Lightbearer Letters: The Demonic and Divine

Sir

My brother is thinking about heroes. But the heroes he thinks of aren’t very heroic. They are broken, bitter people who live for themselves. There is little of the sacred light in them. Any resemblance is accidental. Give me wisdom to see these “angels of light” as the shallow, dead things they are.

I was reading an old history and was appalled by the debauchery carried on shamelessly and written down in these books. Any idea of the “golden age” is dispelled by the truth of these accounts. These were called their highlights. I wonder what they might have called their decay.

In these stories, the gods are merciless and cruel, revealed to be the demons they are. Demons that require sacrifice and the desecration of your temple, our bodies. You once said that whoever did things even to the least of your children, did them to you. These gods devoured the “least of these” and wish to devour today. I bless the glory of your victory, O Captain, which sealed forever these spirits so that they are no longer powerful, but must wait in prison, doing only a portion of what they once could do, as lions chained. Let us not be afraid of the lions, but to trust in the one who not only forged the chains, but also made and freed us.

The decay and death in these stories, both ancient and modern, are depressing. What else could they be? But you have called us to put away what is evil, and to cling to what is good. There are many people who reflect the holy light, and while looking up create works of beauty and grace. Somehow even the most broken of creations can be redeemed. This is your call. This is a side effect of your battle.

We fight not only to reach others, not only to make things better, not only to become holy, but to know you most of all. All other things, even this battle, flow through this. Help me to remember.

In your name,

Lightkeeper Storycraft.

Lightbearer Letters: Longing

My Captain,

I am feeling a longing that I have not often felt before. It’s a stirring, a desire for more. Perhaps it is the Sacred Light, wanting to shine out through me, wanting to join those who have gone before. Maybe it is a desire to finally end this struggle, this war. Maybe it is a longing to go home.

Home, father, home! It’s a desire that I can hardly control. I want to go to my final home, where I will see you face-t0-face.

I was reading my orders today, reading about Abraham, who lived in the land promised him like a stranger. He was not content with earth, because he was constantly looking up and ahead to the land promised. He could not see it. He did not have any surety of it, no tangible sign, only the word of the Ever-True Father. But that was enough. For that faith he lived and died a wanderer, even being willing to sacrifice his only son, because he loved and trusted his God.

Just reading about my spiritual ancestor gives me hope. I want to be like them, who cannot see what is promised, but believe and continue in obedience.

Give me the faith to believe and long for the City that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Help me to always keep this in my sight, Captain, so that I may never be overcome by darkness and despair. Our enemy is strong, Captain, but you died to free us, and to give us victory. Even now you are going before us to prepare the home Abraham longed for. Now I long for it too. Please, my friend, take us home soon. Let this warfare end. Fill our hearts with your peace.

With longing,

Lightbearer Storycraft.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God….These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11: 8-10, 13-16)

Lightbearer Letters: Fear

Soldier 161-031-9980
Western Front, Southeast Squadron RPC
Camp S, Section 65B

Captain

We’ve had trouble on several fronts in our camp. Several of us are fighting among ourselves. Our enemy is profiting from our discord and has chided us into inactivity. This infighting must stop or we won’t be able to fight. My enemy Ego is telling me to listen to my pride and join the fighting. I’m finding it hard to fight him. I’ve failed twice already.

Our youngest soldier is very open to the message so far. I only hope that the Holy Light will infect him. I’m reading to him picture books about what you have done. Call him to your service, Captain, and make him one of yours. Make him truly one of your soldiers, not just an observer of the light.

I’m having trouble with my commission. I’m finding that I have more fear of what people might think of me than I have faith in you and what you have done. I want to speak to others about your glory, but I don’t do it in my time, and therefore am out of practice. I’m shirking my duties as soldier and lightbearer.

Remind me again, captain, that my purpose is to reflect the Holy Light coming from you. Let this take full preeminence over all my other passions. Let me not be afraid to speak for you. Fill me with your spirit, your courage, your light. Let me trust you again. Only then can I be a true soldier

Let me no longer fear men, Captain, but fear God

Lightbearer Storycraft.

Confession of a Wayward Lightbearer

Soldier 161-031-9980

Western Front, Southeast Squadron RPC

Camp S, Section 65B

Captain

Enclosed is my first full report of the battle in camp S. The lapses of communication are not due to any ambiguity on the part of my orders, but result from my flawed misconception that my purpose here was to simply observe, to study, and not to engage the enemy.

The Holy Light has been put out, the one entrusted to Camp S, due to ill keeping. The Soldiers in Camp S have been acting in an advisory capacity, living civilian lives, while still carrying the royal name. Without guarding or engagement in the battles, the flame slowly dwindled. Now it is only coals.

I have failed you in watching my part of the Holy Light, and was lulled to sleep by the words of a traitor in the camp, Ego, who assured me that my part in the campaign was to watch and learn from senior officials. I have been reading the orderbook and the biographies, the latter books reminding me of my full purpose.

The reason this is my first report is because before now I assumed as an observer I had no right to speak to you, but that my orders would come soon. I was unwilling to believe that my orders came when I first joined the camp.

While carrying your Holy Name, and your Holy Light, I have kept silent when asked of my true colors. I have tried to hide the Holy Light, and because of that, the Light has faded away. Not only that, but my lack of participation in the campaigns I was supposed to be part of caused several heavy losses for our camp. The rest of the soldiers are likewise asleep. Only our Commanders nurse the Holy Light. And our Squadron seems more worried about maintaining structural activity than beginning any new campaigns.

We are on the defense, sir, because we have no hope. We feel that our job is simply to wait for you to come and take command, and that you will fix everything. Without the Holy Light, we have become timid. We no longer try to enlarge our ranks.

I ask that the Holy Light be rekindled in our Camp, and our Squadron. I ask that we may be given encouragement and aid as we begin again what we ought to have done long ago. I ask for a Captain to lead us in the conquest of the darkness. I ask for personal aid as I stand against demons of darkness and indifferent soldiers. How strange that my main discouragement comes from within our ranks!

Every night we close the day with this song:

Father, we come to thee, for day is done

And bring account for battles lost and won

For all the vict’ries, let us humble be

For all our power finds its source in Thee.

Give us Victory over our enemy once more, my King

Lightbearer Storycraft

Sitter Sméagol: Part 2

Where we left off, Sméagol was contemplating the job of watching several little hobbits while “Fat Hobbit” Went with Rosie to see the Elves before they went over the Sea. Sméagol was left alone with Elanor, Sam’s oldest hobbit-daughter, and several little hobbits.

Gollum: We shouldn’t eats them, precious, but we is hungry. We has nothing to eat.

Elanor: Would you like me to make you some toast? Or bacon?

Gollum: Baconses, please. And raw.

Elanor: That doesn’t seem quite safe, mister….

Gollum: Sméagol is our name, precious.

Elanor: Mister Sméagol. You probably should cook your food before you eat it.

Gollum: One raw and one cooked, then?

Elanor: I guess I could do that. I’ll be right back.

Gollum: Would he miss one, I wonder? He has so many small hobbitses… (hears a knock on the door) I wonder if that’s him coming back. Good thing I didn’t eat any. (Goes over to the door and opens it)

Dwalin: Good morning. Dwalin at your service. Where’s supper?

Gollum: Supper?

Dwalin: Don’t dawdle, lad. Bring supper.

Gollum: All right…(goes over to Elanor at the stove) We is going to need more baconses. There are dwarveses in the parlor.

Elanor: Dwarves in the parlor? But papa isn’t home.

Gollum: We knows this.(Door bangs once more) And it looks like there will be more coming!

Fili: Looks like everyone’s here. Hello! Where’s supper?

Gollum: Why does everyone expect supperses?

Dwalin: It was in the message. Little fellow having the meeting at his house, providing supper, and going to come with us to help rob the dragon.

Gollum: DRAGONSES? What’s it talking about, precious?

Thorin: Everyone! Gandalf said we need to get going immediately. There isn’t much time. He’ll meet us in Bree. I’m sorry, Baggins, but we’ll have to leave now.

Gollum: Bagginses? What does it mean, Bagginses?

Balin: We got the message: Baggins, in the Shire, at Bag End, coming to help us get the dragon.

Gollum: This sounds familiarses…..wait, DRAGONSES! WHAT DRAGONSES??

Elanor: Excuse me…

Fili: All right! Let’s go!

 

Sam and Rosie come to their house to find it in complete disarray. All the furniture is topsy-turvy and the pantry is empty.

Rosie: What happened here?

Sam: I knew it wasn’t smart to let Gollum watch our house. Now look at all this.

Rosie: But where are our children?

Sam(to himself): Maybe he ate them.

Rosie: SAM! Look, there’s an elf. Sir, have you seen our children?

Legolas: They’ve taken the hobbits to Isengard!

Sam: (to himself) Better there than with that Gollum.

Rosie: How far away is Isengard?

Sam: Here we go again.

Sitter Sméagol Part 1

This Addition to the Sméagol series is the first one to be a two-part. The series is purely fictitious and is not canon, so don’t worry about it. For entertainment only.

Sitter Sméagol

After losing his job at the restaurant, Sméagol scanned the want ads in the local newspaper. The choice of employment for a creature such as him was very slim.

 

Gollum: Nothing for poor Sméagol. Nothing at all. No one cares that he is starving! No one cares that he might die! (Scans the paper again) What’s this? Sitter wanted to watch house for weekendses. What’s a sitter, precious? Someone who sitses? We must looks into this.

(Gollum goes down to the address listed. It is a good sized hobbit-hole with a green door. Seeing a hobbit nearby, he asks for directions.)

Gollum: Excuse us. Where are we, precious?

Hobbit: Why, you’re in the shire, strange looking creature.

Gollum: Shire? That soundses familiar somehow. Might as well knock. (Knocks on door)

Sam: Hello?

Gollum: FAT HOBBIT!!!!!

Sam: There’s no need to be insulting. Why, Gollum! I wondered what had happened to you after you fell into that volcano. And then you were at that restaurant. Well, what are you doing here?

Gollum: I found this ad in the paperses. But I don’t know what sitterses mean.

Sam: Oh. Well, it’s someone who watches over a house and makes sure that no one comes in when they’re not supposed to.

Gollum: Is that all? Just watching houseses?

Sam: That’s it.

Gollum: Then we’ll take the jobses.

Sam: Wait, Gollum, it isn’t that easy. See, this is an odd house. Strange things keep happening. We haven’t been able to go on vacation for two months because people keep coming. We haven’t been able to get a sitter.

Gollum: Problemses solved. You need someone to watch the houses, and I need a jobses. Go ahead and take the little hobbitses with you.

Sam: Well, about that…

Gollum: Yes?

Sam: We haven’t found a baby sitter either.

Gollum: I don’t understandses.

Sam: This is a trip to Rivendell to listen to the elf music. I can’t really take the children. So I’ve been trying to get a babysitter.

Gollum: What’s the difference betweens a sitterses and a babysitterses?

Sam: I’m not leaving the kids with you, Gollum.

Gollum: (whining) But poor Sméagol just wants to be helpful. Fat hobbitses don’t understands us!

Sam: I understands just fine. I don’t mind you watching our house, but I do mind you watching my children. You might eat them.

Gollum: EATSSS THEM? FAT HOBBIT THINKS I’LL EAT THE LITTLE HOBBITSES? SHAME!

Rosie: Dear, I wish you would stop that noise. I just got the children to bed. Elanor is going to stay up with them. Is this the sitter?

Sam: Well, yes…

Rosie: Wonderful! Now, we must hurry if we’re going to make the coach.

Sam: But dear, I don’t know if this is wise….

Rosie: Oh, Sam, don’t worry so much. Elanor will take care of them. (Turns to Gollum) Thank you very much for coming.

Gollum: Um, you’re welcomses?

Rosie: Now we must be going.

Sam: Wait…

Rosie: Hurry, love! This is one of the last times we can see The Elves before they leave on their over the sea tour! We’ve waited long enough! (Drags Sam away)

(Elanor, a girl hobbit, walks out. She blinks at Gollum)

Elanor: Who are you?

Gollum: What did we get ourselves into, precious?

Will Sméagol survive the job at Bag End? Are Sam’s kids safe? And why did it take so long for Sam to find a sitter? Stay tuned for part 2!

Server Sméagol: A Spoof

Setting: Gollum, after losing “his” ring, is homeless and out of a job. Out of pity, a Rider of Rohan hires him to work in his restaurant. However, working is not something Gollum is used to.

