Monday, September 28, 2015

A Conversation Imagined While Watching Walker: Journey To the West

A girl wanders by the red-robed Asian man, staring.  She comes closer, and then draws away, unable to make out any purpose.  A woman also passes by, nervously notices the monk, takes a picture and then giggles, and saunters down the stairs.  Many people pass by the Metro stairway, all politely ignoring the monk, avoiding him, pretending not to see him except for the girl, who is still transfixed.

She then hears a male voice clearly state, “Freak.”

She turns to the man, and find that he too is staring, although disinterestedly, at the slow moving monk.

Since he seems to be the only one with any interest in the man, she asks, “Why does he walk so slow?”

The passerby responds, “He is just some crazy Asian.”

Dissatisfied, she asks again, “Why does he walk so deliberately?”

The man spits at the monk’s feet and says, “He’s probably some dirty protester.  Wanting to shame us into not walking so quickly, to show off his ability and to demonstrate that we are all heathen for not taking up his disgustingly slow ways.”

Another man stops and speaks.  “I have heard of this condition.  Oliver Sacks speaks of it.  There are people who’s time sense is remarkably different than our own, and while they consider themselves acting and walking at the same time as the rest of us, from our perspective they are standing still, not communicating.  From their point of view, we are the ones who cannot stand still, who never finish a conversation.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said the first man.  “No one is like that.”

“Well, I suppose you shall have to take that up with Dr. Sacks.”  And both men left, one down the stairs, the other up.

A woman then came close to the girl and spoke quietly to her, “He is a performer.  See?  He is always striving toward the light.  He desires the light, for he desires attention.  Because he is in the light, see how the red of his robes reflects and bleeds all over the stairs, creating a symphony of color.  He does this, not for any protest, but because he wants to give the rest of us joy.”

An Asian woman, dressed in a suit, looking quite proper heard this and said in a clear, loud voice, “He is the Walker.  He is the ultimate radical Buddhist.”

“Ha!” said a young female, dressed to the nines.  “I don’t think he’s Buddhist.  He’s not even human.  How can he be?  He walks this way for hours—I know, for I saw him on the station earlier today—and he doesn’t cough, doesn’t sneeze, never stumbles, I’m not even certain he breathes.  He must be a robot.”

The Asian woman mildly addressed the fab girl, “Have you ever learned a musical instrument?”

“Sure, my mom made me take piano.”

“When you played the piano, in your course of study, did you ever get to the point where you ignored the notes and just played, forgetting all that you were taught about time and pitch and chord and just played because it was in your heart and in forgetting all your lessons, you knew, at that moment, that you had learned them all perfectly, for they were just flowing out of you?”

“I suppose… Yes.  Yes, I did.  When playing Ode to Joy at times it wasn’t a bunch of notes, but it was real music.”

“That, my dear, is called discipline.  It is when a human fully adopts a learned behavior that it becomes second nature to him. We can do it with anything—reading, typing, singing, talking, jumprope, video games—actions that become such a part of us that we do it without thinking, without considering what exactly we are doing.  So is this man seemingly ‘not human’, for he is so practiced at his art, his ethic, that he need not consider his actions.

“And yet consider is exactly what he is doing.  Little girl, I believe you asked why he is walking so slow?  He is doing that because every life is precious.  When we walk by quickly, when we speed by in our cars, when we fly in our airplanes, we pass hundreds, thousands even millions of separate living organisms every split second.  Some we pass by, some we trod on, some we breathe in, some we simply ignore… because we are moving too fast to take notice.

“This man, the Walker, and those who follow him, are the ones who slow down so that they might have the opportunity to notice every life.  To notice the life around us is the first step of compassion.  To have compassion is, at the very least, to refrain from taking a life that we might otherwise destroy without even knowing they exist.  To have compassion is to recognize the equality of life in an insect, in an amoeba, and giving them their due.  The Walker moves slowly so that life may be seen and honored by him.  He is the true Buddhist.”

A group of young men stopped and listened to her lecture, and one man at the front asked her, “So are you saying that the best man is the one who is in a coma?  The one who never moves, who never eats, but drinks from an IV?  Even this monk steps on insects.  He just knows he’s doing it.  Wouldn’t it be better if he were completely still?”

“No.  For he walks on the earth, not in a hermitage, but in the cities where thousands may see him and consider.  If they consider him, perhaps they will consider other life as well.  Perhaps they will learn the lesson of slowness and compassion.  Some have already taken on this task.  He is not just an observer, but a teacher to all who observe.”

And she briskly walks away to her next appointment.

