used to be. In fact, if Papa Bruin read all of the paper, his oatmeal would be cold.

So he thought he would find a nice new stove at the Laban and Sons’ appliance store. Even though Laban O’Shaunassey was the second cousin of the mayor he was well known as an honest merchant. Everyone knew that his merchandise was always top quality. So, even though stores like The Big Box and Wally-World claimed low prices, Papa Bruin thought he would get a better deal at Laban and Sons.

The new stove glittered so brightly that Mama Bruin said as how they just might need to repaint the kitchen. But even better was the cooking. The new stove was very hot. Dinner that night was crispy and delicious. However breakfast the next morning was a bit of a shock. The oatmeal was so steaming hot that even after Papa Bruin had read the whole paper his oatmeal was still too hot to eat. And when Mama Bruin set her vase of fresh cut flowers on the table, the heat from the oatmeal nearly wilted them. Baby Bruin just rocked and rocked and rocked and rocked; yet the steam just kept rising from her oatmeal. Finally, it cooled enough that they could eat it.

This went on for several days, when Papa Bruin said that they should start taking a morning walk. He thought the walk would do them much good and the oatmeal would be cool when they returned. This proved to be a most satisfactory solution. Papa Bruin could read his morning paper while Mama Bruin cooked the oatmeal and Mama Bruin could cut some flowers when they returned from their walk. And Baby Bruin could rock in her rocking chair after she had eaten her oatmeal. Thus all went well with the bears.

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All did not go well in in the town, however. There was a very spoiled little girl who was the daughter of one of the sons of Laban and Sons, the merchant who sold stoves. She was a very beautiful little girl, with long curly coppery hair, green eyes and some freckles on her cheeks. Her name was Mary Catherine Elizabeth Carmichael O’Shaunassey, but everyone knew her as Goldilocks. It was not really a very nice nickname, for most everyone called her that as a name of shame. Mary Catherine Elizabeth Carmichael O’Shaunassey earned the name Goldilocks when she tried to out brag some of the other children. One day they were discussing Rapunzel, who had long golden hair. She was the talk of the town, having just been rescued from a wicked old witch. This made Mary Catherine very jealous. She wanted everyone to talk about how wonderful she was. Well, the bragging and silly prattle worked against Mary Catherine. Suddenly one of the boys grabbed her hair and tried to climb up her back just like she was Rapunzel. Well, Mary Catherine screamed horribly, yelling that he was pulling out all of her hair. One of the other girls said, “Well, Rapunzel had real golden locks of hair, maybe that’s how her prince could climb up.” And from that time on the only people that did not call her “Goldilocks” were her parents.

Goldilocks hated the name. But that did not teach her to stop being such a terror. Everywhere she went she demanded her way, without even asking politely. When her mother and father went to visit the mayor, she walked into his house and demanded milk and cookies almost before they had been seated. The Frog had barred her from ever returning to The Frog and Pig tavern, because the last time her parents had dined there, Goldilocks had left Miss Piggy, who was the waitress, in tears.

Children, upon being caught in childhood misbehavior, would say to their parents in desperation, “Well, at least I’m not as bad a Goldilocks!” And the parent would smile and say, “Thank God for that, but I’m still going to have to punish you to make sure you never are!”

Well, Goldilocks had pitched a royal temper tantrum and demanded that she accompany her father when he delivered the stove to the bears. She wanted to be able to walk around town and tell everyone what she had seen at the bears’ house. However, because they knew her, the bears would have none of it. Papa Bruin told her father that he could deliver the stove only if his daughter stayed in the truck. If she got out of it, he would not accept delivery nor would he pay for the stove.

Goldilocks was very sneaky. She watched and saw all of them go inside. She knew that the bears would offer some refreshment to her father and his helpers because they were kindly and it was such a hot day. So she crept out of the truck and crawled up under the window. There she could hear all the talk. But she heard nothing she could tell the people in the town. Everyone knew she had gone with her father to deliver the stove, her tantrum having been heard all over the town. So she decided to make up some stories to tell everyone.

Her stories were too fantastic: she had told how her father had to carry the stove up three flights of stairs when everyone knew it was a ranch style house. She described golden floors, silver plated walls and crystal chandeliers when everyone in town knew what the house was like, since the carpenters and masons lived in the town. “Go on, Goldilocks,” they laughed, “you never were in the house were you?” “My name is Mary Catherine Elizabeth Carmichael O’Shaunassey and you better stop calling me that horrible name!” she would scream. But they continued to call her ‘Goldilocks’ and grin, So Goldilocks decided that she would have to return to the bears’ house and get inside. Then she could tell everyone how wonderful she was to get inside and see it.

The problem was getting inside. Thus Goldilocks was a morose little monster of a girl for the next several days. She threw temper tantrums about the color of her dress and the kind of fruit in her oatmeal. She kicked the dog and chased the cat up a tree. Finally, she decided to spy on the bears. Her first day of spying was the third day the bears took their new walk in the morning. She watched them go on their walk and noted when they returned. She did this for three days, watching to see how she could sneak into the house while they went on their walk. She returned from her spying mission to find her mother quite upset because she would disappear in the morning only to return home, starving, just in time for lunch. “I’m just going for a morning walk,” she had stated defiantly, daring anyone to question her further.

So, the next morning her father met her at the front door and said he would go with her. She was trapped: if she was going on an innocent morning walk then why couldn’t her father accompany her? So she faked a big smile, grabbed him by the hand and pulled him out the door and down the street. She made sure that they took the small back paths, climbing fences, ducking under low branches and running up a few steep hills. The next day her big brother was assigned to go with her. This time they wandered down main street stopping to admire all the pretty dresses in the shop windows. So, of course, when she got up the next morning no one greeted her at the door. She was free to pursue her schemes.

And pursue she did. She ran as fast as she could down the road toward the bears’ house. It was a very warm morning and she was hot and thirsty when she arrived, just in time to see the bears wandering down toward the creek. She checked the door. It was not locked. So she pushed it open and crept inside.

There was nothing spectacular about the place. It was just a nice home, like hers and all her friends’ homes. Except, of course, that it was designed for bears. Disappointment raged through her. How was she to impress the town?

Then she saw the large pitcher of orange juice with some ice cubes floating in it. But instead of first going to the bathroom and cleaning the dust and sweat from her face and hands, she ran to the table and grabbed at the pitcher. Intent on pouring herself a glass of juice, she failed to recognize how heavy the pitcher would be, and she spilled a lot of juice on the table. But she did manage to get a glass of juice poured and she slurped it down. It was delicious, cool and sweet. She grabbed the pitcher and poured another glass, not spilling so much this time. After drinking it, she looked around the room to see what else she could find.

The table had three places set with a bowl of steaming hot oatmeal at each place. Goldilocks jumped around to the first place and took a big spoon of oatmeal. It burned her tongue. She yelled and dropped the spoon, splattering oatmeal. The second bowl was almost as hot; she shook her head as she dropped the messy spoon down on the clean napkin. The third bowl was no cooler. But she took a few ice cubes that she had spilled out of the orange juice and put them in the third bowl, stirring it to melt the cubes. Now the oatmeal was cool enough. It was very tasty, so she ate the whole bowl.

Three rocking chairs attracted her attention. She had begun to imagine that the bears had invited her to breakfast, and were now saying that she should enjoy rocking in one of their chairs. She could hardly climb into the first chair: it was the Papa Bruin’s chair and rather large. The second chair was smaller, but her feet couldn’t reach the floor. The third chair was small, but she could squeeze her body into it. She began to rock vigorously, doing all the things her parents had said not to do. She tried to get the chair to rock all the way forward and then all the way back. She tried to make the chair jump. Then, all of a sudden, the chair pitched backward too far and fell over. She heard the wood splinter and felt the wood bounce off her skin, bruising her arms and legs. It scared her just a little, but she got up and looked at the broken chair. “Oh!” she exclaimed, for she had broken not only the chair, but also the little table that was set by the side of the chair.

Her heart pounding, she wandered down the hall toward the bedrooms. The first bedroom obviously belonged to Papa and Mama Bruin. She tried to climb into the bed, but only pulled the covers off of it. Leaving them piled in the floor she wandered into the room across the hall. This was most certainly the guest room. She managed to climb into the bed, but the mattress was very stiff and hard. So she jumped up and down on the bed like it was a trampoline. This made her rather tired, but the bed was too hard for her to sleep on. So she wandered down to the last room. This surely was the room of Baby Bruin. The bed was smaller: she could sit on it and her feet still touched the floor. And it was very soft and cozy. So she lay down and snuggled into the covers, falling fast asleep.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

The first thing the bears noticed when they returned from their walk was the front door. It was wide open. Now on this particular morning Baby Bruin had let the door slam shut, causing Mama Bruin to gently chide her baby for bad manners. So they knew it had not been left open.

Anxiously, Papa Bruin peered inside. The mess he saw caused him to growl. He entered the house cautiously, looking around and grunting angrily. Seeing no one he signaled to his family that it was safe for them to enter the house. It did not look like anything had been stolen, but their breakfast was ruined, as was the table and Baby Bruin’s chair. Mama Bruin sighed and started to clean up the mess but Papa Bruin grunted for her to wait. He thought he had heard a noise from the back of the house.

Taking care to make as little noise as possible, he took his baseball bat out of the closet and walked gingerly dawn the hall. Someone had disturbed the covers on his bed and the guest bed looked like someone had been jumping up and down on it. Shaking his head, he peered into Baby Bruin’s room. Lying in the bed was that horrible little Goldilocks girl.

He was so surprised that he just shut the door, shook his head, turned and walked back down the hall. He looked at his family and said, “Goldilocks. She’s asleep in Baby’s bed. What are we going to do?”

We?” asked Mama Bruin, “what do you mean ‘we’? She’s going to clean up this mess. After all, she made it.”

Papa Bruin’s eyes grew quite large. A big grin spread across his face. “We’ll teach her some manners.”

The three of them walked back down the hall and into Baby Bruin’s room. Mama Bruin stood on the right side of the bed, Papa Bruin stood on the left and Baby Bruin stood at the foot.

Wake up, child,” Mama Bruin said in a quiet, friendly voice.

Goldilocks woke up to see the three Bears looking intently at her. She started to scream at them for waking her up, but the look on their faces forced her to be quiet.

I sure hope the oatmeal was good,” said Papa Bruin.

I sure hope the rocking chair was fun,” said Baby Bruin.

I sure hope jumping on the guest bed was fun,” said Mama Bruin.

They were all three smiling very sweetly at her. Then Mama Bruin said, “We’re going to make some lunch now. Would you like to stay and eat with us?”

And Papa Bruin said, “And then we’re going to play all afternoon. Would you like to stay and play with us?”

And Baby Bruin said, “Nobody comes to play with me since we moved out here. I sure would like a friend. Did you come here to be my friend?”

And Goldilocks said, “Yes.”

The oatmeal was good?”

Yes.”

Jumping on the bed was loads of fun, wasn’t it?”

Yes.”

And rocking as hard as possible in the rocking chair was great fun, too?”

Yes.”

So you want to spend a day or two with us?”

Yes.”

Okay,” said Mama Bruin. “Baby Bruin, will you come out to the kitchen with me. I have an errand for you.”

Thus Goldilocks found herself sitting on a big rock next to the creek with a fishing pole in her hands. Papa Bruin was sitting next to her and Mama Bruin was in the kitchen fixing lunch. Baby Bruin was running her errand. But Goldilocks was very worried. She wanted to send word to tell her parents where she was: but she couldn’t do that without explaining why she was there in the first place. And no one in town would understand why she went into the house without an invitation; much less why she ate their food and broke the rocking chair and jumped on and slept in their beds. She thought she could think of something to explain it all while she was fishing, but Papa Bruin kept asking questions about her family and friends and school and oh, why couldn’t he just shut up. When she glanced at him to see if she could say this the way he looked made her think it would not be a good idea. She wasn’t scared, at least not yet, but she was beginning to get a little anxious.

To make matters worse, Papa Bruin had tried to give her a worm to use as bait. He even showed her how to put the worm on the hook. Soon enough she caught a fish. But it was all slimy and she refused to touch it. So Papa Bruin unhooked it. Then he gave her a worm. It, too, was slimy. She hollered, “Ewe… yuck” and dropped it.

Papa Bruin began to talk about things she didn’t want to hear. He spoke of manners. He talked about how you could tell a lot about a person by the way they fished. She did not want to listen, but his voice was very commanding. She was a very stubborn little girl and decided that no matter what he said she was not going to touch anything gross and slimy like a worm.

Soon Mama Bruin brought them some sandwiches. “I’m sorry about having to serve this out here, but someone made a mess on the dining room table and they have not had time to clean it up, yet. I’m sure they will soon, though.”