 

Helm: All right….Gollum? Is that your name?

Gollum: Yes, precious, poor Sméagol is called Gollum now.

Helm: Well, then, Gollum, your jobs will be simple. You’ll wash dishes, take food to the tables, and help clean up the restaurant. People will order at the counter, so you won’t need to take their orders, but you will need to make sure you give the right food to the right people. Is that clear?

Gollum: Very clear, precious. Poor Sméagol does his best.

Helm: Good. First you can help wash dishes in the back here. (Shows Gollum a large sink)

Gollum: What a lot of water. Are there fishes in here, precious?

Helm: No. Just a lot of dishes. And be careful! (begins to walk off)

Gollum: (Looking around) Augh! What’s it doing, precious? He ruins it!

Helm: (rushes over) What is it?

Gollum: He cooks it! He ruins the nice fish! Make him stop!

Helm: (shaking his head) Gollum, you need to calm down. This isn’t a sushi joint. We cook our food. Now maybe this is bothering you. Would you like to do a job where you don’t have to watch them cook?

Gollum: Yes, precious, Sméagol would be so appreciative. (to himself) Might not want to stay this job. Sounds sticky.

Helm: All right. Take this fish and this salad to the couple over there. (hands Sméagol two huge plates)

Gollum: Issss not right precious! (staggering under the heavy plates) They spoils the nice fish. Give it to me now, raw, wriggling….(sets the plates down on the table heavily) and keep the nassty lettuces!

The couple at the table are Eowyn and Faramir.

Faramir: What’s this? (Stares at Gollum) Haven’t we met before?

Gollum: What? This one again, precious? How!? (He ducks under the table.)

Eowyn: Peace, Faramir. He has as much right to work as anyone.

Faramir: No treachery, now.

Gollum: No…no not at all. (slinks away very quickly and goes to see Helm) You didn’t tells us that HE was here!

Helm: Sorry, Gollum. This is a popular restaurant. Speaking of which…(In comes a huge group of orcs) here’s the football team now! How was the game?

Lead orc: Oh! Ha, it was a killing! (all orcs rattle their weapons and cheer) We want something to eat! It seems like we haven’t had anything but maggoty bread in three days!

Helm: Now, now, you were here yesterday. Gollum, get some tables ready for these gentlemen.

Gollum: GENTLEMEN? They’re ORCSES!!!

Helm: Now, don’t be prejudiced. Go on.

Gollum: We goes, we goes. (Grumbling to himself) Helpsing orcses and elvses, no food for poor Sméagol! But must be kind to master. He gives us moneys to buy foodses and hotel roomses. (Does as he’s told)

Helm: Thank you, Gollum, you’re doing a great job so far. But we’re not done yet. Please take these baked potatoes to that table over there.

Gollum: But there’s too much, precious! There’s more taters here than in fat hobbit’s stew, precious! We must think this through, love! He gives us too much! These are….nine taters, precious!

Helm: You know, I could hire a dwarf…

Gollum: Coming, coming! Poor Sméagol does his best, even though he’s tired and hungry! We takes the nassty taters. (Strains to pick up all the trays) Nassty….HEAVY taters! (Gollum staggers over to the table and almost drops all the plates) There! Here’s your nassty taters, good riddance, I says! Takes them! Takes them all! (Looks up)

(The occupants of the table are a family of hobbits. Sméagol’s mouth drops open.)

Sam: Gollum?

Gollum: Fat hobbitses? A whole family of fat hobbitses! Augh!!!!!! (Runs to Helm) I can’t do this, precious! Is too hard!

Helm: (losing his patience) If you can’t work with the others, I can’t have you work here.

Gollum: Fine! We leave. And we’ll never come back! (goes off in a huff) Best decision we’ve made, precious. Can’t work there any more. It’s too much, precious. Too much. We work somewhere else.

 

Parable of the Laborers

In Matthew 20, Jesus tells a parable to those around him. Peter and the rest of the disciples have just said “Lord, we have left everything to follow you!” The Rich Young Ruler has just walked away sadly, disappointed in Jesus’ answer. And in just a little while, the sons of Zebedee will ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands. They didn’t understand. Jesus said that the first would be last, and  the last would be first. They didn’t understand.

Do we?

In 1 Corinthians, Paul asked if he was anything. He said that he was God’s fellow worker, and could not claim glory. He was simply a laborer, a gardener. He planted the seed, but God made it grow. It was time for the church to collect the harvest.

But how can we gather together if we are too busy fighting over who is first? Unity isn’t necessarily easy, but it is necessary. Whether we come to Christ as children or adults, we are in Christ, and together must work and pray. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.

Men who are waiting
Just waiting for work
Not looking for it
Just standing alone.

Master comes searching,
Searching for workers
To pick his vineyard
And work his fields

“Come to my Vineyard
Gather my harvest
What I will give you
Will be good and right
Wage for the worker
Who works with good pleasure
Hurry and come now
Before the night.”

Workers start working
Glad for the wages
But master still searches
For more to come

Men are still waiting
Standing at market
Idly waiting
For someone to come.

“Come to my Vineyard
Gather my harvest
What I will give you
Will be good and right
Wage for the worker
Who works with good pleasure
Hurry and come now
Before the night.”

Workers start working
Glad for the wages
But master still searches
For more to come.

Men are still waiting
Expecting nothing
Day’s almost over
No chance of pay.

“Come to my Vineyard
Gather my harvest
What I will give you
Will be good and right
Wage for the worker
Who works with good pleasure
Hurry and come now
Before the night.”

Sun is now setting
Work is now done
Time for the wages
From last to first.

Wonder of wonders!
All is made equal
The same wage for a day
As for an hour.

“Why do you grumble
You who came early?
Did I not promise
And did I not give?

‘Is it not my work
To give a blessing
Grudge not the free gift
Oh you who are blessed!”

“Come to my Vineyard
Gather my harvest
What I will give you
Will be good and right
Wage for the worker
Who works with good pleasure
Hurry and come now
Before the night.”

Do you still worry?
Do you still grumble​?
Angry at God’s Grace
To those who are late?

Bless him who called you
Into the vineyard
And grudge not the master
The gift he has giv’n!

Irrational Geographic: Beware of the Pterry Hunters

Authorities are cautioning citizens to avoid a popular phone game for safety reasons, and for good reason, according to Social Commentator Callie Chip.

The game in question, Dino Hunters, was designed for mobile devices and involves players searching the skies for a virtual flying dinosaur, or Pterry. The Pterrys are GPS tethered to satellites, helicopters, and airplanes orbiting earth. Players must point their phones to the skies and keep their eyes on them to make sure they don’t miss a rare Pterry.

“This is just a recipe for disaster.” Security analyst Rob Gig says. “We have people with their eyes on the skies, walking around, not looking where they’re going. People have fallen into stairwells, ran into poles, and tripped over fences, because they don’t see them. They’re also walking into roads. We haven’t had any accidents, because our drivers are responsible, but a Pterry Hunter did hold up traffic for over an hour on Thursday.”

The player in question, Melissa Meg, caused the traffic jam when she stepped onto the road and stayed there, chasing an elusive Pterry. Motorists were unwilling to psychologically harm the pedestrian, so they simply waited for her to leave. “I’m really proud of how they managed the situation.” Police Chief Sam Wills told reporters. “They’re really making the best of a bad situation.”

Other incidents have involved Pterry Hunters walking into residential homes, mistaking ceiling fans for satellites. “A man rushed into my house a few days ago.” 75-year-old Green hills resident Sally Sween reported, obviously shaken by the experience. “I was afraid for my life, but then I noticed he was only interested in my ceiling fan. I told him he could have it.”

Still other problems occur when Pterry Hunters take to the roads to hunt their prey from moving vehicles. “We have had reports of distracted and destructive driving.” Chief Wills report. “Some players just turn when they see a Pterry, regardless of whether or not there’s a turn nearby. One accident has occurred, but both motorists have good lawyers, so I’m sure it will turn out all right.”

“The Dino Hunters game is extremely dangerous.” Social Commentator Callie Chip told us. “It’s turning people into mindless zombies. People aren’t looking where they’re going, they’re breaking rules, trespassing, even doing things that could potentially harm themselves and others. Either the people who created this game are ignorant of the results, or they’re trying to create chaos.”

“I really like the game.” Dylan Falk, a Pterry chaser we met on the street, commented. “It’s fun to play the game and get outside to chase them. It makes it more difficult. But you have to be careful. It’s not for anyone.”

We asked him if he’d be willing to chase Pterrys anywhere. “No way.” He laughed. “No game is worth getting killed for.”

An Ideology Demoted

 

If realizing how little one knows is part of growing up, then I am on the threshold of bona fide adulthood.

Over the past year, I have seen and done many things for the first time. And instead of reassuring me of my inexhaustible teenage knowledge, calmly meshing into my calculated and comfortable worldview, these experiences have dethroned my knowledge, demoted my pet ideologies.

Everything from the 2016 presidential race to my nerve-wracking driving test to some clear-eyed Bible study has drawn me ever closer to the simple conclusion that life offers few simple conclusions. It offers even fewer simple solutions.

One of the earth-shattering implications of this truth, one whose consequences were difficult for me to embrace, is that economic and political freedoms are no solution for the human condition—they can guarantee neither order nor morality. While some systems are more just and potentially moral than others, no political system makes humans any better than they are now. Libertarianism cannot counteract inborn human depravity. Only the Gospel can do that.

In an idyllic free society or Misesian economy, people would likely be more prosperous and things might be more peaceful. But on their own, these systems still present innumerable human flaws and reflect mankind’s all-encompassing sin problem.

In my subconscious I wanted to believe that if only man was given a chance, if only people were given freedom and modern technology and trade, they would do something good and worthwhile and wholly amazing. As soon as I acknowledged this thought, I also noticed its danger. It denies the unique power of God to change people, it diminishes the true value of freedom by introducing absurd impossibilities, and it forces freedom and free markets into a league of other failed ideas that have promised to “change” humans.

Scripture is clear that, whether free or oppressed, people keep on doing just what they have always done: building towers, trying to make names for themselves, and trying to reach heaven on their own accord in an open rebellion against God.

Freedom is good—for many reasons, both practical and Biblical—but not because it makes man good; it does not, cannot, and will never change human nature.

Even if Misesian minarchy were the best system of government ever devised, it and its components would still be surrounded by and capable of great evil. The same goes for every other governmental and economic system in the history of the world; some are better than others, but all are nevertheless bad by reason of their human elements.

So far as solutions go, there is only One for changing people. So far as governments go, well, there’s a lot of debate about which is the most conducive to justice and goodness. In that regard my view of freedom still stands, as strongly as ever and as radically as ever. And although it stands, it stands demoted—its value has not diminished, but a foggy, faulty understanding of it has been put to rest.

I will continue to call myself a freedom-lover, but only after I have been sure to call myself a follower of Christ.

(And maybe, one of these days, I’ll also be able to say that I’m a grown-up.)

Blueberry Season

Every year about June, something happens in our house. I can sense it coming when the air gets hot and lazy, and the chickens sit on the ground instead of pecking around in their yard. I can see it as I see the summer leaves coming onto the trees.

It is coming.

It is here.

Blueberry Season.

I’m not sure how I gained my intense dislike for the flavor of blueberries. I used to like them. But something happened when I was small, something I can’t remember, and now I detest them. What makes it difficult, however, is that I am the alone.

Everyone in my home looks forward to Blueberry Season. They relish the idea of cold, crisp blueberries in pies, cakes, muffins, biscuits, waffles, pancakes, cobblers, and coffecakes. They like the huge bags of purple-blue berries in the freezer, and soon after a picking, flock to the kitchen to make their culinary conquest.

But what of me?

Oddly enough, even though my family loves to eat blueberries, they aren’t too fond of picking them. I understand, of course. Hot sun, fire ants, thick shoes, heavy buckets, clouds of insects, scratchy bushes, branches stuck in hair. I understand how those things are discouraging, because I’ve been there. I’ve even experienced guard dogs and all sorts of obstacles. But when it comes down to actually picking, my brother and I tie for most efficient. It doesn’t seem to register in my mind that each berry I pick means another blueberry-tainted dessert that I will have to pass on.

So in reality, I’m doing it to myself.

I like that my family likes blueberries. I like that they can now enjoy the harvest they (and I) worked to gather. I like that the sudden pour of berries inspires them to great things and new ideas. I like that. But I do not like blueberries.