The group of young men looked at each other and laughed uproariously.   The leader walked up to the Walker and spoke loudly to him, “So, grandpa, I think what she said was a bunch of horseshit, what do you think?”

The man in red continued his agonizingly slow descent.

“I think this gentlemen needs some help down the stairs, what do you think, men?”

“Certainly.  I would love to help the gentleman.”

“Well, fine.  I will take this arm, and you take the other.”

They gripped his arms and picked him up.  He remained still, as if he were still standing on the stairs.  Then one and the other threw his arms forward, causing him to descend the rest of the staircase through the air and land with a hard thump on the concrete pad below.

“Aren’t you grateful?  Have you no ‘thank you’ for us?”

The group of five surrounded him, kicking him and beating him, calling him ethnic slurs and filthy names.

Finally, their thirst for violence quenched, they stopped.  The leader looked up at the little girl, who saw the whole incident.  He cocked his head, tipped his hat and said, “That’s what happens to you when you stand out, you know.  Better to just be like everyone else.”  And they went their way as the little girl’s tears fell on the concrete.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Be Better....

If you want to be a better person, love better.

Tenderly love your spouse better than you did last month.
Treat cashiers better.
Be kind to panhandlers and beggars.
Complain about your coworkers less.
Be kind to your children more than forming them who you want them to be.
Speak kindly about and to your political/theological sparring partners.
Open your house to the hungry and feed them.
Have a polite conversation with the person who irritates you.
Give to the poor to meet their needs, not yours.
Use your prayer to build up your love for others.

If you want to be a better church, love better.

Work on correct love more than correct theology.
Shape your worship service based on the spiritual needs of those who come.
Open your building to those who have no place to go.
Don't be hospitable to "everyone", but to those who are rejected by the world.
Be known for being merciful to those judged by others.
Goal: every member be gentle and kind in board meetings.
Let the outcast have a full voice in every denominational meeting.

If you want to be a better community/city, love better.

Zero tolerance for killings by the police.
Every person, no matter how poor, how colored is treated like a full citizen.
Make every homeless person legal.
Welcome and meet needs of every immigrant.
Spend more money on meeting needs than harming criminals.
Train your police to be community servants of peace.

"Love, and do what you want." -Augustine

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I get it.  When someone is going through suffering, it makes us uncomfortable.  We don’t want to see people suffer.  We understand when someone has an open wound or bruises to show, but when someone is suffering internally, we don’t know what to say, we just want to say, “Stop suffering!  You don’t have to!” 

Of course, they have no choice but to suffer.  Their depression, their internal pain, their grief, their internal oppression won’t go away because we want it to.

And why do we want it to go away?  Because we experience some of their suffering with them.  We have a natural ability to empathize, and when someone we care about is suffering, we feel it too.  We don’t feel the depth of how they feel, but we take on some of their suffering by watching them suffer.  Honestly, it can be overwhelming at times.

The problem comes when we use our theology to try to stop them from suffering.  We are telling them that God doesn’t want any of us to experience pain or grief or sorrow.  That the salvation of God requires us all to live in contentment with what God has given us.   This is what Job’s friends tried to do.  They were telling him to repent of his sin, because God wouldn’t have him suffer so for any other reason.  They used their idea of God as a wedge to force Job out of his suffering, so that they might have some peace.

But isn’t this a selfish way of using theology?  To tell people to step up, to get right, so that we could all be a little more comfortable?  To force others to be the way we want them to be, and to use the Bible or made up theological concepts to make them a bit easier to be around?

As opposed to our uncomfortable friends, God understands our depression.  God knows that we are suffering, and it is okay, it is a part of life.  Moses, Elijah, and even Jesus suffered from depression, and expressed it openly.  But Job best expresses his anguish again and again.  Job, the righteous, the one whom God boasts about to Satan.  Job is allowed to express his depression long and creatively.  Yet we don’t want to talk about depression in our churches, and we want to tell people who are depressed that there is something spiritually wrong with them.

Depression is not a spiritual crime.  It is an honest assessment of our inner life. God looks at the depressed one, and admits that he created depression so we can deal with the grief that our bodies carry.  God takes joy in depression, for it is a stage of healing. 

But to those who condemn the depressed person, God has the most severe language.  “My wrath is kindled against you because you have not spoken of Me what is right as my servant Job has.”  When we manipulate others with our theology, we lie about God.  We lie about God’s judgment and his mercy.  God forgive us.

May God give us the ability to be honest about our internal suffering and to comfort those afflicted with it. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Testing Theology #3-- Prayer Works

If you abide in me and my words abide in you, then ask whatever you will and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

“Truly I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” Mark 11

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials... But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:2, 5)

Sincere, desperate prayer works. If we are asking out of true need, for ourselves or others who are desperate, then we can be confident that God will hear, give wisdom, and meet our needs.

