Phillip Harrison had met the priest only once, briefly. That accidental meeting resulted in some very positive results; well, from Phillip’s perspective it was positive. It began a series of events that produced the box of papers he was carrying. He stepped up on the porch of the little cottage that was the priest’s home and stared at the door. He was a bit worried about this meeting. The contents of the box might not be well received. Also, the priest had a strange nickname. Willy Smith’s son had said that everyone called him ‘Kermit’ which was, Phillip thought, rather odd. Well, frogs generally don’t bite, so he knocked on the door. It opened to reveal the lanky figure of Fr. Mike.

Phillip said, “Hi…uh…Kermit?” As Mike opened the door he said, “I’m Phillip Harrison. The Forest Rangers suggested that I give these to you.” He handed the box to Mike.

…uh…thanks.” Mike took the box. “Oh, come in.” He gestured toward a stool at the bar, “I don’t have a lot of furniture yet. But have a seat.”

Harrison smiled, “Thanks” he said. Phillip stepped over to a stool at the bar. His great-uncle Amos had built the cottage; and now this priest was renting it. He looked around remembering that the cottage always seemed tiny. He smiled and said, “The last time I was in here was before Stafford Arnold moved in.” Then he shook his head and said, “No, actually, it was a month after he moved in. His wife wanted that door in the bathroom so guests would not have to go through a bedroom.” He paused, then got up and walked over to the windows.

Then, still looking out the windows, he said, “I used to come by and we’d go fishing in the brook. The pool down there used to have some nice trout. Bet it still does. When we had caught a few we’d come up here and sit on the porch. Mrs. Arnold would bring tea or lemonade and a couple of cookies. I never went inside because my shoes were muddy. Stafford would spin a few yarns. It was great. Then I went to college and rarely saw him after that.

Mike had put the box on the floor by his desk and then walked into the kitchen. “Would you like some tea or root beer?” he asked. Harrison indicated tea and then Mike asked, “What’s in the box?”

Oh!” Harrison laughed, “You’re not going to believe this. It’s copies of some documents from BeaverDam Church. You know, I never would have guessed that Rodriguez’s mouth would be the cause of my pet dream coming true. I have you to thank for that. And, now that the little church has worship services like it did in the 1800’s, the Forest Rangers asked to see all the documents that we preserved. So I went to the historical society and made copies of almost everything. The Rangers said they would go through the stuff they kept and use it to make some historical displays.”

At this point Harrison looked at the box and began to smile. “Well, I’ve always wondered why all those documents were given to my family and not to the McQuillans. After all, each family owned half of the church. It was built on the property line.” He laughed and continued, “It’s rather funny. When the community got together the Baptists would sit on the McQuillan side and the Episcopalians would sit with my family.”

Mike began to get a bit uneasy. As Harrison talked, he began to get an idea of what was in the box that the Rangers thought would be better to give to him.

Anyway, when the two denominations build their own churches two new ministers were assigned to each congregation. Everything in the old church was packed up and given to my family.

Now, as you may have heard, I’ve been trying to get the Forest Service to make use of the historical documents. Once you agreed to hold worship services the way they wanted, they asked for the documents. I gave them copies of the documents the historical society had. They were happy to get everything, except for those.” He pointed to the box. “That is a box of…” a slightly wicked smile blossomed across his face as he said, “…copies of the original sermons. The Forest Rangers thought you could use them to reproduce the atmosphere of a worship service during the late 1800’s.”

Mike nearly fell off his stool. He was extremely irritated to the point of anger, but he was trying to maintain some self-control; therefore, instead of shouting, he squeaked, “They want what?!!” With great effort he maintained some sort of balance on the stool. He also tried to say something in a calm voice; instead, he sort of croaked, “Bwaar!”

Phillip had been worried about how the box and the Rangers’ request would be received. It was quite obvious that it had upset the priest. However, to see the man flailing around on the stool, squeaking and croaking was more that he could stand. He started laughing. But the look on Mike’s face quickly quelled the laugh. “Well,” he said, “I told them I’d bring the box over here. You know, I think they actually believe that these old sermons will make your task easier.”

Mike did not see anything funny. “So, because I help you to get your pet dream going, you are showing your thanks by dumping this on me? Why bother with a priest? Why not just hire an actor to read the sermons on Sunday morning? Better yet, they could film the actor and …” He stopped talking. Anger was beginning to fog up his brain.

Phillip looked hard at the young priest. He said, “When the government gives you anything, it always comes with strings attached. Sometimes they attach the strings when it’s too late to change your mind.”

Mike studied Phillip Harrison’s face. Then he said, “Oh. I guess your family would know that better than most.”

We’re learning to live with it.” Phillip smiled wistfully.

Mike heaved a huge sigh and said, “I guess I will, too.” He shook his head, stepped over to the box, picked it up and put it on the bar. He took the top binder out and opened it. He said, “So, this is the first string.” He shook his head again and mumbled, “Wonder what the second string will be?”

You could resign now, before you get too involved.”

Shock echoed in Mike’s voice, “Resign?” He had been scanning the pages of the binder; now he looked at Phillip and said, “I don’t have a say in the matter. They are not my boss. My boss sent me here. He set this up. I have no intention of disobedience to Him.” He looked back at the pages he had been perusing. Then he started laughing and asked, “Phillip, what exactly did the Rangers say to you concerning these sermons?”

Shaking his head, Phillip said, “I don’t actually remember. Something about using them to recreate the atmosphere of the church in the late 1800’s. Something was said about you being a new preacher and you might like some help with your sermons. Basically, I got the idea that they can get away with having sermons preached in the church only because of the historical nature of the event. I think they are worried about the old argument concerning ‘separation of Church and State’”.

Mike handed one of the pages to Phillip. He grinned and asked, “Well, Phillip, what do you think they would do if I preached that sermon?”

As he read the sermon, Phillip began to chuckle. Then that wicked smile spread across his face again. He said, “They did not even look at the sermons. Probably think they’re just about how Jesus saves and the Good Samaritan. This sermon, The Cross of Gold and the Cross of Wood, looks like it’s about the government interfering in the lives of the citizens. You could make them squirm.”

He shook his head. The smile faded a bit. He handed the sermon back to Mike and said, “Probably best to take a couple of sermons like this and show them to the Rangers. That should let them leave you alone and might make them respect your judgment.”

That’s what I was thinking. I sure don’t want to make them distrust me.” Mike shook his head and continued, “Look, I’m sorry I lost it a minute ago. But I had not understood about government strings. It’s a lesson I won’t forget.”

Phillip nodded. He picked up the sermon and studied it again. After a moment he said, “You really should get it in writing exactly what the Rangers want. William Jennings Bryan was quite a character. His speech is still considered a great speech. This sermon does have historical value as a reaction to that speech. But it could get you in trouble if you read it word for word.”

Looks like I’m going to have to practice tap dancing on a tightrope.”

Harrison laughed. “That’s a good one. Never heard that expression before.”

Mike said, “Oh, I had a professor who used it occasionally. He’d say that when one of us got entangled in a difficult sermon.”

Yes. Well, I’ve got to be going.” Harrison stood up and headed toward the door. “Thanks for the tea; oh, yeah, and the laugh.” He chuckled. “That was quite a balancing act.”

Mike had followed him to the door. They said goodbye to each other and Mike closed the door. Then he turned around and walked back to the box on the bar. He had quite a bit of reading to do.


The radio announced that it was the Autumnal Equinox. Kermit, startled, spun around to look at the radio. Then he looked at the calendar. The past six weeks were a seamless blur of activity. Well, not so much activity as communication. Phone calls, e-mails, texts, actual written letters, research on the Internet and face to face meetings with Forest Rangers. On top of that he had written sermons, counseled what seemed like dozens of campers, trained acolytes and even held a renewal of marriage vows for one camping couple. All that and he still managed to be on time for work at the bookstore in the plaza.

Glancing at the clock, he stepped out onto the front porch and glanced up the driveway to the mailbox. The little ping-pong ball he had painted bright red was dangling below the mailbox. That meant the mailman had delivered his mail. He turned around to walk down the steps and saw his bicycle hanging on its hook behind the swing. Anger welled up and expressed itself with a series of impolite words. Embarrassed at his outburst, he dropped to his knees and prayed.

After a couple of minutes of telling his Lord just how all this was “God’s fault” and how he felt himself being pulled apart and on an on about ‘poor, pitiful me’ he stood up and sat down in the swing. He took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry.” He thought he heard a little laugh. Then he felt his Lord’s presence. A feeling of peace replaced his anger. Then he distinctly heard ‘just do the job I asked you to do’.

The walk to the mailbox was refreshing. But there was a letter from the Forest Service that worried him. What did they want now? He wanted to shove the mail in his pocket and walk down to the falls. But the electric and propane bills were in the mail also. He put the bills in their basket on his desk and opened the letter from the Forest Service.

As he read the letter he found himself almost dizzy from shock. The Forest Service was offering him the position of chaplain. The salary was quite nice. The details of the job were basically what he was doing now. But there was a clause, “and other duties to meet the needs of the Forest Service”, which sent up all sorts of warnings, as he remembered Phillip Harrison and the box of sermons. It meant there were all sorts of unspecified strings attached. He almost called them back with a “no” answer. But he remembered his conversation with his Lord a few minutes earlier.

This was the job the Lord meant. He was already doing it without a salary. Now he could quit the bookstore job and do what he was supposed to do. The problem was the strings. His bishop would have to approve the appointment as a chaplain anyway, so he decided to write a letter to his bishop and include a copy of the letter from the Forest Service.

A glance at the clock showed he had time to write a letter and get it mailed today. As he started writing he realized there were many more strings than the ones the Forest Service was attaching. The bishop had a couple of strings he could pull; as did his parents. There were even some strings Phillip Harrison had attached.

Life was not simply getting up and being on time to do a job. He got up and started toward the kitchen to get a glass of water. As he did, he saw himself in the mirror. It was a solitary image, as if he were alone. Then he saw the image flicker and some strings grew from him to many other people. They might have strings attached to him that they could pull, true; but there were also strings that he could pull. He blinked, trying to see the image and the strings clearly. In that blink the vision disappeared. He drank two glasses of water and ate a cookie. Then returned to his desk.

His letter was short and to the point. He asked the bishop for advice about the job and the strings. Then he put a stamp on the envelope; filled his water bladder and strapped on his bike helmet. When he sat down on the bike seat he felt a smile all over his body.


Phillip Harrison tossed the pages back to the new chaplain. He shook his head and asked, “The Right Reverend Kermit wants to drain the swamp?”

Kermit laughed. “Well, if it needs doing…” He glanced around Staley’s and continued, “Actually, one of the most frequent questions I get concerns denominations. Do you remember the story from John chapter four about the woman at the well? In that story Jesus asks the woman a direct question about her sin. She immediately changes the subject to the disagreements in worship between Jews and Samaritans. Almost every question I get is, like hers, an attempt to change the subject.”

Harrison nodded, sat quietly for a moment and then started laughing. Kermit looked at him and grinned. Harrison asked, “When are you preaching this? I definitely want to sit in the back and watch.”

Kermit’s grin expanded. Then he said quite seriously, “Just don’t bring your priest or the preacher with you. I’d rather they heard about it from their congregations.”

Harrison laughed.

Aiden, Chaz and Matt entered the store, heavily splattered with mud. Patty hollered at them from behind the counter, “Get out! Go wash yourselves in the creek. Then come back!” After they exited she looked at Eric, who was stocking some shelves, and laughed, “I think they do that just to hear me holler.”

Phillip Harrison, whose back was to the door and the counter, asked Kermit, “Aiden?” Kermit nodded. Harrison grinned.

The boys returned to find their favorite beverages on the counter waiting for them. They quickly paid Patty and exited. As they rushed out the door those inside could hear one of the boys holler loudly, but fade quickly, “Race you to the falls!”

Kermit smiled and said, “You know, those three boys have been marvelous. I could not have managed without them. They’re full of mischief, to be sure, but they aren’t mean. Matt’s the most inquisitive. He’d never been in a church until Chaz and Aiden took him to my first service. He’s kept up with them, though. What’s more, they have been bringing their friends on Wednesday evenings and we’ve had several wonderful Bible studies.”

Phillip’s expression had changed to amazement. “So! That’s where he’s been going on Wednesdays. I knew my son was up to something. He’s been quite secretive. But, then, he’s always playing secrets and mysteries.”

It was Kermit’s turn to be shocked. He whispered, “Your son?”

Phillip grinned again. “Yeah. I’ll bet the other two were Matt Jefferson and Chaz McQuillan?” Kermit nodded. Phillip laughed. “If the principal calls me, he’s also calling their parents. You’re right, though. It’s always mischief, never meanness. Did you hear what they did last April First?” Kermit shook his head. Phillip continued, “You know the bridge on Highway 12 that crosses both PayDirt and Beaver Creeks? Well, they put up signs that the drawbridge was stuck open and set up a detour. It looked like real highway department signs, but they were made of heavy cardboard and painted. Looked real enough. Almost fooled me. But then I realized it said ‘drawbridge’ and it was April Fools Day. I laughed heartily. They even put up a sign at the end of the detour that said, ‘April Fool’. McQuillan told me that he found evidence of their sign making in one of his sheds. That’s how I know it was them. And, apparently, they took the signs down that evening. They were really proud of the photo in the Rockbrough paper.

Kermit said, “Brilliant!” He laughed and continued, “Drawbridge stuck open? I love it! And it made the paper?”

Yeah. Aiden could not help himself. He had to show it to me. He said, ‘Look Dad, what someone did for April Fools’ and showed the newspaper picture to me. But never said anything else.”

The two men sat quietly for a minute and then Kermit said, “Well, I’ve got to get the rest of this Sunday’s worship service done. This,” he tapped the papers, “will be a week from Sunday.” He looked Phillip straight in the eye and asked, “Please don’t tell anyone what I’m planning to preach. First of all, the Holy Spirit may change this. Second, I’d prefer that they hear it from me. I really did not think you’d want to skip your own service for this, that’s why I let you read it. You brought the old sermons to me. You told me about the strings. I wanted you to see how I’ve managed to comply with the Forest Rangers’ request.”

Phillip stood up. “Thanks for sharing it with me. And, well, you’re right. I can’t say that I’ll be able to attend. But I may let one or two of my friends know that it might be worthwhile to attend your service. I promise I won’t give anything away.”

Kermit followed him to the door. As they shook hands, Kermit became aware of a new set of strings. This new set was strung between him and Phillip Harrison.



It was just another Sunday, so far as Fr. Mike could determine. The Episcopal service was first. This was a “high church” style of worship that followed, mostly, the Book of Common Prayer. That meant that the sermon was preached before they celebrated Eucharist. The Baptist service, which would be the second service, would end with the sermon.

There had been some discussion about which service would be first. Obviously, the eleven o’clock service would attract the larger congregation. However, in practice, it was the nine o’clock service that was larger. That was due to the fact that most of those attending had plans for hiking, fishing and other activities. Some attended both services out of curiosity. Others, experiencing the distress of life in some way, attended seeking hope.

What he had not expected was the number of confessions. Most of them were not the sort of confessions he had heard before. These were people in distress who, usually, knew nothing of the ritual of confession. Often they told him things they would be embarrassed to tell their own preacher. More often it would happen as part of a general conversation. The confessing person would start out talking about their life, or kids, or work, or whatever. In the middle of that the confessing person would tell Fr. Mike what they really needed to say.

Most enlightening was the comparison of the sermons of the past with the confessions of today. Not even the Internet and cell phones could change people. The pastors of a century ago did their best to meet the needs of their congregations. And those needs, it seemed, had not changed.

Fr. Mike glanced over the pages of today’s sermon. In his mind it was the “Strings” sermon. It was what he believed the Holy Spirit had told him to preach. Still… Doubt haunted him. Phillip Harrison had laughed and said he’d like to be at the back of the congregation so he could watch everyone while it was preached. But it wasn’t a really great sermon. He just said, in a round-about way, what the two preachers from a century ago had said. Anyway, it was too late now. He picked up the papers and headed to his truck.

The church was filled to a normal occupancy. Harrison had let him know that he was not going to be able to attend. Aiden introduced him to his brother, Robert. The young man looked like many college students: long curly reddish brown hair, sharp reddish brown eyes, matching beard in need of a trim, and the standard uniform of tee shirt, jeans and skate shoes. He wondered if Phillip had sent his oldest son in his place.

The sermon seemed to be acceptable. No one got up and left, anyway. Eucharist was quite smooth, but Fr. Mike noted that Robert did not partake of the elements. Afterward, as he stood by the door greeting everyone, only two or three people looked him in the eye. Several did mumble that it was a good sermon. At least no one expressed anything directly negative.

As the second congregation arrived Fr. Mike thought he saw Willy Smith, but was not sure. He smiled when he saw that Matt’s family was attending for the second time. Chaz seemed a bit subdued, but not anything outside of normal teenage behavior. Robert did stay for the second service, perhaps, Mike thought, because he was Aiden’s transportation.

Matt had asked if he could read the scripture lesson. It was from the Gospel of John, chapter 8 verses 2-11. Fr. Mike smiled as the boy read it very nicely. When Matt finished he went and sat with his family. Fr. Mike stood behind the podium and delivered his sermon for the second time that day.