So every year, right after the picking, it comes. All the normal desserts and breakfast items, like pie or pancakes, are covered with the berries. And every year I find a way to either eat them or eat something else. After about ten years of it, my family has caught on. But I can’t help it. I eat them sometimes, but as little as possible.

I’ve tried, of course. This is rather inconvenient for me, you know, and for the others. I try to like blueberries, for their sake (and for the sake of that pie) but I can’t. It’s not the only thing in the house, and frankly, if I take a piece and dislike it, then someone who actually loves it can’t have one. It isn’t worth the risk.

So now pie is on the table (blueberry, of course) and I content myself with memories of ice cream. They are enjoying their treasure as a family. That’s worth going without coffee cake.

Good Friday

It’s Good Friday. I’m not sure why we call it “good”. It certainly didn’t seem so 2,000 years ago. If I was to name holidays, I would switch the names of this Friday and Black Friday. Then we could have Black Friday (the day when the sky prematurely went black) and Good (deal) Friday. But I’m afraid no one would like that.

The thing is, though it was “good” when you think of the ultimate triumph of that Friday, no one thought so on the day when Jesus was crucified. Save, perhaps, some Pharisees, Sadducees and a guy named Herod. They were quite happy when Jesus died. The spirit world erupted into chaotic joy…like in the parable of the Tenants, where the wicked tenants said “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’’ (Matthew 21:38)

It seemed to be a very BAD Friday then. But even when things were darkest, odd phenomena broke out, hinting that the day wasn’t over. For one thing, the curtain in the temple separating God and Man tore from the top down. No one understood that this meant that a mediator had made the temple sacrifices obsolete. Some dead people came out of their graves and began to prophesy. No one understood that Jesus would very soon rise again.

On Sunday, the day we call Easter, (another odd name) all these things would be explained. But today, on Good Friday, we remember the cross, the pain, the sacrifice for sin. The beauty of Easter is preceded by the pain of Good Friday…God, be merciful to me, a Sinner!

Who is this man, who bears the scars?
What is his lowly name?

For surely he is a wretched soul
to be treated with such shame!

What was his crime, who suffers there
What was his great offense?
What is this burden he must bear
That he should die like this!

Has he no friends, to be alone
Why must he suffer there?
The awful load of sin and guilt
How hard it is to bear!

It is our God, who suffers there!
How hard for us to see!
As each professes, in his heart
He suffered there for me!”

Rebekah Hair

Ice World

DSCN2643Ice covered the leaves. Each blade of grass had its own blanket of stunning crystals, each tiny leaf its necklace of diamonds.

In some places the ice stuck out in stiff spikes, like tiny crystals of armor against footsteps. In others it covered the whole surface, branching out and joining together like crocheted lace.

If you walk outside you’ll see the diamond walkway before you. The weak sun sparkles on the grass, warning that soon it will rise to its whole height and warm the air, ending the reign of frosty magic.DSCN2645

I found a leaf on the grass that had fallen there from my potted poinsettia. Ice had covered every vein and panel, making a screen over the textured face. The beauty of the ice makes my frozen fingers worthwhile.

Ice is rare in south Texas. It’s usually dry in the winters, or raining because it’s much too warm for snow. I’ve only seen icicles a few times since we’ve been here, and none of them have been any longer than four inches. But frost is rather common, especially on cold, quiet mornings where the sun has yet to cross the sky and the air is bitterly frigid. During the night the dew turns to frost, and the frost to ice.

My camera has suddenly discovered how to blur and focus on different things depending on distance. Sometimes that’s annoying (birthday parties come to mind here) but other times it’s a blessing. Capturing the frozen morning takes practice. The light is so faded when the ice is out, but it’s so beautiful as it hits the diamond-hued ground. Even though you have to get up early and freeze, it’s worth it.

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Higgins in Houston: How to Beat Tom

Dear Hodgkins,

My neighborhood has been invaded by a bully.  I think his name is Tom. Whilst making my routine patrols around my home, as I have done for years, I am sometimes attacked by this feline troglodyte nearly twice my size. I have taken a few beatings after defending the honor of Miss Prissy and Miss Kitty, even though I have my doubts about the latter.  What can I do?

Higgins from Houston

 

Insurrectionist Swine

Even I, the Emperor, have dealt with rebels and traitors.

Higgins,

Even I, the Emperor, have dealt with rebels and traitors. Thus I can recommend offensive, defensive, and preventative measures that you must take in order to defeat Tom: first, make sure he knows you’re no one to be trifled with; second, learn where all of the neighborhood dogs are; and third, enlist the help of your humans.

To send a clear message to Tom about your power and status, acquire an elegant collar with a real jingle bell. Its intimidating effect is enough to keep most riff-raff away altogether. Furthermore, the bell’s jingling stops feline criminals in their tracks just as surely as a shotgun’s cycling stops their human counterparts. Just make sure that you get the correct type of collar—i.e., not a purple one, because purple indicate royalty. Only I am royalty. Please remember this.

If Tom is bold enough to disregard your message, proceed to intensive defensive measures. Whenever Tom pursues you or infringes on your territory, lead him into the real enemy lines: right into a canine’s gaping, drooling, uncoordinated jaws. My neighborhood offers a variety of suitable canines (my favorite locations for leading insurrectionists are the Schnauzer Pit, the Lab Experiment, and the Poodle Death Camp). Perhaps a more merciful method, although one of less certain success, is to learn of automatic sprinkler systems and/or bodies of water in your territory; you’re a clever fellow and I’m sure you can logically infer what I insinuate.

As a last resort, enlist the help of your human. Humans are useful as guards and are typically willing to eliminate threats that are within their power to destroy. My point here is to schedule your duels with Tom at a time when your human can see. They’ll stuff Tom in the Box of Abominations and cart him off to who-knows-where; he may or may not ever come back.

My point with all of these tips is that you don’t have to take a beating. It’s highly unnecessary—especially since, well, Miss Kitty is of doubtful reputation.

I love me too,

Hodgkins

Supreme Emperor of the Universe;

Chief Executive Lizard-Slayer at Lizard Warrior Service;

Recipient of the Snowbell Peace Prize;

Coolest Monarch of the Century (Irrational Geographic);

Expert Tree-Conqueror;

The Mahler Universe

The title page of an 1808 edition of Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

The title page of an 1808 edition of Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Gustav Mahler is one of my favorite composers. His music is imaginative. Glorious. Intense. Unprecedentedly large-scale. Sometimes dark, and other times angelic—always reminiscent of a vague adventure described in bits and pieces over an entire lifetime of creativity. In this regard Mahler’s music resembles a collection of folk tales or fairy stories—which were, not surprisingly, his greatest source of inspiration.

Seen from a broader perspective, though, his works are more than an assortment of thematically linked old lieder: it would be better explained as a story, in music, that takes place in a continuous universe.

Marvel and DC’s universes are two decent illustrations of this analogy. Both of these fictional settings in question are worlds similar to our own, featuring a regular cast of distinctive characters. Marvel has well-known figures like Captain America, the Fantastic Four, and Daredevil, for instance; DC has Batman, Superman, and the Joker. In many ways, though, Mahler’s musical universe is like the Pixar universe formulated and explained in fan theories: through a series of works, most connected and a few not, a thread can be traced. Familiar themes can be detected from piece to piece. And there’s a fascinating reason for it.

Mahler’s universe is based on the romanticized, dark, sometimes grotesque early Germany of the real world—the Germany of a generation or two before he was born. Instead of mutant superheroes and mastermind villains, his music features the familiar characters, ideas, and themes found in Des Knaben Wunderhorn (the Young Boy’s Magic Horn), a collection of German lieder and poetry from a colorful, centuries-old culture.

While it would be presumptuous to say that the man’s music solely reflected Wunderhorn poetry, all of his symphonies were in some way or another influenced by the collection. His life experiences, his philosophies, and his feelings for individuals around him were woven directly into his music; but one might say that Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano’s 1805 poetry collection was his music.

Many 19th century Germans and Austrians would have been familiar with the book. Perhaps as a result of its widespread popularity, several composers, including Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, and Schoenberg, wrote works based on selections. None of them impacted the musical scene quite as deeply as Mahler’s, the near entirety of whose creative output was set in the musical universe he created from (and for) Des Knaben Wunderhorn. 

The term “musical universe” is imperfect for a number of reasons, one of them being that it obscures the difference between actual storytelling and actual characters in poems set to music and the recurring musical themes, cadences, and instrumentations that Mahler uses again and again in his symphonies and songs. However, the term’s ambiguity is simultaneously useful—thanks to the intriguing connections between his song sets, symphonies, and Wunderhorn.

The Mahler universe began with his early Songs of a Wayfarer and Lieder and Gesänge, his first settings of Wunderhorn verse and Wunderhorn-inspired poetry; in 1892, he began the best-known set of Wunderhorn songs. From these sets of songs emerged, directly and indirectly, nine symphonies. His First Symphony blatantly references Songs of a Wayfarer; in the Resurrection Symphony, he quotes “Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt” almost measure for measure for a great deal of the second movement—and the fourth movement of the same symphony is a Wunderhorn setting in its entirety, the poignant “Urlicht”. “Ablösung im Sommer” and “Es sungen drei Engel” similarly found their way into the Third Symphony. My favorite of all, the Fourth Symphony, features the beautiful “Das Himmlische Leben”.

With the last chord of the Fourth Symphony ends the Wunderhorn influence, or so it is said. But I disagree: the first motif of Mahler’s Fifth, the famed trumpet call, is a quote from the Fourth. Although it has not been concluded (and it has rarely been discussed) whether or not the quote was intentional, the fact remains that Wunderhorn’s impact was scarcely over. For instance, in the Fifth he hints at two Wunderhorn songs he was working on at the time, “Der Tamboursg’sell” and “Revelge,” two militaristic pieces with dark subjects. Mahler continued to quote and imitate his earlier works until the end.

Mahler’s works are placed into categories: Early, Wunderhorn, Middle, and Late. But  I would argue that “the Wunderhorn years” never properly ended—just as Pixar fans argue that Cars, Toy Story, and Monsters Inc. exist in the same chronology. The connection may be harder to trace, but it persists—and you can find it simply by listening to Mahler’s universe.

Insanity, Part 1

This year my favorite Radio Station suddenly decided to drop what they had been doing and begin a whole new set of music. I wrote them an e-mail to ask why they had made the change. They said that they made the change to Praise and Worship so that they would minister to the majority of their listeners. While talking to Mom about this, somehow I lost track of the conversation and began to talk about something completely different: our inability to change.

I’m not sure how we got on that track. Maybe it’s because the e-mail didn’t show any signs of changing direction. I understand. We can’t expect a radio station to simply change course because one person doesn’t like what they’re doing. That’s to be expected. Now if everyone listening suddenly decided they didn’t like the new music and protested, and the station still wouldn’t change, that would be a problem. Why, that station would be just like Americans today!

We have a problem in our day and age with making our minors absolutes and our absolutes minors. We stand firm on our nothings while making concessions for our everythings. How is it that we can be so protective of our preferences, but so lenient with our laws? We pass laws protecting our interests but let people strip away our rights.

We need to wake up, people. This is getting pretty insane.

I’m not saying that stubbornness is good or bad, because it is both. When my brother stubbornly keeps his little brother from pulling away from him and running into the road, his stubbornness is invaluable. When little brother just as stubbornly insists on his way, his stubbornness is sinful. The difference between young adult and young child couldn’t be more clear. The child was being stubborn with something he could afford to lose, that is, his right to run into the road. The young man was being stubborn with something he could not afford to lose, that is, his little brother’s life.

There seem to be many more toddlers than young men in this world when it comes to decisions. Both boys were just as determined to win, and neither of them were going to give in. The younger one insisted that his brother let go of his hand. He wanted to run into the road! The older brother insisted that he would hold on to the hand until all the cars had gone down the street. So while the younger brother could have afforded to make concessions, the older one couldn’t. You can’t have a partially ran-over brother and still come out on top in the negotiations. Younger brother didn’t care much about the cars and the older brother’s convictions, but he was vehement about his right to play in the road.

There are many things that we can give in on. We can let other people have the last piece of pie, or our place in line, or the best job. We can also let go of arguments over, say, what C.S. Lewis was thinking in the Last Battle, or whether Rich Mullins wrote a certain song for a certain person. If we don’t have the actual written answer, these things are just speculation and shouldn’t be argued over. These are the places where we should be peacemakers. We can be meek and let others win arguments over silly things, like (don’t get angry at me here) having candles in a church service or baptism. These kinds of conflicts don’t really achieve anything or improve the relationship between the people involved. There’s no moral issue in question.