Goldilocks began to feel a little queasy. When she saw the sandwiches she realized that she was hungry, but after Mama Bruin’s little speech, she began to loose her appetite. Then she began to get angry. Did the Bears expect her to clean anything? She had never cleaned up anything in her life. Then she thought that Mama Bruin had said ‘someone’ and not specifically who. And she said they had not had time to clean up the mess. Maybe it was Baby Bruin that was supposed to clean up the mess, whatever it was. But Mary Catherine Elizabeth Carmichael O’Shaunassey was not going to clean up any mess for anyone. She looked at the sandwich and took a ferocious bite out of it.

Eventually Baby Bruin joined them. She said she ate her sandwich in the kitchen. Then she looked at Goldilocks and asked, “Papa, why didn’t you show our guest how to bait a hook. If she doesn’t catch any fish, what will she eat for supper?”

Oh, she caught a fish. Just look in her bucket.”

Baby Bruin peered into the bucket next to Goldilocks, “You must not be very hungry. I could eat three that size.”

Oh, I guess I didn’t make it clear to you,” Papa Bruin said, smiling kindly at her, “we each catch as many as we want. Then we clean them and fillet them just the way we want them. I catch some extras for Mama Bruin because she is busy fixing the rest of the meal. So, if you want more than one fish for your dinner, you’d better bait that hook.”

Goldilocks was astounded. They expected her to catch her own dinner. Then the rest of Papa Bruin’s words dawned on her. “But I don’t know how to clean a fish.” She said this, not in a whiny protest, but as a plain, dumb fact.

That’s okay,” Papa Bruin smiled, “Baby Bruin and I will show you how with the ones we catch.”

She looked at the worm still wiggling on the big rock just a couple of feet away from her. Her stubborn anger made her shudder. Nobody could really expect her to touch wiggly worms and slimy fish.

Papa Bruin and Baby Bruin tried very hard to show her how to scale and clean a fish. But she would have none of it. “You can clean it for me.” She smiled sweetly at them. When it became obvious that they were not going to clean it for her, she ordered them.

But they just smiled at her. “Well, if that’s the way you want Mama Bruin to cook your fish,” they said.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

The smell of fresh trout filled the kitchen. The mess was still in the dining room, so they were eating in the kitchen. There was some corn and green beans with potatoes in them, and a big round of cornbread. But the smell of the fish was incredible. Goldilocks stared at the trout on her plate, which stared back at her. She really could not believe it, but Mama Bruin had cooked the fish. There it lay on her plate. She had watched them clean their fish and she just knew that if she stuck a knife into the thing on her plate, it would bleed and the guts would spill out all over. The thought made her nauseated. But the fish’s eyes made her even more queasy.

She looked at the pretty fillets on Baby Bruin’s plate. She wanted to throw a temper tantrum and scream until they gave her some fish, but somehow she knew that they would just let her scream. They were way out in the country: no one would hear her.

Her attention was captured by the conversation. Mama Bruin was talking about the Mayor, “…well yes. The Mayor said he did enjoy a nice walk. And no, he didn’t mind eating in the kitchen. He said he understood the situation.

He gave me a lollipop.” Baby Bruin grinned at Goldilocks. She frowned, wondering why no one said he was here so she could get a lollipop. “He said it was because I did a great job of cleaning up after lunch.” She looked at Goldilocks and grinned again.

Hunger and embarrassment were fueling a great anger in Goldilocks. She felt herself turning red. But Mama Bruin said in a lovely voice, “Well, dear, you were having such a great time fishing, I didn’t want to interrupt. I can’t imagine someone giving up fishing for a lollipop. Now I made a chocolate cake for dessert. Would anyone like a piece?”

Goldilocks swallowed her anger. So far, anger was all she had had for her dinner. The fish covered almost her whole plate and there wasn’t much room for vegetables and cornbread. She accepted a piece of cake and ate it silently, while Papa Bruin talked about the ‘one that got away’ when he went fishing at the lake.

They played checkers after dinner, but no one rocked in a rocking chair. Then it was time for bed. Goldilocks was astounded that they were making her sleep in the guest room, with the bed unmade. “Well, my dear, that’s the way you left it,” Mama Bruin cooed lovingly.

So Goldilocks had to crawl into an unmade bed. What was worse, the springs in the bed were sprung. A few of them were poking through. She had not noticed this when she laid down on it before she had started jumping on it. It occurred to her that maybe her Dad was right and jumping on a bed would damage the springs. Well, she thought, they could get her a different mattress. After all, she was a guest.

But no one answered her calls. The other bedroom doors appeared to be locked. She screamed and hollered in her best temper tantrum to no avail. The floor was very hard, but it didn’t poke her, so she pulled the covers off the bed and slept on the floor.

She awoke to Mama Bruin calling lovingly to her, “Oh, my dear you fell off the bed? Are you alright? Why didn’t you call out? We would help you get back into bed. Oh! Papa, you know, I’ll bet it was when we went on our nightly walk.” Mama Bruin looked at Goldilocks, “See, dear, we bears sleep all winter, so we don’t sleep much in warm weather. After you went to bed we went for a walk. I’m so sorry you had to sleep on the floor.” She smiled kindly at Goldilocks, but Baby Bruin giggled and Papa Bruin glowered at his daughter `, who instantly became very quiet.

She dressed and went down for breakfast, to find that the only thing available for breakfast was the oatmeal left over from yesterday, still laid out on the dining room table with the spilled orange juice.

Oh, well,” Mama Bruin smiled at her in response to her inquiry, “We thought maybe you would want to finish up your oatmeal from yesterday. You can warm it up, if you want. After all, you said it was delicious. Oh, you didn’t finish you fish last night. You can have it for your lunch.”

Goldilocks glared at her. She didn’t know what was going on, but she knew something was up. She opened her mouth three times. First to scream but she couldn’t scream, then to tell Mama Bruin just what she could do with the fish only she couldn’t make her voice work so finally she uttered a little cry of despair. “Maybe I’ll just go home. Mom and Dad don’t really know where I am. They might be upset if I don’t come home today.”

Oh, they know you’re here. The Mayor told them. That was Baby Bruin’s errand yesterday: to tell the Mayor where you were and have him come out and see the damage. He and your parents will be here soon. Perhaps you might want to eat your cold oatmeal, unless you want to face them on an empty stomach?” Papa Bruin was very stern. No one had ever spoken to her like that before. She was scared.

They’re… they are…come…coming here?” She stammered a bit. Then she flew into a rage, picking up things and throwing them, hollering about being tricked and how the Bears were so very mean.

But Papa Bruin just picked her up and carried her outside. “You’ll do less damage here,” he said.

She stood screaming at him, calling him all sorts of horrid names. Then she took a deep breath and heard something behind her. She turned and really screamed in fear. The whole town had seen and heard her, for they were all coming down the little road to the Bear’s house.

The town gathered around her, putting her in the middle of a big circle. Everyone seemed to be there, but no one was smiling or even grinning. Everyone looked very angry.

The charges are, first, that you did enter the house of the Bears uninvited; second that you did eat their food without it being offered to you; third, that you broke Baby Bruin’s rocking chair and the table next to it; fourth, that you messed up the covers on Papa and Mama Bruin’s bed, and then jumped up and down on the guest bed until you broke the springs and that you were found sleeping in the Baby Bruin’s bed.” The Mayor spoke in a very courtly voice. Goldilocks looked up at him and wanted to scream in his face. But she was sure it would not help her at all. For she knew that her parents had told her many many times about how to behave. She knew what she did was wrong, but she did not want to admit it.

Your punishment is first, to clean the Bear’s house from top to bottom. You will be their maid for a week. If you do not do as they wish, you will continue to be their maid until they are satisfied. Second, you are to wear rags until your parents have paid for the damages to the Bears.”

At this she did scream, calling the Mayor all sorts of bad names, and saying that no one could make her do any of it.

In a voice louder than her screams the Mayor called her father forward and said, “Do your duty, sir.”

And for the first time in her life, her father spanked her.

In the end it was her hunger that broke her. The Bruin family kept putting that horrid bowl of oatmeal and that greasy, hideous fried fish out for her to eat. She kept refusing to clean anything. Finally she asked if she could have something decent to eat if she cleaned up the dining table. It took her three hours to scrub the sticky dried up juice and oatmeal from the table, but her reward was a delicious peanut butter and blackberry jelly sandwich and a large glass of chocolate milk.

She spent a week scrubbing and cleaning the Bruin’s home. But they also showed her how to fish. She learned to clean the fish and to filet it so there were no bones. Mama Bruin shared her secret recipe for frying trout. (All I can tell you about that is that one day, when Goldilocks was a grandmother, a neighbor saw her using fresh ginger when she fried fish. But Goldilocks and her children and grandchildren say that they promised the Bruins never to reveal anything about the recipe. Probably, your best bet is to befriend a bear and see if she will share the recipe with you.)

Goldilocks survived her punishment. Her behavior improved: she quit throwing tantrums and demanding her own way. She even began to share so most of the children in the town began to enjoy playing with her. Not that her parents never had to punish her again, she was a real little girl, after all.

As for her name, well, she decided that since everyone already called her Goldilocks, she might as well call herself that. Once she started telling everyone her name was Goldilocks the person she was introduced to would say, “Well, I can see how you got that name.” and soon everyone forgot the real reason for the name.

As for the bear family, well, they became so very famous that some king somewhere made a special decree that two constellations would be named for them. You can still see these constellations, although some of the stars seem to have moved around a bit, making it difficult to see the bears in the sky anymore.

Useless

The Lord has blessed this journey. I felt it when we left and, now, we will be arriving about an hour before the evening service. That, I am sure is proof.”

Onesimus smiled. His escort and friend, Tychicus, was exuberant. The man had been unable to keep silent ever since they left Ephesus. He talked on and on, about the weather, the good time they had made, and even the wonderful quality of the food on the ship, all because, according to Tychicus, the Lord had blessed their journey.

They had left the barge and were now walking through Colossae toward Philemon’s house. Good thing Tychicus wanted to talk constantly. Because Onesimus had no desire to speak. The Lord may have blessed the journey, but that did not mean he would be accepted, even with reservations, back into the house. As Tychicus talked, Onesimus pondered his situation. They had been fortunate in that no one had asked questions about who they were or where they were going. The plan, should that happen, was to tell as much of the truth as was needed. But Tychicus did have proof that he was taking Onesimus back to Philemon, should it be necessary to prove anything.

Even then, the soldiers would most likely not let Tychicus continue on his own, but would insist that one of them accompany Onesimus to Colossae. That this drastic measure had been avoided was the real reason for Tychicus to be happy.

Onesimus checked his jacket for the letter sewn into the lining. His friend, Paul, had written it to assist in getting things straight. However, Onesimus was not certain that his master would see things as Paul saw them. One problem that he and Tychicus had not solved was what they would do if he were recognized before the matter could be settled. And this walk from the docks to Philemon’s house was the most dangerous part of the journey. Anyone might recognize him.

Onesimus woke from his deep thoughts. All was silent. Tychicus was very quiet. Ahead of them were two Roman soldiers. They seemed to be checking everyone who walked past. Tychicus began a simple prayer. When they were maybe fifty yards from the soldiers, the soldiers turned their backs and started walking in front of Onesimus and Tychicus. Almost as if they were the military escort ahead of the royal party.

Tychicus slowed their pace and the soldiers moved on ahead. Soon they were out of earshot. And Tychicus began to speak again; only this time in a whisper. “We will be at the gate soon. Is there some place in the front garden where you can wait unnoticed? I keep thinking that it would not be good for you to just show up unannounced.”

Onesimus nodded, thinking. He said, also in a whisper, “The gatehouse is on the right as we enter. But there’s a garden house on the left. There used to be a bench outside the door to the garden house. You don’t notice it from the path. And the gardener is not likely to be there just before the service. I can wait there.”

Tychicus nodded. The road curved to the right and the gate to Philemon’s house was just ahead, on the left. As they approached, the gatekeeper called a greeting. Fortunately, the gatekeeper was not known to Onesimus. They returned the greeting. When they told the gatekeeper they were emissaries from Paul, the man praised God. Then he turned back to his station and the two of them started down the path.

As soon as the gatekeeper was out of sight, they stepped off the path, carefully avoiding the flowers, and walked over to the bench by the garden house door. Onesimus took out his knife and cut the false hem in his jacket, pulled out the letter and gave it to Tychicus.

Probably best if I don’t make my business know to them until after the service. So you may sit here a while.” Tychicus was all smiles, but Onesimus could detect the deep concern hidden behind the smiles.

I’ll be fine. The Lord has got us this far. He will see it through. Don’t worry. It will go well. Don’t fret through the worship. Worship the Lord in joy with our brothers and sisters.” Onesimus grinned. The whole journey Tychicus had been reassuring him. Now he was reassuring Tychicus. Then, thinking of the worship service, he asked, “If it’s possible, ask the Celebrating Presbyter to hold back a portion for me.”

Tychicus smiled. “If that gatekeeper blabs that we come from Paul, I might be celebrating. Now that would be awkward!”

Onesimus hugged him, saying, “May the Lord be with you.”

Tychicus responded, “And, Onesimus, may he also be with you.”