As the Forest Service displays tell you, this chapel was used by both the Baptists and the Episcopalians for many years. I have been asked by the Forest Rangers to preach sermons reflecting the themes of the sermons preached in this chapel when it was the only chapel in this valley. They want to recreate the atmosphere of the late 1800’s. At first I thought that was a bad idea. Your needs, I thought, are different from those of people over a century ago. However, I did take the time to read the sermons that were preserved by the local historical society. Mr. Phillip Harrison provided me with copies of those sermons.
Well, it seems like people don’t change all that much over the centuries. So I will, on occasion, use those sermons as a basis for my sermons. Today I will try to make use of two of those sermons.
The topic of the day back in 1896 was a speech by Mr. William Jennings Bryan famously known as his “Cross of Gold” speech. Both the Baptist and the Episcopalian Clergy preached about that speech. Mr. Bryan ended his speech with these famous words:
“Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
The two ministers who preached on that speech made the connection, as you would expect, that Jesus did have a crown of thorns and He was crucified on a “Cross of Gold”. They developed their sermons along the ideas of the nature of true gold and the work of Jesus on the Cross.
I’ve been pastor here for a couple of months. In that time I’ve seen a wide variety of needs. Certain things stand out. Therefore, I want to look closer at Mr. Bryan’s speech. I do believe it can help each of us. Mr. Bryan’s speech was actually about having two standards of money. One of gold and one of silver. He wanted the USA to recognize both metals as backing for the dollar.
The argument was about an economic principle called bimetallism. This is the term used to explain a monetary system that is based on both gold and silver. Now there was a problem with having both gold and silver as money. Most money in 1896 was in coin, not paper. If the price of gold changed in respect to the price of silver, the cheaper one became the standard. That’s because the more precious, that is, the more costly, was held in reserve, or melted down and sold. However, if you agreed on a price, took out a loan, or engaged in any economic transaction, the basis was the dollar. Not a gold dollar or a silver dollar. Just a dollar.
Imagine, if you will, having both a ten dollar gold coin and ten silver dollars in your pocket. What would you do if the gold coin could be melted and sold for twelve silver dollars? Again, suppose you borrowed fifty dollars from the bank and it was time to make a payment on that loan, which coins would you use? That’s why banks wanted just one standard.
Mr. Bryan, in his speech, seems to be accusing the banks and the stockbrokers of operating on a double standard. Yet, in reality, how would you repay that loan? Where, in truth, was the double standard?
Some of you may begin to see where this is going. You operate by more than one standard. Jesus told us that we cannot serve both God and money. From the time God set His people, Israel, free of Egyptian slavery they constantly looked to other gods for assistance. God kept telling His people that these gods were inanimate statues and incapable of any action. Yet they continued to worship idols. Then, when things got bad, they returned to God and worshiped Him. They operated on a double standard.
When you are at work certain actions are considered adequate or standard, but maybe not quite ethical. You would not want your children to do the same thing with their schoolwork or on the ball field. Do you demand perfection in others while cutting corners yourself? Do you make sure all that you do is honest and above reproach while you give a pass to others who may be slightly unethical when they make money for you?
More important, do you trust the advice of your stockbroker or banker over the advice of God? Do you buy lottery tickets and then pray that they will be winners?
Let’s look at Mr. Bryan’s speech again. He wanted money backed by silver and by gold. It was a popular idea. But it did not work. If gold was the more precious, the silver became the standard. That’s because no one wanted to spend gold when it was more valuable than silver. Then, after a gold rush, silver would become more precious and gold would become the standard.
Israel did the same thing with the idols and God. When the good times rolled, they would go to the pagan temples. When things got tough, they started worshiping God again. And we do that today. When the 9/11 crisis happened and people saw the planes fly into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, they rushed into churches to pray. Many return to worship in their local church after a disaster or when a loved one is very ill.
You may say that you are not a part of that. You go to church except when you are sick. You attend Bible study, you pray daily. But how do you treat your brother and sister Christians? In this building we have two types of worship. One is Baptist in orientation. The other is Episcopalian in orientation. And, outside of the church building we maintain that segregation. And neither group feels like the Charismatics down by the Plaza are really worshiping God properly.
Eventually, the USA decided on the gold standard. That has now changed. But the basic idea is that there is one standard, one measure of the value of money. Yet that money comes in many denominations. There’s hundred dollar bills, fifty dollar bills, twenties, tens, ones, quarters, dimes and nickles. There’s even two dollar bills and pennies. There are a number of denominations but only one standard backing all of them.
The same is true of the Church. The Church, as founded by Jesus and His Apostles, has one standard and many denominations. We should not be so concerned about the denominations and concentrate on the standard.
Once, when Jesus faced an adulterous woman, He said to her, basically, “No one has condemned you. Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Just as it had been in the earlier service, the congregation was quiet. The final hymn was a bit subdued. He made his exit to stand at the door as usual. They remained seated for a moment or two, then slowly, a few stood up and left. Again, few looked him in the eye.

As Chaz approached the door, Fr. Mike noticed that several people were with him. Chaz introduced his sister, his aunt and uncle and his parents. And that explained why Chaz was subdued. Charles McQuillan did look him in the eye. He said, “Powerful sermon. No wonder our minister did not want you in here.” His smile was reassuring. “I’m very pleased that Chaz likes attending here. I think the Sunday School teachers at our church are too.”

Fr. Mike grinned. He replied, “Oh, yes. I have really begun to depend on Chaz and his friends for many things. Thanks for letting him help me.”

Matt did not look at him. So he said, “Good job, Matt. You read the scripture wonderfully.” Matt beamed. Ranger Jefferson said a polite hello then stopped and turned back to look at Fr. Mike. He said, “I wonder if the original sermons were that powerful.” Then he smiled and turned to walk toward his car.

After everyone else had left Fr. Mike noticed that Aiden and Robert were finally making their way toward the door. Robert stopped and looked directly at Fr. Mike. He said, “I’ve never been much for church. Dad and Aiden told me a bit about you. Doug told me a bit, also. So I asked Aiden if I could join him today. I think, if I could worship with you, I might be able to believe in God. At least your sermon today let me know there is hope. Thank you.” He quickly turned and walked away. Aiden just smiled.

Fr. Mike watched as the last of the congregation got in their vehicles. Then he stepped back inside the chapel and closed the door. He started to walk up to the alter to pray when he saw a little pile of something on the floor. It was sort of woolly looking, a light beige in color. When he got closer he laughed. It was a pile of frayed string. 

A Frog Finds His Pond

As he looked around the room Mike gave a huge sigh of pleasure and accomplishment. While it was great to be in his own home, it sure was a lot of work. Cleaning and putting stuff away was very difficult. He’d been at it all morning, every morning for the past two weeks: washing clothes, sweeping floors, vacuuming rugs, stowing even more stuff he had forgotten about, and, finally, today, cleaning the kitchen. He swept up the last bit of trash and emptied it in the waste-bin. A long look around he house brought satisfaction.

For the past year he had been living with his parents again, after seven years in a dorm. He glanced at the diploma hanging on the wall by the fireplace. His M. Div. was supposed to be proof that he knew almost everything he needed to know: except how to live a normal life. He had enjoyed working as an assistant priest in his parent’s church. However, it revealed that he knew little of how people lived from day to day. His entire life was spent living in his parents’ house or in a dorm. He knew little of how people lived their daily lives. So, he moved to the mountains to learn about life.

Well, that was half the story. The truth was more difficult. First was the awkwardness of living with his parents after seven years. Second was rather vague. He wasn’t sure about being a priest. Or, more precisely, what sort of priest he should be.

What he told his parents and friends was that he wanted to live near the woods; he wanted to hike and bike and go camping. He said he would miss working with Fr. Ted and Deacon Tomas, but he wanted to live a “normal” life for a while. The Bishop saw through this tale. But Bishop Jake grinned and said, “I don’t blame you one bit. I enjoy avoiding those two myself!” And then he told Mike exactly what Mike was thinking, saying that it was a very wise path he had chosen. The relief he felt when given the Bishop’s blessing gave him the strength to get moved and the little cabin set in order. So far his enterprise had been successful. He had a job in the Christian bookstore. He had friends who helped him move in. He had a nice place to live.

And what a wonderful little place it was! It was the kitchen that made the house. Even though it had been completely modernized, it still felt like a kitchen from the 1930’s. The ‘fridge’ was, by modern standards, compact. The gas—actually propane—stove was also rather small. A dishwasher had been squeezed in between the stove and the sink. So the kitchen really was modern, but the style of cabinets, the paneling and the linoleum floor gave it an old farmhouse look. He could imagine somebody’s Aunt Bea in there canning tomatoes or baking an apple pie.

The kitchen had no heat, except for the stove; the living room was heated by the fireplace. Both bedrooms were heated by propane heaters. The bathroom was odd: located in the middle of the house, it had three doors—one for each bedroom and one for the living room. The bedrooms were much like the kitchen, with old paneling and linoleum that exuded back-country living. He had furnished the guest room with two twin beds, a dresser and a lamp. His room had the luxury of a full sized bed plus a dresser and lamp. Rustic was a good word for it.

It was the living room that looked a bit out of place. It had been remodeled some time ago. The fireplace did look rustic, so did the old paneling on either side of it. But the old paneling on the opposite wall had been replaced by drywall and covered with an orange and yellow wallpaper that reeked of 1972. Three large windows opened on the porch, providing a restricted view of Tiny Falls. Between the windows and the fireplace he had set up an office area. The computer added to the time warp factor in the room. The only light came from the porch windows and some lamps. To help with the lighting he had mounted a full length mirror on the wall next to the bathroom door. He needed to do something else to brighten the room, but was not sure what would work.

The kitchen was separated from the living room by a long bar which served as the dining area. Stools could be set up in the kitchen and the living room for plenty of guests. Not that he expected a lot of guests. But he was going to have to buy some stools as there was no room for a table and chairs.

It had been hard trying to arrange furniture, find places to put things, cleaning every nook and cranny of the house. So he had gone riding every afternoon. That had helped him learn a bit about the valley. He had worked hard this morning and finished the job early. So he was free to go for a much longer bike ride. He filled his water bladder and slid it into place in his little backpack, along with his freshly cleaned water filter and a couple of sandwiches. After checking that the maps and his compass and other gear were still in their pockets, he pulled on the pack and grabbed his bike helmet.

On his way out the door he glanced in the mirror. For a half a split second he thought he saw that his skin was green. It was just weird light. But the fact that his friends called him “Kermit” made the illusion a bit more unsettling. He did look sort of like a long, skinny frog. And he enjoyed playing in the water. So maybe Kermit was a good name. He’d have to see if it fit him in his new life.

He stepped out of the door and took in a deep breath. The air was warm and humid, the breeze barely rustling the leaves of the trees. He could hear Tiny Falls singing its eternal praise to God. One more reason he signed the lease: it was a very peaceful place. He thanked God for providing this sanctuary.

Mounting his bike he headed toward the highway. He had been exploring the village, even riding down to The Plaza. Today he wanted to head up into the forest, to see the lake. He could take to the trails, following PayDirt Trail up and around. But it was after eleven and he wanted to spend most of his time at the lake.

It was called “BeaverDam Pond” but it really was a lake. They’d told him about it at Staley’s Store. It was maybe fifty feet deep in places. There was no actual dam, either. At least, that’s what they said at Staley’s. Named by mistake, they said; it was a natural lake, not created by beavers. He had wanted to see it anyway, but their yakking and tall tales made him even more curious.

Beaver Ridge Road was the main road through the valley. At the base of the ridge it became a set of switchbacks that worked their way up to the top of Beaver Ridge. The terrain past the top of the ridge was much less steep. It was a sort of a plateau where Beaver Creek merged with PayDirt Creek before the road slowly rose upward into the higher mountains. He had figured out that Beaver Ridge ran from the high point of Watson’s Roost northwest to join another ridge and become some really decent mountains.

He followed Beaver Ridge Road downhill, crossing PayDirt Creek and then Beaver Creek. Just past the intersection with Harrison Hill Road he found a parking area for BeaverDam Loop Trail. After studying the wooden map mounted on the edge of the parking area, he realized that he wanted to take the little trail that circled the lake.

His trail quickly crossed Beaver Creek at a shallow ford just below a small waterfall. The spray from the fall felt good; he lingered in it for a moment or two, letting it cool him. The little trail rewarded him with several access points to the lake. The lake was much larger than he had expected, and very beautiful. Unlike many mountain lakes, BeaverDam Pond was relatively oval. Probably about a mile long. As he rode around the lake, the access points provided great places to go swimming. They also provided excellent views of the mountains beyond.

But he was not prepared for the facilities at the lake access point that had been named the “Base Camp”. It looked like at least a hundred campsites, maybe more, many of them for camping trailers and motor homes. He found a store, a restaurant and a beach complete with lifeguards. Unlike the trail, this place was crowded. Amazing how the Forest Service had produced a commercial beach in the middle of the woods!

It was just before he had completed his circuit of the lake when he found something he’d never expected. The trail ran right behind an old stone church building. He spent a good half-hour exploring it. It looked like the Forest Service had been maintaining the building, but it was also obvious that it was no longer used for worship. The stained glass windows looked priceless. But most interesting was the way the various parts were removable. The information plaques told a story of how there were two churches, one Anglican and the other Baptist, that shared the building. They met on alternating Sundays. The building was in fantastic shape, due to the tax dollars keeping it properly maintained. As Mike examined the building he realized that he would not need much to hold a worship service there. Most important, it was still sacred ground.

He headed back on the main road, but his head was filled with thoughts about the stone church. So he jumped off the paved road and took PayDirt Trail back toward his house. When he reached the little stone dam he took advantage of the pool. He stepped in and let the water soak away the heat of the day. It was not deep enough to swim, but he could float on his back. Laying there, listening to the cascade of water on rock, he could not get the little church out of his mind.

Originally, he was going to take a year to learn how normal people live. One year serving in his parents church proved that he was not going to “work his way up to bishop”; God must have other plans for him. When he was hired at the Bible bookstore in The Plaza the manager had said, “For the Summer,” but then added, “we’ll see, then.” So he might need to look for a Winter job. And now he’d found an empty church building.

It occurred to him that he was hungry. He stepped out of the pool. There were some rocks that formed a ledge up above the pool. It was a very easy climb; he had been up there before. He retrieved the sandwiches from his pack and sat down on the rock to partake of his tiny picnic. A cardinal, a blue jay and a blackbird perched in some nearby trees, each watching him suspiciously. Except for the babbling of the water over the dam it was quiet. The peace on finds in the forest descended upon him. Even though he dared not speak, he did offer some silent thanks to God for this place.

Finishing his sandwiches and draining his water bladder, he glanced at the sun. He figured it was around two o’clock. The sun was beating down on him, but he was soaked and the breeze made it rather cool. The ride home would be quite chilly. So he tossed his shirt over the branch of a tree and hung his shoes and socks on another branch. Then he lay down and let the warm sun dry his shorts.

His thoughts returned to that little stone church and his future. If he really was going to be a priest, here was a chance to build a congregation. Well, maybe. First, he thought, he’d need to talk to the Forest Service. Then he’d have to sort things out with the Bishop. Then…well, he wasn’t sure. If the Forest Service let him, he could offer worship for the campers. But he wanted to reach the people in the valley who did not go to church. That would be difficult. But not impossible.

PayDirt Creek Trail was somewhat steep as it followed the cascading creek; some of the trail being “technical riding”; mostly because the trail was not maintained properly. He had ridden the trail a few times, so the time it took to get home was getting much quicker. Stopping at the ford just above Beaver Falls, he could see how Beaver Ridge Road wound down the ridge into town. The little branch that flowed by his new home was easy to see. Riding back up the trail a few yards proved that he could see up through the branch’s valley. His new home was visible through the trees. It was nice to know that he did not have to make the drive back to Rockbrough. A glance at the sun and he realized that there was plenty of daylight left.

So, he road down to Cross Valley Trail toward the village. He could see the steeple of the Baptist Church on his right and then the school on his left. Feeling energetic, he took the challenge of “The Downhill Run” uphill to Watson’s Roost. The ride across the ridge was fabulous. Still, he was not in the mood for paved roads and soon connected with PayDirt Trail and became lost in his thoughts. The sign that he was leaving the national forest surprised him. He was just above Staley’s Store. He was also very hungry and thirsty. A burger, maybe, or one of those fried bologna and egg sandwiches would be nice, he thought; maybe he’d get both.

There was a crowd in Staley’s. He found a seat at the counter and decided on the bologna and egg, with cheese, pickle and slaw. Eric was cooking, which made it even better. Patty brought him a root beer without asking. He smiled, thinking that he must be a ‘regular’ now, for her to do that.

Turning to the man on his right he said, “Hi, I’m Mike.”

The man grunted something that might have been “Hello” and took a bite out of his hamburger.

“Nice to meet you,” Mike responded.

There was no answer. He took a sip of root beer. Glancing to his left, he thought he recognized the young man seated there, but he was engaged in a spirited conversation with his friend.

Suddenly he heard someone speaking rather loudly, “How can the valley keep its character when you and Harrison keep selling off your land to subdivisions and shopping malls?” He recognized one of the men, a Mr. Smith. The other was new to him.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Mr. Smith was saying, “You move in here and start telling the long established families how to run things. When did you buy the McCoy farm? Two or three years ago? And you think you can tell us what we can do with our land?”

Eric stepped out of the kitchen and stood in front of the cash register. He spoke in a calm, but authoritative voice, “That’s enough!” He paused for just a moment and then said, “Rodriguez, you and Smith can talk about anything you want, but keep it civil.”

Mike knew a little bit about the argument. Rodriguez owned the farm located on the western side of PayDirt Creek. Staley’s was adjacent to the farm, which bordered the national forest up by the little stone dam and extended westward to border the land Mr. Smith had turned into a subdivision. The Rodriguez farm was one of the more prosperous farms in the valley. It was the old McCoy Farm. And that, Mike thought, explains why some call the little stone dam ‘McCoy’s Dam’.

Then Mike realized that the man sitting next to him was Phillip Harrison. He and Willie Smith were two of the valley’s political leaders. Inspiration popped into Mike’s head. A tense silence had spread over the store and Mike thought he could ease the tension. He leaned over to Mr. Harrison and asked in a rather low voice, but loud enough that everyone could hear him, “Do you know anything about the old stone church up by BeaverDam Pond?”