However, when something that is true, like the existence of God or the value of human life, is questioned or attacked, we cannot sit back and allow other people to spread lies about the laws of God. In my example of the two brothers, my teenage brother was acting under the orders from his parents (the law-givers) that running out into the road was wrong, and that there would be serious consequences for them if they did so. My younger brother knew of the law, but he didn’t care, and my older brother had to restrain him for his good and for the good of the family. In the same way, sometimes we must take action to restrain bad judgment and bad laws, especially if those bad laws will hurt the nation and the people involved.

Our world is steadily streaming towards a fall. Our country has made bad choice after bad choice, and many people have not tried to stop it. Lawmakers get away with insanity because the good people are bickering and the bad people don’t care. Our culture is decaying, and we can’t get over our parking space.

God gave us free will to use for the good of ourselves and others, not to be used in a muscle match to try and bully the person disagreeing with us. We need to use the stubbornness given us to proclaim the truth, and to defend it. We need to find our backbone and not be afraid when people disagree! Our earthly enemies don’t seem to mind the “shame-on-yous” we use to try and change them, and we might want to take their advice. If you believe in something strongly, you should fight for it, but if it’s something that’s a preference, try and make peace. When we forget the true priority of life, we get into really sticky messes, like the one we’re in now.

Emmanuel!

Isn’t it interesting that we can become so callous to the wonderful?

That’s a bizarre thing to say, I realize, but by this time you’re probably used to my style. People who read me often probably skipped right over that statement, inadvertently proving it. We’re constantly bombarded by people who are trying to shock us. After some time we simply wander through life.

Christmas is a pretty good example of this. We hear Christmas music all the time and grow tired of it. We hear words and names and acknowledge them as part of the season, too busy to care about their meanings. One word that seems to have been stripped of its meaning is the word “Emmanuel”

Spelled with either an E or an I, the word Emmanuel means “God with us”. In a culture obsessed with people, it’s hard to understand the significance of such a bold and glorious promise. God had not dwelt with his people since before the time of the judges. God had been far off. He had given them his promise to be with them, but had also promised to hide his face if they turned away, which they did over and over. He gave his children second chances, and they spit in his face. For hundreds of years, God was silent.

But there were those who stayed faithful, and who studied the scriptures hoping for a sign of the coming Messiah, who would rescue them from their sin and misery. Imagine their joy as they read these words: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

Immanuel; God with Us! The messiah was coming one day, and he would dwell with them on earth! He would be able to interact with them in a way that had not been seen since the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve walked with God each day. Can you imagine the eagerness that possessed those who believed in this word? Can you taste their breathless joy?

Just because these verses are quoted around Christmastime doesn’t mean that they are exclusively Christmas property. Have a wonderful New Year, everyone! May you use the year to do wonderful and amazing things for God’s glory! But through it all, remember that God is With Us Forever! That is a reason to rejoice. Though my verse is clumsy, I hope that it brings you joy.

God with us! He promised
to never forsake.
God with us! His mercies
our hard hearts awake.
God with us! He’s coming!
Lift your praises high!
God with us! Forever!
He who came to die!

God with us! His praises
shall never now end.
God with us! He calls us,
our savior and friend.
God with us! He’s coming!
God here on earth!
God with us! Forever!
Rejoice at Christ’s birth!

God with us! He’s coming
to bring us all peace.
God with us! His kingdom
shall never, ever cease.
God with us! He’s here now!
From heaven’s high throne
God with us! O, Praise him!
He’ll soon bring us home!

Santa Sméagol: A play

 

Setting: Gollum and Frodo are wrapping Christmas gifts. Frodo apparently asked Gollum for help with his huge load of presents, and Gollum is obliging with the hopes of achieving something.

Frodo walks in and speaks to Gollum, who is wrapping presents. Gollum was originally muttering to himself and looking sour, but when Frodo walks in, he changes his expression and becomes flattering and “helpful”.

Frodo: Thank you for your help, Sméagol. These gifts were really piling up. They’ve become quite a burden to me. (Sighs and looks dramatically towards audience)

Gollum: Helpful Sméagol always helps master. Sméagol does his best.

Frodo: Well, I appreciate it, I really do. (Looks down at the pile of badly-wrapped gifts, hesitates) They’re a little messy.

Gollum(whining): Nice Sméagol does his best, he does! Always helps master! Can’t help it that gifts are tricksy.

Sam(suddenly appearing through a door): Look at this! What a mess. You’re making me sick. Let me see that! (Grabbing gifts, he proceeds to neatly wrap them) Now that’s the only way to wrap a brace of coneys.

Frodo(alarmed): What? Whose present was that?

Sam(glancing at the package): I’m not really sure. There’s no label on the gift.

Frodo: Oh dear. I must have misplaced the sticky labels. Sméagol, have you seen them?

Gollum(still whining): Sméagol does his best to help master! Sméagol would never take master’s precious.

Sam: (under his breath) Gollum probably ate them, he did. (Louder) I’ll go look for them, Mr. Frodo! (Exits)

Gollum: (Waits a minute to make sure Sam is really gone, then looks at Frodo with a crafty smile.) Nice Sméagol wraps gifts for master, but does not know how to label them without sticky labels, does he precious? Wherever could they be? (Cuts his eyes back and forth, moves in closer) It was him! The Fat Hobbit! He wants them for himself! It will soon have him!

Frodo: What are you talking about? (alarmed again)

Gollum: the precioussssss, love, the preciousssss. He wants it for himself. He’s taken those nice sticky labels all himself, and we shall never see them again. He is jealous of poor Sméagol.

Sam: (calling from the other room) Mr. Frodo! I found the sticky labels! You left them in the closet shelves!

Gollum: (exchanging glances with Frodo) Oopssess.

Sam:(Runs in and hands them to him) Here you are. And it looks like those coneys were for Mr. Gimli, if I’m not mistaken.

Frodo: Ah, Gimli. I’d forgotten. He does like red meat, if I remember correctly.

Sam: Yes, I believe so. (Sam stops and stares at Gollum) Why, Gollum, you’re not using a tape dispenser. You’re going to make everything all messy. Don’t you have one? (fetches a tape holder for Sméagol) There. You couldn’t do better than that.

Gollum: Yes I could! (snatches tape away) Spoils the nice tape. Sméagol likes it raw and sticky, good for wrapping presents in, and you can keeps the nasssty dispenser.

Sam: You’re hopeless. (Exits again)

Frodo: I have to run some errands now, Sméagol. Can you finish up here and put the presents under the tree?

Gollum: Oh yes, oh yes. Go along, hobbitses. Sméagol will watch over things for you. (Frodo exits. Sméagol continues to wrap presents in his own messy way, but now he talks to himself.) It isn’t fair, precious. They goes out to buy presents and don’t let us at all! And all these precious gifts, all going to elveses and orcses, when we wraps them! It isn’t fair!

(Evil Gollum suddenly enters and speaks to Gollum, dialogue)

Evil Gollum: No, it isn’t, love. They doesn’t appreciate us. They only look out for themselves.

Gollum (whining): But Master promised that he would get us a gift this year….

Evil Gollum: Master doesn’t keep his promises. Wicked! Tricksey! False! We must look after ourselves. We should takes it.

Gollum: No! Yess…? But no! They isn’t our preciouses. They are others giftses.

Evil Gollum: But no one is around, precious. They will never know. We takes it for ourselves.

Gollum: But the Fat Hobbit! He sees everything!

Evil Gollum: Then we do it now while Fat Hobbit is gone. Take the precious and let us be gone. Master doesn’t like you.

Gollum (suddenly picking up courage) No! Go away, and NEVER come back! (Hits him with the present. Evil Gollum flees) He’s gone! Yes! Freeeeeee! (He takes gifts to tree. Scene end.)

(Later, outside Christmast party. Gollum is outside of the festivities, feeling very sad. Sam walks up to him.

Sam: What are you doing, sneaking around out here?

Gollum: Sneaking! After all Sméagol does for you, and you accuse us of sneaking! Sneaking, indeed.

Sam: Well, it doesn’t much matter. I’ve brought you something. (holds out gift)

Gollum: Doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t like it. (Takes it cautiously and opens it.)

Sam: Well, Merry Christmas anyway, Gollum. (Stalks off)

Gollum: (Discovering something inside that he likes) My precious….you brought me my precioussss! Merry Christmas to you too, fat hobbit! And to everyones!

Based on actual events.

Chosen Ones: Climax

Caro strode forward, letting adrenaline take over. Things began spinning around him. Nya was in the throne room, sitting on his Father’s throne. Caro grew angry. Who was this person? Why did she think that she would be free from her conscience? She had Gino now. Did she have Opal? If she did, then the plan might succeed. Caro could use her pride against her. But what if she didn’t? What if someone else did, or if Opal was simply in hiding? Caro had to take the chance.

A few guards noticed him and rushed forward. Caro pushed them aside and held his pace. Nya’s eyes glittered. She was winning! Caro had come for his friends. Now she had him! What could his puny force do now? In her desperate grab for power, she had forgotten the Chosen. At this time one who had been Chosen, Andrew, was racing down the halls, followed by the twins, Simon and Tully. She had also forgotten the quiet strength within Opal and Gino. She trusted to her army, but Caro was trusting in something deeper.

Caro couldn’t be stopped. Guards shot at him with arrows, but the bolts missed their marks. A wave of fear swept over the crowd. What magic did this boy have? Did it match the magic of their queen? Would there be a battle?

Nya alone remained calm. “Well, who is this?” She asked. “It’s my little runaway prince.”

“Your mocking does not bother me.” Caro called. “What do you want, usurper?”

“You have come.” Nya told him. “Where are your rebels? Are they hiding in the rafters?”

“I’m here for Gino.” Caro said boldly. “Release him.”

“I don’t think so.” Nya told him. “If you want your friend back, you must first face me.”

“I will not fight you.” Caro told her. “It will not do anything.”

“Not fight me?” Nya seemed confused, but only for a minute. “Now, why is that?”

“I do not feel that it is necessary.” Caro replied. “At least, not now.”

“I know why.” Nya snapped. “You’re trying to keep your little prophetess safe. Well, it is pointless. I’ve taken care of her.”

“Where is she?” Caro asked.

“In good time.” Nya smiled. “In good time.”

“You aren’t going to tell me.” Caro realized. “You’re playing for time.”

“I am in charge of this meeting.” Nya snapped, losing her temper. “Why would I play?”

“Why does a cat play with a mouse?” Rocket muttered from his hiding place behind the throne. Oddly enough, Nya didn’t hear him.

“Because you’re afraid of me.” Caro guessed. “You’re afraid of what I have and what you once had. You don’t want to lose your kingdom that you have fought so hard to obtain. But you can never keep it, Nya. The Creator is too powerful for you to defy. Your reign is over.”

“You will not fight me because you say that I am afraid.” Nya hissed. “But you are the one who should be afraid.”

“But I am not.” Caro stubbornly insisted.

“We shall see.” Nya’s mind was reeling. She had not expected Caro to be so confident. Then she had a thought. Caro was a son of a king, but he was still a child. He had been stirred to anger and near-madness by the death of his sister. Perhaps Nya could replicate that reaction. But how?

Opal.
Yes! The blind girl was so helpless, and so trusting. She was the perfect bait for the prince! Nya nodded to Dawes. Dawes gave an order to his men. Davis narrowed his eyes. What were they doing? Were they going to get Gino? Or were they trying to set up a trap for Caro? And what about Opal? The soldier wasn’t sure. He glanced at Rocket. Rocket shrugged. He didn’t know what was going on. All he knew was that if anything went wrong, he would be ready with his pistol.

“I am waiting, Nya.” Caro reminded them of the task at hand. “Release my friends now.”

“As you wish.” Nya smiled icily at him. Suddenly Caro realized that Opal had been there the whole time. She sat at the edge of the platform, nodding sleepily. Caro suddenly realized that the sleep-paralysis had struck her again. She wouldn’t be able to play her part in the drama. Caro suddenly realized that he had walked right into a trap. Nya’s command had been to her men, and now they were surrounding the room. Caro, as well as his men, were trapped inside of the throne room, and if he didn’t think of something quickly, Rocket and Davis would react and die. Opal might die as well.

Caro drew his sword once more, trying to buy a little time. “Let Opal go, Nya!” He cried, but Nya only laughed. Caro went very white. Nya had guessed his plans! But as Caro stood motionless, someone else moved. A large black, silver, and white dog burst through the doors, darting through the legs of the guards and standing, snarling, at the foot of the platform. With a wolf-like howl, he sprang at Nya.