Then Tychicus turned back to the path and headed toward the house entrance. The way Tychicus had said his name made him remember his original name. He had not thought about it for quite some time, but his Celtic name was Ollathir. Then, thinking about that, he remembered the day he was captured by the Romans and enslaved.

The crazy thoughts ran through his head like chattering squirrels. The bad news: they had lost the battle and the war. The worse news: in addition to the insult of being captured, he was judged either too small or too young or both. So he would not be enlisted in the Roman army. Instead, he was to be sold as a slave.

The slavers knew their job all too well. Ollathir had tried to find a way to escape. But they had thought of everything. A true bard, he thought, would know how to escape. But he was just a Mabinogi, a bard in training. One day he would be a priest, or Druid. One day? Not now. His people were now sharing the fate of the Gauls. Julius Caesar had defeated Vercingetorix in Gaul and hauled him to Rome as a trophy. That was a hundred years ago, but it still burned in the memories of the Celtic people. And now Suetonius Paulinus had destroyed the Druids in Mona. These Romans were amazing soldiers. From what he could tell, they knew little except war. But they knew war exceedingly well.

They were headed, so far as he knew, to Gaul. As he marched south, Ollathir felt the shame of his people. They had been beaten by uncouth savages, men without true manners or culture. And these men of war would not even let them be slaves in their own land, but they forced them into slavery in unknown lands.

Ollathir was proud of one thing: they had hurt the Romans severely. The Romans might have won, but it was a very costly win. And he was alive. He was marching toward the sea and Gaul. He prayed a prayer of thanks to Llew, his god. How Llew intended to make this slavery useful training for him was uncertain. But he began to look for opportunities to learn. For that was his job: to learn. That was the job of every Mabinogi. For he would still become a priest, some how, some way. And a Druid priest was always learning. So he would always seek to learn.

Looking around, seeing the despair on the faces of his fellow slaves, Ollathir wondered how he could help. His one true skill was singing. But he had no harp. Still, he could start singing and bring a bit of joy to those around him.

At first the Romans tried to make him stop singing. But soon they realized that it helped them, because it made their captives happier. One of the guards even tried to learn a few of the songs. And in that endeavor, Ollathir learned Latin. So the journey south was filled with singing and learning. A much less horrid journey than it might have been.

The sea was a great surprise. He had never seen the sea. And it did prove what his teachers had said: the world was round. He could see the way the ships disappeared and, when they set sail, the way the land sank beneath the horizon. He climbed up the main mast to watch for Gaul to rise up from under the sea and was rewarded with that vision, also.

Crossing the water to Gaul was exciting. He had never been on a ship, so this was another opportunity to learn. The sailors did not mind teaching him how the wind and the sails worked. He was quick to grasp the details. It was a short, stimulating voyage, but he did not learn very much about sailing.

Gaul had been the center of Celtic culture. While it had been overrun with Romans, it was still a pretty place. Gaul was also rather large. There were lots of vineyards, so there was also much wine. Ollathir was not impressed with the beverage made from grapes. He could brew an ale that was stronger and much less sweet.

It would take a little more than three weeks to reach Lugdunum. And it would be in Lugdunum that their fate would be decided. So the captives settled into a routine. Ollathir led the singing while they marched. Since the captives were forced to do all the labor, they cooked Celtic style and ate their meals in Celtic fashion. The Romans did not like this, but could not stop them without doing the work themselves.

Once, during a dispute between the Romans and the captives, Ollathir took the guard who was learning the Celtic songs aside and said, “I could sing very slow songs. Then we march very slowly.” He paused a moment and then offered, “We might march very slowly so that nothing can harm us. You would not want to try to sell damaged goods?” He smiled at the guard, who got the message. And the Romans ate Celtic food.

When they reached Lugdunum they had to wait for over a week for someone to decide what they were to do. Ollathir used the time to scavenge for the materials to make a harp. He had been very fortunate to find some properly cured oak. Unfortunately, the Romans did not know how to make the proper wire for stringing a harp, so he used gut, just like they did. The camp’s wheelwright let him make use of a few tools and shortly he had a passable harp. He would have loved to stay in the city named for his god, Llew. One of his guards even took him to a shrine that honored Llew. But even in the city named for him, Llew seemed unable to answer his prayers. Eventually they boarded a barge and floated down the Rhone to the port of Massilia. It was as they approached Valentia that he saw the mountains. Even though they were more like hills, his Roman friend told him about the real mountains. He could not imagine that the land would tower up like that. He lived in the mountains of western Britain. But, if the Romans were to be believed, they were just hills compared to the mountains that were east of them.

They were in Massilia two days, then a small ship took them to Rome. This was a much longer voyage than crossing the Sea to Gaul. It would take a week, but the winds were with them and the sea was relatively calm. He was a little seasick only for the first day, but remembering the mountains, he was glad to trade a little nausea for Winter in the Alps. He spent the week learning how to sail. And, with his new harp, he led the singing. One of his new guards taught him some Roman songs. That helped increase the comradery and made for a more pleasant voyage.

More important, although he did not know this at the time, was his interest in sailing. Because he wanted to learn how to sail, he was given the privilege of working on deck and did not have to man the oars below the main deck. As a result, he was standing on the deck as they entered the river and sailed into the Port of Rome.

The size of the city was mind-boggling. He could not comprehend how many buildings there were, nor how many people must live in this place. Nor could he comprehend why anyone would want to. It was like a thousand villages shoved up against each other. They had been greeted with the smell long before they saw the city; they had heard it too. There was a low rumble, like a soft moan that rose up from the conglomeration. And rising with that moan was a stench.

He had smelled it in Lugdunum and Massilia, but this was overpowering. He soon realized it was the river that stank. Later he would learn about the sewers. They might remove waste from the city, but it ended up in the river.

As he stared at the city, hearing the low moan and smelling the river, he was truly homesick for the first time. How he longed for the forests and moors and rainy winds of Britain.

The slavers tied them together and marched them through the streets in a victory parade. It was fascinating to see how the citizens praised and cheered the soldiers, especially the generals. The defeated were jeered. The mockery was supposed to be humiliating. But he knew he would be sold as a slave. That was not as humiliating as having your head chopped off and set on the point of a spear to be displayed for all to see. It would be a while before he understood that the point was not to humiliate the captives. Over time, he would learn that everything the Romans did was practical. The Roman motive was function. That was their true god.

Suddenly he was shoved out on a platform and realized he was being sold. A slaver asked him what skills he had. He tried to answer, but could only say he had not finished his education. It seemed not to matter. The slaver said something in the Roman tongue and there was much amusement. He had learned some Latin, but he did not comprehend the slang. He did gather that it was a very derogatory word. When the bidding was over he found himself in the company of several of his companions, all headed to the docks.

Someone told him they were going to a place called “Ephesus” wherever that was. It made him feel very homesick as he realized he would never see his homeland again. The voyage to Ephesus took two weeks. The first few days of the journey were rough seas, rain and erratic winds. Even so, he did not get seasick anymore. Then the days became relatively calm, with a good breeze. His skill at sailing improved greatly; he was almost one of the crew. He tried to compose a song, but was unable to finish the song before they reached Ephesus.

Instead of being sold at auction, Ollathir and six other slaves were quickly loaded on a wagon and carried south, in much haste, to a river where they boarded a barge. Ollathir did not know why, but for some reason they were taken upriver to Laodicea first, and then he and two others went on to Colossae. It was in Colossae that he was sold.

Apparently, he brought a good price. Which meant that he would have a hard time finding the money to buy his freedom. The man who bought him was named Philemon. But that was all he could decipher from the odd language of this new land. He learned later that it was part of the Roman Empire, but the language was Greek. His new owner spoke little Latin and struggled to communicate with Ollathir. However, he did manage to ask for his new slave’s name. He looked shocked when Ollathir ( probably pronounced “oo-thl-a-thir” ) pronounced his name. The new master’s tongue stumbled on the odd accents of the name. He tried again and then said slowly in the Roman tongue, “Well I hope you will be useful and I will name you that: you shall be “Onesimus.”

So the first thing his new master did was to change his name. That did not seem to him a good thing. And, indeed, his new life was very difficult. Communication was a problem, even though he did learn some of the basics of the Greek language rather quickly. Cultural differences proved to be an even bigger problem. His new master was not “Greek” but “Jewish”. His wife was Greek. So Ollathir had to learn both the Greek culture and the Jewish culture. It could get very confusing. He tried hard to please his new master, but always seemed to disappoint the man.

His first big disaster was in making pottery. His master needed some drinking cups. The overseer showed Onesimus (hard to get used to that name) the potter’s wheel. Onesimus nodded that he understood. The overseer showed him a cup. Onesimus nodded again. Then he marked “XII” in the clay. Onesimus said ‘Twelve” in Greek. The man nodded. Although he was not a highly skilled potter, he could make some fine plates and cups. He made a dozen cups exactly like those he had made in Britain. Yet, when Philemon saw the cups, he was quite unhappy. Later, he would understand that his work was of high quality, but the design of the cups and the images he put on the vessels were offensive. His Celtic art was not appreciated by his Jewish master. The same thing happened in the kitchen. His flavorings were not to the taste of his new master. And when he brewed some ale, they were horrified. Fermented grain was the inferior beverage of barbarians. They drank only wine.

Even his skill with the harp was faulty. They did not like his Celtic harmonies. So he tried the song the Roman soldier had taught him, only to have everyone get offended. A fellow slave finally told him that the words had a double meaning and it was actually a very lewd song. And then Ollathir was embarrassed, but it was too late.

The religions of the Greeks and his new master were also a source of confusion. The Greeks and Romans in Colossae tried to equate their gods to his. They could not understand that his gods were much different from the ones they worshiped. To confuse matters further, Philemon was Jewish. He said there was only one deity, a god whose name was unspeakable.

One day, in the course of his duties, Philemon said something that was a revelation to Ollathir. He had never understood why some people made decisions that were bad for the community; that is, why someone might steal or harm another. His Druid tutors had never explained this properly.

So, when Philemon said something about ‘Sin’, Ollathir did not understand him at all. Later, that evening, Philemon took him aside and explained how Adam and Eve had committed the first sin. He explained the concept of Original Sin. For Ollathir this was wonderful enlightenment. This story of Original Sin explained much of human behavior. He was fascinated and wanted to know more.

The next day Philemon took a few minutes to talk to him about his God. Philemon told his slave that God had revealed his name to be “I Am.” To his Celtic mind this made a lot of sense.

This gave Ollathir much to ponder. The idea of Original Sin and why people do bad things changed his whole world view. It also made sense that there was only one God. His Celtic gods almost always seemed to be manifestations of one deity. Llew and The Dagda worked in harmony. He often felt that praying to one was praying to all the gods. So, a few days later, he asked Philemon about this Jewish God.

It is as I said, there is only one deity. His name is ‘I Am’. He created the world and all that is in it.” Philemon seemed to not understand Ollathir’s questions.

Yes,” replied Ollathir, “but you said that the first people sinned. And you implied that I Am did something about it. But I don’t see that anything was done. Lots of people still sin. Most don’t know who I Am is.”

Philemon looked at his slave in wonder. None of the Greeks had ever asked him about this. So Philemon began to tell Ollathir about Jesus. But when Philemon said that Jesus had risen from the dead, Ollathir was incredulous. And when Philemon told him about meeting a man who had seen the risen Jesus, Ollathir was shocked.

To make things worse, the overseer complained to Philemon that Onesimus was spending too much time talking to Philemon about religion and not working. For many days he meditated on these things and prayed to Llew. But it did not help him do the tasks he was assigned in a way that pleased his master.

Philemon kept trying to find something Onesimus could do well. He tried to tell them that he was trained to learn all things, to know all things but not to master any one thing. Overall, he felt useless. He was, from birth, destined to be a bard or a priest, which explained his name; “Ollathir” meant “All-Father”, one of the names of The Dagda, the chief god. So he had been trained to think; to follow orders only after he had considered them carefully. New ideas were always encouraged. Not so in this new land. A slave was expected to do it as it had always been done. There was no expectation of improvement. And no one appreciated his improvements. Worst was when he developed a better way to clean the stables, but the stable master was irate and marched him back to Philemon, complaining. His name might be ‘Onesimus’ but he was still useless to his master.

The stable master said his piece and left. Philemon stood there, saying nothing, but staring into space. After a few minutes he looked at his slave and, in a rather angry tone, said, “I don’t know what to do with you. You are very smart but you act so foolish. I can’t get a good price for you without lying, which I will not do. You are young and virile. I have a friend who could use you as a prostitute. Maybe that would be suitable? Go back to the stable master, apologize, and do it right.”

He did obey his master. But it was the last time. He decided to find his way back to Britain. That evening a visitor, a Jewish Rabbi, arrived. Ollathir took a few coins and escaped while everyone was listening to the Rabbi.