Although I quit my job in 1997 to work full time for the homeless, and so became homeless myself, Diane and I made the decision that we wouldn’t ask for anything ourselves.  Rather, we would take it up to God and not our supporters and allow God to move the Holy Spirit to encourage people to meet our needs, whatever way God decided.  We lived like this for fifteen years, making God our only advocate, our only financial counselor.

I will admit, living by prayer, we found that we came close to living out on the street, close to losing our water and electricity, close to not having food to eat, close to being without transportation, but none of that actually happened.  Living by faith, we learned, means learning to either live with anxiety or setting aside anxiety.  Because I believe the Holy Spirit works promptly, but people do not respond to the Holy Spirit promptly.

Although the many difficulties of living by faith, especially when it means living in poverty, still my children never lived without a roof, my household (plus many guests) never went hungry, we were able to pay our bills (although rarely on time).  When we had little income, we would have to take our trash to the dump ourselves, we would have to do our electrical and plumbing work ourselves.  When something was broken, if the Lord didn’t provide money, he would provide a person to do the repair for free.  When we couldn’t afford housing, the Lord provided someone to live with, and then he provided someone to pay our rent.  When we had illnesses when we couldn’t afford to go to a doctor (we never had insurance until this year), we prayed and God healed us, or provided other means, such as illegal antibiotics for our children from a Mexican store.

The same with our friends.  God provided housing when a person was too sick to be on the street anymore.  God provided money for our friends when they were starving.  God provided healing for those with ailments.  Every step along the way, if we prayed for it, it would be answered.  Mind you, we are careful about what we pray for.  We don’t pray for anything that someone requests.  We keep our prayers biblical and somewhat humble.  If someone asks that the police would go away, we prayed that the police wouldn’t see them.  Someone might ask for the cursing of someone, and we’d pray for their repentance from action that hurt someone.  Prayer sometimes would take time—it’s rarely an instant solution.  But to the person of faith and compassion, prayer always gets answered. 

I have many stories I could tell about answered prayer.  There are the many times that we were concerned about someone and we prayed that we would hear from them and we would, within a week, every time.  There are the times when we couldn’t pay our basic bills, and unexpected, unasked for money would come our way—Like the time that we asked specifically for 5000 dollars to pay for all of our back up bills and rent.  Two months later, a congregation member came into an inheritance (early—his father hadn’t died yet), and his tithe to us was 5000 dollars.  But let me tell you a couple specific stories in which prayer was answered in unexpected ways.

We were just starting our ministry and we were living in two different locations, about 45 minutes apart.  We couldn’t live in one space for half the week and we couldn’t live in the other space for the other half of the week.  We were all packed up and ready to drive to the other side of town, with our car in the church parking lot, when the car wouldn’t start.  I can’t fix it because you open up the hood of a car and I am automatically an idiot.  I’m lucky I know where the oil goes.

We were in trouble because we couldn’t stay another night at the church.  And we couldn’t all fit in the car overnight, so we’d be stuck outside, maybe in the park.  My six year old son, Ian, asked me if we could pray that an angel would come to fix our car.  I sputtered, because my disbelief came out.  I told him that I didn’t think God was in the business to send angels to repair cars.  Ian said, “But if you pray for it, it will happen, right?”  His eyes shined with na├»ve belief.  So I asked him to pray, because I didn’t believe in the prayer, and he responded that he couldn’t pray, I had to.  Sigh.  So I prayed for him, telling God that Ian wanted an angel to come and fix our car. 

It was fifteen minutes later that someone came wandering onto the church property.  He came up and asked if his daughter could play in the playground the church had available.  Ian looked at me as if to say, “This is the angel!”  I sighed again. 

“Um,” I said, “I don’t suppose you know anything about cars, do you?  Because we are stuck here and we don’t know how to get our car started.”

“I know a little bit.  Let me look.”  So I opened up the hood and he piddled for a bit.  After about ten minutes, he turned the key and it ran.

Dang if God didn’t send us an angel.  I hate being wrong, but this is being wrong in the best way.

“I don’t know what I did, actually,” the stranger said.

“Well, my son would be upset if I didn’t say that he made me pray for an angel to fix our car, so you are our angel.”

“HA!” he barked.  “I’m no angel.”

“I’m sure.”

And we drove away, the car expressing no hesitation at the long drive ahead.

* * *

One more story and I’m done for today.