Instead of the tense silence loosening up, it seemed to draw tighter. He heard a couple of people make a whistling noise as they drew their breath. Then the man on his left said, “Hey! Kermit! Good to see you again. What you want to know about that church?”

It was the young man he had gone riding with one rainy day. Mike said, “Yeah,” then paused a moment and slowly said, “You’re Doug, I think; yeah, Doug number seven.”

His acquaintance laughed and said, “Yep. I’m Doug number seven.”

“Good to see you again.”

“So, what about that church?”

Mike sensed that he better be very careful. He said, “Well, I was riding up by the lake and I found it. It’s a beautiful old building. I just wondered about it. The Forest Service displays don’t say much.”

A huge guffaw came from somewhere among the tables. Then everyone laughed and the tension eased.

Doug said, “Well, I guess you asked the right man. Mr. Harrison’s family built that church.”

Phillip Harrison turned to Mike and said, “That’s almost right. The McQuillans and the Harrisons built it in the 1870’s. The rangers don’t seem to want to tell the story of that church. Short version is that the Baptists and the Episcopalians both worshiped there until the new churches were built in the village. It’s a long story, but there’s no massacres or murders so I guess the rangers don’t care to tell it.”

Mike nodded and said, “Thanks. It really is a beautiful building.” Then, testing the waters, he said, “Does anyone ever hold any worship services there?”

“No.” Phillip Harrison had turned to look at his neighbor at the counter. “I wish we could.” He sounded a bit melancholy, “The Forest Service wants it to be just like it was in 1880. But that just does not seem likely.” He shook his head and returned to his burger.

It was quiet for a few moments. It seemed that people were thinking about what he had said. Then someone at a table said, “Sure would be nice to see it used for it’s original purpose.” Another voice spoke quietly, “Yeah. Real nice. Might even help heal the valley.”

There were murmurs of agreement, but no one said anything else about it.

Doug spoke up, “Hey, Kermit, could we go riding tomorrow? I’d like to ride up to Lookout Knob. Okay?”

Mike looked at Doug and then said, “Sure. Meet here? Maybe nine o’clock?”


Lookout Knob offered a fantastic view. Doug pointed out a number of landmarks, including Watson’s Roost, PayDirt Springs, BeaverDam Pond, the McQuillian orchards and their infamous graveyard, the Cascade, and, most interesting to Kermit, the Old Stone Church.

It was also interesting that certain spots could not be seen. The Village of Beaver Ridge and Staley’s Store, McCoy’s Dam and Kermit’s house. Lookout Knob was on the forest side of Beaver Ridge and the ridge blocked the view of landmarks below it.

“So, you see how Beaver Creek and PayDirt Creek merge just above The Cascade” Doug was pointing out the landmarks and explaining the lay of the land. “So, why did they name the creek below the Cascade “PayDirt” when it’s obviously “Beaver” Creek?” Doug looked straight at Kermit and said, “I’ve argued that for years. But the government says it’s too late to change the names.”

Kermit smiled and almost laughed, but stifled it because of the look on Doug’s face. Then he pointed to the church and asked, “Okay, so the original community was way over where Sawdust Creek merges with Beaver Creek. Why did they build the church there, away from the community?”

Doug shook his head. “Don’t know.” He pointed toward the Cascade and said, “Mr. Harrison has some documents that the Forest Service won’t even consider. It’s a sore spot with him. Beaver Ridge Road didn’t exist. PayDirt Creek Trail was the road until around 1930. There’s a trail from the Forest Road below us over to PayDirt Trail. That’s part of the old road. Another part is where BeaverDam Loop Trail connects with that same Forest Road. So I guess people rode up toward what’s now McCoy’s Dam to get to the gap in Beaver Ridge.”

“Let me try to get this straight,” Kermit said, speaking rather slowly, “At first it would seem that the Harrisons and the McQuillians were the only families, but he said they built the church and both the Baptists and the Episcopalians worshiped in it. So I guess by the Civil War there were a number of families in the valley?”

Doug nodded. “I’m no historian. I guess you’re right. I know about the road because I ride the trails and I did some research. But there were a number of families in the area. McCoy and Smith came back after the war and began farming the land west of PayDirt Creek. Most people lived over near Sawdust Creek. But some lived in the flatter land where the village is; or in the area we call The Meadows now.  The McQuillian and Harrison families had picked the best of the land up here. But I think there were a number of trappers and loggers in the area.”

“Thanks, Doug, for the geography and history lesson.” Kermit said as he walked over to his bike. Then he turned to Doug and asked, “So, we go back down the Forest Road to the Cascade and then…” he paused a moment, thinking about the trails and roads. Doug waited to see if he’d figure it out. Finally, Kermit said, “I think the shortest way back to my house is down Beaver Ridge Road. So, from the Cascade I’d take the trail to the main road. My house is halfway down the hill.”

Doug stared at him, then asked, “Your house?”

“Yeah.” Kermit grinned. “I moved in two weeks ago.”

Doug just stared at him for a minute or so. Then he said, “Sure, I’d love to see where you live.”

The diploma and ordination certificate fascinated Doug. After staring at them for a few minutes he asked, “So, are you a Catholic priest?”

Kermit shook his head. “No,” he said. Then, for clarification added, “We’re part of the ‘convergence movement’ which is a group of Christians who are trying to unite the various styles of worship.”

Doug nodded, and took a sip of the root beer Kermit had provided. It was obvious that he had no idea what his friend was talking about.

“Well, imagine a church that combines Calvary Chapel down by The Plaza with the Episcopal and the Baptists.” Kermit hoped this might give Doug some idea. But Doug still seemed not to comprehend. So he asked, “Which church to you attend?”

Doug smiled sheepishly and shook his head, saying, “I don’t. My parents used to attend the Baptist Church, but I have not been since I was fourteen. I hated it. I was always getting in trouble there.”

Mike nodded, remembering how he, too, got into trouble wiggling and giggling in church. However, one Sunday, just before dismissal, the priest called his name to meet him before leaving the building. He was asked to be an acolyte. More than that, this priest showed him all the items used in worship and told him about them. Soon, the liturgy became a sort of dance, a celebration he understood. As Mike remembered this, he noticed a slight look of pain in Doug’s face. He said nothing, but it was obvious that Doug would need some time before he could discuss the problem.

The two of them sat on the front porch, listening to the falls. Eventually Doug confessed his jealousy, saying, “Kermit, I’ve got to admit I envy you. I can’t help thinking that I might find a way to get you evicted so I can live here.”

Mike grinned. He asked Doug where he was living.

Doug answered, “In Beaver Ridge Apartments, just south of the village.” He took a deep breath and said, “Well, I needed to get out of my Dad’s house and I wanted a place closer to the village. Doug paused, lost in thought for a minute or so. Then Doug continued, “You know, Stafford Arnold was living here until a couple of weeks ago. When I learned he had moved out I checked on this place, but they said it was already rented.” Doug looked sharply at Kermit, grinned and then continued his story. “He’s moved to an assisted living facility in Rockborough. You’d like him. He worked for the railroad and retired to this house. His wife passed a few years ago. He’s got lots of stories to tell about the railroad. He grew up here, though. He might remember some of the history. Gene and I used to stop by to fish below the falls. Then we’d meet him and he’d tell us tales. Mostly the railroad stuff.”

Mike started to ask who Gene was when Doug said, “Oh, yeah, Gene is my older brother. He and his partner manage Chef’s Choice in The Plaza.”

They were quiet for a few more minutes, then Mike said, “Okay, Doug. You’ve got something you want to say. I realized that last evening when you invited me to ride up to Lookout Knob.” Mike smiled at him, continuing, “Look, say whatever you want. If you’d like, I can get my stole and hear your confession. That way I am forbidden to repeat what you tell me. I’d like to make this easy for you.”

Doug laughed, then said, “You’re good. You knew yesterday? Wow. Am I that transparent?”

Mike smiled, then said, “Well, do I hear your confession or do you just tell me?”

Doug laughed, “Okay,” he said, “It’s this valley. McQuillan, Padgett and Rodriguez are the three big farm owners now. Others, like Harrison and my family, sold their farms or the Forest Service bought them. Things have been fine until McQuillan sold some land to a developer who built The Plaza. Stores moved from the village to The Plaza. Then Harrison and others opened boutique stores and outfitting shops in the village. I own Top of the Ridge, for example. So, now, there’s a large group of people who liked the way things were before The Plaza. And there’s some who see the need for change and are trying to control it, not just ride the wave, so to speak. A lot of people think Harrison and my Dad are just ‘riding the wave’ and skimming profit off tourists without care for the land. That’s not true, but try to tell them. And then you mentioned the Old Stone Church. Phillip Harrison’s pet peeve.

“Oh!” Kermit shook his head. “No wonder it got tense.”

Doug frowned, saying, “You scared me. Sometimes Phillip can be a bit hot-tempered, like my Dad. Eric had to stop Rodriguez and my Dad. Then I had to stop you.”

“Well, I won’t tell anyone you’ve told me all this. No need to get you in trouble with anyone.”

“Oh,” Doug let out a short laugh, “They know.” He smiled wryly. “Everyone in Staley’s yesterday evening knows I’m going to talk to you.” He shook his head slightly and said, “I thought everyone in the place understood, except you. Of course, I had no idea you were an ‘M. Div.’”

Both of them laughed, nervously, thinking about the political tightrope they had to walk. Then Mike asked Doug, “So, what is Top of the Ridge?”

Doug took a deep breath, grateful of the change of topic. He answered, “My store. I sell camping and backpacking equipment. I also lead tours to the top of Yellowleaf Mountain as well as rock climbing on Panther Ridge.”

Mike suddenly understood fully what Doug meant about ‘riding the wave’ and wondered if he wasn’t doing just that.

As if to answer Mike’s thoughts, Doug continued, “But the main thing I’m doing in all of that is showing my customers how to enjoy the forest without damaging it. For example, there’s no trails to Yellowleaf or Panther Ridge. So we hike in by map and compass, from different starting places so we don’t hike the same ground. There’s lots of other ways to help protect the forest. My customers understand what I’m doing. It’s some of the locals that don’t get it.”

“Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints.” Mike said, to confirm that he understood.

“Well, actually,” Doug was almost laughing again, “you don’t want to leave footprints because that means you’ve disturbed the soil. What you can leave is your own organic waste.” Saying that, Doug watched Kermit closely to see if he understood. When Kermit didn’t react Doug added, “Of course, the purist would pack that out too. But they have to make sure they don’t drink from the wrong jar.”

It quickly dawned on Mike what Doug was suggesting. They sealed their friendship with hearty laughter.

After Doug left, Mike began to pray. After a week of praying, Mike received an answer. The Lord wanted him to hold worship services in the old stone chapel. It took Mike two months to cut through the “red tape” of the Forest Service bureaucracy. His argument to the Rangers was based on the potential need of worship services for the campers and hikers. Eventually, the rangers agreed to worship services in the old church, but only if they were in the style of the original services. That was enough for Kermit. He wrote a letter to his bishop detailing the situation. The bishop was not so enthusiastic. He did not like the idea that Mike would be conducting services for two different denominations, neither of them his own.

Eventually, after lots of e-mails and phone calls, Kermit had what he needed. He would conduct services for the tourists, one Sunday in the Baptist style, the next Sunday in Episcopalian style, just as had been done before the new churches were built.

When the Baptist minister and the Episcopalian rector complained, he referred them to the Forest Rangers. The Rangers said that they now had someone who was willing to do things their way. He heard from Doug that the valley, except for the Episcopal Rector and the Baptist Minister, thought what he was doing was wonderful. Valley residents came to the first two services, but then returned to their own churches, as he expected.

There was one problem he had not solved. He needed at least one acolyte for the Episcopalian service. He postponed the problem by holding the Baptist service the first week. Desperation forced him to ask at that first service if there might be anyone with acolyte experience who would still be in the area next week. The Lord provided. A high school student named Aiden said he would be able to do it. When he showed up that Sunday, he had two friends, Matt and Chaz, with him. Both of them needed acolyte training, but they said they would help. It turned out that Matt’s Dad was a Forest Ranger, but it was some time before Mike figured out who Aiden and Chaz were.

Currently on Always Rejoicing

1 September 2020

First, I do ask for your prayers. Please pray for me, that I will hear and obey the Holy Spirit as He guides me in writing for this site. And I pray for you, that you will find JOY.

The Bible Study of Tobit is complete, as is an essay on the Apocrypha. In that essay you will see some of the ideas from ForeverStone.  That’s okay.  While writing that essay on the Apocrypha I realized that all of AlwaysRejoicing is concerned, in one way or another, with the idea of Church Unity.

The ForeverStone “Priesthood” adventure is, after a year of trying to write it, completed. I know it does not answer all the questions it raised. But that was never the intent. I do hope you get a better understanding of what the Priesthood of All Believers means. This subject is not complete. More will be posted about the topic. 

“The Fifth Commandment” is finally posted on AlwaysRejoicing.  The plan, subject to Holy Spirit approval, is to continue the stories in the “Staley’s Store” series. 

I’m pondering two Bible Studies: Jeremiah and 1st Corinthians. I ask your prayers as to which book and guidance in the design of the study. 

Finally, I’ve added this to all three sites so you can easily see what’s changed.

That’s the current status of

Rejoice Always!


1 September 2020

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Meditation: Philippians 2:5-11

My attitude should be as Jesus Christ
Who made himself obedient sacrifice
Not employing His Divinity
To advantage His Humanity
By lording His Divine Majesty
Over us.

Humbly he assumed the role
Divinely anointed
Wore servant nature like a stole
Obediently appointed
To death upon the Cross.

Incarnate in the saving Christmas plan
Divine and Human fully in one man
Grasping not Divine equality
A knave serving in humility
Immanuel the king in poverty
God with us.

Obedient hands and feet were nailed
Divinely anointed
His Name the Name that shall be hailed
Obedience appointed
That every knee shall bow

Exalted by His Father with the Name
Every knee shall bow and tongue proclaim
Those who know Him they confess Him now
Some don't know Him they deny Him now
When before Him all in awe will bow

His name the name above all other names
Honored throughout the mountains and the plains
Every tongue in fear or adoration
Shall honor Him as Lord of all Creation
So make a joyful noise unto the LORD

Rain Dance

Kevin woke up to a beautiful sunrise. Usually a late sleeper on Saturdays, this morning he lay wide awake looking through his bedroom window. Clouds had spread a blue-gray quilt across the sky. The sun poked the edge of its disk above the horizon; the eastern quarter of the sky igniting a blaze of orange and red. It was as if the sun were climbing up over the edge of the earth and up into the clouds. Kevin climbed out of bed as it disappeared behind the clouds.

He flipped open his laptop and clicked on the weather icon. Thirty seconds later he was looking at a radar picture showing a huge mass of green to the northwest of town, moving southeast. He started singing the rain song. It was going to be a great day to play in the rain.

He closed the laptop and looked out the window. Grandma would have loved a day like this. He must have been six or seven when she caught him playing in the rain. He was surprised when she joined him. They sang and danced in the rain. She taught him the song, “Singing in the Rain” which he knew only as “The Rain Song” until he saw the movie on TV. After seeing the movie, his grandma’s comments about Gene Kelly made sense. As he watched the raindrops splash in puddles outside his window he realized that he must be the only Junior in his high school who even knew about Gene Kelly.

Then he saw the shoe box on the window ledge and frowned. The shoes inside it were wide at the toe and narrow at the heel just like clown shoes. Worst of all, they fit perfectly. Unfortunately, his mother had been standing in his door when he tried them on, so he could not lie. She had sounded so pleased with herself, “I found these on clearance,” but he couldn’t forget her smile as she added, “they’re waterproof.”

All he could think was, “Your mother liked to play in the rain.” At least this time he had kept quiet. He had so wanted to shove the box of goofy shoes in the closet and let them rot. Experience had taught him that leaving them out somehow kept his mom from asking questions. So he had moved the box around trying to find the perfect place for it. Now, after moving it around for a week, it was on the window ledge, haunting his view of a beautiful wet day. He moved the box to the floor.

A gust of wind tossed the rain around. It was going to be a cool and sometimes heavy rain. He ‘d need a base layer of quick-dry polyester. Over that he pulled on his favorite jeans, a thick wool shirt and a warm pair of wool socks. Then he reached for his shoes.

The skate shoes in his hand were getting old. The soles were thin; the suede was frayed from skateboarding. He smiled wistfully at the paint stains, acquired when he had helped Vanessa paint her room. That had been a wonderful day, especially when her parents left and they went out by the pool to wait for the paint to dry. He’d let her push him in the pool. Then he climbed out, embraced her with his soggy clothes and they both ended up in the pool. It had been a glorious afternoon and the start of a great teenage love affair. But the love affair was all they had. So it wasn’t long until the arguments began. She complained about his clothes, his friends, his music and his lack of style. Then, last Saturday, she saw Kevin and some friends returning from a long, muddy bike ride. She accused them of wallowing in the mud like pigs.

He looked at his old shoes again. They were memories. They had gone in the pool with him that day. He’d been pushed into other pools wearing them, including the hotel pool when his school won the district basketball conference. He was wearing them when he found and climbed a small waterfall, when he and Liam found that cave and when he found and then lost that ruby.. He smiled, it might have been a ruby. It was red. The ruby wasn’t the only thing he had lost while wearing them. He frowned; he had worn them on every date with Vanessa.

Vanessa. He shook his head. They had met at that party after winning the district conference. He realized now that she liked him because he was on the basketball team and he played rhythm guitar in a rock band. But he was not the urbane sophisticate she wanted. He wasn’t a starter on the team; there were, in fact, games when he just warmed the bench. The band was nothing great either. They were just a garage band, but McPherson’s Pub had let them give a free concert last Friday. They had dressed like a real rock band and the crowd seemed to enjoy the music. When it was over, Vanessa had complained bitterly about the way he was dressed, using words like ‘sloppy’ and ‘unkempt’ frequently. The really bad part was that he had replied with some inelegant words. The next day she had seen him at the end of that muddy bike ride. Yeah, the shoes were memories.