Escape was easy. Because he was a devout Jew, Philemon did not tattoo his slaves. Colossae was small enough that he could not stay in town. So, if Ollathir could find a quick way out of Colossae, he would be free. He went down to the docks, looking for an idea. And he found one. A barge was moored to the pier and Ollathir watched as some men unloaded it. Nearby, a man was negotiating the shipping charge for his grain. And soon the grain was loaded. That’s when Ollathir quietly slipped aboard and crawled under one of the tarps that covered the grain.

The trip downstream was quiet. The only people on the barge were the grain merchant and the barge owner. When they reached the port, both men went ashore. One to find a buyer for the grain and the other to hire a crew to unload it. He took a chance and waited for the barge owner to return. He was hired to help unload the grain. From the other laborers he learned of a ship headed to Rome that was hiring sailors.

He was honest about his skills; he did not want to be put ashore in a remote place. His tongue got him the job. And they were blessed with good weather all the way to Rome. He wanted to thank Llew but it seemed that Llew just wasn’t around. Instead, he kept thinking about this solitary deity that Philemon worshiped. Some deity seemed to be giving him assistance, but he was not sure about it. Anyway, he was in Rome. Now he had to work out how to get to Britain. And that was when his apparent good fortune departed.

His wages from the ship were meager, but enough to last a few days. So he wandered around Rome, trying to learn about his enemy. One fascinating thing about Rome was the size of the buildings.

The insulae or apartment buildings were several stories high; some as much as seven stories. It was incredible. How, he wondered, could they stay erect? His opinion of the Romans began to change. Maybe they were not merely savage brutes who had mastered the art or war. Even so, he recognized that, even with the engineering technology to build great buildings, at their core they were a savage brutal culture who had lost touch with the earth. Why else would they live like this?

Why anyone would want to live in this place was incomprehensible to him. Why live so close together? Even with the sewers many still tossed their sewage into the street. And only the rain would clean it away. But then the breeze would shift slightly and the aroma of garlic cooking in olive oil filled the air. Frequently he could detect the additions of mussels or other seafood, lamb and other meat. And the bread! How wonderful their bread smelled. But then the breeze would switch and he would gag.

As he walked down the street he met a wagon loaded with barrels. As it passed, some of the barrels rolled off and one managed to hit him, breaking his leg. He sat in pain for a while, and then a man walked by, saw him and offered to help. The man’s name was Timothy. Timothy offered to take him to a physician he knew.

Dr. Luke seemed to be a really nice, caring man. Ollathir spent the next several evenings with him because the doctor had splinted his leg and he could not move. They had put him on a couch in the doctor’s front room where, for a week, he had very little to do. Mostly, the doctor talked about his travels with a man named Paul. He said they were servants of another, a man named Jesus. Eventually, when Ollathir figured out that the man they called Jesus was the same as the man Philemon had told him about, Ollathir felt very scared. He was trapped in this house with people who claimed that they served a man who had risen from the dead. What made it worse was his status as a runaway. So, even if he could leave, he could not go to the authorities for help.

Besides all that, he needed the doctor to change his bandages every few days. This was something new to him. He knew to set the broken bone and splint it. Dr. Luke explained why they changed the bandages that held the splints. He used cerate to stiffen the bandages. And changing them helped with gangrene.

Even with their odd belief, the people in the house seemed to be rational people in other ways. And very kind. Timothy showed him how to write in Greek. So most of his days were spent practicing the Greek language.

One evening he began to write down what Dr. Luke was saying. No one seemed to mind, so he continued this for several nights. Then, just as the evening was ending and they were headed to sleep, Timothy walked over and picked up Ollathir’s notes.

Dr. Luke,” he said, rather excited, “look at this.” He handed the notes to the doctor, who began to scan them.

Oh my goodness!” The doctor was quite excited, also. “This is amazing. I will show this to Paul.” Then the doctor looked at Ollathir and asked, “You don’t mind, do you?”

Ollathir looked at the man. He had no idea who ‘Paul’ was. And, due to his status, he really had no choice. “No. I just wrote down what I heard you saying.”

The upshot was that Ollathir was to record what Dr. Luke and others had to say about their travels and also to record what was said about Jesus. Then, during the day, he could re-write and organize the notes. Ollathir pondered this and agreed. He had no way to pay the man for the medicine. This could help him with that debt.

But the note-taking made his fear of these people worse. They really did believe that the man, Jesus, had risen from the dead. He also learned about a man named “Paul” who had seen the risen Jesus. He was not surprised that this Paul had been arrested and was in prison.

After a couple of weeks, Timothy came into the room one day with a crutch. Ollathir stood while Timothy marked the crutch for height. Then he looked at the patient and smiled, “Now you can move about. Dr. Luke says you need to move about. He said you can’t just sit on the couch all the time. Healing will be much faster if you move about. I’ll cut the end off and be back shortly.

Ollathir smiled. He knew all that. But he had not wanted to tell the kindly doctor his job. “Thank you,” was all he dared say.

Using the crutch, he was able to walk around the house. He took it slowly, letting his muscles get used to the exercise. The house was quite nice. There were a number of guest rooms and two main rooms, in addition to the dining parlor. He had been sleeping in the smaller of the two main rooms. As with most Roman houses, this one was built around a courtyard. That night he moved into a small guest room. It was a nice room with access to the courtyard.

The next day another man moved into the smaller main room. It seemed that he was a man of great importance, for a Roman soldier accompanied him. The soldier brought a pang of fear to Ollathir, for his presence was a reminder of his runaway status. Yet he could not leave. And no one knew his status. So he would just be careful.

Two days later he was asked to accompany Timothy to the room where the new guest was staying. As he entered the room, the sight shocked him. The new guest, sitting on a small stool, was chained to the soldier.

Paul,” Timothy began the introduction, “this is Ollathir, the man we told you about who takes notes of what we say and transcribes them. And Ollathir, this is Paul, the ambassador in chains who met Jesus on the road to Damascus.”

Not knowing Ollathir’s skepticism, Timothy had no idea how much of a shock this would be to the man. Ollathir, stunned at the revelation, turned white and almost lost his balance and fell. Only Timothy’s quick catch kept him upright.

He sat on the couch, dumbfounded. Someone gave him a cup of wine, which he sipped slowly. He had many questions, but could ask none of them, especially with the soldier standing there.

Paul saw the questions in Ollathir’s eyes. And Ollathir saw a kindness in Paul, a grace that revealed a man he could trust with his soul. “You want to ask me something?” Paul queried.

Feeling complete embarrassment, he wanted to say, “No,” and leave. Instead, he spoke haltingly, “You met…Jesus? You saw…him?”

Paul nodded in affirmation, “Yes I did.”

Ollathir really wanted to tell Paul about Philemon, but to do so would reveal his status as a runaway. He glanced quickly at the man chained to Paul. The Roman soldier looked very intimidating. So he simply nodded and said, “I am honored to meet you.”

Dr. Luke came in and announced that the midday meal was ready. He looked at Paul and said, “Demas will be bring your meal to you.” Then he glanced at the soldier, “He will also bring something for you.”

With Paul’s arrival some of the routine changed. They still gathered in the smaller front room after the evening meal, but Ollathir seldom joined them. It was not a large room and there were always visitors. Paul, Timothy, and Demas met with Paul’s evening visitors. Dr. Luke and sometimes Timothy or some others would join Ollathir in the other front room or in Ollathir’s room. In Dr. Luke Ollathir had already found a kindred spirit. The two of them discussed medicine, the Romans, and many other topics. Ollathir still took notes. But Dr. Luke wanted transcription of only the notes on Paul and Jesus.

About a week after Paul arrived another man on house arrest joined them. And this man caused Ollathir much worry. His name was Epaphras. He was from Colossae. Fortunately, he did not seem to recognize Ollathir. But Ollathir was certain the man would know the name ‘Onesimus’. That, combined with the fact that his leg was healing properly, gave Ollathir a good reason to confide in Dr. Luke.

We thought it was something like that.” Dr. Luke was smiling. “Timothy wondered why you nearly fainted when you met Paul. Someone said you eyed the soldier carefully.”

Well, that was different.” Ollathir explained his skepticism at what Philemon had told him about Jesus. “So, when Timothy introduced him, it felt like my whole world turned upside down. I still can’t believe a man rose from the dead.”

Yes. I had a difficult time with that, also.” Dr. Luke said. “But then I met Peter and the other Apostles. They knew him before he was crucified. And they saw the empty tomb. I heard this from their own lips.”

Ollathir nodded.

But now we must decide what we are to do with you.” Dr. Luke said carefully. “Your leg will be healed soon. And we can’t be seen by the Romans as to hiding runaways. We will pray about you. We will pray diligently. But, we won’t do anything before your leg is healed. As a doctor, I can’t permit that.”

After three days of prayer, it was agreed that no decision about him would be made until his leg was healed. However, he should use the name “Onesimus” because his Briton name would seem dishonest to the Romans.

In addition to his duties as a scribe, Onesimus began to assist Dr. Luke with his medical practice, even accompanying Dr. Luke to visit those home-bound.

About the time his leg healed he accepted Jesus as his savior. Timothy baptized him. It was deemed a great occasion and they had a wonderful feast. He stayed with them for three more weeks after his leg healed. Much of that time was spent taking the Eucharist to the home-bound. He usually accompanied Mark, Timothy or a man named Tychicus. He also assisted in setting up the larger front room for worship; helping with the preparation of the bread and wine.

A few days before he was due to leave, Dr. Luke said to him, “Philemon was right to name you Onesimus. You are a most useful person.” He was shocked. No one in the Roman world had said anything like that to him. But he did not feel useful. He felt hollow. Jesus was his savior, true; even so, something was missing from his life.

The day they left for Colossae Paul had given him a token of Love. It was a piece of the shackle that had broken while Paul was wearing it. The soldier had let him keep the broken pieces. And Paul had given a piece to him.

A horse whinnied and brought Onesimus out of his daydream. He looked around at the familiar scene of Philemon’s garden. Dread overcame him. It had been some time since Tychicus had left him to go into Philemon’s house. What if Philemon was sending for the Roman soldiers? Fear shook him. He really wanted to get up and walk down to the docks and find a ship back to Britain. He could bring Christ to Britain. That would truly serve God, wouldn’t it? Yes, go to Britain. Take Jesus to them. He did not need to sit here like a fool. Then he felt the little piece of curved metal that Paul had given to him. He remembered the day Paul gave it to him. It was the day his life changed. He would never forget it.

One Sunday after the Holy Meal, Paul sent for Onesimus. “Here’s someone I would like you to meet.” Paul said to him, as if he were introducing his barber. But the man standing before him was named Peter. Onesimus stared at the man, unashamed of his lack of etiquette.

Peter confirmed to Onesimus all he had heard about Jesus was true. And that was when Onesimus accepted Jesus as his savior. Later, after Peter left, Onesimus met with Paul and confessed his sins, including the details of his sin against Philemon and his hatred of the Romans. After his confession, Paul had talked with him for a while. Then he brought out a piece of a broken shackle.

Paul gave the piece of metal to him and said, “They put a worn out shackle on me. After a while it broke. I picked up the pieces and showed them to the soldier, who let me keep them. I give this piece to you, as a reminder of your slavery to sin and that you are now free to worship God.”

Onesimus was greatly moved by this gift. He thanked Paul. The next day he had a small hole drilled in it and used a leather strap as a chain so that he could wear it around his neck.

Three weeks later he and Tychicus were boarding a ship. But those three weeks were the busiest weeks of his life. On top of all his duties as scribe, medical assistant and home-bound visitor, he spent much time with Dr. Luke and Paul. This was, in part, because Dr. Luke had told Paul that Onesimus had been in training to be a Druid priest back in Britain. In that discussion, Dr. Luke had told Paul about Onesimus’ ideas on the Trinity.

So, every evening for a week, Paul and Onesimus discussed the Trinity. In one really intense discussion Onesimus use the word “manifestation” in describing how the gods he had worshiped were somehow connected. “The people might see each god as a separate person, but the Druid priests see all gods as part of the divine whole.”

Paul looked straight at Onesimus and said, “You know, I’ve never thought of God as a person. Well, I guess I always knew that he was a person. He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. And Jesus was a person. It’s my training as a Pharisee that sometimes blinds me. But what you are saying makes sense. It is not that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are manifestations, but that they are three persons making up one deity, the divine whole. And to think of the Father as a person makes calling him ‘Daddy’ meaningful. It makes the Holy Spirit real to think of Him as a person. And of course, Jesus was and is a person.”

Onesimus just smiled. He had no idea what to say. Paul kept looking at him. So Onesimus said the only thing he could think of, “Well, we will have to pray about this.”

Paul smiled and agreed. “Thank you for the most useful conversation.”

Philemon entered the garden with Tychicus at his side. Onesimus stood, head bowed. Philemon held up the letter. “You are certainly more trouble than you are worth!” Philemon said, but he was grinning. He stood close to Onesimus, looking him over. “Well, you have fared well in the house of Paul. He sends back a well fed slave.”