Nya’s concentration was broken. She stared at the dog who was flying at him and lifted her arm to shield her face. Promise was growling like an angry bear. His eyes were red and wild. Caro had never seen him act so ferociously. But Nya was only distracted for a moment. She swung her trident and hit the dog on the side, knocking him to the other side of the throne room. Against his better judgment, Davis bent down to see if he could help the dog. Promise’s brown eyes gazed up at him pitifully.

But in all the confusion, Nya had forgotten about Opal. She stood up like someone in a trance. Then she turned sightless eyes to Nya. “I’m sorry.” She said softly, then raised her voice. “Hear the Word of the Creator God, who chose you before you were born. “I have forsaken you” says the LORD, “and you shall be cut off from the earth. No longer shall you live in the iniquity of your evil ways, and no longer shall you oppress the people whom I have called my own. I will visit the blood of the slain on your head, and you shall bear the punishment you have earned.””

As Nya heard Opal’s words, her face turned paler than pale. She took a step back, cried out, and fell to the ground. The trident fell from her hands. She faded away in their sight and slowly disappeared. Caro dropped his sword in grave sorrow. He hated Nya, but all the same, he was overcome by the thought of someone so evil receiving her due. As for the grim message-bearer, Opal sank to her knees and was silent. Caro thought he heard Gino say sometime, somewhere “So end all who disobey our God’s laws and remain unrepentant.”

Remembering Animal Land

A word of explanation: I wrote this for a class, and since I haven’t written much in the last few months, I thought I should put it up.

Growing up, my brothers and I loved to play games. We did not need a game board or cards to play them. Our game pieces were our toys, and the rules were made up as we went along. We liked our cars, because we had so many of them, and we liked our dinosaurs and legos, but we always had a tiny bit of favoritism for our stuffed animals. Our stuffed animals, and the kingdom they built, were what made our childhood special.

It was not hard to guess why. When something shares your confidence, you want to make it the hero in all your games. To three hyper-imaginative children, stuffed animals were perfect dolls. You could make them clothes, but that wasn’t necessary. They could be thrown and stepped on, but they would never hurt you the way the spiky plastic toys would. Besides, they all looked the same. This made history and family structure easy. Adam’s toys were the Dogginas, Sam’s the Doggos, and mine were the Cattianas. They conquered kingdoms, fought blanket monsters, and gnashed their teeth against the irresistible fiend, Goodwill, who had devoured so many of their comrades. There was intrigue and mystery as the armies of King Foxy fought against the villainous Lisechecks and drove them back to their borders. The fairies and the cars were all in their little areas, surrounded by the watchful stuffed animals. Wars were fought every year or so, but what can you expect with two little brothers?

Animal Land gave our creativity jumper cables. Not only did we draw pictures of our pets, but we gave them genealogies. The countryside had to be mapped, and cities and rivers were discovered that could not be found on any other chart. President Blackie Cattiana and King Foxy Doggina had a lasting truce, as they fought to chase out the wicked Shep and her children from their ranks. But all these adventures needed to be written about. Soon a newspaper sprang up, The Animal Enterprise. I was the editor and illustrator. Adam was in charge of the sports page. And Sam…well, Sam was the one whose animals’ exploits were read about in the stories. Sadly, most of the villains in Animal Land were of that notorious family, Doggos. His ideas were rather radical for our culture, and not always understood, but always tolerated. Our creativity knew no bounds!

There was no stopping the invincible armies of Blackie and Foxy, and in peacetime, think of all the competitions! There were the Animal Olympics, of course, and Animal Soccer, Basketball, Football, and cheerleading. Shops sprang up, with their own advertisements. Then we went through our “cardboard box” stage, where we commandeered boxes to create animal castles for the royalty. I kept our animals readily supplied with wedding dresses and flags, curtains and capes, all made from Grandma’s scrap-box. There was no defeating Animal Land. It would reign forever!

Somehow, though no one knows when or how, Animal Land seemed less important to us. For one thing, I was interested in a far more amazing realm, the animal country of Symettria. The Spy Club were testing the waters of mystery, and the human spies, the MPA agents, cautiously lifted their banner high in my imagination. Instead of playing with my toys, I created my own characters with my pen and pencil. As I began to write and draw, my playing became more and more infrequent. Soon my play-time was limited to outside, then only on the swings. It was so much more exciting to play our characters ourselves. Why would we want to play stuffed animals?

We moved on, I suppose. Lily the Leopard and Sam Houston the Teddy were replaced in my mind with Nala Fletcher, Jaycee Fox, and Agent R, who only existed in my mind and my writing. Adam left his animals to chase after sports stars, and Sam’s unquenchable imagination was filled with Jedi, Pokémon, and Sonic the Hedgehog. Our maps became wrinkled and torn, our advertisements were replaced by comic pages chronicling the latest adventures of the Spy Club, and Foxy’s army sat restlessly, waiting for an adversary. That adversary never came. Now it’s too late. We’re too old.

I miss the days when King Foxy’s armies ruled the animal world. It is not easy to grow up. We want to be able to stay little all the time, but that is not possible. When our childhood is over, we first see what we have lost. One day, perhaps, when we have children of our own, Animal Land will awake from its sleep. But for now, our younger siblings are playing, creating, and building their own imaginary world. Their creed is much different than ours, and they are writing their own stories with their own stuffed animals. Children should be allowed to build their imaginary kingdoms while they can, because one day they will look back on them with fondness and regret, as I do.

Secession: More Than a Texas Tall Tale

texas

Unlike the jokes that claim Texas is populated solely by oil millionaires and lone tumbleweeds, the Texas independence movement is no tall tale. Supporters of secession are real and their numbers are growing.

That Texans exaggerate things, and that the rest of the world stretches the truth about Texas itself, is undeniable: as the stereotype would have it, everyone in Texas is an oil millionaire or a cattleman (or both), rattlesnakes and cactus are ubiquitous, and the weather is universally hot, dry, and dusty, with a sprinkling of tumbleweeds.

Texas’ nearly thirty million inhabitants can quickly confirm, of course, that oil tycoons are rare, that the weather is a great deal more than its reputation permits, and that, thankfully, tumbleweeds refuse to grow most places south of Abilene. Yet this amusing but inaccurate stereotype remains, as if it were a statewide inside joke or a reference to a Hollywood comedy that refuses to die.

However, there is one aspect of the Texas reputation that is verifiably true: Texas pride and Texas’ very real, very active independence movement.

The Texas Nationalist Movement has over 200,000 supporters, with approximately 20,000 joining those ranks since June 1, 2015.

For those who have not thoroughly examined the facts and explored their implications, Texas standing as its own nation does indeed seem like farcical folklore, originating in the joking pride and boundless imagination of a self-obsessed culture.

Although many are tempted to downplay the existence of a serious independence movement and dismiss it as another Texas joke, its ideology, its “boots on the ground,” its logic, and the hope it offers Texans cannot be ignored—just as the glaring problems with the current federal system cannot be imagined out of existence.

Supporters of Texas independence are real, they are multiplying, and they are no local legend or stereotype. Furthermore, they have a good chance of succeeding in their mission, a chance that gets even better if you help them.

Look to the future.

The United States’ past, although riddled with bullet holes and strewn with unfulfilled promises, is often shown through an idyllic lens: memories of mom and pop stores, fond recollections of prosperous times and simple pleasures, stories of America’s greatest individuals and their victories for freedom and justice. But this is a one-sided view to take, one that not only neglects to show the tragedies and pitfalls of past eras but also covers up the inconvenient reality that America is not what it once was.

For the past 150 years, and the past 60 years in particular, government intrusion and spending have risen exponentially. States rights have all but vanished, destroying the Founders’ vision of a federation of independent nations; government debt has risen to wholly unsustainable levels; federal intervention in energy, healthcare, and transportation industries has resulted in an unstable system that constantly requires “reform,” stifles progress, is unable to meet demand, and consumes a massive—and unprecedented—percentage of the United States’ GDP. The United States has become an economic, political, and social quagmire that threatens to destroy Texas entirely.

Nostalgic memories of the past are usually inaccurate, but they are also not repeatable: they cannot be relived, and they especially cannot be relived in Washington’s shadow. Clinging to a perishing system, waving an American flag on a sinking ship, is no longer the answer.

The only chance for a bright future comes in creating it, and right now Texans have the opportunity to choose independence.

Originally published here. 

The Logically Deficient Basis of Pure Conservatism

This Tory poster, made for the 1951 general election, called for change and the end of "war socialism." But Tories (British conservatives) would change themselves entirely over the next sixty years.

This Tory poster, made for the 1951 general election, called for change and the end of “war socialism.” But Tories (British conservatives) would themselves change entirely over the next sixty years.

There was once a time when I was an unyielding, self-proclaimed conservative.

Conservatism—by the dictionary—means “belief in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society,” or “dislike of change or new ideas in a particular area.”

After three years of reflection, I reached the conclusion that neither of these two pillars of conservatism is invariably desirable—and that this vague ideological construct that millions of Americans cling to is one of the most meaningless political philosophies of the 20th and 21st centuries. 

Pure Conservatism

While the specific policies and proposals of conservatives in a given society should be evaluated on their own merits, the logical basis for many of these stances often amounts to little less than the masked fallacy that “it worked before, so it ought to work now.” Strict preservation of the existing system is the only apparent rationale for pure conservatism—in fact, it is conservatism. Perpetuating what came before, untouched and with no questions asked, is rarely what people think of when they hear the word conservatism, however. The term is frequently associated with far-right political movements or policy positions. While modern conservatives may seem “far-right” compared to more modern ideologies, this is not what conservatism means. Far from it.

In the United States, most conservatives oppose gun control; in Britain, most conservatives support gun control. Neither form of conservatism is internally inconsistent, because both are in favor of preserving the status quo, the governmental inheritance their flawed forefathers left behind. Both are forms of pure conservatism in this regard.

At one point, part of American conservatism was “conserving” prohibition; most modern conservatives, a few generations separated, have flipped this policy on its head and now wish to loosen regulations on alcohol production and lower taxes on alcohol’s sale.

From its founding until the Civil War, the United States was construed to be a confederation of independent nation-states, not unlike the modern European Union. Conservatives immediately after the Civil War wanted to return to said system; after a generation, conservatism had changed—just as the Union had changed.

The face of conservatism changes as often as the status quo changes; there is but a brief generational delay. Neither static nor coherent, conservatism changes with the traditions it attempts in vain to preserve, rendering it incapable of functioning as a standalone philosophy of government.

What’s Worth Conserving?

Conservatism is merely concerned with maintaining a tradition; the moral or practical quality of that tradition is an altogether extraneous question. In the United States today, conservatism exists as a force that supports a “safety net” of welfare agencies, favors the continued ban on recreational drugs, and proposes a closed border policy—whether or not these policies are worth keeping and whether or not they are traditionally “American” are two different questions.

Trade protectionism, frequent military interventions in foreign affairs, the death penalty, the government’s protected monopoly on letter delivery, public education, the bureaucratic phenomenon known as the FDA, and government construction and maintenance of roads are only a few things that conservatives take for granted that conflict with their bitter opposition to new incarnations of similar policies.

Public education and federally constructed curriculum are acceptable; Common Core is not. Background checks on gun purchasers are sensible, but licensing gun owners or restricting ammunition sales is “nonsense.” Jailing nonviolent drug users or traders is the only right answer to an uncomfortable 21st century issue; but alcohol consumption is somehow a different matter altogether.

Just how far a conservative is willing to go is decided not by logic, nor by pragmatism, nor even by morals: it is decided by tradition. Slavery was once an American “tradition.” Not very long ago, women were denied voting rights—this was also a “tradition.” In the near future, abortion will also be a “tradition” that conservatives will fight to preserve.

As it is now, the United States government and its many faulty traditions are not worth conserving; they required changes twenty years ago, and fifty years ago, and a hundred years ago. Conserving a governmental system haunted by inefficiencies, problems, and injustices that continue to compound yearly is hardly the answer to the threatening circumstances—foreign and domestic—that have the potential to rip apart this nation at the seams.

Not All Traditions Are Bad

Like all ideas and practices, traditions should be morally and logically evaluated. Compared to most other countries’ records in human rights and economic freedom, the United States’ history is relatively clean; but that does not change that some of its still-practiced “traditions,” including government monopolies in mail delivery and education, are not acceptable.