Outside, the raindrops were splashing in the puddles. His foot kicked the box on the floor. He picked it up. Waterproof? His mom knew he loved playing in the rain. He took the new shoes out of their box. The leather was thick and sturdy. It might be interesting to test and see if they really were waterproof. So what if they looked like clown shoes? He felt like a lonely, rejected clown. Splashing through puddles would cheer him.

The house was quiet. He grabbed a bowl of cereal for breakfast and called Al, who was still in bed. Kevin’s mom walked in while Al was explaining why the band couldn’t rehearse at his house today. He told his mom that he was trying out the clown shoes. Al heard him over the phone and laughed.

The walk to Al’s house was exhilarating. He was hardly wet when he arrived, except for the splashes on his jeans from dancing in the puddles. And, so far, the shoes kept his feet dry.

Mike was already there and Liam, the last band member, arrived shortly after Kevin. They quietly complained about not being able to rehearse. The boys were restless, wandering around the house. They drifted into the kitchen several times. Eventually Al’s mom chased them out of her kitchen, threatening to put them to work.

Kevin suggested a walk to the mall. When Al objected to getting wet, Kevin said, “We get wet riding bikes in the rain, hiking in the rain and playing football in the rain. A walk in the rain would be fun. I’m going. You coming?”

Once they were out of the residential area, Kevin started singing some of the band’s rock-and-roll songs. Even though his friends joined him, the rock and roll just didn’t fit their mood. Suddenly Kevin started “Singing in the Rain” and they all laughed. Mike took off running and they raced to the mall.

The mall didn’t open until ten o’clock. So they circled it, looking for more adventure. It began to rain a little harder, too.

“Hey, Kevin,” Al taunted, “I thought you were going to wear clown shoes. Where are they?”

“On my feet.”

Al looked at Kevin’s feet, “Those?” Al sounded genuinely puzzled. “They’re not clown shoes. They’re just sneakers.”

Kevin just shrugged. He was having too much fun to argue with Al.

Mike hollered, “Come on! Second breakfast!” and headed toward a McDonald’s with Liam right behind him. Al and Kevin quickly followed.

Tiny puddles formed on the floor beneath them as they warmed themselves with hot coffee. Just as Kevin bit into a sausage biscuit he heard Liam groan, “Uh oh!”

Mike whispered, “Hey, look who’s graced us with her presence.”

Vanessa walked in, escorted by Greg.

The four boys erupted in laughter when they saw Greg. “What’s happened to our favorite geek? He’s become a preppy freak!” Liam chortled.

“Hey Greg!” Al just could not pass up this opportunity, “Love your new look. Nice how the tie matches the cardigan and khakis. Very prep school. Nice shoes, too. They look like Kevin’s. Did you two go shopping together?” His gaze shifted to Vanessa, but his remark was addressed to everyone, “You’d think someone as sophisticated as Vanessa would know better than to dress her escort in a tie and sneakers.” He turned his eyes to Greg, pausing an instant to emphasize his final gibe, “She did dress you this morning, didn’t she?”

Greg, already embarrassed, turned beet red.

Vanessa looked straight at Kevin.“Well, if it isn’t the four little pigs. I see you’re still wallowing in the mud.”

Kevin grinned, “Wrong again,” he said, “like Gene Kelly, we’ve been singing in the rain.”

She snapped her jaw shut, censoring the comment she was about to make. Turning back to the counter she appeared to examine the menu. Greg quietly ordered breakfast.

Kevin looked down at his feet. He felt sorry for Greg and happy for himself. He was who he was, wet shoes, muddy bike and frequent bench warmer. The shoes were just like Greg’s, except Greg’s were tan and dry, not black and, well, damp. He grinned and said a silent ‘thank you’ to his mom. They were not bad shoes. In fact, they were quite comfortable. And now they had a good memory. Gene Kelly shoes. Great for dancing in the rain.


Once upon a time, long long ago, I found a book that had the title of Wicked and purported to be a rewrite of the L. Frank Baum stories about “The Wizard of Oz”. Wicked was a most fascinating tale. Telling the story from the viewpoint of the Wicked Witch of the West was, and is, a most inspired idea. I highly recommend this series of tales to any and all.

It is my practice, in these ‘reviews’ to refrain from retelling the story. No ‘spoilers’ here, I hope. Instead, I’m going to complain that G. Maguire did not write the story that I wanted. There are four novels. The first, Wicked, was superb. It was the sort of story that I wanted to read. The three novels that follow are necessary. In a certain way they are even more unpleasant than the first. But that is also a necessity. Moreover, you will not even notice the unpleasantness until after you finish the last book, even though I mention it now. There are aspects of the books that make the reader ‘uneasy’. They are suspense aspects. I’m talking about something else.

Consider your friends and family. Look at them objectively. They are all wicked, every one of them. And so with all the characters in Magurie’s tale. That’s what makes it rather unpleasant. They’re not evil Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde types. They are not intent on doing harm to others—well most of them are not. However, Magurie’s characters, like our families and friends, are incapable of understanding how their motives may harm others. And, like most people, it’s appearance that’s more important than reality. 

I am guilty, too. I continually find myself doing that which, with 20/20 hindsight, I realize was not the best I could do for another person. I am very familiar with the problem, it being a major aspect of “The Human Condition”. If Maguire had written the whole story like I wanted it to turn out, it would have been like the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. Everyone sitting around the kitchen stove eating s’mores.

But this tale is about the fact that all are wicked. Still, in each of the characters, like real people, there is some goodness. That goodness does have a major part in how the story unfolds. Magurie does a wonderful job of making the contrast between that which is wicked and that which is good. He does not do this with point to point comparison. It’s just woven into the background. You won’t know it’s there. Then, all of a sudden, you will see it. Perhaps while you are reading the books. Perhaps years after you have read them. When you do, I hope you can re-read the four books. You’ll enjoy them even more.

Maguire’s genius is that the source of that which is wicked does not originate in Oz. The same is true of Earth. That which is wicked is brought into our world. The Greeks tell us about Pandora’s Box. The Jews tell us about Adam and Eve. We instinctively know that wickedness comes from the outside and worms its way into our hearts.

The Fifth Commandment

The story of Prince Jonathan and his father, King Saul

To all those fathers and sons whose relationship is strained.
May you find something in this story that helps bring peace.


The honey was more than delicious: after he tasted it, Jonathan felt rejuvenated. He could see better; his muscles felt stronger; his endurance had increased. He wanted to shout a new battle cry and chase the enemy forever. It seemed that the Lord had put the honey there so the army could find it and pursue the enemy. As he looked around he saw that the other soldiers looked weary. Jonathan encouraged those near him to come and eat some of the honey.

They hesitated, saying, “The king, your father, charged us this very day with the oath that anyone who eats food would be cursed.”

Jonathan shook his head in disappointment and anger. He had been very hungry and tired. It had been a hard day already. The power of the nourishment from the honey refreshed his body; renewing his strength and enthusiasm. So, without thinking he said, “My father has troubled the land! Would it not have been better if all Israel could have eaten some of this honey and found new strength? Then we could have done much more than a simple harassment of our enemy.”

As soon as he said it, Jonathan remembered the commandment that nagged him day and night, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Immediately he knelt down. “Lord God,” he prayed, “it is so very hard to respect this man, my father. Lord God, please help me to find a way to honor him.”

Unwilling to give up, Jonathan called to those around him and led them in the chase, driving the Philistines back for many miles through the hills, back to their own country. He watched as his brothers-in-arms faltered. The Philistines began to outrun them.

At evening, when Saul’s curse on eating had expired, Israel’s Army began to kill the captured livestock and eat. Some of the soldiers were so hungry they did not properly drain the blood, as the Lord had commanded Noah; instead, they were eating the meat with the blood in it. He ordered a small squad of men to return to King Saul and tell him what was happening.

The Philistines were now a mile or more ahead of them. So, rather than lead the men further away, he stopped the chase and began to listen for the call to reassemble. As he waited, he sat on a large rock and prayed. “Lord God, you know I want to obey. And you know I have a difficult time obeying you when it comes to my father. Lord, how do I obey you and honor him? I find it harder and harder to respect him. What do I do?”

Jonathan poured out his heart to God. He emptied it before the Lord, rehearsing his excitement at the victory and his frustration with his father. He prayed, “Even today, Lord, I wanted to do what’s right, yet I did wrong. You know why I took my armor bearer and went to spy on the enemy. You know I wanted to save the kingdom from the Philistines. You know, oh Lord, what I think of my father. So Lord, you know why I asked you for a sign. And I do thank you, Lord, for that sign. I trusted you. I think my father would not have approved of my actions. But instead of asking him, I trusted you. And I thank you, Lord, for the victory.

“So, Lord, my armor bearer and I killed about twenty of them. But you, Lord, sent confusion into their camp. Lord, you are amazing. Simon and I chased the entire Philistine army through the woods where we were joined by our army. But Lord, it was in the woods where I found the honey and accidentally defied my father. How can I obey your commandment, Lord? How can I honor my father?” Tears of great emotion rolled down his cheeks. He started to say more to God, but no words would come. So he just sat there, hoping the Lord would answer him.

Then the signal for reassembly was given and he returned to the camp. As Jonathan and his armor bearer walked into the camp they could hear Saul’s angry voice. As he looked around, Jonathan could see that Saul had erected an altar for the sacrifice of the sheep and oxen. The people were now eating according to God’s law. Saul, however, was unhappy because he was asking the Lord God about pursuit of the Philistines and the Lord was silent.

Now Jonathan could not know that King Saul had started to inquire of the Lord about engaging in battle when it started. But the king did not consult God, instead he could see that victory was at hand. So he commanded the charge. And then the king issued his foolish curse. Even though Israel had won the battle, it was without the blessing of God. And even now King Saul was planning to pursue the Philistines all night. But Ahijah, the priest, suggested that they approach God about it.

When there was no answer, Saul was irate. So the king called the army leaders to stand on one side and he and Jonathan stood on the other. The Ephod showed that the fault was with King Saul and his son. Then the Ephod picked Jonathan.

Saul stared at his son and said, “What did you do?”

Jonathan answered, “I ate a little honey. Here I am. I am ready to die.”

Saul confirmed the penalty, seeming to miss the insanity of his son’s words.

However, the leaders of the army and the people in general did not miss it. They began to grumble. “God was with Jonathan today. He has won a great battle for Israel and for God. Why kill him? He did not know about your curse!” The grumbling spread throughout the whole camp, and changed as it spread, “God gave Jonathan the victory. Why kill him for eating honey? Your curse caused us to sin. Who will you kill for that? The victory is God’s and Jonathan’s!” Jonathan watched in amazement as King Saul, afraid of the people, submitted to their will.

Saul, to Jonathan’s dismay, did not pursue the Philistines. Nor did he inquire of the Lord as to what he should do next. Instead King Saul, filled with embarrassment and deep anger, ordered the camp to pack up and return home.

And then the king sent a formal summons to the prince. As he walked toward his father’s tent, Jonathan prayed. “Lord, help me keep silent. Help me to honor my father. I don’t know what he’s going to say. But help me keep silent.”

As he entered the tent, his father, seated on his high chair looking at a spear, seemed not to notice his son. So Jonathan stood waiting for the king to recognize him. After several minutes the king looked up. “Oh, you.” was all he said. Then went back to looking at the spear he was holding. Finally, he spoke, “You do not seem to be a military leader. But you are to be king after me. So I want you to be my steward. You will learn how to handle the civil matters of Israel. But you are not to come to the military camp. Send a message if you need. But do not put yourself in a situation where you can be seen as a military adviser.”

Jonathan felt the shame and embarrassment his father had just bestowed upon him burning as it rose up in his chest and burned to the top of his head. He said nothing. He did not wait for dismissal. He just turned and walked out. It was the only justifiable action he could make. Rather than ride home in disgrace, he broke off from the army and rode home alone. Only Simon, his armor bearer, rode with him. There would be no victorious entrance into Gibeah. The army, seeing the king’s anger, had scattered; each man headed to his own home.

Jonathan was very upset over his dismissal from the army. “You know, Simon, I truly do not understand my father.” They had left ahead of the king’s entourage, and were now more than a mile ahead. Jonathan took the opportunity to vent his varied emotions. “Did he get mad because the people said that I had won the battle? Is that it? Did he want to kill me? Then why didn’t he? Tell me I’m not a military leader! Who won the victory? Not him! He’s afraid to fight. He just sends out raiding sorties…”

Simon said nothing. He had never seen Jonathan this upset. The prince was on a terrible rant, venting every frustration he had about his father. So Simon did think it a good thing they were alone. As Jonathan ranted, Simon pondered the whole business.

King Saul was a puzzle to Simon. At first he had been a very good king. He had won great battles, freeing the people of Jabesh-Gilead from the Ammonites. Then Jonathan had smashed the Philistine Pillar at Gibeah and King Saul was leading the revolt against the Philistines. They had been waiting for Samuel at Gilgal when the army began to desert. So Saul offered the sacrifice to Yahweh. Then Samuel arrived and told Saul he was king, not priest. Saul, embarrassed, abandoned the battle and regrouped at Geba, near the Pass of Michmash. But the king seemed unable to go into battle. Simon remembered thinking that King Saul had changed after the confrontation with Samuel at Gilgal. And then yesterday Jonathan invited him on a mission which became a great victory yet they ended up riding home in disgrace. And the one man, Simon thought, who was willing to lead Israel into battle, was now banned from the army.

It was Jonathan’s distrust of his father that let the two of them to sneak into the enemy camp. Jonathan was always seeking God’s will for everything he did. Saul, Simon thought, only sought God’s will when it was politically expedient. Why Saul charged the army with a curse he did not know. But he was sure it was a foolish curse. Everyone knew that it had caused the people to sin and brought shame on Jonathan.

Suddenly a thought slammed into Simon: it was at Gilgal that things went wrong. Something happened at Gilgal that changed everything. He started to ask Jonathan about Gilgal when he realized that the man had exhausted his anger and was praying quietly. Simon followed his example.

Saul now started a new type of campaign. He attacked all of Israel’s enemies: Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zobah, and the Philistines. And he won many victories. But they were hollow victories. For he was not defeating the enemies of Israel, but merely driving them back off Israel’s land. Often the enemy would send a raiding party into Israel, which would be met by Saul’s army and driven back. Other times he would chase them into their own lands, but never very far. These were more or less skirmishes and none were decisive victories.

The Lord soon forced King Saul into a decisive victory. Jonathan listened intently while the Prophet Samuel told the King that he was to put the Amalekites under the ban. Jonathan was dumbfounded: it meant that everything was to be destroyed and there would be no spoil. Samuel explained in detail about how the Amalekites had treated Israel and why the Lord God wanted them exterminated. Hearing this, Jonathan realized what the Lord God was doing. Saul had not had a decisive victory. This would be decisive beyond doubt. It would be a sign to the Philistines, to Moab, Edom, Ammon and Zobah, to all of Israel’s enemies. Perhaps the Lord would make this the first of many true victories.

This was a test. Jonathan could see that. The King had acted as priest at Gilgal and Samuel had said that the kingship was to be removed from Saul. However, if his father, the King, did this the way the Lord wanted it done, then he would pass this test and, perhaps, the Lord would let Saul remain king. As he pondered all of this, Jonathan began to understand why his father had made him steward. He was afraid of Samuel’s prophecy that God would remove his kingship. The most likely person to become the next king was Jonathan.

So, on a practical level, Jonathan should learn about the civil responsibilities of the king. And so he would not go to war. He would stay home and play steward. Play was the operative word. His duties were small, unimportant duties. Stewardship authority was still in the hands of Abram of Gilead. Any real decision was sent to the king by messenger. Often, Jonathan did not even know that a messenger had been sent. That he, Jonathan, would be the next king did explain making him steward. But why do it in such a negative way? And why was Abram of Gilead still the true steward?

After every battle, the report made Jonathan felt like his father had become a coward. Israel never pursued the enemy much past the border. They would quickly gather what spoil was readily available and make a speedy run back home. Even though Saul claimed a battle victory, Jonathan and many others knew these were just raiding sorties. Saul was just maintaining the stalemate that had existed since Eli had been Judge. Thus the terrible guilt Jonathan felt concerning his attitude toward his father and the fifth commandment. He just did not see how he could honor his father.

So, when the messengers arrived with news that King Agag was dead and the Amalekites destroyed, Jonathan prayed a prayer of thanks to the Lord God. But, somehow, the Lord God seemed not to accept his thanks. He felt rejected by God. It did not take long to understand why. More messengers arrived. They told how Samuel was angry when he met the King. Samuel had complained about the sheep, asking why they had not been put under the ban as God had required; but upon seeing King Agag, Samuel wept.

Jonathan wept too. When they told the story, despair invaded his heart. The Lord God, he thought, has rejected Israel. Jonathan remembered when Samuel told all Israel that they could have a king. He remembered that God had told Samuel that the people had not rejected Samuel, but that they had rejected Him. They might accept the Lord God as deity, but not as their sovereign. Now the people had disobeyed God and saved the best of the Amalekite plunder; and King Saul had not acted as their king, he had let them do this. Israel, Jonathan thought, was lost. And with that, Jonathan had his kingdom taken from him. His father had lost the kingdom for both of them.

To make matters worse, Jonathan had not ordered a victory feast. Jonathan had actually said, “First Gilgal and now this! Are you mad? How can we celebrate when the Lord God has rejected us?” to his father in front of the Battle Chiefs. Saul just glared at him and stormed off.