Onesimus looked up at Philemon. “I have wronged you. Forgive me.” Then he bowed his head again.

I forgive you. I was wrong to threaten you with a terrible fate. Will you forgive me for that?”

Onesimus looked up at Philemon, shocked. He stared at the man, then said, “Yes.”

The long silence was broken by Tychicus, who said, “If you are willing, Philemon would like you to return to Rome with me and study under Paul. Then he can lay hands on you and you can return here to lead this church. Is that something you would like to do?”

Onesimus looked back and forth between the two men. “I don’t know. I need to pray about it.” Then he sat down, stunned. He was born to be a priest. And now he was being given the opportunity to serve his new God. It was a miracle.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Some Notes on “Useless”

This story is a work of fiction. It might be called “historical fiction”…There is absolutely no evidence for anything in this story except for what can be found in Holy Scripture. I used “poetic license” in order to produce what I hope is a good tale. The following explains how I derived my tale.

Outside of the Letter to Philemon, we know almost nothing about Onesimus. There was a man named Onesimus who was the Bishop of Ephesus. Assuming that these two are the same person, I wondered about a slave who became a bishop and the result you just read.

Onesimus and Philemon lived in the same time period as Boadicea, the Iceni Queen who rebelled against the Romans; as well as the time when the Romans destroyed the Druid priests in Mona. We do know that the Romans took their captives to Rome to march in the Roman victory parade. I assume they did the same for the captive British. This is also a decade or so before the Romans destroy Jerusalem and the Temple.

About place names: Lugdunum is the current city of Lyon. It was named by the Celts who lived in Gaul for their god, Llew or Lugh. Massilia is the current city of Marseilles.

I wondered why Philemon would have a slave with the name of “Useful”. There are a couple of historical persons with that name, but it is rare. I rather think Philemon had difficulty pronouncing his new slave’s name.

The name “Ollathir” comes from The Song of Albion by Stephen Lawhead. The double ‘L’ is generally pronounced almost like the ‘thl’ in the English word ‘athlete’. Same for the god, ‘Llew’. That makes pronunciation difficult. In addition, the meaning of the name fits the story very nicely.

Internet research informed me that Rome did have some sewers. It also suggests that the city of Rome could have been between a quarter of a million and a million people. https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/BACD7DF32B0B77609CD6713B8AF88882/S0003598X00085859a.pdf/population_of_ancient_rome.pdf)

Aftermath

 { I wrote this a few months after Hurricane Michael destroyed parts of Florida and Alabama. I grew up dealing with hurricanes. This is an effort to capture how a person might feel after one of these storms.}

 

Puddles fluoresce in now brilliant sunshine

We wade through them in agony and awe;

Broken structures ache

We hear their moans of creaking as wind still insults them;

Yesterday’s treasures now wastes of trash

That lie in piles

Soon to reek an acrid smell;

Sky still freaky ugly turquoise

Lost clouds, left behind, fly confused;

We marvel at destructive design

Weird beauty left scattered

By Wind

By Wave

By Weather

By Indiscriminate Chance.

Michael you have left a mess

Go join your sister Florence

In Atlantic dissipation:

We remain to struggle

To Rebuild

In The 

Aftermath. 

HOLY WEEK at C.O.T.R.

A Personal Account of

HOLY WEEK

at

Church of the Resurrection

One of the best things about Church of the Resurrection is the way we celebrate Easter. For us, Holy Week means much more than just the end of Lent or the opportunity to visit with family and/or friends while the children hunt colored eggs. Yes, we enjoy those things. In fact, our celebration of Holy Week specifically contains those things. But it contains much more. While the whole week is sacred to us, we specifically observe Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Day. In addition, Easter is not just one day. Easter is the entire season from Resurrection Day until Pentecost. So, we not only celebrate Holy Week, but we have almost two months of the Season of Easter.

Palm Sunday

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. The first thing we do is to meet about an hour before the service starts and make palm crosses. We carry these in a reenactment of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus fulfilled Scripture by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. We march around the church waving palm fronds and our palm crosses. This procession signifies the special holy nature of the day. It is fun. It reminds us that being holy can be fun. We wave palm crosses and palm branches and sing praise to God as we march joyfully into the sanctuary. It is a wonderful way to begin Holy Week. (We keep our crosses until the following February, when the clergy burn them to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday.)

Maundy Thursday

I was completely ‘blown away’ the first time I participated in a Church of the Resurrection Maundy Thursday service. Now I knew some things about Maundy Thursday, but I was not prepared for the end of the service. Maundy Thursday is the traditional day for observing the institution of the Last Supper, or Communion, or Eucharist. But it was most familiar to me as the day we observe a “Foot-Washing” ceremony. While the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe the institution of the Communion meal, The Gospel of John tells us about the foot washing event in Chapter 13.

We also get the name of this day from John 13:34. Jesus says, “A new commandment I give you,” which, in Latin, is “Mandātum novum dō vōbīs‌” Shortly after he washed the Disciples’ feet he said, “A new commandment I give you, love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another.” Maundy means ‘command’ from the Latin ‌mandatum. (We get words like ‘mandate’ and ‘mandatory’ from this same word.) That is why we call this day ‘Maundy Thursday’. So now you know. Maundy Thursday is ‘Commandment Thursday’, the day of the new commandment.

But it’s much more than that. I had participated in many ‘foot washing’ services. That was what I was expecting. And we did do that. It is—well it can be—a humbling act to wash someone else’s feet.

The Bible does not always paint a picture for us. I suppose John never thought that he should explain why the foot washing made such an impression. Imagine how filthy your feet would be if you wore sandals on dirt roads. Imagine even more what the droppings of horses, cattle, donkeys would do to your feet. Imagine having to clean them! It was the job of the lowest servant. The one who washed your feet was the least in the household. It’s important to realize that the custom in Judah in those days was to recline at a low table to eat. The custom would put my feet near your head. You would want me to have clean feet. Now, imagine what the disciples thought when Jesus took up the basin and towel to wash their feet. You can read about it in the Gospel of John, chapter 13. And that is why Jesus gave them a new commandment and told them (and us) to love each other.

I tell you this to let you know that this is the spirit of the foot-washing ceremony at Church of the Resurrection. It truly helps to put servant-hood into perspective.

But it is what happens at the end of the service that is truly sacred. Remember that we have washed each other’s feet. Then, we have celebrated the Last Supper. Now, at the end of the service, the church changes its celebratory color to black. The clergy wash the altar with vinegar, the lights are dimmed, the cross is draped in black and a replica of the Gethsemane Garden is set up. We call this the “Altar of Repose” and from the end of the Maundy Thursday service until the beginning of the Good Friday service at least one member of our church is seated at the Altar of Repose, praying for one hour with Jesus.

Good Friday

And the next day Jesus is nailed to the cross. We observe the Crucifixion with a special “Stations of the Cross” event. We have markers depicting the ‘Stations of the Cross’ at The Gardens in West Asheville. So, at High Noon, we meet there to observe His Crucifixion. {Please see our website at cotres.org for more about The Gardens.}

(The following comments are mine. They may or may not be official statements of the CEC or Church of the Resurrection. I have partaken “The Lord’s Supper” in many churches over the years. The following is my opinion. I do hope the following comments will help you understand just how wonderful and spiritually fulfilling the observance of this Holy Sacrament can be, and, why our Good Friday service is so spiritually moving.)

Then, around 7:00pm, we observe Good Friday with a special Eucharist (Last Supper) service. It is the Good Friday service that we use to observe the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. This service makes the crucifixion of Jesus a real event, at least it does that for me. However, in order to explain our worship service, I need to explain certain things. I do this so that you will better understand what is really happening in our worship.

We in the CEC believe that the bread and wine, when blessed, do become, at some point, the body and blood of Jesus. We treat the elements of bread and wine as if they were truly the body of Jesus. For me this is a wonderful, spiritually fulfilling idea. We keep a small portion of the Blessed Elements in a “Tabernacle” on the wall behind the Altar. Some of us, when we enter the sanctuary or pass in front of the Tabernacle, bow or nod to show respect to our King. I, personally, “see” the Throne of God where the Tabernacle is located. I practice the presence of God upon His Throne when I enter the Sanctuary or pass in front of the Tabernacle. Now, I know, just as every member of our church knows, that God is omnipresent. We don’t limit the Presence of God to the Bread and Wine. But, because God is present everywhere, what, I ask you, prevents Him from being present in the Bread and the Wine?

As you probably know, Jesus died before sunset, was removed from the cross and his body was given into the custody of Joseph of Arimathea, who buried it in a nearby tomb. As there was not enough time to properly prepare the body for burial, some of the ladies made note of the exact location of the tomb so they could return there on Sunday to finish the burial process. A large stone was placed over the entrance to keep animals from desecrating the body.

Our Good Friday service takes this into account. The Altar of Repose is removed. We consume all of the Blessed Bread and Blessed Wine in the church building. So, at the end of the service, there is no Blessed Bread or Blessed Wine in the Tabernacle or anywhere else in the building.

While washing the Altar with vinegar and draping the cross with a black shroud is very moving, it is in the symbolism of the Absence of Christ, the remembrance of his burial, that is something one can feel. At the end of the service there is a difference in the “atmosphere” of the Sanctuary.

When we return on Saturday morning to decorate the Church for the Easter Vigil we notice this. The building feels empty. Even the first time that I participated in this, when I really did not understand the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, I noticed a difference in the ambiance of the sanctuary on Saturday morning. This was made apparent to me, once again, just a few days ago. I had to stop by the church for a few moments. Upon entering, I could actually feel the presence of Christ, even though I was not thinking about that. And I have entered some sanctuaries, only to realize that there is no Tabernacle behind the Altar and thus no official ‘place’ to bow in reverence to My Lord. In those sanctuaries He seems, to me, to be less present.

I can’t say that this would ever be real for you. But the emptiness of the Sanctuary on Friday night and Saturday is one of the things that makes our Holy Week a real observance of the Passion of Christ for me. For others, it might be the extinguishing of the Christ Candle, putting out the light, that moves them. That’s important, but it’s that Absence of Christ that I feel.

Resurrection Day

First, an explanation of calendars and time keeping and such. If you know the following, that’s great. But if you have never understood this, I hope the following explanation will help you understand some things about how and why Christians do what they do.

We at Church of the Resurrection follow the tradition that Jesus was crucified on Friday and resurrected on Sunday. We also understand that, in Jewish understanding, the day begins as sunset. In the West, the day begins at midnight. So, for example, Jesus’ birthday begins at sunset on the day we in the West call “Christmas Eve” and it ends at sunset on the day we call “Christmas Day”. For the Jews, Passover Day begins at sunset and ends at sunset. In addition, they counted days differently: If a wedding started on Monday at noon and ended on Wednesday at noon they would say that the wedding was three (3) days long. Therefore, if Jesus died and was buried on Good Friday before sunset and he was resurrected after sunset on the day we call Saturday, then he was dead, by their reckoning, three (3) days. In addition, Easter “sunrise” service would better be called “Son Rise” service. (The Bible is full of puns. It would be a Biblical tradition to make a pun here.)

Saturday evening, just before sunset, we gather in the church parking lot to begin our Easter Vigil and the Observance of the Resurrection of Our Lord. A fire is ignited at sunset and we light, once again, the candle that represents the ‘Light of Christ.’ Each person receives a small candle with which we ‘carry the Light of Christ’ into the darkened sanctuary. Our candles remain lit and the church lights are dimmed as we rehearse the history from the beginning of time.

When we reach to point where Christ is Risen, the lights are brightened and we sing out in celebration that Christ is Risen Indeed. Our little candles are extinguished. The Clergy bless new bread and new wine and we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and our God.

After the worship service, we move into the fellowship hall and have a party. Everyone brings something sweet or savory and we fellowship with each other. Lent is now over. Those of us who gave up some type of food for Lent can now enjoy that food again. If you have never done this, it is a worthwhile endeavor. When you partake of something after a fast, the eating takes on a new meaning.

On Easter Sunday we do have a “simple said service” for those who were unable to participate in the Easter Vigil. But this Sunday is a time to celebrate with family and friends. Some of us let the children hunt colored eggs. But that is a family, not a church, activity. Gathering with family and friends is, I think, a really great way to end Holy Week.

Now I am inviting you to come and celebrate Holy Week with us. I would like for you to look forward to Holy Week/Easter with as much anticipation as I do. Yes, Christmas is a wonderful holiday. We celebrate and enjoy that season. However, it has become a secular event, not simply a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Easter, thankfully, has not become a pagan festival. And the way we celebrate Easter makes it a true Holy Week.

The Armor of God–A Morning Prayer with commentary.

Good morning, Father! Good morning, Jesus! Good morning Holy Spirit!

Romans 12:1-2 Heavenly Father, according to your Word, I present my body as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable in your sight. Let my behavior conform to your model, Jesus, and not to the world around me.

Isaiah 61:3 As I prepare to face the world Father, anoint my hair with the oil of your joy. Let me wear praise for my garment and, as a garland of beauty, a smile.