What our street usually looks like.
Our house is on the side you can't see
We were three thousand dollars behind on our bills.  I know, I said that before, but it was a pretty common problem for us, and the more responsibility we took on, the bigger our prayers got.  This was before the five thousand dollar lapse.  So in our evening prayers, we asked the Lord for three thousand dollars to pay our bills, in Jesus’ name, Amen.  And we put it aside, because no amount of worrying would get us that kind of money.

That night, at 1am, my wife woke me up.  “Steve, the car is totaled. You need to come.”  What?  Did she say something about the car?  I stumbled out of bed, went down the stairs and glanced out the door.  The car was not parked in front of our house, where I left it.  That’s strange.  Did it get towed.  Diane is still talking, but I can’t really hear her.

So I go outside and there are police lights flashing in front of our neighbor’s yard.  I see a huge—HUGE—red pickup and the police are talking to a woman in the car.  She is clearly inebriated.  In front of the truck… yards in front of the truck… in front of the neighbor’s house… deep inside the neighbor’s yard… was my car.  The silver minivan was pushed perhaps fifty yards on the street which (miraculously) had no other vehicles on it, and then pushed into my neighbor’s fence and into their yard.  The back was completely smashed in, and one sliding door was completely unusable.  The front of the car was also damaged from impact on the fence.

Inside the car, there were papers and trash strewn everywhere (that was normal) and broken glass and…

I hear an officer ask a question of my wife, who clearly had been speaking to them for a while, “What is that stuff all over the back of the car?”

There wasn’t anything on the outside of the car, oh, he meant the inside.  I tried to open one side door, but it wouldn’t open, so I opened the driver’s door and one sniff told me what was dripping all over the inside of the vehicle.  “Gravy,” I said.  “I feed the homeless and there was a large pot of gravy left over and it was cool tonight so I left it in the vehicle to use it tomorrow.  I guess I won’t be using it.  I would like to get the pot, though.”  Stainless steel 20 inch diameter pot—not even a dent.
I said to my wife, “Well, this won’t help us pay our bills.”

I was quite wrong.  In fact, this was the answer to our prayers.  Insurance paid us immediately because if there was anything that was obvious here, it’s that I wasn’t at fault for the accident.  They paid us 6500 dollars for the totaled vehicle.  We were able to find a decent van to replace it for 3200 dollars.  The balance of the money paid our bills.

I can’t say much for the orthodoxy of God’s belief, but one thing is certain.  God’s answers to prayer are quite unorthodox.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Widows and Orphans Today

There’s a lot talked about “widows and orphans” in the Bible, as if they represented the poorest of the poor.   But we have examples of widows that did pretty well, like Naomi of the book of Ruth (she did well eventually) and Lydia who sold purple cloth, which means she was a salesperson to the wealthiest of her society, and who was well off enough to care for the rest of the widows of her community.  So widows weren’t always impoverished, and they weren’t always desperate for the charity of God’s people.  So what’s the big deal?

We see a hint as to why right near the beginning of the law.  “Do not afflict a widow or an orphan.  If you do afflict them at all, they will cry out to me and I will hear their cry and I will make your wives widows and your children orphans.”  (Ex. 22:22-23)  Okay, so, don’t mess with widows or orphans because God will kill you if you do.  That’s what it says.

But why is God stepping in himself?  Why is God dispensing justice?  Both before and after this passage, God is telling the people how to dispense justice themselves.  So why is he taking on this task himself?  Because widows and orphans had no possibility of getting justice. 

In a completely patriarchal society, women and children needed an adult male to represent them, because they couldn’t represent themselves.  They were often taken advantage of by creditors and swindlers because they had no legal recourse.  This is why the widow in Jesus’ parable of Luke 18 was knocking at the judge’s door—she wasn’t allowed to go in and see him.  He had to step out and give her an audience outside.

And for all the talk about widows and orphans in the Bible, they were just representative of a larger group that could not get justice.  In Exodus 22 just before the passage about widows he speaks about immigrants, who also have no means of obtaining legal justice.  And after them, those who were in debt, because the law is on the side of the creditor.  God, and God only, represents the rights of these groups, because no one else does.

I hate to tell you this, but in our low-patriarchal society, widows and orphans are doing pretty well.  Women have as much right as men to be represented in court, and they do so as well as men do.  Children have special rights and are occasionally over-represented in court.  This is because society’s attitude toward women and children changed in the last hundred or so years.  Children are now seen as precious instead of a nuscience, and women are seen as equal human beings as men (by the law, anyway).

Are we now in a society that offers equal and fair representation to everyone?

Um. No.

So who are our “widows and orphans” in Western society, if they aren’t literally widows and orphans?

First of all, immigrants are still not represented by the courts.  They are still seen as the “strangers” and the unwelcome foreigner who has no legal rights and so can be abused by our system.