The battle did do what Jonathan thought it would to Israel’s enemies. When they saw that Saul could defeat a mighty army and utterly destroy a nation they retreated well within their borders. Unfortunately, the peace did not last. Saul began to have bouts of depression. The Philistines heard about it and began to send raiding parties into Israel. Saul would send the army to chase them, but they never pursued the Philistines past the border.

Eventually, the Philistines set up on one side of the Valley of Elah and King Saul set up on the other side. But neither side was willing to attack the other; for fear that they would be attacking uphill. They yelled and hollered taunts in vain attempt to entice the other side to engage in a rash, unwise attack. Each side had set up an ambush for the other and both sides knew this.

This stalemate went on for several months. Then the Philistines changed their tactics. They introduced a one-on-one combat challenge. One of their battle chiefs, a giant named Goliath, challenged the Israelites to a duel. The duel would end the war, with the loser becoming the slaves of the winner.

His father and all of the army stood shaking in their sandals while this heathen challenged the army of Israel. Yet no one, not even the King, would answer the giant’s challenge, for he was a true giant, nearly 10 feet tall. Every Israelite knew they had disobeyed God in the battle with the Amalekites; Samuel had made that clear. Now, the Israelites felt unworthy to call on the Lord God.

Jonathan was embarrassed by the cowardice and lack of faith his father and fellow Israelites displayed. He thought about the last time he had served as a soldier. He had, with his armor bearer, called on the Living God. God had given him a sign and they had chased the Philistines back to their country. But he could not challenge Goliath. King Saul had given him the duties of steward and judge to keep him off the battlefield, where he could not gain the admiration of the people. He had never forgiven Jonathan for eating the honey and leading the charge, winning the support of the people. And Jonathan’s attitude after the battle defeating the Amalekites seemed to have sealed his fate. He could not serve as a soldier. His father seemed jealous of Jonathan’s reputation with the people and even more jealous of Jonathan’s relationship with God.

But, even if his father would let him fight, Jonathan felt certain that God had abandoned Israel. It was not just that Israel and King Saul had disobeyed God and kept the best of the Amalekite spoil; it was the depression his father suffered. Only music seemed to help. And one of the best musicians was a shepherd from Bethlehem. Jonathan did not know the lad, he was maybe ten years younger; but he had seen his youngest sister watching the musician play for their father. That was when he realized that this young man should be watched. To his relief, the young man demonstrated only the highest character. Still, even with the music, the King’s depression was hurting the morale of the army.

Over the past several months Jonathan had managed to acquire the authority of the title he had been given. His management was seen by everyone, including the king, as a good thing. So he was now second to the king in all but official declaration. Yet it seemed to him that the country was in peril. He went to the Valley of Elah on the pretext of a civil matter.

The king welcomed him with seemingly genuine cordiality. They talked about the situation. Saul was excited. “Finally a soldier has come forward to fight the giant. It is said that he will fight the Philistine and win. God will give him victory and give us peace.” The king was all but dancing. Then, suddenly, he seemed to suffer one of his spells. The musician was summoned. When the musician entered, Jonathan noticed that he was not carrying his lyre. But before anything could be said, King Saul was thanking the musician for volunteering to kill the giant.

It was not long before the musician started down the hill toward the Philistine camp. Jonathan went in to his father unsummoned and inquired about the musician. The king said the young soldier had offered to fight the giant in order to bring glory to God. “How can I deny the will of God?” he asked his son; then went out to watch the duel. Jonathan stared, dumbfounded, as his father left the tent. He followed only because he knew not what to do.

General Abner was standing nearby. The King went over and asked him about the young soldier. Abner had never seen him in the camp before. Jonathan thought it incredible that the King did not know who he had sent to fight the giant: he did not even realize that the young man was the musician who had played for him, easing the depression. He had just called for the musician and he had come. This filled Jonathan with fear. The King had sent the youth to fight the giant, thinking that the musician was the soldier his Army was talking about. It was much later that Jonathan remembered that the musician had not brought his lyre.

Jonathan watched the musician pick up some stones from the river and walk on down the hill toward the Philistines. He looked up to Heaven and asked silently if this was how God was going to punish Israel for disobeying in the Amalekite battle. The giant came and stood at the top of the hill shouting his challenge toward Israel. The giant’s shield bearer advanced down the hill with Goliath right behind him. They stopped in the lowest part of the valley. Jonathan heard the giant’s roar echo across the valley, revealing his anger over the insult of sending a youth to meet the challenge. Then the giant was silent. But no bird chirped. No wasp or bee buzzed. No rabbit hopped. No animals were moving at all. It was like the calm before the storm, but it seemed much more deadly. Then David’s answer came drifting up the hill. Jonathan could barely hear the musician’s reply. But that reply brought hope to his heart. “…I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts….” The words seemed to etch themselves in Jonathan’s mind, as did the moment. All was deadly still. Then the simple noise of a thud and the giant fell. The shield bearer fled back to the Philistine battle line and the musician was using the giant’s own sword to cut off his head.

Abner was halfway down the hill, leading Israel into battle. Jonathan turned and saw his father, the King, standing immobile, transfixed, his mouth agape. He looked like he had seen his own death. Jonathan, however, felt pure joy flow through his soul.

The giant-slayer returned with the giant’s head. He presented it to the King, who questioned him. Jonathan watched as the young man handled the interrogation with ease. He told how the Lord God had guided him. “This victory, as all victories, belongs to the Lord,” he told the King. Hope returned to Jonathan. The Lord God had not abandoned Israel. God, apparently, had sent this young man, whose name was ‘David’, to lead Israel to victory.

Jonathan had listened to the interview between his father and the giant-slayer. He was also present when General Abner interviewed him. But neither of them asked the questions that bothered Jonathan. The giant-slayer had been promised to marry his sister. Jonathan wanted to know much more about his future brother-in-law.



The Giant-Slayer poked his head into the tent. He looked at Jonathan, smiled faintly, and asked, “You sent for me?”

Jonathan turned toward the voice at the tent entrance and saw the Giant-Slayer, “Yes.” he answered, pointing to a stool. He turned back to the man who was standing next to him. “That will work, I think.” He glanced at the Giant-Slayer, stared at him for a moment, and then said to the other man, “Simon, don’t…well, you know.” Simon turned toward the opening in the tent, When he reached it he turned around and made a slight bow toward the prince, then left.

No one said anything for a drawn-out minute. Then Jonathan spoke, obviously with much care, “I have seen you around the court. You play the harp well. Apparently you have many talents.”

David waited for him to say more. But he seemed to be treating the statement as a question. So David said, “Thank you.”

Jonathan looked hard at his guest. The man was rather short, but stocky and obviously very strong. “So, the hard part was cutting off his head?”

This took David by surprise. He laughed. “No, the hard part was finding the right stones.”

And it was Jonathan’s turn to laugh.

David looked at the man in front of him. He was maybe ten years older, Almost as tall as his father, with similar features. The ladies must think him quite attractive. He looked like he was being used up, though. There were obvious signs of worry and frustration, like the way he played with the arrow he had been making. But even more so the wrinkles on his forehead.

“I know what you told my father and Abner. Now I want to know the truth. Why did you attack Goliath?” Jonathan smiled again.

That smile spoke volumes to David. He was not sitting in front of a devious man. This was an honest man who dealt constantly with devious men. David realized that he was being tested. Abner wanted to understand how he killed the giant from a military viewpoint. King Saul did not want to know anything. He just asked some questions as if that’s what he was supposed to do. It almost seemed like he did not hear the answers. But this man, the prince, was different. David already knew that Jonathan was second to the king. He actually ran the country. He had better not displease this man.

“Well, I really don’t know. I was just standing there with my brothers when I heard the giant make his heathen threat. So I prayed quietly that someone would remove this man’s head. As I prayed, something came over me. I felt an anger and a strength I had not felt before. Someone said there was a reward for killing the giant. So I asked about that.”

He stopped talking, not sure how to proceed. This man was Michal’s brother. Even though the king had promised his daughter in marriage, nothing had been said about the reward. He decided it best to skip his appreciation of the king’s daughter and describe picking up the stones. He told Jonathan how the king had tried to dress him in armor and then about picking out the stones. He paused. He did not know what Jonathan really wanted to know. So he waited for the prince to speak.

“So, you think Michal is an attractive lady?” Jonathan picked out the weak spot in David’s tale.

David winced. It actually seemed to hurt, like this man had stabbed him with the arrow. “Yes. She is an attractive lady.”

“And you killed the giant for her?”

“Actually, no.” David’s smile was now a grin. Sparing with the prince had become fun. He had nothing to fear so long as he told the truth. But he couldn’t tell all of the truth. So he continued, “True, she is a great prize. But it was something else. Something had overpowered me. I was angry at the heathen that was defying God.”

Jonathan leaned back, staring at the man on the stool. He remembered hearing what the young man said to the giant about defying the armies of the Living God. “So you did it for God?”

“Yes.” David thought he needed to be very careful what he said about this. No need for the prince to know that he had been anointed by Samuel.

Jonathan nodded. David wanted to steer the prince’s attention elsewhere. So he said, “That’s true enough. But I remember thinking about the reward as I aimed the stone.”

And Jonathan laughed again. “So, you killed the giant for God, but you want the reward my father had offered?”

“Well, yes. That’s it.”

“I like an honest man, uh…What is your name? I can’t keep calling you Giant-Slayer or Musician.”

“Sir, I am David, son of Jesse, son of Obed, Son of Boaz of Bethlehem.”

As he said this another man poked his head into the tent. Jonathan spoke a greeting to the man and then said to David, “We can continue this later. I should like you to dine with me this evening.”

As David left, Jonathan felt fear of the future depart. He had seen his father disobey God. He had seen the result of that disobedience. And he had feared that God had abandoned Israel. But now he thought otherwise. God had sent this young man to defeat the giant, Goliath, and the even bigger giants, Cowardice and Fear. Joy began to fill the prince’s heart.

The conversation at dinner was much less formal. Jonathan asked David about his childhood and then told David a few things about his. As they shared the tales of their childhood, they began to realize just how much alike they were. At least in terms of how their fathers treated them.

“My father thinks that I am a child. He sends me to tend the sheep because he thinks that is an easy and safe task. Yet I have killed bear and lion to protect them. Yet none of my family, least of all my father, believes me.” As David told this to Jonathan, he realized how close he was to the story about how he had been anointed. His father had not even sent for him when Samuel arrived.

Using the excuse that he needed to relieve himself, David got up and found a quiet place to pray. “Lord,” he prayed, “I am like a lamb surrounded by lions. I feel as if I am walking through the Valley of Death. Save me, please, Lord God. Help me to say the right words.”

When he sat down the servant came to refill his wine cup. Someone behind them bumped the servant and he poured a bit too much wine into the cup. David saw this as a sign from the Lord and said, “Well, Jonathan, you treat me better than a visiting king. Some are stingy with the wine, yet you fill my cup to overflowing! You are a most gracious host.” Then he smiled at the servant, who, embarrassed, fled.

Jonathan laughed harder than he had in a long time. “And you are a most wonderful guest!” Jonathan was grateful that David had excused the blunder of the servant. But to turn it into praise was something he had not seen before. This man was extraordinary. He wanted to know more about this giant-slayer musician.

They talked long into the night, their friendship beginning with the overflowing cup of wine. The conversation flowed from Jonathan’s duties as steward to sheep herding tactics. “The sheep have their own social hierarchy,” David was saying, “So I get Rough-Neck to go the right way and the others, generally, will follow.”

“Rough-Neck?” Jonathan interrupted, not understanding. He knew he might be drinking too much wine, but this was a victory celebration.

“Oh!” David laughed, “I named all the sheep. Rough-Neck is the leader. They know the names I gave them. There’s one that’s extra sassy. So I named her ‘Sassy’ and I think she knows why. Whiny does not know what that word means, but she knows that it is what I call her. She’d be mortified if she knew why. But she does whine.”

Jonathan laughed again. The idea of a mortified sheep was hilarious. “Embarrass a sheep? Do they really have feelings?” He was laughing hard; almost falling off his chair.

“Oh, yes.” David ignored his hosts’ laughter. “They have all sorts of quirks and personality traits. But when you get to know them, you know how to manage them. It’s much like people. The servant who spilled the wine, he knows I made him the source of praise for you. He won’t forget if I ever need anything.”

Jonathan sat up straight. Here was a man of wisdom. But it was getting late. Looking around, everyone had gone except for that one servant. As they stood up he came and cleared the table. “It’s an honor to serve you, sirs.” he said.

The next day King Saul began the preparations to return to Gibeah. Again, Jonathan saw the weakness and cowardice of his father. The Philistines had said that whoever loses the duel will serve the winner. Well, David had killed Goliath. The Philistines were thus bound to serve Israel as their slaves. Yet Israel was leaving the battle unfinished. They were going home without their slaves. Jonathan was, again, ashamed of his father.

Yet that dismay was quickly dispelled. He met with David at the noon meal. David told him that the king had requested that he accompany the royal party back to Gibeah. On hearing this, Jonathan sent Simon on an errand and asked David to help him pack.

“Careful with that.” David had picked up a metal object that was rather oddly shaped. Jonathan was anxious about it. “That’s the seal maker.” David looked at him, a bit puzzled. So Jonathan explained, “We put a bit of wet clay in it, press it down and it makes a seal to tie on a scroll so it can’t be opened by just anyone.”

David looked at the object again. It did have the design of King Saul formed in the end. And pressing it down on the damp clay would make a nice imprint. He looked at Jonathan and said, “Fascinating.”

Jonathan began to talk about his duties. He was now the chief judge of the land. “Well, in certain matters the case goes to Samuel. But I decide most cases for the king. That seal proves the document is truly from the king. It is used to send orders to an outlying military post and many other royal documents. It could be very valuable to an enemy.”

Next, David picked up some tax records. Some of those nearby had taken advantage of the king’s location to send their taxes to him early. It saved them a trip to Gibeah later. These records would show those taxes were paid, as would the taxpayer’s document with the king’s seal.

As he put them in the pack he said, “I guess my family won’t be paying any more taxes?” David smiled as it was more or less a rhetorical comment.

But Jonathan turned and looked sharply at him. “Why?”

David looked at the prince and simply said, “My reward for killing the giant.”

Jonathan said, “You get my sister as your bride.”

“Yes,” David replied, “But also riches and exemption from taxes.”

This was news to Jonathan. He nodded. “My father did not tell me what the reward was. He never mentioned the reward. I did hear the people talking about it.” There was a pause as Jonathan let out a long sigh. Then he said, “I struggle with the fifth commandment. My father makes it so very hard to obey that one. I seem to manage the others fairly well. Some would say that nine out of ten is not bad. But I think God wants us to obey all of them.”

They looked at each other, thinking. Then David broke the silence. “I don’t struggle like you, but I do have problems with my father and my brothers. I told you how they don’t believe I killed lion and bear. Well, even yesterday, before I fought the giant, they were telling me I needed to return to my sheep.” He paused a moment, smiled, and said, “Wonder what they’re thinking now?”

They were silent for a while. Jonathan, pondering family relationships, sat down on a stool. David began to stack up packs for loading on Jonathan’s wagon. His thoughts were on what his father would say, if anything, about the giant. David decided that others would have to tell him, because his father would not believe him. Jonathan’s thoughts drifted toward the look on his father’s face when he realized that the giant had been killed. Those thoughts drifted to the moment when he had seen this musician pick up some stones. He remembered thinking that they would not be much use against any man, much less someone as big as Goliath.

“Why did you pick up the stones?” Jonathan sincerely wanted to know.

David put down the pack he was moving and looked at Jonathan. “That’s what The Lord directed me to do. I have been using a sling all my life and I’m very accurate. That’s how I kill bear and lion. That’s how I protect my sheep.”

Jonathan picked up on the important point. “The Lord directed you?”

David nodded in affirmation. “He talks to me from time to time.”

Now Jonathan was really intrigued. “He talks to you?” Jonathan knew that God talked to Samuel. But Samuel was a prophet. “Are you a prophet?”

David smiled. He said, “No,” shaking his head. They were extremely close to the fact that Samuel had anointed him. He wanted to change the subject. But Jonathan was staring at him, so he continued, “I just listen to God. He is always available. I just pause and listen. Sometimes He tells me things. Sometimes I simply feel His Presence.”

Jonathan smiled and said, “Yes. I know that. I have never heard God speak to me. But I feel His Presence. He directs my vision to some object. Or He lets me see a path I did not know. But I have to ask for His assistance. He has never shown me something when I was not asking Him for help.” Jonathan paused and looked at David. “Well, saying that out loud, it sounds silly. Of course He won’t show me something if I am not asking for His help.”

David laughed, relieved, and said, “Course, even if He did, you would not know it. He might be putting the solution to your situation right in front of you, but if you are not talking to Him, asking for His help, how can you see His answer?”

Jonathan looked sharply at David. Here was a man who loved God with all his heart. He was like a brother, a long lost brother who had been found. “Look in that pack,” he said to David.

The pack was the one David had been ready to stack on the wagon. As he was opening it, Jonathan said, “You are like my long lost brother. I feel a kinship in you that I have never felt toward my own brothers.”

David, surprised, looked at him and nodded in agreement. “Yes. I feel that too. It is like you are my true brother.” He had the pack open and began to take out the items in it. As he pulled the items out of the pack he realized that this was a fine set of battle armor.

“My father says I am unworthy to wear them. Now I know why I brought them. They are for my brother.” And he took off his cloak and put it on David, saying, “From this day we are brothers.”

“Yes. I have felt it since the servant spilled the wine. You and I are brothers.” David put on his new brother’s armor feeling humble and deeply bound to the man. “We are brothers through the Love of God. For it is God that has brought us together.”

Then they loaded the packs on the wagon. It was mid-morning when the caravan began to move. They would not stop until evening. It would be a tedious day. Yet not as tedious as it would be in Saul’s wagon. Normally, Saul would rehearse the events of the battle, making out that he had won it. That would not happen this time. Saul could not claim anything for himself. How many that normally rode with the king would prefer to march beside the wagons today?