Ephesians 6:14-18 For strength to resist the devil’s tactics – to help me stand firm – I buckle the belt of truth around my waist and wear righteousness as my breastplate. My shoes are the readiness to spread the gospel of peace. My faith is my shield: with it I can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Salvation is my helmet; and for my defense I take up the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. I am ready to pray in the Spirit for all occasions.

Isaiah 58:8 And according to your Word, the glory of the Lord is my rear guard. Father, I thank you for the armor you have provided for me to dress in this day. I am completely covered now, in the name of Jesus, according to your Word.

Galatians 5:22-25 Let me walk through this day keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, producing the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Matthew 7:24 Upon Jesus I have built my life, my home, and my marriage and nothing shall prevail against these things.

Psalm 23:1 & You are my shepherd, I shall never be in spiritual want. For you have supplied all my

Philippians 4:13-19 needs according to your riches in glory and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 I cast down all imaginations and bring into captivity every evil thought.

1 Peter 5:7 I humble myself before you and cast all my cares upon you, for you care for me.

Psalm 103:3 & I praise you for walking in divine health, for you are my God who heals all my

Isaiah 53: 5 diseases and by your wounds I am healed.

3 John 1:2 I praise you and thank you for my prosperity and good health; even as my soul prospers.

Nehemiah 8:10 This day is holy to the Lord. I will not worry or weep but enjoy what I have and share it with others, for the joy of the Lord is my strength.

Jeremiah 1:12 Father, I have prayed according to your Word and you have said you would watch over your Word to fulfill it.

Father, please live big within me today, for I am yours in the name of Jesus. Amen.

First, some historical and technical notes:

My wife and I were first introduced to this prayer at a Walk to Emmaus Weekend. After pondering and prayer I modified the original, specifically for our personal use. It never occurred to me to share it, as I am a layperson and have no real theological training. It was when our church did a Bible Study on the Armor of God that I realized it might be good to share this prayer with them. However, I was reluctant because I had changed some things. I finally realized that the Lord wanted me to share this prayer, with my comments about each section. So here are my comments.

The major change to the original prayer was the addition of Galatians 5:22-25, the “fruit of the Spirit” passage. I also made changes in the order, to make it flow properly. For example, I moved the Isaiah 61:3 passage because I thought it made more sense to put those items on before donning the armor. And I changed some of the wording to make it sound better to me. When I started writing these comments, I looked at the way a number of translations phrased the verse in question; I also looked at notes and other commentaries.

Greek and Hebrew words often have more than one meaning, as do English words. Phrases can be translated into English in a variety of ways. I have chosen a number of different translations in order to make the concept fit. For example, I chose the King James Version for Isaiah 61:1-3. Even so, we miss the word “garland” which some versions translate as “crown”. (The Jerusalem Bible uses “garland.”) I read in a note or comment that the word could be translated as “garland of beauty” or “crown of beauty” and so the idea of a smile came to me.

These comments are just comments. I do not claim any divine inspiration. If you find something that does not seem to fit the Bible, I apologize. I have tried very hard to make sure that every concept is grounded in solid Biblical truth.

A comment on the format:

The first page is the prayer, with the Bible verse it references on the left. For the commentary, each part of the prayer is in large bold non-serif type. The Bible verse is just below it in a smaller non-serif type. My comments are in serif type. Other Biblical quotes are marked.

Good morning, Father! Good morning, Jesus! Good morning Holy Spirit!

We begin by saying, “Good Morning” to the three persons of God. Our God is one deity of three persons, that is, God is Triune. We could think of these persons as aspects, or dimensions or forms, but our God is a living sentient being. We do best to think about Him by referring to His person. The book of Genesis (Chapter 1, verse 1 & also verse 26) informs us that God is plural: the first name we find for God is Elohim, a plural form of the word for God, El. Chapter One of Genesis also informs us that God is both creator and spirit; and implies that the two are somehow different. David, in Psalm 110 calls the Messiah, “My Lord” and Jesus, in Matthew 22:41-46 asks the Pharisees how this could be. Chapter 1, verse 1 of The Gospel of John describes The Word to us in terms of the deity of Jesus. The Bible contains many more references to the three distinct persons that we know as God.

The main point is that God is one, singular god, but God has revealed Himself to us as three persons. When I pray, sometimes I say something like, “Hello, Father God, Lord Jesus and Holy Spirit; Lord God I come to you in prayer…” I say this because I am using the name ‘Lord God’ to refer to all three persons. In some translations ‘Lord God’ refers to the combined use of Elohim and Yahweh. So the term refers to all of God. It is okay to pray to just the Holy Spirit, or to Jesus or to the Father (Jesus said to pray to the Father, we are told to ask the Holy Spirit and to pray in Jesus’ name). However, it seems proper to say “Good Morning” to all three persons of the Trinity.

Romans 12:1-2 Heavenly Father, according to your Word, I present my body as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable in your sight. Let my behavior conform to your model, Jesus, and not to the world around me.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

Imagine that God appeared to you as He appeared to Abraham, Isaiah and others in the Old Testament. What would you be likely to do? We are not told what Abraham did when God revealed Himself to Abraham the first time (see Genesis 12). In chapter 18 Abraham treats the manifestation of God as a very special guest; Isaiah (see Isaiah 6) cries in fear that he is ‘a man of unclean lips’ and thus ‘undone’ or ‘lost’.

When we first wake up and say “Hello” to God, does He not appear before us? Or—more precisely—do we not appear before Him, in His court? This is much more than a casual, “Hi, how you doing?” that we might say to a friend. We are truly standing (or kneeling or sitting respectfully – or possibly still laying in bed – ) before the King and Creator of the Universe. Wouldn’t you want to offer Him a gift? And what do you have that you could give to God?

St. Paul’s request that we worship God properly, offering ourselves as a holy sacrifice, is thus very appropriate here.

Now as we read the Bible, especially the description of the sort of animal that God allows to be a sacrifice, we become aware of our inability to fulfill the requirement. We know that we are not without blemish; therefore we are not pleasing to God. It is only through the sacrifice made in our behalf by Jesus the Messiah (who was without blemish) that we become acceptable to God. It does please the Lord God that we have accepted Jesus as our Messiah and repented of Sin. Your acceptance of the free gift of salvation makes you “without blemish” and thus acceptable to God.

Since we have already accepted God’s gift of salvation, this morning we need only to ask God for protection from temptation. We take this opportunity to ask Jesus to help us conform to the model He provided, and to ask that we be given assistance to resist the model of the world. How we can do that is described in the rest of our prayer.

Isaiah 61:3 As I prepare to face the world Father, anoint my hair with the oil of your joy. Let me wear praise for my garment and, as a garland of beauty, a smile.

1 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek. He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound,

2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn,

3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.”

Isaiah 61:1-3 (KJV)

This morning we are going to need to dress properly. First we need to smell sweet. A bath helps, but we received a ‘bath’ when we were ‘washed in the blood’ of Jesus sacrifice. In addition we also were ‘bathed’ when we were baptized. No, what we need this morning is to remove the odor of mourning, fretting and whining.

We mourn for that which we imagine we have lost. This is not mourning for lost loved ones. We do mourn them. But that mourning is a necessary part of living. It is unbecoming not to mourn them.

No, this is the mourning for that which we imagine we have lost. It is an imaginary loss, focused on the ‘self’ and not on others. We mourn lost ball games. We mourn lost business opportunities. We mourn missing our favorite TV show. We mourn lost treasures. We mourn lost things. We also mourn the missed opportunity to witness Jesus to someone. And we mourn the missed moment with our children. We can begin our day with all these regrets, just as the Jews in Isaiah’s day mourned the loss of Jerusalem. Now the Jews that had been transported to Babylon did think they would never go back. But they had not read the scripture properly. If they had, they would have known God’s intentions. We, likewise, have not read the scriptures properly. So, we mourn for that which we perceive we have lost. And this mourning for material treasures produces a spiritual stench.

In addition, we cover ourselves with ashes, just as the ancient world did, when we are unhappy. Throughout the Old Testament we read of people, upon hearing bad news, who tore their clothes and covered themselves with ashes. We still do this. We force a wimpy smile; we greet people halfheartedly; we let others see the spiritual ashes we have poured over our heads by letting them see us fret and worry. Or, we are greeted with, “How’s it going?” and we reply with a fake smile and the lie, “Fabulous!” This adds to the spiritual stench; those around us feel our unhappiness.

Finally, we indulge in a spirit of heaviness or despair. While we don’t actually say, “Oh! Woe is me!” We do act as if, for example, the lost ball game is the end of the world. We can’t forgive the person who (we think) carelessly broke our treasure and we make sure they know it. We use the opportunity of disappointment as an excuse to give up. Pointing out the horrible thing that happened, “Why try?” we ask. Or, we place blame. We announce our displeasure with certain coaches or ball players concerning the loss of the game. Or we talk about the boss or a co-worker blaming our plight on them. Our whining actually becomes a spiritual stench that works like a bad odor on those around us.

In all of this our focus is on self. We mourn, we worry, we indulge in despair because we are thinking about “ME” and that is our problem.

When Jesus went to Nazareth, his hometown, he read Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue and told his brethren that the scripture was being fulfilled right in front of their eyes. It is interesting that Jesus stopped with verse 2, especially since he did not have verse numbers. The sentence continues through verse 3. The whole passage is chapters 60 through 62 of Isaiah. See Luke 4:16-30 for the account of Jesus in Nazareth.

So, this morning, we are going to ask Jesus to fulfill the two verses he read to the Jews in Nazareth and to complete the good news by fulfilling the third verse of chapter 61. We shall ask Him to replace the mourning, the ashes and the spirit of despair.

The first gift, to replace mourning, is Joy. One image of Joy is that of oil. Psalm 45 and Psalm 23 are two of many places to find the Oil of the Lord. So, this morning, we ask our Lord to anoint us with His Oil, the Oil of Joy. And what is the Oil of His Joy? It is the empty tomb. Have you ever meditated on the empty tomb? Consider John and Peter when they first saw the empty tomb. John tells us that when he saw the folded cloth he believed. (John 20:1-10) It does not say he laughed, but he must have felt an elation that went beyond smiling. Victory beyond any victory the disciples, or you or I could ever expect. Victory over Death. And Resurrection bringing Victory over Sin. Stunned incredulity. Mind boggling. A dead man got up and walked! How can you mourn all those perceived losses? A person can’t help but smile.

And that is our second gift. To replace the ashes we are given a garland of beauty, a smile. You can’t fret and worry when there is a smile on your face.

The third gift is underwear. Jesus will replace your spirit of heaviness, those feelings of despair, with an undergarment: Praise. We will need something soft and comfortable under the armor He is going to provide. Praise is that soft, comfortable garment. (In addition, some call Colossians 3:12 “God’s Underwear” and so I bring it to your attention. Most of the qualities listed are included in the Fruit of the Spirit, but you can add ‘compassion’ and ‘humility’ to the list of undergarments you are wearing under your armor. And you might add a garment of ‘encouragement’…we do praise God, but others we should encourage.)

Put on the garment of Praise. Praise God for anything and everything. “Rejoice in the Lord, always: and again I say Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) St. Paul is not being trite when he says this. He is thinking about the empty tomb and our resurrection in Heaven. When we remember the empty tomb and get anointed with the Oil of Joy we can’t help but smile. And, when we praise God, we can’t help but forget about “Me” and, instead, we will be thinking about Him and about the people we meet.

Put on the garment of Praise. Praise your brothers and sisters in Christ. Tell them that something they have done is a good thing. Sometimes our Christian brothers and sisters really irritate us. Siblings are good for that. Remember, Jesus has already forgiven them. You do likewise. Put on the garment of praise and see what happens to that spirit of heaviness. `

Put on the garment of praise. Praise your heathen acquaintances and pagan colleagues for the things they do that are good. Quit finding Fault! Ever feel like this: Yes, I’m guilty of not doing it right; but I know that: twenty people have already told me. Is there anything I’ve done that is even slightly adequate? It would be nice to have just one person tell you that you did something right. Well, could you be that one person for someone else? Imagine how everyone you know will feel when you treat them like they are actually human!

We are now ready for Jesus to dress us in His armor.

Ephesians 6:14-18 For strength to resist the devil’s tactics – to help me stand firm – I buckle the belt of truth around my waist and wear righteousness as my breastplate. My shoes are the readiness to spread the gospel of peace. My faith is my shield: with it I can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Salvation is my helmet; and for my defense I take up the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. I am ready to pray in the Spirit for all occasions.

14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— Ephesians 6:14-18 (NKJV)

Soldiers are warriors. They wage war to expand their king’s territory. They fight to defend their king. Their goal is to defeat their enemy. In the performance of their duties they may be wounded, they may be killed. If you have accepted Jesus as your savior and king then you are a soldier in his army. This is the army of the rightful king (Jesus) working to overthrow the usurper (Satan). The battlefield is a spiritual battlefield. But it is a field of battle that we enter every day. The armor God provides will protect us and enable us to fight the enemy (Satan).