Nevertheless, the United States has plenty of ideological traditions to be proud of—due process, free speech, and limited government, to name only an important few. Americans should seek to protect and advance these traditions, rather than the norm in government, which frequently infringe upon the handful of worthwhile “established and traditional practices in politics and society.”

Not all traditions are bad; not all traditions are good. Traditions change. Traditions are unstable. And traditions vary drastically depending on the region, culture, and nation that formed them. Ideological progress, and mankind’s progress as a whole, depends not on “conserving” lock, stock, and barrel what came before, but rather on culling the bad and adopting the good. Conservatism means nothing beneficial if the system it seeks to conserve is a tyrannical one—as is increasingly the case.

Despite sharing a number of political leanings with the modern American conservatives, I no longer label myself as one of them, and the conclusions I share with them I have reached for wholly different reasons than they have: they wish but to preserve a tradition, rather than promoting what is best for mankind, what is best in God’s eyes, and what functions best in this very real world in which we live.

True, pure conservatism—the sort that follows tradition only for tradition’s sake—ignores that established practices can be crimes against humanity, and new ideas can serve as an infusion of life to a nation. Given uninhibited liberty and a minimalist government constrained by the rule of law, humankind can make the greatest advances and pave the way to the brightest future. It is time to create national “traditions” that acknowledge this.

Happy Dog Reprise

Hey, this is Felix, fourth columnist down from the exalted Clara. As the alpha dog in the house, I felt that it was my job to keep you updated with the pet population around here. It’s been hard to write anything for some time now because Fluffy went into hiding. He has reluctantly emerged from his hiding, and is now writing for us. Isn’t that nice? I’m following the pawprints of my dog predecessors and resuming the post of dogmaster general.

The first thing I should tell you about is my history. I’m Jack’s older brother by two months. I am turning one year old in three weeks. Jack has left the yard because he killed some turkeys and was put on chain lockup. I haven’t seen him in a few months, and that’s ok. I got a new sidekick now.

My new puppy is Misty. She’s got a gray set of fur and she’s about as round as a puppy should be. She has cute little stick-up ears and a stripey gray tail that sticks up in the air. She also has whiskers. Don’t ask me where those came from. I didn’t give them to her! My little puppy is adorable, and I’ve raised her as my own. Jack and I found her near the bonfire in the burn pile. The family sent her to the shed for a month, but when she emerged, she was all puppy! We loved to wrestle and play-fight. We shared food. All is well.

As far as a puppy goes, she’s a bit strange. She likes to climb trees and posts. She also prefers to scratch rather than biting. She makes this weird vibrating sound when she’s happy. And sometimes she climbs on top of the roof. But I love her anyway. I share scraps with her and we chase each other around the yard. It’s a good life.

Did you know that puppies are really fun to chew on? Did you know that you can carry them around in your mouth? Did you know that they’re really not fun to be scratched by? I didn’t. How funny! I like my little puppy. She makes me laugh.

All of the other creatures around here are cats and chickens. The chickens peck and kick. I don’t like them. The cats scratch and hiss. I don’t like them either. But the people keep getting more and more of them! I don’t know what the attraction is. The newest kitten is Socks. Strangely enough, she’s about the same size and shape as my puppy, and she likes to scratch and bite too. It’s funny.

You know, our chickens are odd. They live in a little fort that is painted with sunflowers. It’s got a big yard and a house raised from the ground. They stink. But sometimes they get out and run around. They are fun to chase, but some of them have strange names. Avoid “Eowyn”! She’s got a sword. And avoid “Radagast” too. She’s…actually, I have no idea what she is. All I know is that my puppy does strange things after “Radagast” waves her little twig. Why did they give her a name like “Radagast”?

The people just got more chicks. I haven’t seen them yet, but Misty says they’re small and crunchy. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds delicious. Misty would know. She’s already killed four mice and a snake. She’s an efficient dog, that’s for sure. She also likes to climb up into the tree and chase squirrels. Ah, squirrels. If only I could catch them! They’re so…so….small and crunchy! One day I’ll actually get to chase one.

Anyway, the chicks are here. I don’t have much information right now, but I think someone said that one of them is called “Batman”.

Oh dear.

You know, chickens aren’t that great. They stink and bite and kick. They aren’t regular in laying eggs. They peck your feet and are very ungrateful. It’s better not to bother with them. But if you think you must have chickens, and you bring them into your home, don’t give them names like “Batman”. How about “Stinky”, or “Chewy”, or “Crunchy”? Those are appropriate names. Not “Batman”.

My Puppy and I might need to intervene here. Be warned, chickens. The Happy Dog will rise again!

Gotta be Wise

I’ve been watching too much kids TV. No excuses—this is not good! But somehow I feel so excited when a hero triumphs. I love the feeling I get when a bad guy is finally defeated, and when the world is once again safe. Since most superhero shows are weird and have questionable things, I have to be very careful what I look at. PBS is pretty good about keeping it clean, at least right now. I tend to go after PBS’ “Word Girl” episodes, because I like superheroes. Granted, even though the hero in question, Word Girl, is a little annoying, she is a likeable hero.

But it seems that the Villains in the cartoon series have more to say than the heroine. (Quite a feat, especially when the hero has word powers) Sure, the villains are exaggerated and ridiculous, not to mention lawbreakers, but they are also extremely insightful. Not only are they cool enough for my brother, who really loves to talk about “bad guys”, but they each have something to say. One teaches about synonyms, and another antonyms. One in particular always speaks passively, for with PBS shows, even superheroes must teach something. But one villain, Miss Power, teaches about bullying.

This might be rather strange for a show based on explaining proper grammar, if it wasn’t for the public campaign against bullying that is being led by celebrities and the media. I watched the four-episode series, and well…I came out almost frozen. Here’s what happened.Miss Power

Imagine that we have a superhero who spends all her time fighting crime, yet never gets the appreciation or respect she wants. She flies around saving people, often giving up precious family time to do so, and the villains always get out of jail after about a week. She’s exhausted! Now imagine that someone shows up claiming to have the answer to her problem, and that that someone proceeds to follow through with her promises. Her tactics are intimidation: if the villain is too scared to leave the jail, the hero won’t have to fight him as much.

It soon gets out of hand. We now have a power-crazy, sarcastically cruel “hero” running around, with the hero of the show following her every suggestion! But eventually Word Girl’s conscience gets the best of her, and she refuses to go along with Miss Power’s sadistic “crime-fighting”. Angry at being crossed, Miss Power reveals her true nature, and Word Girl has to try and fight something that is more wicked than she ever could have dreamed. Humiliated, Word Girl flees the battle, and Miss Power begins her rule of the city.

In many ways, Miss Power represents a modern celebrity. She looked amazing and had the force to back up her looks. She was popular and helpful, and a good role-model. She was a hero. But underneath her fair features, Miss Power was hiding a disgusting, wicked heart. She wasn’t a good person at all, and definitely not a good leader! Instead of helping people, she started locking them in jail simply for disagreeing with her rule of terror.

It turned out that Miss Power’s beauty was only skin-deep. She wanted to be in complete control of everything, and she would stop at nothing to accomplish that goal. All it took was a little persuasion, and she easily ditched her disguise for her true, violent identity. Her “power” came from having “power” over the other characters. If they were not afraid of her, she would lose her strength. So to keep that from happening, she became crueler and crueler, hoping to keep her advantage.

But even though it’s only a silly show, this story has an interesting twist. Miss Power is really evil, so wicked that I regretted watching it at night. Her cold cruelty—though granted, she never did anything harmful to her enemies, but instead relied on her tongue and her strength—her cruelty sobered me. This is the natural result of the hunger for power. Miss Power could be me. It could be any of us. It could be any hero that we look up to. How fitting it is that one of our sayings is “Power Corrupts”! How sad that we often forget why the phrase was coined.

Strangely enough, this little cartoon taught me a lesson almost more than it taught my siblings. Miss Power used intimidation and power to subdue people to her will. If she couldn’t break her adversaries with her bullying, she would imprison them. This is how most dictators work. And strangely enough, they also seem good in the beginning, and only reveal their true colors after they have gained control.

I never thought of someone who was “bad” would look so….well, good. I wasn’t sure how to process that. If someone can trick people in tv shows, surely I would would be just as vulnerable. Worse still, if even the “best” people fall when given too much power, what about me? Would I pass the test, if I was ever given it? There didn’t seem to be anything I could do.

Or was there?

There are many things I have that the cartoon people don’t. I might not be extremely wise, or even close. But I do have some things that I can do to guard myself from being tricked, especially when it comes to teachings.

First, I can compare what someone says to the Scriptures. If I heard someone saying something that sounded wonderful, but then thought it through and wasn’t sure if I agreed with it, I could always go back to the truth and contrast it with what the person said. If the two don’t line up, I have decide who to trust: God’s perfect word, or Man’s interpretation. I don’t mean to be snobbish, but I think I will stick to God’s word. It has never yet been proven wrong, but those who contradict it are proven wrong again and again. The odds are good that God will stay being God, and therefore I will stick to his side whenever I can.

Another thing I can do is analyze a person’s actions. Does someone seem a little too attached to the limelight? Does she climb

Another look-good celebrity who turned out to be a dictator

Another look-good celebrity who turned out to be a dictator

ladders and take shortcuts to try and get a higher place? Does she go out of her way to get people to notice her? Watch out! People who live off of others’ opinions of them are usually bad candidates. At the very least, they can be easily swayed, and will not be firm in their convictions. At the worst, they can be serpents in disguise. I have seen far too many “heroes” crash and burn. No one is perfect, and anyone who tries to be is setting himself up for failure.

A last thing I can do is pray. It isn’t easy to process why power-hungry people seem to fly to the top of the government. It isn’t easy to fight them. But we are not alone in our struggles. When we pray to our father, we are no longer isolated. When we pray together, as a church family, we are united in Christ! We are an army, and though we don’t use our weapons to attack people, we do use our numbers and our voice to make a difference. We have that freedom now, and we need to be careful to not give it away.

In the show, thingsbooks were looking blue. Word Girl was too weak to fight Miss Power, so she wisely decided to bow out and do some studying on how to defeat her. (What’s this? Studying her orders? What about us? Maybe little superheroes have something to tell us after all.) While she was doing that, all of her “enemies” were imprisoned, and wondering what had gone wrong. They were encouraged to team up and work together with their former foe, to put aside their differences and stop a common enemy. Using their various strengths and weaknesses, the ‘villains’ broke out of the prison (freeing quite a few civilians as well) and went off to do war with Miss Power. Encouraged by their collective abilities, the villains (even the kids) decided not to be afraid of this space invader, and instead helped Word Girl defeat her.

Now, granted, we can’t be teaming up with thieves, disgruntled employees, vandal-robot-wielding-boy-geniuses, mad scientists, and greedy little girls that tend to turn into monsters when refused. That’s just crazy. And no, we don’t usually celebrate our victories with pizza and sandwiches, some spare salami, and quite a bit of cheese. That’s just part of the cartoon. But what we can do is work together with some of the people that WE think are villains, namely, people who believe slightly different things than we do. It isn’t easy to put aside our differences. It never has been. But we’re at a time of crisis. It’s time to do something different.

While we aren’t superheroes, we are charged with the keeping of our world. We have enemies that we must fight. Sometimes, we must tackle things that are hard for us, and face our fears. Sometimes we will be tricked and will fall. But a true hero will push past the difficulties and do what’s right. Thankfully, we don’t have to be alone. We have the greatest ally in the world on our side, and he’s not sitting around on the sidelines. We serve a God of action, so we need to act!

Maybe this silly cartoon, meant to teach the dangers of bullying, can reach further than the writers intended. Maybe I can remember the dangers of “Miss Power” and become wise. Or maybe, if I happen to be a history lover, I might go back and survey the many dictators who came into power, crushed their opponents, and eventually fell to the ground. Maybe I can ditch the imaginary world and cling to the real one.

Real world Truth resides even in the goofiest cartoons. Listen and be Wise! Test teachings against the scriptures. Be sure of what you believe. Determine your friends from your enemies. Don’t be deceived by beautiful wolves in sheep’s clothing. Oh, and be careful what you watch, especially at night.

Ugh. Perhaps the wicked eyes of Miss Power will keep me from falling for other good-looking celebrities. With prayer, and a good amount of God’s grace, I hope to be wise from this point on.