Simon took the reins. Jonathan and David sat and watched as the Army formed a long train of military might. Celebration broke out in random spots from time to time. The giant was dead. The Philistines has run home. The Army was looking forward to a great victory celebration when they marched victorious into Gibeah.

They passed some shepherds and David said, “I wrote a new song. Let me sing it to you.” As David sang, Jonathan heard a most beautiful song, but the words were shocking. David was comparing God to a lowly shepherd. Yet, the song did not demean God, Instead, it raised the position of shepherd. Jonathan was impressed.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, then Jonathan asked David to sing his new song again, saying how much he liked it. This time, as Jonathan listened, he heard a much different song. The words were the same; but the meaning had changed. When David sang about God preparing a table in the midst of enemies and his cup running over Jonathan realized that David was singing about his current situation. And, while they had just talked of being ‘brothers’, Jonathan knew, as did David, that this was a precarious situation for David. King Saul was going to keep David close by. He would not let him go home.

Jonathan was telling his new friend the tale of how he had smashed the Philistine pillars at Gibeah. It was through the Lord’s guidance, Jonathan was saying, when they heard an odd noise off in the distance. Soon it became clear that the people had gathered at the road and were dancing and singing. Some were playing the lyre or tambourine. Others just beat sticks together. This was a time of great joy.

Then Jonathan heard the song and a shiver ran down his spine. His first thought was very selfish: he was very glad he was not in Saul’s wagon. For the song the people sang was, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”

“Do you know what that means?” Jonathan asked David point blank.

David, seeing the look on Jonathan’s face, said, “Well, I thought it meant that I had slain the giant. But you must think different?”

Jonathan studied his new friend very closely and decided that it would be best to reveal just part of it. “You know why you are coming to Gibeah instead of going home?”

David said nothing. He just looked at Jonathan shaking his head slightly. The less he said about this the better.

“I saw my father watching you when you faced Goliath. The look on his face when the giant fell sent shivers up and down my spine. It looked like he was seeing the vision of his own death. Now this song will confirm his fears. He will think you are out to take the kingdom from him.”

Jonathan watched David’s face as the meaning became apparent. He said nothing for quite some time. Then he began to sing his new song again. Suddenly he stopped singing and looked straight at Jonathan. “So I should leave now and head home?”

“I do not know what you should do. But I know you better not do that. It would just confirm you mean to raise an army against him. As soon as he discovers you are missing, he will take the army to Bethlehem.”

Now David shuddered visibly. Then he said, “I will pray” as if he were going to ask God to bless the meal before him. Jonathan could hardly hear his prayer. The tone of it was that of a man talking to his Lord: it was a friendly conversation. David would say something and then pause. Soon he would respond with words like, “Yes, Lord, I know” or “You’re right, Lord”.

David’s prayer lasted about an hour. Then he asked Jonathan to pray with him. They prayed for about another hour. When the prayer concluded, Jonathan was staring at David. David looked at him as if to inquire his thoughts. After a few moments, once he was certain, Jonathan said, “I think my father has something to fear. The Lord intends you to be king.”

David said, “You should ask no one but Samuel about that.”

The rest of their journey was a discussion of their personal relationship with the Lord. They confessed their sins. They renewed the vow of brotherhood. But mostly they just basked in the Joy of the Lord. Not even hearing the people sing about David’s tens of thousands worried them. They had given all of their fears and worries to the Lord. And they felt the new strength He had given in return.




Their arrival in Gibeah was both the beginning and the end of peace for Jonathan. His father’s continued erratic behavior was the catalyst for a number of random, capricious events. The first event erupted when Jonathan thought all was well. David continued as court musician, but he also led a number of sorties that brought him more acclaim. That Saul would descend into a jealous rage was expected. But for him to attack David was incredible. Jonathan walked in on his father as he prepared to “pin David to the wall”. Of course he had to warn David, but he really did not think his father would go so far as to throw a spear at the Giant-Killer.

However, Saul called David in to sing for him and then, twice, aimed his spear at David. Both times he missed, due in part, to Jonathan’s warning. The result of this was odd. King Saul promoted David to command a thousand, sending him into the fiercest battles. Apparently, the king hoped David would be killed in battle. Jonathan’s belief that the Lord God had not decided to punish Israel for their sins on the battlefield (when they fought the Amalekites) but instead had sent David to lead Israel to victory grew stronger every time David returned victorious.

Jonathan benefited from all of this. His father now saw David, not Jonathan, as his rival. He began to accept Jonathan as a wise military tactician, making him the king’s foremost military adviser. So Jonathan not only supervised the household, but the military as well; he had become the royal prince, second in the kingdom. He was very careful, however, to make sure that the king received all the glory. When the king insisted on a course of action that proved unwise, Jonathan took all the blame. However any policy that proved wise, he always made sure the king received the credit.

Because his father had begun to trust him, Jonathan began to advise his father about David. He not only obtained a promise that the king would not attack David again, but agreed to provide the reward for killing the giant as had been promised.

Saul, however, was deceitful in this. Even though he had promised his oldest daughter to David, he married her to a family friend. All Israel was outraged. The best that could be done to placate the citizens was for the king to offer his younger daughter, Michal, to David. Even in this Saul was deceitful, in that the question of the bride-price was left open. Everyone knew that the bride-price was Goliath’s head. Saul ignored that. David gave Saul a shrewd reply, “Does it strike you as an easy thing for me to become the king’s son-in-law, poor and of humble position as I am?” When Jonathan heard this he laughed. David was again reminding the king of his promise to the killer of Goliath. The wily king sent word that all he required for a bride-price was a hundred Philistine foreskins. David’s men were all too glad to help and they brought the king two hundred foreskins. Thus David married Michal. And Jonathan relaxed a little.

This short interval of peace with the Philistines gave Jonathan a chance to talk with his father. The conversations seemed nearly normal. In one discussion about fortifying some of the weaker villages, Jonathan suggested that David be one of the commanders to implement the plan. “He’s done a lot for Israel and for you. He always gives you credit. And he demonstrates wisdom in military planning. I think he would not only build some strong fortifications, but he would give the villagers a sense of strength. He would make sure they knew that you have not forgotten them.”

“He does have a good head about military strategy,” Saul said. Then he added, “I think you are right about him. Send Abinadab to the north, David to the central border and Abner to the southern border. We don’t want to waste this opportunity. The Philistines will attack again.”

“Yes, father. Oh, and Dad, we get so busy that I hardly ever get to tell you this, but I do love you.”

Saul turned and looked his son straight in the eyes for a long minute. Then he smiled and said, “I love you too, son.”

Jonathan’s brother, Abinadab, returned first. His news was quite positive. The villages welcomed their assistance and were now much stronger. Abner and David returned together three days later with the same message. Gibeah was abuzz with rumors that the Philistines would no longer attack. Peace might be at hand.

“Sire, do you trust David now?” Jonathan and Saul were discussing the reports that Abinadab, David and Abner had brought back. The commanders had sent spies into Philistia. The reports provided much needed information. And the three of them corroborated each other.

Saul looked up at his son, studying him carefully. He finally said, “Yes, I trust him.”

Jonathan nodded. Then he asked, “You seem to be more relaxed these days. I have not heard about you suffering from those spells. Do you think they are over?”

“I do hope so.” Saul was beginning to feel uneasy about his son’s questions.

“Father, I am going to ask you something. I want you to know that however you answer, I do love you. I am your son, first, last, always.”

Saul said nothing, but indicated that Jonathan should continue. “I don’t understand why you were attacking David. You know how much he has helped both you and Israel. You know he is faithful. Why would you bring innocent blood upon yourself? Why would you sin against innocent blood in killing David without cause?” Jonathan watched his father closely. He had purposely situated himself near the door and was ready to flee.

Saul did not take his eyes off his son as he sat down. He picked up his spear, still watching Jonathan. Holding the spear in both hands he said, “I do not know. He killed the giant and the people praise him. He could claim the kingdom. But you are right. He has shown his faithfulness. He does not spread rumors or plot behind my back. The Battle-Chiefs tell me he is a good and honorable man. And Michal tells me he is a good husband.” Saul stopped talking. He took a deep breath and turned the spear handle toward Jonathan. “You are right about it. As Yahweh lives, I will not kill him.”

With David restored to Saul, Gibeah seemed to rest in peace. It was not a long peace, but it was welcome and much needed.



In fighting the Philistines David could not lose. And so, Jonathan thought, in serving my father he cannot win. Even though King Saul seemed to be very pleased that David had driven the Philistines back and even taken some land for Israel, Jonathan saw the look on his father’s face when no one else was around. There were now two wars. One against the Philistines. The other in his father’s heart. David was fighting both of them and only God could save him.

Rumors flew. Jonathan thought them insane. But in all the rumor one thing was certain: Saul had thrown a spear at David while David was playing for him. More rumors, this time involving his sister Michal and David. Jonathan struggled to make sense of the rumors. Finally, it seemed that Michal had helped David escape. And David had sought refuge with Samuel in Ramah.

The next day Jonathan watched as a small posse rode out toward Ramah. They were to arrest David. Since Ramah was only a few miles away, it was not long before a messenger arrived. It seemed that each member of the posse had been overcome by the Lord and had begun prophesying.

Jonathan was careful to hide his smile when the second posse left. The result was the same as the first. So a third posse was sent, with equally humorous results. Jonathan watched with much glee as his father rode out to Ramah, for he understood that the Lord was protecting David. And sure enough, a messenger soon arrived with news that the Spirit of the Lord had overcome the king’s party. All were in ecstasy and prophesying, including the king. Jonathan laughed. God was good. He kept the king, his father, from sin. The king returned to Gibeah, seemingly appeased.

David would not return to Gibeah. Instead, he sent word to Jonathan that he wanted to be excused from the New Moon feast. Jonathan sent word to David that all was well.

“My brother, I will not return to Saul.” David was adamant. He had agreed to meet with Jonathan south of Gibeah near the road to Jerusalem. “Your father has thrown his last spear at me. I will not play this insane game.”

Jonathan tried a multitude of arguments and promises to get David to stay. “Look, my brother, the king will certainly believe that you plot against him if you leave.”

“But I do not wish to sing myself into an early grave.”

“There must be some compromise, David. There must be a way to placate him. Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. He must see you there. If all is not well, you can leave afterward.”

David shook his head. “No. He would spear me at the table.” Jonathan nodded understanding.

They sat quietly, praying. Then David said, “I know. Tell your father that I have gone to Bethlehem to celebrate the annual sacrifice with my family.”

Jonathan nodded. “Okay. He will not mind if you are gone for that reason.”

“But he will mind. To miss two days of the feast, he will be outraged.” David was certain. “Look, take a servant with you and make like you are engaged in target practice.”

“Okay,” Jonathan agreed, “If I say to the servant, ‘The arrow is ahead of you’ then you will know that all is not well. But if I say, ‘The arrow is behind you’ then you will know that all is well.”

The parting was uncertain and anxious. That night Saul said nothing about David, as expected. However, on the second evening of the feast, Saul called his son into his tent. “Has something untoward happened to the Son of Jesse?”

“No, father. He told me that his clan was celebrating the annual feast and had asked him to attend. He is celebrating with his brothers and his clan in Bethlehem. I said you would not mind.”

Suddenly, Saul’s anger blew up, “You bastard! Son of a wanton prostitute! You are in league with him. As long as that usurper lives neither you nor your royal heritage is secure. Go! Bring him to me! He is condemned to death!”

“Why should he die? What has he done?” Jonathan was surprised at the intensity of his father’s anger. He was also confused, as these claims had never been voiced by his father before.

Saul let it all out, “You cuddle up with that queer. You sleep with him to your own damnation. He will take the kingdom and destroy both me and you. He is right now in Bethlehem plotting against us. You are a damned fool.”

Anger raged up in Jonathan. “You are the one. You lost the kingdom. You tried to usurp the priesthood at Gilgal. You disobeyed God with the Amalekites. You, the king, were so much a coward that God sent a shepherd boy to kill the giant. Is…it…not the Lord God who selects the king? David can do nothing, nothing! to gain the throne. You were anointed by Samuel to be king. It is yours to keep or to lose. And Samuel says you have lost it. Samuel tore your robe and said the kingdom was torn from you. Kill David if you can. It will change nothing. God will raise up someone else to be king. It is your fault. You lost it. You…lost…my…kingdom! I am just trying to keep what I can.” He turned to leave, then turned back and said, “Oh, neither of us would do what you think. We serve God. Unlike you, we obey Him. We are not engaged in shameful acts. My only sin is that I can’t honor my father.” With that he turned and left. At that moment he hoped he would never ever see the man again.

The next morning he overshot the target. And not on purpose, either. Then told the servant that the arrows were beyond him, which they were. He was still angry, hurt, worried. He had imagined the target to be his father. But he just could not shoot an arrow like that. When the servant retrieved the arrows Jonathan said, “I’m just off today. Better take the quiver back to the armory. I will sit here and pray.”

David could see that his friend was extremely upset and deep in prayer. He sat on a rock nearby. Jonathan looked up but did not seem to see him. It was about half an hour before Jonathan finished praying.

“I should have done that last night. But I was too angry.”

David got up from his perch and stood in front of Jonathan. Then he dropped to the ground and bowed three times. “You know that I love you, my brother, but we must part.” David tried to sound hopeful and positive, but he could feel the tears forming in his own eyes. He looked away from Jonathan to keep the man from further anguish.

“The oaths we took, they are still binding. Yahweh our God will see to them. Yahweh is our witness between us and our descendants, now and forever. My father cannot destroy them. But he may destroy me.”

“So be it!” David said, not realizing that Jonathan’s family would be the first of many refugees from Saul to seek shelter with David.

They wept, hugged each other, and then left in silence. Jonathan turned to learn his fate with his father. David headed south, uncertain of his own fate.

The king had no choice. His son was extremely popular. He could not openly punish the man for what could be considered disrespect; because, if he were honest with himself, every word Jonathan had said was true.

Gibeah was quiet, but worried, when Jonathan returned. The Philistines had attacked and the king had joined Abner to fight them. They had headed east, toward Elon. Jonathan took up his duties as the king’s second as if nothing had happened.

Saul returned victorious. Then he held court under the Tamarisk tree. Jonathan was not invited. But word soon came to him that his father blamed him for David’s escape, and Saul was riding out to find David.

When the messenger arrived with word that, on Saul’s order, Doeg the Edomite had killed the priests at Nob, Jonathan wept.

Rumors flew into and out of Gibeah every day. David was at the Cave of Adullam, David had joined the Philistines, David was in Bethlehem, David had gone to Moab, David had been driven mad, acting crazy. And Saul would not speak to his son. But that was all. When necessary, a messenger relayed communications. Jonathan was not welcome at Saul’s table, not even for the New Moon feast.

Jonathan watched Saul and the army ride out to Keilah, on the word that David was there. The story was that David had rescued Keilah from the Philistines and won a great victory over them. But David feared that a walled and gated city like Keilah could be a trap and he was not there when Saul arrived. The returning army brought back a very unhappy king. Saul’s actions toward his eldest son worried Jonathan; proving that his father no longer trusted him. He prayed about what he should do. Feeling his position as rather precarious and believing that God had chosen David to be king, Jonathan pondered joining David. If he stayed with his father, would David be able to bring Jonathan into his court? There were many in David’s camp who would not trust him. So he sought a way to meet David. Word came to Jonathan that David was in Horesh. Finally, he decided to meet David and rode out alone. No one knew where he was going. And he made sure no spies followed him.



David did not seem happy to see him. And, being honest with himself, Jonathan really wasn’t happy to see David. Both of them were afraid of King Saul and that colored everything a dismal dark purple, rather like a very bad bruise. Worse was Jonathan’s intentions. He had no word, no understanding from God. It was his selfish desire to be part of David’s court that motivated him. He had rationalized that. He thought his skills and presence in David’s court would help unite the country. But he could say none of this to David. There was no way he could say, “You need me”. All he needed to do was look around and he could see that David relied on God. No one else was required.

The evening meal had been touchy. Many in David’s camp did not trust the king’s son. The meal itself was delicious, as was the wine. And several of the men sat up with David and Jonathan telling stories. But, as the party broke up Jonathan looked at his friend and said, “Well, no wine was spilled tonight.”

“No,” David agreed, “Even the servants were much too careful.”

The next morning they met with Abiathar, the priest, to discuss their situation. After some prayer, the priest said, “You two need to confide in each other. There are doubts and sins you have not told each other. Share your hearts.” Then the priest left them to themselves.

They sat in silence for quite some time. Then David said, “I guess it was my greed for the prize of your sister and the riches that were promised. For I can think of no other reason why your father wants to kill me. It was the greed in my heart that has poisoned this thing.”

Jonathan smiled and quoted his friend, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of the Armies of Israel that you have dared to insult. Today Yahweh will deliver you into my hand and I shall kill you; I will cut off your head, and this very day I will give your dead body and the bodies of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that this assembly may know that it is not by sword or by spear that Yahweh gives the victory, for Yahweh is lord of the battle and he will deliver you into our power.”

David looked up, shocked. “I thought only Goliath heard that.”

“You were full of zeal for God. It wasn’t the reward that motivated you. Remember after the battle we talked. You shared your heart with me and I with you.”

David smiled, remembering. They had talked about their fathers. Both of them were disappointments to their fathers. Since then Jonathan had become second to the king, as was expected. “I have you to thank for that. Saul, my father, transferred his suspicions of usurping the throne from me to you. The fact that you and I were friends made it quite simple in his warped mind. As you know, he made me his Steward, then his Second. Now I am in charge of every aspect of the country except for the military. I do make sure that I get no credit for anything good. That’s the hardest part of the job. He craves glory. So I take all the blame and give him the glory.”