Also, black men, as more and more statistics have shown, are not given full legal protection by the law.   This doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to represent themselves, but that they are often treated as only a percentage of a citizen, not given their full legal rights.

The other group that is not fairly represented by our society are the poorest of the poor, especially the homeless.  The homeless are seen as guilty by a police officer before they are ever approached.  If they are picked up by the police on serious charges, they are likely to be sentenced without ever facing trial.  Why is this?

A friend of mine on the street a number of years ago was accused of molesting a little girl.  I knew this man and he and his friends all agreed that he would never do such a thing.  The story came out that he had been trying to give the girl a gift, and in receiving the gift she fell in the mud.  He took her over to the hose to wash her off, and in doing this the six year old girl stripped off her dress and then went over to her mother.  Her mother saw the situation and she saw molestation as a motive, as if he had stripped the girl.  He had been inebriated, and could barely remember the incident, and his friend, who saw the incident was on the street and so difficult to find.  My friend’s legal “representative” told him to accept a guilty plea or else the sentencing would be harsher.  As it was, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and a harsh lecture from the judge who clearly believed a story that simply wasn’t true.

Multiply this story in different situations by hundreds, thousands. 

When a group is rejected by society, it is assumed that they would be involved in criminal activities.  Recently, I heard a man say that the homeless were “sociopaths” and deserved to be locked up.  This is the attitude of many, perhaps most people within the legal community as well—police, lawyers and judges.

What are we to do?  What are we told to do in Scripture for widows and orphans?

1.       We are not to harm them
God says that he is the judge for those who have no representation, he represents them himself.  If we do anything that harms those who have no legal recourse—evict a desperately poor family, charge unfair fines to those who can’t afford it, insult a person who cannot stand up for themselves—then we will be judged by the God of the universe who is on the side of the poor.

2.       We are to give them justice
Just as we have been working to begin to provide justice for the black man through protests and legal action, so we need to work to provide justice for the immigrant and the poorest of the poor who have no legal recourse.  We need to find those who will fairly represent those who have no means to be fairly represented.

3.       We are to care for them

 James said that true religion is to care for the widows and the orphans.  Even so, we are to meet the needs of the immigrants and the desperately poor.  The Scriptures understand that those without legal recourse are those who have extra stresses on their lives, extra unfair costs in their lives that others need not pay.  We need to step in and help them, in whatever way we can.  This does not mean going to the park and feeding the poor.  Rather, true religion is meeting the poor, getting to know them and asking them what their needs are, instead of assuming we know what they need.  If we give without asking, we are simply continuing the process of not allowing them the opportunity to be represented.

Art by Kathe Kollwitz, who did these charchol sketch drawings in the 1920s of the German sufferers of WWI. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Three Pigs, part 3

The third pig was named Trio, for his mother had little imagination, and he too traveled his own path.  Before he left, however, he cleaned his shirt, pressed his trousers and arranged for his mother to give him a good haircut, for cleanliness is next to godliness, or so he was taught.

He traveled at his ease, singing a song his mother taught him, taking the path his brothers had not, and strolling at his leisure.  After a time, without him breaking a drop of sweat, he strolled past a farmer.  The farmer ask him, “Sir pig with the golden locks, might you transport this load of bricks to the dump for me?”  

Trio laughed and said, “I shall make my money lighter than that load you offer.” 

Then, just before him, he saw a penny on the ground.  He picked it up, placed it in his lined pocket and said, “A penny saved is a penny earned!” 

The farmer looked at him with new eyes and said, “You are wise, sir pig, and I would wish to know your wisdom.” 

Trio said, “Talk is cheap, but wisdom is expensive.  Should you wish to know my wisdom, it will cost you three gold coins.” 

The farmer replied, “It is worth three coins to obtain words which might bear me ten,” and he handed over three coins.

Trio then explained to the farmer all the sayings he had from his mother: “Good things come to those that wait,” “Ask not what your country do for you, but what you can do for your country,”  “Put your money where your mouth is,”  “Dance to the beat of a different drummer,”  He taught him how to “make a mountain out of a mole hill,” and  how to “keep up with the Jones” and many other sayings with helpful explanatory commentary by Trio himself.  Somehow, he failed to tell the farmer  how not to “not throw pearls before swine,”  so at the end of the hour, the farmer gave Trio three more coins.

He then said, “This is wisdom beyond measure, Sir Pig.  Might I gather some of my friends to listen to your speech?” 

Trio said, “As long as they have three coins each to give for the wisdom.”  The Farmer had learned much already from Trio and explained how they could all listen to Sir Pig for only four coins each.