Ephesians 6:10-13

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,[a] against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

As a soldier, you need armor for protection in battle. St. Paul used the idea of a Roman soldier’s armor to illustrate how we could think about preparing for spiritual battle.

Most Christians have read Ephesians 6:14-17. There are all sorts of books on the “Armor of God” and most churches either recently finished a Bible study on the subject or they are having one now or they plan to in the near future. It’s a good idea to attend one of these Bible studies and/or read a book about the Armor of God. If you have never read about the Armor of God, or if you need a reminder, here is a quick summary:

This armor is composed of 1. The Belt of Truth. 2. The Breastplate of Righteousness. 3. Shoes to spread the Gospel of Peace. 4. The Shield of Faith. 5. The Helmet of Salvation. 6. The Sword of the Spirit. 7. Prayer.

Truth: This includes refraining from lying, but it is much more than that. You should refrain from lying because you want to obey God. Here we are referring to the foundation of the armor, the Belt that holds the armor in place. This is the Truth that Jesus and Pilate discussed at Jesus’ trial just before he was crucified, the Truth that forms the foundation of the world. When you buckle the Belt of Truth around your waist, you have for your support the eternal truth of God’s Word.

Integrity or Righteousness: Just as the Breastplate attaches to the Belt so righteousness attaches to truth. The word means both integrity and righteousness: integrity is integrated, consistent thought; righteousness is correct attitude based on the righteousness of God. The Greek word means to be as you are supposed to be; to be acceptable to God. Caution: righteousness is not the righteousness of good works. Righteousness is your humble obedience to God’s word. You are saved by Jesus because of your faith, not by your righteousness.

Spreading the Gospel of Peace: in verses 11, 13, & 14, Saint Paul tells us to “stand” and the proper footwear can help us to do that. The shoes a Roman soldier wore were similar to sandals. However, they had hobnails to help the soldier stand firm. In spreading the Gospel we need to stand firm and uphold The Truth. This verse incorporates a Greek word that the King James & other versions translate as “preparation”. The word also means “readiness”. It appears that St. Paul wants us to be prepared, to be ready. When temptation comes we need to be ready to stand firm. Also, when we meet others, we need to be prepared and ready to share the Gospel with them; remembering that it is the Gospel of Peace and so should produce Peace in those we meet.

Faith: The picture of Faith as a Shield is very instructive. The picture is of the demons shooting flaming arrows at us. The shield is designed to catch those arrows and let them burn out with no damage to ourselves. These darts of fire are such things as stray thoughts of doubt, despair and defeat. They are also the invitation to participate in gossip or engage in other activities that would compromise your witness. Faith is the shield that brings courage. It is built out of the same Truth that the Belt represents.

Salvation: The helmet protects the soldier’s head. In the same way, salvation protects the thought processes. The demons will always try to bring doubt and confusion. Knowing that you are saved protects you. When you know that you have confessed your sin, repented and then accepted the gift of forgiveness from Jesus, then you know you are saved, you know the Truth and there is no doubt.

The Word of God: This sword cuts to the bone. It can be painful to hear the word of God. The Old Testament prophets spoke the Word and were persecuted for doing it. No one wants to hear that God is not pleased with his or her actions. It is my understanding that the word for ‘sword’ in this passage is the Greek word for a short sword used for defense. As I read Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees, etc. it seems to me that he quoted scripture in defense, not to attack them. When he was tempted by Satan, he used scripture in defense; he did not attack Satan with scripture. The Pharisees and Satan were the ones attacking him with scripture.

The Word of God is also a sword that brings peace. The sword of a “knight in shining armor” would vanquish foes and bring peace to damsels in distress. We are comforted by God’s Word. Hearing the 23rd. Psalm, for example, brings comfort and joy. We must be reminded that it is easy to pick up a sword and start swinging it. To use it properly we must know our sword, practice with it every day. When we consider the Word of God to be a sword we better understand how to employ it: we would not want to ram it down the throat of someone we wish to convert.

The supreme piece of your armor is prayer. The Roman soldier had no weapon or piece of armor equivalent to prayer, so St. Paul does not even make a comparison. He just tells us to pray in the Spirit. He also asks us to pray for all the saints. Prayer is our most important offensive and defensive weapon.

Isaiah 58:8 And according to your Word, the glory of the Lord is my rear guard. Father, I thank you for the armor you have provided for me to dress in this day. I am completely covered now, in the name of Jesus, according to your Word.

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:8 (NIV)

The whole passage is Isaiah 58: 1-12

1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself ? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. 

As you read Isaiah 58 consider the armor you have just donned. If your belt is Truth and your breastplate is Righteousness would you be involved in the activities expressed in verses 6 and 7? Jesus, according to Matthew 6:16, surely thought so. The promise in verse 8 is that if we do as God wants then He will be our rear guard. Now, since we have been commanded to “Love our neighbor as ourselves” then this is just a reminder of the promise. It sure is nice to know that God has said, “I got your back!” Now that we are properly dressed in our battle gear we can go out into the world.

Galatians 5:22-25 Let me walk through this day keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, producing the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

And we discover that the world is full of the ‘works of the flesh’ as St. Paul listed in Galatians 5:19-21. St. Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the Flesh. It seems obvious that they are mutually exclusive. Since we are wearing our armor we should be able to ignore the temptations of the world. But we are made of flesh and it is not that easy. So St. Paul offers us a goal. Instead of trying to ignore the world, we just concentrate on the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ and move toward that goal.

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22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with its passions and its desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25 (Common English Bible

The following is mostly from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: (http://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/strongs-exhaustive-concordance/)

Love is ‘Agapao’, the highest of the Greek words for love. In English, we use the word ‘Agape’ for the various Greek forms of this word. This is not brotherly love, but forgiving, charitable, merciful affection and good will. Ultimately, it is Jesus on the Cross.

Love’ is also a command: Matthew 22:37-39: 37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The word for ‘love’ in this passage is ‘agapao’. The Lord Jesus has commanded us to the highest form of love in our dealings with other human beings.

Joy is ‘Chara’, which is Greek for joy. Joy is more than happiness. Happiness is a short-lived emotion. Joy is the elation of the empty tomb; the jubilation of knowing your sin is forgiven; the gladness of knowing that the Creator of the Universe cares about you. Joy can produce laughter in a person, but it most frequently produces a state of wonder and sense of harmony with God.

Peace is ‘Eirene’, Greek for peace. It can mean that a country is not at war, but it can also mean a state of personal amity or serenity. St. Paul is talking about the harmony and tranquility that result from knowing you are saved.

Patience is ‘Makrothumia’ or patience, endurance, perseverance, long-suffering. (Long-suffering should be understood in the sense of “suffer the little children to come unto me.” That is, “back off and let”.) Patience can be understood in personal terms, as in a person having the patience to endure the actions of other people. This sort of patience involves forgiveness. But it is also the ability to accept God’s timing, to persevere in doing right, to wait for God to answer a prayer.

Kindness is ‘Chrestotes’ or moral goodness, integrity, benignity, kindness. The King James Version translates this word as ‘gentleness’ which would be the ‘gentle’ that described a gentleman in those days. A true gentleman would be noble and kind. The word invokes the ideal of the ‘knight in shining armor’ ready to fight but tempered by the virtues.

Goodness is ‘Agathosune’ or uprightness of heart and life, goodness, kindness. More than integrity, this is the inner core of a person who has centered his/her life on God. Jesus told us that only God was ‘good’ when he was called, “good teacher” (Mark 10:17-18). Goodness is imitating Christ.

Faithfulness is ‘Pistis’ or the character of one who can be relied upon. Fidelity, faithfulness. Also, the conviction of the truth of anything, belief: especially in Jesus. If we are faithful, we can be relied upon. We are faithful because we rely upon Jesus. We are wearing the Belt of Truth and the Breastplate of Righteousness that Jesus gave us. Jesus can rely on us to obey his commands. Jesus can depend on us to fight the good fight for him. In addition, other people can rely on us. As Christians, we should be known as ‘those who keep their word.’

Gentleness is ‘Praotes’ or mildness of disposition, meekness, gentleness of spirit. The King James translates this word as “meekness”. This is the idea Jesus proposes when he asks us to “turn the other cheek”. We trust God and depend on His strength rather than our own; understanding that God uses the evil done against us to remove sin and that He is the Good Shepherd who will rescue us. One model is Job, who did not understand why evil came his way, nevertheless, he did not sin against God. Another model is David, who did not harm King Saul when he had the chance (1 Samuel 24:1-12). In addition, we see this in the admonition to get angry and not sin. Sinful anger is the emotion that occurs when we have been wronged. Holy anger is the emotion that occurs when innocents have been wronged. When we are wronged we should be gentle instead of sinning in anger. In this there is the notion that we should be very strong in order to be that ‘knight in shining armor’ who comes to the aid of the innocent. When others see our strength and then see us display gentleness or meekness they should be able to see Christ. Gentleness/Meekness requires a strong form of self-restraint. I do not believe it is possible to exhibit this virtue without depending on the strength of The Lord.

Self-control is ‘Egkrateia’ or the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites. Because of ‘The Fall’ our desires and sensual appetites are perverted. It may seem that “I was born this way” and so my desire for pleasure is natural and right. However, in order to protect us from the problems that result from such activity, the Lord has set boundaries for us. He has said, for example, that it is foolish to get drunk. Wine is a good thing. It preserves the goodness of the grape and provides pleasure. But we need to practice self-control and not get drunk—or addicted. I know people who are allergic to chocolate, others who are allergic to tomatoes. These people must have self-control and not eat those delicious foods. They can’t even have a taste. They were ‘born that way’ and so they have to practice self-control if they are going to avoid the problems that result from eating foods they should not eat.

What St. Paul was asking the Galatians (and us) to do is to meditate on these virtues instead of pondering the list of sins he mentions first. This list may be a picture of the “perfect Christian” and it may seem beyond your ability to achieve the virtues listed above. But you do not need to rely on your fleshly abilities. Instead you should rely on the Lord your God. I am nowhere near ‘perfect’ as my wife can tell you. But as the saying goes, “God is not finished with me yet!”

To put it another way, St. Paul understands that if he asks you, “Don’t think about red roses” you can’t help but think about them. So he is asking you to think about the virtues “against which there is no law.” By meditating on the fruit of the Spirit you will begin to display the fruit in your daily activities.

The remainder of our morning prayer is a short list of some of the promises God has made. These promises add strength to our armor.

Matthew 7:24 Upon Jesus I have built my life, my home, and my marriage and nothing shall prevail against these things.

24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24 (New American Standard)

Jesus told parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built on sand. We now claim the promise that the things we hold most dear will survive any devastating storm.

Psalm 23:1 & You are my shepherd, I shall never be in spiritual

Philippians 4:13-19 want. For you have supplied all my

needs according to your riches in glory and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Psalm 23:1. (KJV)

The promise is for those sheep that do not stray, and for those the shepherd has rescued. We can walk through a valley of deathly dangers without fear because He is our shepherd. But if we wander off, run away, we are no longer under His protection. He can rescue us, but we may be severely injured by the deadly dangers that are in the world.

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (NKJV)

St. Paul has been describing the gifts the Philippians have sent to him. Now he rephrases the promise of Malachi 3:10. God will supply all our needs, but He expects us to have a giving heart. It is, in essence, the same promise as Psalm 23. If we are, as Jesus said in St. John’s gospel, ‘abiding in Him’ then He is ‘abiding in us.’ (See John 15.)

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 I cast down all imaginations and bring into captivity every evil thought.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (NKJV)

This is the promise that our armor is effective; especially the Helmet of Salvation. Every false argument, every evil thought, and the demons that are the source of these rebellious attitudes, will be brought into the obedience of Christ. This is where prayer is so very effective. When we talk to God, when we tell Him about our negative thoughts and fears, the doubts and false arguments that wander through our minds, He will protect us (Psalm 23) and supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19).

1 Peter 5:7 I humble myself before you and cast all my cares upon you, for you care for me.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5: 6-7

In the next two verses, St. Peter warns us that our adversary is like a roaring lion and we must resist him. Then he prays that God will rescue us. Yes, again God restates Psalm 23, this time saying that we need to be humble, and not stray down a path of our own choosing. We have a hard time being humble. We want to exalt ourselves. But, we are warned throughout the Bible about pride. In this promise, God promises to repay our humble attitude with His exaltation when the time is right. He also restates His promise to take care of us.