David took a deep breath and then said, “You know my great-grandmother was a Moabitess? Yeah. She married Boaz of Bethlehem. Fortunate, in a way. I’ve sent my family, except my brothers here with me, to Moab. They are safe there. Imagine, God provided for my parents even before they were born. Still, they think I turned on my king. Even though my father saw Samuel anoint me. They think Saul took Michal from me because I am a traitor. They blame me for having to hide in Moab. My brothers are only here with me because Saul seeks revenge on them. They blame me for Saul taking their land, which he did because he said that they abandoned it. And I guess they did. They joined me out of fear of the king.”

David’s smile betrayed his sadness. They sat in silence for a while. Then Jonathan said, “Well, once again we are in the same place. Both of us are respected leaders, but no one in our families really believes we will succeed. My father needs me, but he does not trust me. Your father sounds the same. At least we have each other.”

David expressed doubt that he would ever be king. He told Jonathan how Samuel had anointed him, in secret, so the king would not know. “And now,” he said, “my brothers have sought refuge with me. Saul has killed the priests of Nob because he thought they helped me. It does not look good.” Jonathan reassured David that he would be king. He told David how God had showed that David would be the next king. They made a pact before God that Jonathan would support David as king and that David would make Jonathan his second.

“Besides,” he continued, “my father is angry that I stood up for you.” Then Jonathan related all that was said at the new moon feast, and afterward. “But he is most unhappy with me for saying that he lost the kingdom. He complained to the army that I made a pact with you and no one in the army told him about the pact. The only place for me is with you. My father has all but disowned me.”

David pondered all this. “Your place is with your family just as my place is with mine. Whatever happens, God’s will is always done. Samuel anointed me to be king. But that does not mean that I will be. And even though you have not been anointed, that does not mean that you won’t be king.” He looked at his friend. Thoughts of how things might have been flooded his head. The two of them leading Israel into victory after victory. They could conquer the whole world. That vision was not to be. But what was to be? Suddenly it was clear.

“Your duty is to your father the king. Mine is to this.” David swept his arm around to indicate the people who had come to him for protection. He continued, “We both have wives and families. We are to protect them.”

Then David looked hard at his friend. “Why did you come here, alone?” He stressed the word “alone.”

Jonathan turned his head, embarrassed. Not even Simon, his armor bearer, was with him.

“The Lord will return you to your father’s favor. Saul fears me, not you. God will honor you if you stay with your father,” David told Jonathan, “your place is with him. Follow the Lord’s command and honor your father. We both know it is a hard thing. But it is the commandment.”

David was silent. They sat looking at each other, then David spoke, quite sorrowfully, “It will be worse if you join me. It will put the country into civil war. Many of the army will follow you. Already four hundred discontented with the king have joined me. They sought me, I did not ask them to join me. Many of the northern tribes will join you, but not all. Benjamin will side with Saul. Judah will, probably, split between Saul and me. Then the Philistines will have their way with us. Your father has been successful because the whole country was united in battle against the Philistines. If we are split, they will overrun Saul and me and you. No, the Lord’s command is to honor your father. It is your duty to your father, to your family, to your country, to the Lord God.”

“That’s the problem.” Jonathan said, sadly shaking his head. “How can I obey God and my Father?”

“Wait here.” David indicated he would be back soon. When he returned, Abiathar was with him. “Jonathan, I think you need to hear this from a man of God. Now I have some things to attend. Come find me when you’re done.”

Jonathan nodded. Then he smiled at Abiathar and asked, “You’re going to show me how to do the impossible, aren’t you?”

Abiathar shook his head and said, “David thinks I can help. He said you have a problem involving God. He thinks a priest should be available to offer God’s viewpoint. So, what’s the problem?”

As Jonathan explained his dilemma, Abiathar listened intently, even though he knew much of what Jonathan said. When Jonathan finished, Abiathar said, “The problem is that you are not required to obey both God and your father. The commandments are to obey God and honor your father.”

“Honor?” Jonathan nodded, surprised. Then understanding slowly dawned. He had not seen the difference between obedience and honor. He knew that he should never say anything against his father in public. But he had not made the distinction between obedience and honor. It seemed like he must obey in order to show honor. Perhaps there was another way. Perhaps he could show respect and respectfully decline.

“Thank you, Abiathar. That helps.” Jonathan was both humbled and strengthened by God’s wisdom. Then it all seemed so impossible. He looked at Abiathar and said, “No. It does not help. Well, not much. My father won’t accept that I obey God and not him. He can’t have his son, much less anyone else, say, ‘I obey God, not you.’ No, Abiathar, you’re right about obedience and honor. But there must be something more.”

The priest smiled. “There is. But it will be hard.”

Jonathan said nothing. He waited for the priest.

Then Abiathar spoke a word that Jonathan had not heard in years: “Forgiveness. You must apologize to your father and ask your father to forgive you. Then you must tell your father that you forgive him, too.”

“You’re right. It will be hard.”

Jonathan watched the way the rag-tag army followed David. He saw how David made the best of a bad situation. He had the men and the women and children organized. Remembering how David had told him about naming his sheep, using different methods to get his sheep to do what he wanted, Jonathan saw David doing the same thing with these men. And David seemed more certain, more directed, after their conversation. David’s doubts were obvious, but so was his faith.

When they parted, Jonathan felt relieved, encouraged and strengthened. As he rode back to Gibeah, he pondered about all that had happened. He perceived that David was much stronger. He saw in David the same thing his father saw, a man who would lead the people for God. But Jonathan also saw a man full of doubt, another sinner like himself, who trusted God with all his heart. He would save Israel and make it a great nation.

As he rode back through the wilderness, Jonathan talked with his Lord about all that he had discussed with David and Abiathar. Forgiveness. Abiathar was right. He would have to go to his father and apologize, then ask for forgiveness. He talked with the Lord for the entire journey home about honor, obedience and forgiveness. It was going to be a very difficult thing to do.

By the time Jonathan had arrived home he had made peace with God. He went in and, relying on the peace he had made with God, made peace with his father.


Epilogue: 1 Samuel Chapter 31


A note on this story.

This story is based on The Bible, the book of First Samuel. I have tried to be as accurate to the Biblical record as I possibly could. However, I have taken “poetic license” in many places. Jonathan is a minor character in the Biblical record, which is much more interested in David. However, I find Jonathan to be a truly heroic character. Much of what I have added to the story I gleaned from Biblical Commentaries, including Matthew Henry. Some ideas are gleaned from the context. For example, I have not seen anyone suggest why Jonathan went to see David in Horesh. It almost seems superfluous. Why record it? Then it dawned on me that Jonathan was in a difficult position and he may have decided to join David. There are times when the Bible is a puzzle that cannot be solved. This is one of them. There is no ‘true’ answer. No one knows why Jonathan went to Horesh. So I ask you to read this as a story, and not as Biblical truth. The purpose here is, first, to entertain you; second, to shed light on one of the great stories of human history: Saul, Jonathan and David. It is a true tragedy that Saul was rejected by God.

It is also interesting that, in the book of Esther, Haman was a descendant of Agag. I’ll let you ponder that.

It is very encouraging that Jonathan and David were true men of God. We can take heart in their example, Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” They remind us that we can truly love the Lord, and even though we are sinners, we can still talk to Him.

I began this story over two decades ago. It has been very difficult to write, in part, because it deals with the relationship of a son and his father. It is rare that fathers and sons truly understand each other. Jesus points at this in his story of the Prodigal Son. Even though the father in that parable loved both of his sons, neither of them understood their father. And I see that in both Jonathan and David. And then in David and Absalom. So I wrote this as an offering of hope to sons everywhere. With God’s help, you can make peace with your Dad.

23 August 2018

Winning Ticket

For his 18th birthday, James’ little brother gave him a $5.00 bill. The other presents were very nice, and James did appreciate them. However, James treasured his little brother’s gift, as it meant the child had worked to save that much. Instead of writing a thank-you note, he decided to send the kid a computer card. He found a Spiderman card that would make the ten-year-old’s day, he hoped.

Then he sat, staring at the bill. It was a promise of possibilities, but had not the power to really make something happen. In other words, it was very much a mirror. James looked around his room. He would graduate next month, go to college in the Fall. His room reflected that. He was a “good kid” who rarely did anything wrong. He was a decent cross-country runner, had great grades, was liked by just about everyone, and lived a very boring, dull life.

All those fairy tales where the kid sets out and has a series of great adventures, saves damsels in distress and comes home rich. None of that for him. He was going to graduate, spend the summer working in The Plaza at the camping store and maybe get a degree in engineering. He was no Lancelot, nor even Richard Feynman. The two of them were everything he was not. Lancelot was a strong, muscular dude with all the good looks. The proverbial knight in shining armor who saved damsels in distress. Feynman won the Nobel Prize, but James was a great fan because Feynman was always doing crazy things. He had written an essay about Mr. Feynman when he was in the ninth grade. Richard Feynman was always having fun, creating something crazy, doing something odd, something wild. James wanted to be a little wild, a little spontaneous. He simply didn’t know how.

“You’ve got an engineer’s brain.” That’s what people told him. He could solve mechanical problems. He understood how things went together. He could see in his mind how to build something, how it should look. Beauty and efficiency were much the same to him. A girlfriend had told him this when she broke up with him. She wanted to be pampered with frivolities, not mechanical marvels.

He looked up, as if to Heaven, and said out loud, “I sure would love to do something wild, something crazy.” He would have said more, but his mom was knocking on his bedroom door, asking him to go to the store and get a few things.

Staley’s parking lot was rather full. He found a place on the far side of the lot, near the creek. As he entered the store it was almost as if it was his first time entering it. The grocery section was on the left, the deli on the right.

He studied the list as he walked up and down the aisles, picking the items from the shelves and putting them in the buggy. After putting the final item in the buggy, he headed to the checkout. Then he stopped, staring in disbelief: everyone was in line, they had all finished about the same time. He looked around. There was one guy sitting at a table in the deli. Hank was wiping things as if to show that he was busy, even if the deli had no customers. He took the milk and ice cream out of the buggy and returned them to their places. Then he ordered a vanilla malted shake from Hank.

There was one deli customer sitting in the table area. It was a guy James had been riding with a couple of times; his name was Kermit. The man was enigmatic. Apparently, he lived in Rockborough, but drove all the way up here to ride his mountain bike. Story was that he love to play in the rain, but James had only seen him on bright, sunny days. He had a perplexing air, or as some might put it, an aura of mystery. James thought it would be rude to ignore him, so he asked, “Hi, may I sit with you?”. Kermit looked up and nodded. James sat down. Kermit did not look at him, but sat with his eyes closed. He seemed to be muttering. James began to feel a little uneasy. Then he heard Kermit say, “Amen.” James grinned.

Kermit looked at James and asked, “Been riding lately?”

Shaking his head, James said, “No.” He wanted to give an excuse, but somehow he felt like that would be the wrong thing to do.

Nodding his head as if he understood, Kermit asked, “Do you ever have time to go riding after school?”

“Sometimes. But most of the time I have to watch my little brother.”

“Is he too young to ride?” Kermit asked, almost, it seemed, to be polite.

“Well, he’s ten. We usually ride around The Meadows. He struggles with Harrison Hill and Beaver Ridge Road. He has to walk up parts of PayDirt Trail to go the that little dam. But we have fun riding the trails around The Meadows.” James took a long drag on the milkshake. He wondered if he had said too much.

But Kermit seemed to appreciate his company. He looked at James and said, “I will be moving into my new home on Tuesday. I haven’t met many people up here. Steve and Cindy will be helping me move in. But I don’t know much about Beaver Ridge. It might be nice to have someone show me around. Would you be interested in doing that?”

Without thinking, James said, “Yes.” Then he blushed, as he realized he really did not know this guy. He could be dangerous. There were all sorts of horrid news stories.

Kermit seemed to read his mind. “I did meet a guy named Doug. We’ve been riding a few times. You know that house up by Tiny Falls? The one that sits up on a rise just above the falls?”

James nodded. Talking to this guy was making him uneasy. On the positive, he knew Doug, and Steve and Cindy. But the house he was talking about had been abandoned for years. Some said it was haunted. He tried the milkshake again. It was cool and sweet.

“Well, that’s my new home.” He paused for a bit, then asked, “Where do you go to church?”

Enigmatic was the right word for this guy. Kermit was going to move into the old Amos Harrison place. That was big news. But before he could ask more, He heard Kermit asking about church. James blushed again, embarrassed that anyone would ask about going to church. He took a deep breath and answered, “Well, we sometimes go to the Methodist Church. It’s not too far from our house.”

Kermit nodded, “Well, the line has cleared.” He picked up the shopping basket that was in the seat next to him, stood up and said, “As for your problem, pick the frog. Oh and, uh, see you in church on Sunday.” Then he walked up to the cashier.

James just sat there, stunned.

He wanted to get up and ask what the problem was, what the frog was, and all sorts of other half-formed questions. But he just sat there, sucking his milkshake through the straw, as his mind went blank. Suddenly, he heard a loud crazy noise, only to realize it was the sound of his almost empty milkshake. He looked around and realized he was the only customer. So he noisily sucked the remaining milkshake and pushed the buggy toward the checkout. Then he saw the list in the bottom of the buggy. He started, remembering the milk and ice cream. He retrieved them and headed to the cashier.

Martha was ringing up the groceries. James was looking around the store. Suddenly his eye caught the lottery display. He stared at it. One of the tickets had a frog on it. He was eighteen now, he was legal. He could buy one. After paying for the groceries, he took out the five dollar bill his brother had given him. Then he asked Martha to get the ticket with the frog on it. She gave him the ticket and four dollars in change.

Carefully scratching the coating off the ticket, he studied it. Suddenly he yelped in surprise. “It’s a winner! I think it’s a winner.”

Martha looked at the ticket. He had won three hundred dollars. Hank came over and checked it. Then he gave James four fifty dollar bills and five twenty dollar bills.

And the only thing he could think of was putting it in the bank. That’s what his parents would say. Yet, deep inside was this anxious longing to do something insane. He was not sure what. Just something wild, crazy, completely irrational; but safe. He didn’t want to die trying to do it.

He pushed the cart with the groceries to the car, loaded it and sat down in the driver’s seat.

James was not an actively spiritual person. His family did go to church on occasion, maybe once a month. They always went on holy days like Easter, Christmas and Mother’s Day. He went because they went. He really knew very little about God, the Church or anything associated with it. So when he sat down in the driver’s seat and heard a voice, he jumped nearly out of his skin. He actually banged his head on the roof of the car. Recovering, he looked in the back seat and all around the car. No one was anywhere nearby.

“James!” The voice came again. Only this time he realized it was in his head, not actually audible.

“Huh?” was all he could say.

“James, that blue Ford sedan straight in front of you. Give the lady driving it seventy-five dollars. That’s what she needs. That will be your tithe on the lottery winnings.”

“Huh?” He looked around again. No one was nearby. He said out loud, “Is this God?”

“James, go do it now.”

“God?” There was no answer. “Okay, God, I will. But I only have twenties. Can I give her eighty dollars?”

There was no actual answer, but James felt an urgency in the air. He pulled out his wallet and took out four of the twenty dollar bills. Returning his wallet to his pocket, he got out of the car, locked the door and put the keys in his pocket. Then he walked over to the blue sedan.

The lady had been crying. When she saw him, she looked a little frightened. He made a motion for her to roll down the window. He smiled at her. Then he said, “I have something to give you. Only take a moment.”

She rolled down the window.

“This is weird,” he said, “but I just won some money from the lottery and I think God told me to give you this.” He held out a folded wad of cash. She shook her head and stared blankly at him, as if he spoke Chinese.

“Here,” he said nervously, “God told me to give this to you. Please take it.”

Fear in her eyes, she reached out through the window and took the cash. Then she said in a very weak voice, “Thank you.”

James was sure that an inquisition would be held if he mentioned winning the lottery. Besides, how was he going to explain about giving a stranger the eighty dollars. No one would believe he heard God speak. So he said nothing.

When he went to bed that night, just before he fell asleep, he heard God speak again, “James, was that crazy enough?”

He answered softly, “Yes.”

Sunday morning he decided to go to church. If God did tell him to give that lady some money, then maybe he should go and find out more about God. He started to ride his bike, but it was a rather cool and refreshing morning. He decided to walk.

The walk was invigorating. The church was a bit intimidating. The pastor and a couple of other people asked where his family was. Other than that, it was a wonderful morning. He actually enjoyed the proceedings, feeling like he was worshiping and not just there to please his parents. At one point he thought he saw Kermit sitting on the other side of the church a few pews in front of him. That made him smile. The man did come to church.

The sermon was about Jesus and Nicodemus. He’d heard something about them before, but today he felt like he was actually understanding some of it. The “born again” part was a bit confusing, but obviously, Jesus meant something about getting spiritually renewed. James understood that much.

As the congregation left the sanctuary, James saw Kermit and laughed. He was dressed for serious bike riding. Kermit greeted him and asked about going for a ride. James said he was walking, but asked about helping Kermit move in after school on Tuesday. Kermit was pleased, said his little brother could help, too.

Then he saw the blue Ford sedan. For a moment he froze, then shook it off. Maybe it wasn’t the same car. But it was. The lady came out with her three little children. There was a boy about his brother’s age and two younger ones. Kermit seemed not to notice, asking the whereabouts of his family. James explained that he was alone. Kermit nodded, looked straight at the blue Ford, and then smiled at James, but he was saying something about seeing Steve and Cindy.

Walking home he distinctly heard the voice again. “Put it in the bank.” There was no one around. The voice continued, “She is fine. Put it in the bank.”

So, Monday after school, James and his little brother rode down to The Plaza and opened a savings account in the bank. James put the birthday money his family had given him and his winnings in the account.

That night he realized that he had been fighting a dragon, that he had helped a damsel in distress and that he had come home rich, just like the heroes in the stories. He made sure he prayed a thank-you prayer. Then he opened his Bible and read about Jesus and Nicodemus.