It was not long before Sir Pig (as Trio is now known) spoke ten lectures a week, had a book deal and was signed up for a television show.  As soon as he had a moment to breathe (for he was so popular he had to hire an assistant to catch his breath), he hired a contractor to take the pile of bricks he was originally offered, and many, many more, and they were built into a massive, secure fortress for Sir Pig.  He was so popular, he needed a place of solitude, so he made sure the walls had extra insulation, the roof was extra secured and the doors and windows extra thick.

Every evening, when he wasn’t out of town, he locked his doors, secured his windows, closed the fireplace flue, and played classical music quite loud, for the improvement of his soul.  

Prime finally wandered back home, and found this brick palatial fortress.  He knocked at the door, and begged for Trio to open the door, but this was Friday, Trio’s Richard Wagner evening, so he couldn’t hear anything beyond his headphones.

This very night Wolf attacked.

He had heard about this brick palace, and Wolf decided that it was a night in which stone might finally fill his always-empty belly.  His deep darkness, blowing wind and sucking entrance into another dimension surrounded the house and Wolf called out, “I am the wolf, little pig, and you will let me in.”

Trio focused on the Ride of the Valkyries, hearing nothing else.

Wolf spoke again, “You have no future.  I am the vortex.  I am the fear no on escapes.  I am the power of the end.  You cannot avoid me.  Chaos and Death follow me in my wake.  Breathe in, little pig and know that my darkness descends.”

Trio shook his imaginary baton to Der Tannenbaum.

Wolf spun and sputtered and screamed and spoke in his most thunderous tones, “What care I for your petty bricks and music!  I am the Devourer!  I only care for you as the tiny morsel you are.  Now I descend.”  So he descended and raged and blew and burst and sucked and caused great violence.  To no avail.   Wolf raged until he realized that he wouldn’t make a dent against the house, nor would Trio even give him a hint of the fear he so greatly desired. 

So Wolf traveled on, saying to himself, “The pig is probably sour. Not worth my time.”

As he stepped aside, he found Prime, easily for Trio had cleared out all vegetation and stone so they wouldn’t block his view of the sunset.  Wolf took satisfaction in quickly devouring Prime, for a pig in the mouth is better than two in a brick house.

Prime screamed and yelled and begged for his brother to let him into his fortress.  But to no avail, for screams are as silent as threats on the inside of a fortress.

Meanwhile, Trio stopped the music and spoke aloud to himself.  “I wonder how my brothers are doing?  I wonder if they had as good fortune as I?”  He then chided himself for his doubt.  “I am sure they are doing well.  After all, they are both hard workers, have the same wisdom from our mother as I, and have great integrity… indeed! Greater integrity than I!  I am sure that they have all the security and peace they could ever want.”

And Trio placed the headphones upon his ears again and descended into Wagner’s funeral music. 

Three Pigs, part 2

The second pig was named Deutero, for his mother had little imagination.  He walked along his own path and he too came across a farmer.  The farmer called out to him, “Little pig, I have a pile of tree debris that needs to go to the dump.  If you take it there for me, then I shall pay you well. “

Deutero thought about his mother who taught him that the best thing was to find a patron, work for him, show his worth and so have work and security forever.  He replied, “Dear sir, I see you are a farmer.” 

“So I am” 

“Might I conjecture that you have just cleared a field to ready for plowing.”

“That is true.” 

“Perhaps I could make a deal with you.  I am a hard worker.  I would like to plow, plant and harvest your field.  For my work, I will receive housing upon your land, board for the year and a stipend.  After my work, you will receive the harvest to do as you please.”

The farmer considered and replied, “I like your plan.  I, myself, would not be able to prepare this land for another year, so I would be happy to allow you have a go at it.  Do as you say, and for your housing, I offer you this pile of wood, and the land on which it stands.  Prepare the field, build your house and I will pay you fairly for the harvest you work for.”

Fortune smiled on Deutero. (Fortune is really a nice woman and doesn’t care for anyone to fall into evil.  But, like anyone, she has grumpy days.)  By day, he worked the field and every evening he cut down the wood and slowly built his house.  He lived for a time out in the open, under a wooden awning, but soon his house came together.  It was two stories, with extra rooms for a family, an outdoor shed and eventually marks of beauty that only a master woodworker can create.  A small world he called his own.

At the end of the year, he harvested and gave to the farmer all he had promised, for he was a pig of integrity.  The farmer also paid him fairly, as he promised, and he said that he would hire him the next season to do more work.  With half of his earnings, Deutero ran out and purchased the most secure locks and fencing he could purchase.  With the balance, he placed the coins under his wooden floor.  “Finally,” Deutero said to himself, “I have security and peace.  I am ready for a wife and children.”