Psalm 103:3 & I praise you for walking in divine health, for you are my God Isaiah 53: 5 who heals all my diseases and by your wounds I am healed.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

And forget not all His benefits:

Who forgives all your iniquities,

Who heals all your diseases,

Who redeems your life from destruction,

Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,

Who satisfies your mouth with good things,

So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:2-5 (NKJV)

But He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)

It seems to me that, while the Lord does heal physical diseases like the flu and cancer; the best healing He provides is spiritual healing. Isaiah seems to be very specific: it is by his stripes that our transgressions and iniquities are healed and we receive our peace from Him. In the next verse, he says that we are like sheep that have gone astray. In addition to this, in the Gospels Jesus tells everyone he heals that it is through their faith that they are healed. We tend to forget that healing is done for the glory of God. We want to be healed for our convenience. And the Lord is willing to heal us. Disease and Death are a result of Sin entering the world. God heals pagans and Christians all for His glory. All of us know that it is God who heals. And I believe that He heals us to remind us of who He is. However Sin is deadly; all have sinned; all will die. Yet we have the hope of resurrection through the empty tomb. He raised the dead, including Lazarus, and then He himself rose from death to prove who He was and to offer us resurrection through belief in Him.

3 John 1:2 I praise you and thank you for my prosperity and good health; even as my soul prospers.

Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth. 3 John 1: 2-4

John is writing to Gaius, an elder in the church. Because the Church was led by God to include this letter in Holy Scripture, we accept that it is to be interpreted as inspired by the Holy Spirit and thus is meant for us. And we are once again examining that Belt that God gave us as the foundation for our armor. He has no greater joy than to hear that we walk in Truth. Note also, that St. John qualifies his prayer for Gaius that he prosper and be in good health: “just as your soul prospers” is the condition. It is through spiritual prosperity that we receive physical prosperity and good health. (Yes, pagans get physical prosperity, but we do not know just what they would have if they had spiritual prosperity. All will learn on ‘The day of the Lord’.)

Nehemiah 8:10 This day is holy to the Lord. I will not worry or weep but enjoy what I have and share it with others, for the joy of the Lord is my strength.

So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:8-12

The wall had been built. The people gathered and Ezra read the Law from the Books Moses wrote. Then the people wept. Nehemiah and Ezra told them not to weep, for “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So they rejoiced and had a huge party. When they heard the Law, they knew they were sinful. Yet all they needed to hear was that they should give to those who have nothing and to rejoice for strength can be found in the joy of the LORD. We understand much better than they, just what that joy really is. We rejoice in the strength we get from the cross and the empty tomb. We want to share that joy with others, just as the people in Nehemiah’s day wanted to share the joy of The Law with those who had not heard it. And, like them, we are filled with JOY and want to celebrate. (That’s one reason God’s people have lots of meals together.)

Jeremiah 1:12 Father, I have prayed according to your Word and you have said you would watch over your Word to fulfill it.

Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.” Jeremiah 1:11-12 (NKJV)

The NIV translates verse 12 as:

The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled”

Jeremiah has just been commissioned by God to be His prophet. The Amplified Bible tells us that the almond tree was a symbol of alertness and activity. And immediately, God extends the vision to show Jeremiah how His word is going to be fulfilled. This morning we ask God to ‘watch over’ or ‘perform’ His words that we have just prayed.

We are now dressed in the Armor of God. We are anointed with the oil of Joy, wearing a smile and speaking praise to God and to those we meet. We are protected from the Adversary with the armor and weapons God has provided. We produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit as we walk with Him. We are building our life, our home and our marriage on the Rock of Jesus; standing on the Promises of God as we walk humbly with Him. We thank God for our prosperity and good health, praising Him for this day and for the strength we get from His Joy.

We end our prayer asking God to live within us and confessing that we are His.

Father, please live big within me today, for I am yours in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Shoeshine Mister?

Once, many years ago, I attended a United Methodist Men’s breakfast. Some of you may remember that, back in the Sixties and Seventies, we wore smooth leather shoes that needed polishing: today we wear sneakers. Modern sneakers are designed for all sorts of sports and casual wear. But back then sneakers were for the gym. Men wore leather shoes that needed to be polished. We wore them to work or school, shopping and, of course, to church. Now, in many grocery stores, shopping centers and other public places there was often a man who had a shoe shine stand. This was usually a Black man, especially in the South, which is where I lived. This shoe-shine man was in many ways a true ‘second class citizen’. If you could afford a servant, you would most certainly have him shine your shoes. If not, you did it yourself, or paid this shoe-shine man to shine them for you. Well, just outside the door to the room where the Men’s breakfast was being served was one of the men of our church, with a shoe shine kit. He was shining the shoes of every man who entered. When I saw this, I immediately understood the impact of Jesus’ washing the Disciples feet. I knew exactly why Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet. I didn’t want this man to shine my shoes. And I had to humble myself to let him do this.

The Fear of the Lord

Some of the reading I have been doing lately mentions “The Fear Of The LORD” but never seems to be certain of exactly what it is to “fear the LORD”. I have an idea about it, but first, let’s take a look at a few verses from Scripture.

The NKJV has a number of Old Testament references to “The Fear of the LORD”, but only one New Testament verse. I used Bible Gateway to produce a list of 28 NKJV references with the exact words, “The Fear of the Lord”. A sample is reproduced here:


1 Samuel 11:7 So he took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen.” And the fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out with one consent.
2 Chronicles 14:14 Then they defeated all the cities around Gerar, for the fear of the Lord came upon them; and they plundered all the cities, for there was exceedingly much spoil in them.
Psalm 34:11 Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord 
Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. 
Isaiah 11:3 His delight is in the fear of the Lord, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; 
Acts 9:31 Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.


Do you see a progression in Jewish/Christian understanding as we proceed from Samuel to Acts? We start with terror and end delighted and walking with this specific fear. 
One concept comes to my mind. The ideas C. S. Lewis put into his
 Narnia series about the nature of Aslan. “He’s not tame, but He’s good” for example. The description of Lucy’s first approach to Aslan (in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe) is exactly what I would call “The Fear of the LORD”. How would you approach a talking Lion? I think the answer would be, “With great respect and extreme care.”

Look at Exodus 9:19-21:


19 Therefore send now and gather your livestock and all that you have in the field, for the hail shall come down on every man and every animal which is found in the field and is not brought home; and they shall die.” ’ ”
20 He who feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his livestock flee to the houses. 21 But he who did not regard the word of the Lord left his servants and his livestock in the field.


To me, this sounds like ‘respect’ is a synonym for ‘fear’. Just like approaching a Lion. One would probably be ‘trembling’. It seems that ‘respect’ and ‘fear’ both imply a certain understanding that the person who is respected/feared has power and can harm.


But there’s more to this than simple wariness. When we approach God, we should be wary; it is obvious that only a fool is not careful in approaching God. But we see something else in Lewis’ descriptions of Aslan: we can trust the Lion. The quote from Isaiah chapter 11 turns things upside down: this is the description of the reign of the Servant, Jesse’s Branch. We enjoy reading verses 6-9, the picture of a little child leading all the beasts, with the lion and the calf lying down together, eating straw.


So, in Acts 9, the churches walk in the Fear of the Lord and also in the Comfort of the Holy Spirit. Unlike the Roman Emperor Nero, we can trust our King. There’s no capricious justice with Our Lord. Instead, we know that He is one of us. He died on the Cross for us. That’s because He loves us. Only a King who truly loves his subjects will do that which is best for them.

True, God is like a great talking Lion, capable of destroying both the body and the soul. And so we do fear Him. We would be foolish not to fear such power. However, it seems to me that He likes it when we snuggle up to Him and play with His mane.

Boy Runs In Fear Clip Art Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Lion Photo by Arleen wiese on Unsplash

Disconnected Linguistic Diplomacy

December 10, 2018

I have nothing to say.

So when you listen you won't hear
Anything
Except
Your own thoughts.

But then, when I do speak,
I
Still feel like
You are just listening to 
Your own thoughts.

When you finally do speak words
I feel them pushing and shoving
With deliberate force.
Woven from Pride and Desire,
Seemingly soft and consoling;
like Artillery they buffet me
Softly.

Without warning I feel a barrage of needle sharp mental objects and
I
raise my Shield and take aim with my Artillery.

Logic and Reality have been blown apart and lost in the Chaos.

Suddenly,
The clips are emptied and quiet prevails.
Stunned
I have nothing to say.

Commercialized Christmas: It’s not what you think!

Santa with Elves

Every year, as soon as the stores begin to display Christmas themed products, some people begin to whine about how Christmas has been commercialized. Why, they seem to be asking, can’t we just celebrate the birth of Jesus without all the ‘pagan nonsense’?

And, if we search history, we can find some answers. In addition, I think we will also find some help from Holy Scripture. But I suspect, that if you are one to moan and groan about how we’ve ‘destroyed Christmas’ then you won’t like what I’m about to tell you. Because, you see, I think the way we celebrate Christmas is God’s plan. Like many, I used to think we had let our sinful natures destroy this beautiful Holy Day. Now, I think otherwise.

My first encounter with this argument occurred many years ago when there was a huge outcry about people using “Xmas” or “X-Mass” instead of “Christmas”. I was amused to learn that the “X” was a traditional Christian way of writing “Christ”. That’s because the ‘X’ stands for the Cross. So, “X-mas” means more than just ‘Christmas’, it incorporates the concept of the Cross. This gave me much amusement, because I love to burst the balloons of people who issue much ‘hot air’ concerning topics of which they know very little. (I think Jesus did the same thing…if so, then He is a good role model…I just hope I’m not spouting ‘hot air’ when I know very little!)

Therefore, I was very interested to read somewhere about how the Reformation Protestants inadvertently set up the commercialization of X-mas. (I’m not sure where, because I did not record the reference.) It seemed to me that it was the descendants of the Reformation Protestants who were bellyaching about how Christmas was being destroyed by commercial enterprise. It would be fun, I thought, to pop their balloon. And, at the same time, I also thought I could propose a strategy to make Christmas a Christian holy day once again… But God popped my balloon!

The tale I read somewhere was that it was a longstanding tradition for Christians to exchange gifts on St. Nicholas’ Day. Then, when the Reformation came along, the reformers tossed out all that they deemed ‘Catholic’. This included saints’ days. The Roman Church celebrated St. Nicholas on the 6th of December by exchanging gifts, among other traditional activities. With the tossing out of the saints’ days the celebration (and the exchange of gifts) on St. Nicholas’ Day was no longer permissible for the Protestants.

Imagine telling your 8 year old this, “Well, last year we were Catholic, but this year we are Presbyterian and we no longer do Catholic things.” Therefore, according to the tale I read, the Protestant leaders agreed to move the gift giving to Christmas Day. And then the merchants and the media took over. So we have all the commercialization associated with Christ instead of St. Nicholas. Oh, yeah, we still have St. Nicholas. Only we know him by his mispronounced name “Santa Claus” (‘Saint’ becomes ‘Sant’, the ‘Ni’ becomes an ‘a’ and ‘cholas’ becomes ‘claus’.). And he got moved from Asia Minor to the North Pole…

Well, I’ve been doing some research. It is confusing. No one actually knows why we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on 25th of December. One reference will claim that it has something to do with Saturnalia. Another reference seems to think that it was a tradition in a few churches back in the first or second century AD. What’s important is that we do have some date, accurate or not, for Jesus’ birth.

Magi Christmas Card

As for Santa Claus, well, that seems to have been a result of New Yorkers trying to promote their city in the early 1800’s. They revived a Dutch tradition about St. Nicholas. That’s one story, anyway. Has to do with the Knickerbockers and even Washington Irving. But I didn’t record that because I wasn’t engaged in formal research. I just read it somewhere and vaguely remember it. What is important is that, over the centuries, many Christians began to exchange gifts on Jesus’ birthday and somehow St. Nicholas was incorporated in the festivities.

Perhaps, with some diligent research, combined with accurate reference notes, I could make a definitive statement. But I think I’ll look to the Bible for the answer. And I find it in Philippians, chapter one. St. Paul is discussing how some are preaching the Gospel in an attempt to make things more difficult for him. His response to this is that he is happy for Christ to be preached.

Now, suppose that we did exchange gifts on St. Nicholas’ Day? The commercialization of that day would really promote ‘Santa Claus’ and there would be little cultural recognition of Christmas. It would probably be a Christian Holy Day on par with Pentecost. As a culture, we would celebrate “Santa Claus Day” and not “Christmas”. No one could say, “The reason for the season” and mean Jesus. No one would put on fancy light displays with a Nativity Scene and a Santa Claus with reindeer. It would be the Santa Claus, the reindeer, maybe Frosty the Snowman, and the “Grinch”–only he would have kidnapped Santa or Rudolph. We would sing about a ‘White Santa Day’. No manger, no shepherds, no Magi, no Christmas.  

I think God wanted us to have Scrooge and the Grinch. He wanted us to have Clement Moore’s poem and Rudolph. He wanted us to have Charlie Brown’s tree and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. They help to spread the Joy. Because it will always be called “Christmas” and the story of God becoming one of us will always be told. I think St. Paul was right in his assessment. So, as a Christian I am grateful to any and all who assisted in making Christmas what it is today. I think it is proof that God really and truly does know what He is doing.

Looks like we have a choice: we can be modern-day Pharisees and denounce people for not obeying our laws…or…we can decorate a tree and hang up colored lights and wrap presents and do our very best to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

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