Grasping at memories

I remember Oregon. It’s only a few scattered memories, lost in my mind like wind-blown leaves. I wish I could remember more. As it is I can only see a few broken scenes. A white pony, bought for me by Grandma. A vivid nightmare, and the only time I ever screamed in my sleep. A carousel. A princess dress, and older cousins that babied me. People talking in a room. A man’s laugh, was it my Grandfather’s? That rough feeling that comes from older furniture. A certain smell.

My second trip to Oregon happened when I was eight, but it’s still muddled. I remember my Aunt and Uncle’s house best. I remember that it was on a hill, and that it was large and very pretty, but still with that strange, otherworldly feel. I remember going down the stairs to the basement, and how cold it was. I felt like I was going down to the center of the earth! That was pretty close to the truth, I found, because the house was built into the hill, and the basement was dug out of it. I had never been in a dug-out basement before. That isn’t done in Texas, and I had only been in a few North Carolina houses that had them.

Uncle Al and Aunt Diane were so nice to me. I remembered that they had a pair of canaries, and that one of the birds had laid an egg! I was so excited. Perhaps it would hatch! But it did not. I remember two three-year-old cousins who played so nicely with me. Now they are almost grown up, and I’m half afraid of them! How the time flies! I remember when they wanted to have a sleepover. They both decided to turn over in the bed, and I was pushed out in the middle of the night. Not the best experience to have in a strange house.

These memories are fading. So are some of the others. Like what was my cousin Zach like before I grew up and “knew” more? I wish I could remember some things that are simply impressions now. I feel like my history is disappearing with each member of my family who has passed on. I feel like I’m losing my grounding.

North Carolina is so much clearer. I feel it whenever I feel the wind blow through the trees. Can you hear the windchimes? Can you breathe the cool air? Can you see the azalea bushes, and the old gazebo whose swing never quite seemed to swing enough? Looking up, you can see gourds that Papa put up for Martins. There is the playhouse, there the pond! There are the horses! Behind you is the porch, up the stairs and through the gate, and look! There is the kitchen, and that’s where you’ll find Granny more likely than not. Or at least that’s how it used to be.

But now even the familiar has become strange. My missionary Uncle and Aunt have retired, and now they are both facing serious health problems. Grandma has died of cancer. Papa is gone. And I feel like I have lost a huge opportunity. With my grandparents went my history, and now I am simply clinging to the present, hoping that I won’t lose anything else.

I can’t afford the loss.

I feel like an investor. I go through old things of my Grandma’s, hoping to find a bit of her writing. Can I see that old, loopy cursive? Yes! And my Grandpa….he died before I could remember him. Can I keep his memory alive? Perhaps. Perhaps if I go back and try to imagine, using my Uncle as my guide…perhaps I can hear his voice. But I’m afraid I’ll never find it. Papa is alive in the songs he once sung, in the stories he told, in that gentle way he would make us laugh. I miss him. I hold birthday cards as precious, because they have his handwriting on them. I’m afraid that if I go any longer, I will forget.

Every memory is precious now, even the painful ones. I went through my Grandmother’s files by accident, trying to access my stories, and accidentally found a love letter. I felt so ashamed. It was as if I had intruded in on an ancient tragedy, one that I hadn’t even known existed. A Love Letter I found from my mother to my father was much less painful. I wonder if I’ll ever feel that way. It’s too strange and wonderful for me right now, like these memories, except new and exciting. I don’t know how to process some of the things that have happened. They’re just blissful mysteries, and I hope they’ll stay that way.

I cling to old stories now, while still trying to be me. It’s a rough task. But I can still walk through my Grandmother’s house, placing everything where it once was. The house is gone now, but I can still recreate it…

the memories are beginning to fade.

We are spinning our own tales now. Our legacy is still being laid. An observer of the past, I am also an active player in the present. God have mercy on me! I pray that I can play my part well, and be a blessing rather than a curse.

One day I will be a memory. I hope I will be one that lingers long, and for good reason.

I wish to give people hope.

Tasty and Squishable Shelob Candy

Tasty, squishable, and very, very sticksy, yesssss Precious, sticksy like Shelob’s webs. Everyone’s always hungry for Shelob candy, yesssss. And Smeagol knows the way; good Smeagol shows Master the way to make Shelob candises. Smeagol gives you the recipe.

First, you need these foodses:

  • 4 cups marshmallows
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Next, microwave the marshmallowses and the butter until they are melted. Stir them well.

1

Add the vanilla.

2

Microwave again if the marshmallowses are too stiff, and then mix in 1 1/4 cups flaked coconutses. Should be about the stickiness of giant spider’s web, yesssss, precious:

4

Now add the tasty and crunchable pecanses.

5

Watch out for nasty tricksy hobbitses, who come to steal your juicy sweet candises:

8Keep close watch for nasty hobbitses while you lay out parchment paperses on a plate and spray it with slippery grease:

9

Use two spoons to roll the sticky juicy sweet into a ball. Once that is done, keep the preciousssss in a cold dark cave, or in a nasty refrigerator (your choice) until they are holdable and chewable:

10.

And listen to good Smeagol, don’t let nasty tricksy hobbitses take your Shelob candy. Because nasty tricksy hobbitses will steal it from you. 

13

Nasty hobbit stole our preciousssss. 

14

We must go look for the preciousssss.

gollum tree

The Silmarillion

I like the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I read them at least once a year if I can. Many people have. But few people have done the research to figure out where Middle Earth began. Tolkien’s legend, the Silmarillion, tells how Middle Earth began. I’ll try to summarize it in this post for you who don’t have enough time to read all the books. Warning: the results may shock you.

In the beginning of Middle Earth, God held his court in the heavens. He taught his angels a song that they were to sing in worship of him. But one of them, Melkor, the brightest of the Valar, decided that he didn’t want to obey God, and instead started his own song. Some of the Valar (angels) followed him in his rebellion. So God began a new song, and his angels sang with him. His song was stronger than that of the rebels, but they continued to sing and shame their brothers into silence.

Then God raised his voice, and all others were silenced. From that last song was created the earth and all that was. Melkor was cast down with his helpers, the Balrogs. Then some of the Valar went down to the new world to form it and keep it. They were hoping to make the world as perfect as they could, but Melkor, who was called by elves Morgoth, destroyed their work. Eventually the world was formed. And then came the creatures.

It started out softly. One of the Valar created the dwarves. Another, Yavanna, prayed for Ents. Manwë, lord of Middle Earth, asked for the eagles. Soon the elves came, blinking in the new light from Valinor, the home of the Valar. Of course, Morgoth hated them. He made imitations of them and called them orcs. None of the works of Morgoth were so heinous as the orcs.

The Valar invited the elves to see the beauty of Valinor, and to see the two light trees that lit the world, for at this time there was neither sun nor moon. And one of them, Fëanor, took the lightsilmaril of the trees and used it to make three gems which he called the Silmarils. He thought that he could keep them forever, and that they would be the greatest works of the elves. But Morgoth slew the glorious light-trees, and Fëanor refused to give them the light of the Silmarils to heal them. Later, Morgoth slew Fëanor’s father and took the three jewels for himself.

Fëanor was furious, and attacked everyone in his path to reclaim his work. He and his seven sons swore an oath that they would let nothing get in their way of reclaiming the Silmarils, no matter how dear. They slew their bretheren and wasted their ships, leaving most of their followers to die. Fëanor attacked Morgoth, and was subsequently killed. His sons began to all follow in his foolish footsteps, which resulted in some of the worst treachery in the history of Middle Earth. It might surprise you to know that most of this killing came from the elves.

Maedhros, the oldest of Fëanor’s sons, tried to avenge his father by attacking Morgoth himself. That only ended up in him being captured, having to be rescued by a friend of his, and ultimately losing a hand. This seemed to wise him up to how hard it was to hit Morgoth, and he gave up on revenge and instead tried to unite Middle Earth against Morgoth. Meanwhile, Morgoth put the Silmarils into his crown and dared the elves to come and take them.

A kingdom of elves that didn’t involve itself with all the bloodshed was the house of Thingol. He married a wood sprite and was very well off for his time. She protected his land and gave him counsel, and he loved her. They had a young daughter named Lúthien, whose beauty was unrivaled by any before or since. Her gown was blue, her eyes gray, her hair dark, her face bright. She was loved by an outlaw of men named Beren, whose parents had been murdered by Sauron. He named her Tinúviel.

Beren was homeless and penniless, and Thingol would not let his daughter marry him without doing something truly spectacular. So for a bride price, he asked Beren to retrieve a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth. Beren went, and was captured by Sauron. Lúthien was kept in her house by her father, who didn’t want to lose his daughter as she tried to rescue her lover. But Lúthien’s mother was a spirit, and clever Tinúviel knew how to weave enchantments. So she grew her hair long and wove a sleeping enchantment into it, then wove it into a cloak for herself that put whoever it touched to sleep. Using this, she escaped, and fled to find her lover.

Unfortunately, she was discovered by two of the infamous sons of Fëanor, who were still bound by their foolish promise. They held her captive, and it was only by the help of a great wolf named Huan. Huan helped her escape, and even defeated Sauron, who at that time liked to take the form of a werewolf. The elf-princess destroyed the island fortress of the dark spirit, sending him fleeing to Middle Earth. Then she was reunited with Beren and the two of them journeyed to Morgoth, so that they could be done with the Silmaril and marry. The two of them traveled in disguise to the gates of Morgoth, put the wolf at the door to sleep, and passed through.

Once inside, Lúthien Tinúviel charmed Morgoth and blinded him, giving Beren enough time to cut away a Silmaril. The two of them fled, but the Silmaril was devoured by the great wolf guarding the door, and Beren’s hand as well. After this, Thingol allowed them to marry, but Beren was slain by the wicked wolf, and Lúthien bargained with Mandos, guardian of the dead, to let them both return to Middle Earth as mortals. They died after bearing other sons and daughters, and the Silmaril, after causing much bloodshed, was taken by the daughter of Lúthien and Beren into the sky.

Many bloody deeds were done in this troubled time. Elf killed elf, man killed man, and the dwarves got on any side they could. It was a time for mighty deeds, but also for great wickedness. Eventually the Silmarils were lost to Middle Earth: One was set as a star in a constellation, another was cast into the depths of the earth, and a last was dropped into the heart of the sea. Sadly, the oath of Fëanor to reclaim the jewels led to the death of his sons. Elves

But for the elf lover who feels like I have just killed their hero, don’t be discouraged! The creator of the elven rings was grandson to wicked, proud Fëanor. Lúthien and Beren’s descendants were Elrond and Elendil. Indeed, the Silmarils were like triple rings of power, spelling destruction for those who took them wrongly. But unlike the “One Ring”, the Silmarils were redeemed. Their origin was good, but twisted for evil. The Ring’s origin was evil, and couldn’t be used for anything else.

Reading the Silmarillion was like reading the history of Middle Earth. Before, Tinúviel was a just a name. Now she is real to me. The elves and men and dwarves who fought and died in Middle Earth can be remembered now for their heroics, and their legacies written in a book. Reading The Lord of the Rings is a daunting task. Reading The Silmarillion is something even harder. But once you get into it, I guarantee you that Tolkien will not let you down with the literary excellence found in this book of legends. Lúthien will captivate your heart, as she did the hearts of men, elves, and spirits alike. You will mourn the fall of Númenor, and cheer as Morgoth is dethroned. This is the world into which The Hobbit was born. This is Middle Earth.

Day of rest

sola scriptura

A day of rest and peace. It is Sunday. It comes in the middle of our labors, sandwiched between our two busiest days. It is tempting to tread on it and treat it like an extension of those days. But Sunday is different. It is holy.

When the Jews worshiped on Saturday, they were remembering something amazing. Genesis 2:2-3 lets us know why. “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” The Jewish Sabbath, held on Saturday, consecrated the holy rest of God.

The Sabbath was never meant to be a burden. Instead it was a gift; a chance to rest and reflect on the promises of God. It was holy. It was wonderful. But sinful hearts either discounted or trivialized the sabbath. Judah forgot its sabbath before the exile. After the return, Nehemiah reinstated it. But the Pharisees turned the holy day into a burden, by putting unjust restrictions on God’s commandments.

Since the Sabbath was abused, did it lose its power? Has it been abolished by the coming of Christ? No! Matthew 5:17 says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 12:8 tells us quite plainly that “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” God’s sabbath has not lost its power. It is still holy. Jesus held it to be holy. Should we disregard something that he obeyed?