The next day Wolf came.

But first, as it would happen, Prime came to visit his brother, Deutero.  He told him of his misfortune.  He spoke of his deal with the farmer, the loss of his money, his sickness and of his final misfortune.  “Since my house was destroyed by Wolf, I have been in hiding.  I sleep in the bushes, behind stones, hoping beyond hope that Wolf doesn’t find me and finish the devouring  he began.”

Deutero didn’t laugh, for he cared for his brother and mourned the misfortune.  After sympathizing with him, though, the second pig reprimanded him.  “You have been foolish.  Didn’t you know that mother told us to find a patron and to work faithfully for that one patron?  Only then will you reap the benefit of security and peace.”

“That isn’t what mother told us at all,” Prime said.  “Perhaps you were too young when you heard her speak.  She said that a pig should trust with integrity, and God will give us good fortune.”
Deutero replied, “I know that mother spoke nothing of gods or of evil, mystical wolves that devour our ill fortune.  It seems to me, brother, that this wolf of yours did you a favor.  You are well rid of your tainted straw.  I think you are better sleeping on the street than in a condemned house.

“Speaking of which, I fear you must go, my brother.  Tomorrow I rise early to seek a wife, and so I must sleep well to look proper for my true love.”

“But I hoped that perhaps I could get some sleep here… it has been so long since I slept a full night…”

“Perhaps another time, my brother, but not tonight.  Tonight I must sleep the sleep of five so I might seek my future tomorrow.”

So Prime left his brother and wandered outside to seek a rock to obtain some little shelter.

That very hour Wolf descended upon Deutero’s wood house and said, “I am the Wolf, little pig, and you will let me in.”

Deutero laughed and said, “I think not, dear wolf.  My future is secured.”

Wolf replied, “You have no future.  I am the vortex.  I am the fear no one escapes.  I am the power of the end.  You cannot avoid me.  Chaos and Death follow me in my wake.  Breathe in, little pig and know that my darkness descends.”

Deutero laughed again.  “You cannot reach me, Wolf.  I have the best security money can buy.”
Wolf raged and blew against the wood, and it began to crack. “WHAT CARE I FOR YOUR PETTY LOCKS AND FENCES?  I AM THE DEVOURER.  I ONLY CARE FOR YOU AS THE TINY MORSEL YOU ARE.  NOW I DESCEND.” And Wolf spun and enclosed himself upon the homestead.  

He pulled the fence up from the roots, deep in the ground, he cracked the foundation of the house, he splintered the wood around the locks, and devoured all the house, coins, pig and all.

Behind a rock, Prime stood in shocked woe as he saw all his brother had worked for… and all he had not worked for… destroyed in an instant.  Once Wolf was sated, he looked up and saw Prime and said, “SOMEHOW YOU SURVIVED MY MEAL. STAY, MORSEL, AND I SHALL SWALLOW YOU IN ONE GULP.”  But Prime had learned from his fear over the last year, and ran to hide from Wolf, successful again.  

Wolf, however, has no disappointments, for he knows that all things belong to him in time, so he continued his travels.

Three Pigs, part 1

There is a time called “Once Upon”, in which there is not measure, no  number, no marking of passage, no specific order.  It is a universe all to itself, with its own rules and we cannot impose upon it anything from this world. Scientists are mystified by it, theologians laud it, but ultimately know nothing about it.  Physicists secretly relish it and attempt to achieve it with their theories, but they are still far distant from the poets and mystics , who visit it frequently, and give us only snapshots of the wide pallet of colors and ideas that exist there.

In that place were pigs. I am sure there are many, but I will be speaking of only three.  They are called “little” but that is only the case in comparison with the enormous hogs of twentieth century United States.  The fact is, for Once Upon, these pigs were pleasantly average, well-mannered and  interesting to speak to.  Not minuscule in any sense: size, intellect or hope.  Especially hope.  Their hope was powerful and full of wisdom and strength, gracious and without end.  The direction of their hope is this: that they might live safely, with security and peace all the days of their lives.  They would like wives and children, perhaps multiple of each (please remember they are pigs), but they were unready to even consider such luxuries.  First, they needed a life of security in which wives and children could be placed.

And so, although they were brothers, they wandered apart from each other to seek where security could be found.  They did not intend to wander to different nations, but only within a day’s walk of each other, for in their wisdom they knew that security is best found in numbers.  Yet, they also knew that wives and children would demand independence, so they kept a fair distance from each other.  And, in the end, intentions are not reality.