Muddy Smile

The rain had cooled the atmosphere outside, but in the house it was still stifling hot. The baby was sleeping soundly, as if the rain had cooled off her bedroom. But the echoes of his fork hitting his plate when he dropped it and the quiet scrape of the screen door when he closed it still bounced around the kitchen. Cindy stared through the screen door, looking at the driveway, wondering if he would return. It had been one hour and thirty seven minutes since he left. She had gone into the baby’s room and held her baby, comforting the infant with some words of comfort that she wished someone would say to her.

Finally, she got up and, with trepidation, returned to the kitchen. She washed the dishes, remembering with each dish how a pleasant lunch had slowly degenerated into the worst argument they had ever had. The door was open; she could just drop what she was doing and run. Run away forever. In her mind’s eye she could see him return to find their baby sleeping, but no trace of her—she had been whisked away as if she had never been. She was rinsing the last sauce pan when the baby woke up.

In the process of fixing the baby’s bottle she realized that her plan had been to go shopping this afternoon. But Steve had the car. With a long sigh she looked around the kitchen for something to fix for supper. She didn’t know if he would be back for supper. She gave the baby her bottle and returned to the kitchen. That’s when she knew she did not want to cook anything. She wanted to get out of the house.

Soon Cindy was pushing the stroller up the street toward Staley’s. It was a beautiful afternoon. The sun was peeking through the clouds. The clouds were quickly drifting over the hills. The air was much cooler. The rain had washed the air, making everything she looked at appear crisp and clear–quite unlike her thoughts, which were mushy and opaque. So, in an effort to maintain some sanity, she concentrated on the wildflowers growing on the side on the road. She began to jog behind the stroller, feeling better in the pure air and brilliant sunshine.

There were plenty of yellow flowers, bright petals bobbing gently in the breeze, with a few butterflies and plenty of bees buzzing around them, milking the pollen. She noticed blue flowers and some white ones, but the prettiest were pale lavender. Lost in reverie about the flowers, she almost jogged past Staley’s.

No one was sitting at either of the picnic tables, even though the weather-worn umbrellas had kept the seats dry. Then she noticed that there were no customer’s cars in the parking lot. Well, she thought, it was Saturday afternoon. Everyone would be out and about. That’s when she realized she had come here for company. She had hoped to see someone she knew. But now that she was here, she realized that she did not want to talk to anyone, and she was grateful that the store was empty.

Martha was the only employee. Sitting on her stool behind the deli counter, she looked like she was part of the store fixtures. Cindy thought of her as “Mrs. Staley” even though she knew Martha’s last name was Fraser. She ordered a cup of hot tea and two scoops of vanilla ice cream. The ice cream, she knew, came with a couple of homemade chocolate chip cookies. She looked at the tables the store provided for deli customers, but she didn’t want to sit. Instead, she pushed the stroller up and down the aisles, as if it were a shopping buggy. She stopped and began to search for the shopping list. Unable to find it, she tried to remember some of what was listed, but everything she remembered reminded her of Steve.

So, she pushed the stroller over to the tables and sat down, looking out the window. When Martha brought the tea and ice cream, Cindy was staring out the window, apparently lost in thought. Martha set it on the table in front of Cindy and went back to her stool. Cindy continued to stare, as if she had not noticed Martha.

A young man entered, obviously one of the many bicycle riders that lived in the valley. She heard him order the fried egg and bologna sandwich. It made her think of Steve. He frequently ordered the same sandwich. The man sat down at the table catty-corner to her, facing her. She could see his bicycle chained to the light pole in the parking lot. She glanced at his feet to see that he was wearing mountain bike shoes, the same sort that Steve wore. And like Steve’s his shoes had dried mud on them. As he sat there eating his sandwich and drinking sweet tea, Cindy became aware of her ice cream and tea. She began to eat and drink mechanically.

Her daughter was still sleeping. She always fell asleep when she rode in the stroller. As Cindy watched her daughter sleep she could see in her mind’s eye the car backing out of the driveway and, once again, felt abandoned by Steve. She did not understand what had happened. But they had had an awful argument.

It started, she guessed, when she mentioned that her sister was coming for dinner after church tomorrow. He said he remembered. Then she mentioned some things around the house that needed attention. He grunted something about it being Saturday. She then asked about going shopping. He seemed to be okay with that, but then he said something about never getting to ride his bike. She said that maybe this was not the best weekend to go riding. His response to that was to ask in a rather loud voice what weekend would be a good one. She then said something about he spent more time thinking about the bike that he ever thought about her. She was sorry she said that, but it was true.

What really scared her was the way he dropped his fork, stood up and left. He said nothing. He just got up and went straight to the car and drove away. No comments about her family, no accusations, no counter arguments. He just dropped his fork and left. Then it started raining.

Are you in pain?” The question seemed to come from the ceiling. She looked up, then all around as she slowly realized the bicycle man had asked the question. She shook her head and forced a smile, but dared not say a word for fear that she would burst into sobbing. He seemed to guess that she was in emotional turmoil because he just smiled at her and went back to the game on his smart-phone.

A few minutes later he looked up at her and said, “Did he hit you?”

She looked up and met his gaze; then shook her head and said in a voice that was just about to break, “He just left. Dropped his fork and left.”

Apparently, from the remains on the table, she had eaten the cookies and some of the ice cream. What she had not eaten was melted in the bowl. Steve would have picked up the bowl and drank it. She looked up, wondering where Steve might be.

I saw him sitting in that pull-off over at the top of Harrison Hill. It looked like he might have been crying. I waved and came on here.”

She nodded. He was on Harrison Hill not that long ago. Maybe he was home.

Slowly, she pushed the stroller back to the house. When she got close, she saw the car in the driveway. Then she saw the window screen had been fixed. She went inside. She could see that he had fixed the toilet so it flushed properly. As she went upstairs, she noticed that he had tightened the handrail so it didn’t wiggle. But he was not in the house. In the kitchen she saw a big bouquet of flowers on the table. But no Steve and no note. Checking outside she saw that his bike was gone.

The shopping list was also on the table. She picked it up. She was going to have to fix something for dinner tomorrow. So she put her daughter in the child safety seat and drove back to Staley’s.

Steve had driven less than a mile when he realized that he had no idea where he was going. Through the rain he saw Staley’s sign and pulled in. Kermit was sitting at the far picnic table, eating. He waved and went in. Hank Fraser was minding the store. He ordered a cup of coffee from Hank and sat down at the far table. The rain would keep Cindy inside, so he had time to think.

Hank set two cups of coffee on the table and sat down across from him. “Mind if I join you?” he asked, but didn’t wait for any answer. Then he came right to the point, “You must be really shook up. You walked right past Kermit and ordered coffee without even saying ‘Hello’.”

Steve looked him straight in the eye, but feeling defensive said rather sarcastically, “So, store, deli and now counseling—or are you practicing to be a bartender?”

Hank grinned and said, “A friend.”

Steve nodded. They sat quietly for a few minutes. Bill Monroe came in and bought some milk and bread. Hank returned to the table.

Steve looked at him, as if to say something, but he could not get the words together. He just stared at Hank.

Hank offered, “Argument with your wife?”

Steve nodded. After another few minutes of silence he tried to present his case to Hank. His sort of stammered at first, but then quietly told Hank his story.

I, uh, love to ride. You…you know that. Cin…Cindy knows that. Every day after work I come home and do all the chores around the house so I can have Saturday to ride.” He took a deep breath, glanced out into the parking lot and returned to his story. “It’s been a year and a half since we were married. Lately, Cindy’s been giving me a hard time about riding. When we first met I tried to get her to ride with me. But it’s muddy and there’s bugs and snakes. She has never made the effort to join me. And now she is trying to get me to stop. We have Saturday morning together, and then Sunday afternoon. Sometimes we watch football (she’s a Dolphins fan) but we always spend Sunday together. Today she reminds me that she’s invited her sister for Sunday dinner. And then she gives me a list of honey-dos. I know she wants everything perfect when her sister comes over. But, well, it’s Saturday.” He ended his story with a slight whine in his voice.

Hank nodded. ‘Been there…done that’ he thought. Every couple has to work out solitary time and together time. He and Martha had some terrific fights until they learned how to manage their time. He asked, “What sort of honey-dos need to be done so the house will be in order for company?”

Steve told him about the window screen and the toilet.

Hank told him about some of the arguments he and Martha had had. He emphasized how they needed to work out their together time and their solitary time. Then he suggested, “You could head over to Mikes Hardware in the village and get the things you need, fix them and then go riding. Later, when you’re both in good spirits, you need to clarify how you feel to Cindy.”

Steve nodded, and then said, “Okay, I guess.” He sat for another minute, trying to comprehend what Hank had said. Then he said, “Yeah, Hank, I think you’re right.”

Martha walked through the door. She called out to Hank, “Hi Honey! I left you a list on the table; but if you want to go fishing I’ll not object, as long as you catch supper.”

Hank looked at Steve and winked. Steve grinned and paid for the coffee. “You could be a bartender,” he said.

He made his purchases at Mikes and saw the florist shop across the street. It was actually a card shop, florist and craft store all in one. But they would have something for him to bring home to Cindy.

Cindy was nowhere to be found when he returned to the house. He looked for a note, but couldn’t find one. At first he was angry, but then realized that maybe she just took the baby for a ride in the stroller. So he fixed the window screen and the toilet. Cindy still was not home. He remembered she had worried about the handrail on the stairs, so he checked that. It was easy to fix, so he did that too. He started to call her, but saw her cell phone on her dresser. So he got back in the car and started out to look for her. At the top of Harrison’s Hill he pulled into the little overlook parking spot and tried to get his thoughts straight. He didn’t know where she or their daughter might be. He couldn’t call her. He finally gave into the tears. Then realized that she might be home, wondering where he was.

But she had not returned when he got back. Frustration shook his whole body. He needed to do something. So he donned his bike gear and took off on his bike. He didn’t plan to be gone long, but he couldn’t sit around the house and fret. He headed back up Harrison Hill, then down to Beaverdam Pond, then downstream to the village and out to the main road. From there he took the Paydirt Trail that ran along the creek back toward his house. Paydirt Trail was a single-track path that, today, was more of a single-track mud hole that followed the creek up stream. He started to return to the paved roads, but this time of day frequently produced a lot of traffic.

Their car was missing from the driveway. He started to take off, but thought she might have left a note, so he went inside. No note. He felt frustration and anger for a moment, but they were quickly replaced by hunger. He had not eaten all of his breakfast; he had had a cup of coffee at Staley’s and now, after a long bike ride, he was famished. A handful of peanuts and a glass of juice helped with the hunger. A glance in the fridge proved that Cindy might be shopping. He said out loud to no one, “Well, looks like supper at Staley’s.”

It felt like the longest ride he ever made. As he thought about what he might eat, he guessed that Eric and Patty would be manning the store. Eric, he though, made the best bologna sandwich. On entering the parking lot he could not help but see their car. His first thought was to write a note, put it under the wiper, and head into the village. But he was too tired and too hungry and he didn’t want to ride home in the dark. Besides, he really did want to see her.

He looked around the store. Cindy was pushing a grocery cart down the aisle toward him. He thought she was as pretty as she had ever been. A weary smile spread across his face. Cindy saw him enter the store. She watched him look around and she saw that weary smile spread across his face. Steve saw her eyes light up. He started toward her, but she pointed to the tables. He sat down at the first table, in the closest chair. All her anger and frustration drained away. She had planned her arguments well, point and counterpoint. But that weary smile changed everything.

Cindy walked over to the counter and ordered two bologna and egg sandwiches. Then she bent over her muddy husband and kissed him.

“A Great Place to Raise the Kids”


Bill heard his phone ring. He picked it up, saying, “Hello.”

“Hi Bill, it’s Tommy.”

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“Uh, Bill, tomorrow is the June Bar-B-Que at Beaverdam Park. My parents said I could go. Are you going?”

“Oh!, I, uh, hold on.”

Tommy could hear Bill and his mom discussing the event.

It only took a few moments and Bill was back, saying, “Yeah. I can go.”

“Okay. See you there.”

“Uh, Tommy,” Bill sounded uncertain, “Uh, why don’t you come here first. We can make a short hike.”

“Sure. See you tomorrow, maybe nine-thirty or ten?”


It was a short walk from Bill’s house down The Meadows Boulevard to PayDirt Creek Trail. Originally, they were just going to hike PayDirt Creek Trail to BeaverDam Loop. The picnic would be in the camping area on the north side of BeaverDam Pond. Then Tommy suggested they try to track each other. A coin toss made Tommy the tracker and Bill the quarry. Tommy set his watch alarm for five minutes and Bill took off, running up the trail.

As he approached the first ford of the creek, he realized the difficulty of his task. He and Tommy had always tracked animals or, occasionally, other people. This was more like a version of hide-and-seek. He splashed through the water, trying to think of a way to trick Tommy. A glance to his right revealed a house. New construction was happening everywhere. He ran off to his left and then carefully crossed back in order to cut through to the front yard of the house. He sprinted up the street past several houses. Then, made a mad dash back to the trail. Instead of returning to the trail, he carefully crossed it, trying to step on rocks and leaves so as not to leave any trace of his crossing. Then he waded upstream crossing the trail at the second ford and stepping out of the creek when he reached the Meadows Trail.

Now he had two problems. First, he had no idea where Tommy was. Second, he did not know which way to go. He could hike up Beaver Ridge Road, but was sure Tommy would call that cheating. He could take PayDirt Trail upstream like they originally planned, or he could take the Cross Valley Trail to the other side of the ridge and follow PayDirt Trail downstream to BeaverDam Loop. But he was thirsty and Staley’s Store was just up PayDirt Trail.

Bill could see the sun reflecting off the paint on the side of the building flashing like a distant beacon when the breeze stirred the leaves of the trees.

Soon Bill saw a white flash. It turned out to be the side of Staley’s Store, bright sun reflecting off the white paint and tree branches waving in the breeze making it flash like a beacon. Tommy could be just behind him and Bill had a few moments: he could wait here, or he could slip into the store and, hopefully, disappear. Tommy, Bill guessed, probably had no idea how close he was to Bill. Chances were that Tommy would probably check the store to see if Bill was there. Or, maybe, Tommy had lost him. Which meant Tommy just might be sitting at the picnic table outside the store. He would have to be careful.

As he got closer, he saw no one at the picnic tables. But he did see Doug ride up and chain his bike to the lamppost. Quickly, he ran over to Doug and asked him to check and see if Tommy was inside. Doug laughed and came out a minute later. No Tommy. He said thanks and went in. He bought two bottles of Gatorade and some peanuts. Martha, who was manning the cash register, said she had not seen Tommy. Then Bill grinned and said, “If he comes in, tell him I said ‘Hi’.” He laughed and headed to the door. A careful peek at the parking lot seemed to show that all was clear, so he headed back to the trail.

He looked up and down the trail. Time to put his brain to work. If Tommy had not left the trail to find him, then Tommy would have already passed the store and be well north. But, Tommy would not have seen any sign of Bill if that were so. Therefore, Bill reasoned, Tommy must be behind him. Now, it seemed, it was time for him to begin tracking Tommy. He turned around and walked across the parking lot, hiding in some low bushes next to the creek.

About five minutes later, he watched Tommy walk up to the lamppost and then into the store. Tommy would take a few minutes in the store, probably ask if Bill was wet or dry, what he bought, anything to help him track Bill. So, Bill took off, running up an old rarely traveled path called Beaver Falls Trail. This trail went right along the creek bank from the village green up to the falls. Most people accessed Beaver Falls from the Cross Valley Trail, taking just a short section of Beaver Falls Trail up to the falls. Last summer the two of them had hiked the whole length of the trail. The lower section, from Staley’s to the Cross Valley Trail was rough. In a few places the creek had washed it away. That would give Tommy a challenge.

Martha would tell Tommy that he had said hello, so, Tommy would know Bill was just ahead of him. That meant that Tommy would most likely check the main trail; then, not finding any trace of Bill, come back to Staley’s and eventually discover his hiding place and from there he’d head up Beaver Creek Trail. Bill stopped laughing when he reached the junction with the trail that went back to the village. The trail north was overgrown. He didn’t have time to bushwhack, plus, that would give him away. So, he stepped into the creek and waded upstream. This section of PayDirt Creek was filled with boulders, fallen trees and other obstacles. It would be slow going.

He’d guessed he had made his way upstream about a quarter of a mile when he realized that the old trail was hikable. So he climbed out of the creek and headed up the trail. When he reached the Cross Valley Trail he saw no sign of Tommy. So he continued up to the falls. The boulders were gigantic by the falls, some as big as a house. And, as he approached one of them, he saw Tommy sitting on top of it. He was laughing and pointing at Bill.

Tommy jumped down and said, “Why’d you go swimming? Did you loose the trail?” He laughed for a bit and said, “I was bike riding about a month ago, stopped by Staley’s and then thought I’d ride up to the falls. When I found your hiding place at Staley’s I knew what you were up to. So, I just ran up the main trail and I’ve been sitting here, waiting for you.” He laughed again.

Bill laughed, too. “When I saw how overgrown the trail was, I knew you’d have an easy time after I bushwhacked through it. So I jumped into the creek. That was just as bad. There’s boulders and fallen trees. I think I climbed over a beaver’s dam.” They both laughed. 

Tommy looked at his watch. “The picnic starts in an hour. Wonder if there will be any hot dogs left when we get there?”

As they jumped off the boulder, Tommy spotted a real estate agent’s brochure. “Look, there’s litter out here!” It was ripped and faded, but they could make out some of it. It said, “The Village of Beaver Ridge. A great place to raise your family.”

The two boys headed up the trail. It was a beautiful day; perfect for a picnic.

LINK TO Map of the boy’s hike