But we do not worship on Saturday. Why? Well, to a Christian, Sunday is more holy. Notice in the passage above that Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law. The Old Covenant Sabbath pointed to the New Covenant Sabbath, just as the Old Covenant sacrifice pointed to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. The Christian Sabbath is Sunday, the first day of the week. On Sunday we remember the resurrection of Christ. This is not something we only remember on Easter Sunday. It is what we remember every Sunday.

Saturday in our house is a day of work. Why? Well, many reasons. For one thing, Dad is home, and we can get more done. But the deeper reason is that we were created to work. We celebrate the creation week by working in the morning and resting in the afternoon. It might be a strange way to remember, but weren’t we commanded to “fill the earth and subdue it”? (Genesis 1:28) To work is to obey God’s command. In many ways, we were created for work.

But Sunday is different. As we remember the promises of God, we rest. We fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We break bread together. We listen to the Word of God. We sing his praises. We pray together. We confess our sins. We study His word. Sunday is not a day for catching up with sports or games or for finishing schoolwork, or even for work. Though these things are all good in themselves, Sunday is Holy to the Lord. Our thoughts, words, and actions should reflect this reality.

For me, Sunday is a time for study and reflection. Sunday is when I read books in the library and watch videos with my siblings. Sunday is when I take time off to think. Most of the time these articles come from Sunday reflection, or from something I think of during one of the services. Sunday’s quiet inspires me. I look forward to it all week. This may be strange, but I treasure the day. Sunday’s different.

How sad when we make Sunday a chore! How sad when we forget its power! How regrettable that most people see no difference between Sunday and any other day. How sad when we let tradition rule our day! It is truly tragic when Sunday is wasted by apathy or by ignorance. It is sad when God’s people forget its power.

Sunday is a day of rest and remembrance. It is the time that we remember that. It is a gift. Like any gift, it can be rejected. It’s your choice. But for those who accept the gift of rest, Sunday is the best day of the week. What is it to you?

 

Fantasy Ramble

One of the things I’ve been doing recently is reading. Reading is a fun hobby, especially if you have a vivid imagination. Reading can be better than a movie, because you get to pick the voices of your favorite characters.

The most impressive thing I’ve been reading isn’t a best seller, or a new popular novel. It isn’t going to be reviewed by a magazine as a children’s story, nor is World Magazine likely to do a spotlight on the author, because of his age.

The books I’ve been reading are two classics by fantasy writer George MacDonald. The Princess and the Goblins, and its sequel, The Princess and Curdie, are two books about the mythical kingdom of Gwyntystorm. It was ruled by a king who was very kind, and who had a daughter named Irene. The first book is about her adventures as she learns to trust someone no one else could see. It’s also about a miner’s boy named Curdie, who is the only one who can stop an invasion by goblins.

The amazing thing about this book, The Princess and the Goblins, is how it grows up its characters, but still retains its childlike whimsy. Irene, the princess, has to trust that the string she is following through all this danger is being held and guided by someone she loves and trusts, while Curdie has to decide whether to believe the princess, even after she saves his life. It isn’t until he is not believed that he realizes how wrong he has been to doubt her. Irene learns to totally rely on “Grandmother” to help her and is sent on dangerous missions with the knowledge that she will never come to harm. Curdie learns to help others regardless of his personal dislike of another character.

This book also rings true a sad reminder of times past, when girls were protected by their fathers and brothers. Irene, though she is the main character, is kept out of harm’s way, while Curdie is exposed to all kinds of dangerous situations in his quest for the truth. He can handle it, because he is the hero. But Irene, though she would willingly gone through any number of dangers for the sake of her friend, she was never given a chance. That was not her place. I wonder what would have happened if MacDonald had written his epics in this less chivalrous time.

His pure fantasy might have become tainted with our strange opinions of feminism and freedom. His shining lines would become dimmed and lose their sharpness. His theology might become muddled. And I doubt his works would be published now. To be honest, not all of the fantasy you find in Phantastes is carefree. You might find a were-wolf or vampire in the pages if you look hard enough. There is a whole story dedicated to shadows. But, shining throughout the writings I have read, is the heavenly longing that MacDonald himself yearned for.

In his stories, there is always someone looking after the characters. Strangely enough, this person is often female. She is said to be old and wise in most stories, and is sometimes associated with magic. Most of the time, however, she fits the description of the woman Wisdom found in Proverbs, and is the helper in the story as the characters make their climb heavenward. She is beyond time, but she does not ask to be worshiped. Instead, she is the guardian of the faithful as they try to do what’s right.

But something that I’ve discovered is that the farther in a book series goes, the more serious it becomes. Which of Lewis’ Narnia books is the most intense? The Last Battle. Which Tolkein? The Return of the King. The same is true of the second book, The Princess and Curdie. This time, the danger lies not in the outside enemy, but in the one within. Curdie, who is finally given a task of his own by “Grandmother”, is sent to save the King and Princess. Along the way he meets all sorts of wicked creatures, and is forced to fight to defend himself,

Curdie was told from the start that he would be serving the king. He just was never told how. He certainly didn’t think it to mean that he would be falsely accused and sentenced to death. He probably imagined that he would arrive at the castle and instantly present himself to the king. But it didn’t work out that way. He had to work for his goal. He had to fight for it, and ended up being slandered, threatened, mocked and cursed during his whole journey. Even through all that, he never gave up. Maybe Curdie and his travels represent us in our walk with Christ. When we hold to a higher standard, the world will hate us. They don’t understand our mission and therefore slander it.

I like a book that tells a story, but what I like even more is a story that tells the truth. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just wander around through life, do amazing things, and never get into trouble for it? Who wants to do boring or hard things like traveling alone with no way of knowing where you were or trying to get through a city of cut-throats when you were told you weren’t able to do anything about them! How could God want us to do things like that?

Unfortunately for our pleasure-loving hearts, He’s always done those kinds of things. Think of Moses, and how God told him in advance that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart and he wouldn’t listen. Or Ezekiel, who was told “They will compliment you for your prophesy, and might seem to have listened, but they won’t change at all.” Life is hard, and it sometimes seems meaningless. Why should we do these things? It makes no sense!

Well, it has a purpose. If you’re told to do something, you have to do it (Jonah comes to mind as a negative example) Another thing this tells us is the true meaning of faith. How could we ever believe in something we cannot see? Well, we believe in gravity, don’t we? We believe that there are wind currents, though they are invisible. We believe in God, though we have never seen him. But we see the effects of their power. Rocks fall down, due to gravity. Leaves scatter through the air, because of the wind. Our universe supports life, because God designed it that way.

One of my favorite characters in The Princess and Curdie is Lina. Not much is known about poor Lina, a monster with a head that is part snake and part polar bear, goat-colored fur with a bald spot under her chin, long icicle teeth that hang out from her mouth, elephant legs, and a tail as long as her body. Curdie discovered that she was once a person who had been so wicked that she turned into a monster, and must do penance before she could be freed. Lina became Curdie’s greatest ally and friend even though everyone else hated him. He could depend on her, and her on him. Imagine the poor woman who had been enchanted by her own wickedness, and who had locked herself inside a beast! How it must have been to have a friend again, who saw past her hideous form and to the child inside.

Curdie eventually became Lina’s salvation. He gave her the means to live again, without worrying about her guilt separating her from God. He led her home. What a beautiful picture! Curdie was no god. He had no ability to save anything. He was simply given directions and charged to accomplish them. But his journey and witness enabled her to do what was right, and to find forgiveness and redemption. We have all been in her place. We were made hideous by our sins and our mistakes, our rebellion and disgusting actions. Who would love a creature like Lina?

God would. God did. He sent his son to die in our place, because he loved us even in our ugliness. But he didn’t leave us there. He cleaned us up and made us into a new creation for his use. Lina didn’t stay a monster. She was freed from her sin, from who she was, and started on the journey herself. That’s something a lot of people seem to miss. God is love. He does accept us for who we are…but he loves us too much to leave us there.

Another thing: Curdie brought Lina to her transformation by caring enough about her to let her hang around, even though she ate most of his food and turned some of his friends into enemies. His example helped her. If Curdie was MacDonald’s Christian, then Lina was someone who was converted because of his example. Though these might only be the musings of a teenaged girl, but I believe that MacDonald, a pastor, brought what he knew to be true into his stories.

There’s something beautiful about MacDonald’s writing. It’s hard to read some fairytales around these days, whose dark content either disturbs you or is just depressing. But MacDonald’s legends are like little rays of light in the murky world of fantasy. We’re searching for The Golden Key, but cannot find it anywhere but in God. His writing points us to Christ.

This might be too long, so I’ll be brief. If you like fairy-tales but are irritated with our immoral fantasy, I invite you to look up the work of George MacDonald. This invitation is also for friends of Narnia and Middle Earth, for those lands were inspired by MacDonald’s fantasy. I like Curdie’s adventures, and many of the others that he wrote, and I think you might as well.

Chosen Ones: A Daring Rescue

Andrew knew his orders: to find Rora and make sure she and Opal were safe. He was a little irritated that Caro wouldn’t let him go with them in their scouting mission, but he knew his job was important. The others were all busy on finding boats and planning the route for them. That would be much more exciting than trading pleasantries with two girls.

That morning, some of the non-military followers had joined the army, though they never planned on staying there. Caro and Davis had seen Dawes wandering about. His hand was still bandaged, and Caro secretly hoped that it hurt him badly. Dawes had caused a lot of trouble for his friends. Maybe some pain would bring him to his senses.

But Andrew was getting worried. Rora wasn’t at the meeting place. She was supposed to be at the back of the market, by the carpet seller. But she wasn’t there. Instead she was at the other side of the street, towards the back. “What is she doing there?” He wondered. “It’s too shaded. I can’t see anything.” He tried to wave to her, or get her to come over, but she shook her head. So he went over to her. “Is something wrong?” He asked.

“Run.” She said between her teeth. “Get out of here.”

“What?” Andrew asked.

“Go!” She said, louder.

Andrew turned on his heel and tried to see what she wanted. Soldiers were coming, and many of them. “Now I see what you were worried about.” He muttered. “Don’t worry, Rora. I’ll help you.”

“Where is Andrew?” Davis asked three hours later. “He was supposed to be here hours ago.”

“Maybe he fell into the ocean.” Tully said cheerfully. “But I doubt it.”

“He might have been captured.” Simon suggested.

“Should we look for him?” Caro asked.

“I think we need to go on with the plan.” Davis told them. “It’s getting late.”

“I guess we have no choice.” Caro sighed. “If we wait too long, Nya will hit us before we’re ready. We’re going to find Opal and get to Nya’s castle.”

“What if Opal was captured?” Rocket asked. “What then?”

“We could storm the dungeon.” Tully said. “But it’s not going to be easy. It would be easier if we could bluff her, though.”

“Now that’s the most sensible thing you’ve said all month.” Rocket exclaimed. “How will we bluff her?”

“Make her think we’re really weak.” Simon told him. “Then we strike.”

“Eclectic.” Tully agreed.

“That actually is a good idea.” Davis told Caro. “We can keep our original plan, just with some tweaks. We still hide our men. But then we use them in reserve. You, Prince Caro, will be the sole distraction. She will think you’re here for revenge. But it’s a distraction. If she has Opal, convince her to bring her out. Nya’s triumph will be her downfall.”

“I like it!” Caro cried. “Let’s do this.”

“Then let’s get going.” Simon told him. “Forward!”

The two boats sailed in through the cemetery that afternoon. They were blessed with a heavy fog that rolled in over the sea and filled the place with an impenetrable cloud. Rocket, though he would never admit it, was scared out of his skin. Tully asked him a question and he almost bailed over the side. The gunfighter was terrified of ghosts.

As soon as the boats came to the palace, the men split up. In twos and threes they scattered throughout the place, stealing servant clothes and using army uniforms to disguise themselves. Caro took his sword, took a deep breath, and walked in.

Simon and Tully, inseparable, wandered over to the dungeons. “This place is awful.” Simon muttered. “Why did we have to get this job?”

“I’ll tell you why.” Tully told him. “We have to fi…”

“Hey!” They stopped. Someone was calling to them.

“Who is it?” Simon asked.

A hand was thrust through one of the cell windows. The guard shouted and charged at them, but Tully drew his sword and charged him. Simon found the keys and unlocked the door. Andrew stumbled out. “Thank you.” He gasped. “It’s awful in there.”

“How did you end up in jail?” Simon asked.

“Never mind that!” Andrew cried, almost hysterically. “You have to find…you have to find…get Caro! Get Caro and get him out of here! It’s a trap, d’ye hear? It’s a trap! We have to get out of here!”