The first pigs name was Prime, which was not a name at all, but simple a designation of birth.  Birth is often a mockery, however, and Prime’s fortune was ill found.  He came across a farmer who was getting rid of a huge pile of straw, and he called out to the pig: “If you wish, I would gladly pay you to carry away this straw.” 

The pig thought for a moment and realized that while straw makes a piss-poor shelter, but shelter it is, and it might be enough to bundle stacks together, make a frame, place loose straw upon it and so make a house.  The pig was about to accept the farmer’s offer, when he remembered to inspect the straw before accepting it.  He dug into it, and sniffed it and realized that it was full of the most foul-smelling stench-mold he had ever smelled.

 “How much would you pay for me to carry it away?”  he asked. 

“Well enough,” said the farmer slyly. 

“I fear I have no cart in which to carry it.” 

“No worries, I’d be happy for you to take this wood cart here, and if you should carry it back, I would very much appreciate it.” 

“If I took it, I would surely bring it back, for what would I do with it otherwise?”  Prime was a pig full of integrity.  

“Well, then, have we a bargain?” 

“Yes, I think so,” said Prime.  He collected the cart, took a number of hours piling the straw upon the cart and approached the farmer for his pay.  The farmer gave him three gold coins, which seemed like a more than fair price for his labor, so he then pulled it himself toward the dump site. 

At the dump site, he unloaded the straw, breathing in the noxious fumes for the second time that day, and then, finally finished, he walked away from the pile.  A man ran after him, saying, “Good sir, where are you going?” 

He said, “I have finished my labor and must return this cart.”

“But you must first pay the dump fee.” 

“Oh, I had no idea there was a dump fee.  This is an empty field, and it looked as though dumping were free for there was no sign posted otherwise.” 

“Sorry, this is a government field, and you can’t just do as you please with government land.” 

“Ah, well, how much is the fee?” 

“Three gold coins.” 

“But this is all I have!” 

“Of course not, sir, you also have that cart.” 

“No, I don’t!  I have to return the cart to the farmer who loaned it to me. “ 

“I am sorry, sir, but that is the fee.” 

So he handed over the three coins.  He returned the cart to the farmer, by night, for he did not want to face the man in case he knew of the fee and so had cheated him of his labor.

Prime walked on, and found he had a cough.  He coughed more and more, and soon he found himself unable to walk.  Kindly Old Woman passed by, and offered him a ride to the local clinic on her ass. (Don’t be crude by thinking that.  You know I meant “donkey”, but “ass” is more old-timey.)  There he was diagnosed with Black Lung, for which there was no cure.  

He received a grant from the government to pay for housing.  As he arrived at the housing department, they looked at his voucher through slit eyes as though he were a thief and said, “You are granted field 2547 as an allotment for housing.”

Prime coughs and says, “Is there shelter there?” 

They reply, “On every allotted field are the materials to make housing.  You must build it yourself, for this is an opportunity, not a handout.” 

They give Prime a map to Field 2547 and as he arrived, he saw that he was granted the very same pile of straw for housing that had given him his illness, not moved even an inch from the spot he had labored so hard to place it.

He slept as far away from the pile of straw as he could, but it rained hard that night, so the next day, with soaking clothes, he determined to make a shelter out of the straw.  He used his initial plan, making thin bundles of the straw, creating the frame of a house and then covering it with the loose straw he had left over.  That night he slept with some ease.

The next day, the Wolf came.

He is called “wolf” only as a formality.  He had no teeth, no fur, no legs.  Rather, he was a deep, dark cloud, ever swirling, ever blowing, ever creating a vortex which has no end.  He travels from land to land in Once Upon, never stopping, always existing, always creating harm from nothing, and causing all to descend into nothing. 

The Wolf, in his travels, came by Prime’s house, surrounded it and whispered with his voice of thunder and hurricane, “I AM THE WOLF, LITTLE PIG.  AND YOU WILL LET ME IN.”

The pig shivered in his damp clothes, and replied, “I would really prefer not.”


“I know of you, Mr. Wolf, and I tremble before you.  Should you pass by my house, I shall worship you and you shall be my god and I will do as you say.”

“WHAT CARE I FOR WORSHIP? I AM THE DEVOURER.  I ONLY CARE FOR YOU AS THE TINY MORSEL YOU ARE.  NOW I DESCEND.” And with the merest breath the Wolf swallowed up the straw and it descended into the emptiness.

Prime, however, was wise, and during Wolf’s last, slow speech, he slipped under a straw wall and hid behind a stone, large enough to shelter him from the swirling chaos.  As Wolf was satisfied with his tiny meal, he passed by and traveled to another land.  Prime, meanwhile, coughing horribly, traveled back toward his home town.