Tuesday, 11 December 2012
Preface: This is a story that I submitted to a modest fiction magazine that specializes in speculative fiction from a Christian worldview. I was given the editor's email address and told I should submit something. I sent it in months ago, but never received a reply, even after an awkward "so, uh, did you get that story?"-type follow-up. Whether it was a matter of silent rejection or an incorrect email address, I figured I could at least post it on my blog, even if this is a classic case of "Oh, wow, did I think this idea was good?"
The only specifications I were given was that it had to be flash fiction or a short story, it had to somehow show a Christian worldview, and the theme was Monsters. It is called Old Words.
“Please, I urge you all to calm down! We will not make any progress if all we do is bicker and yell at each other,” the old man said in a stern tone. He was standing at the front of the tavern, his back to the bar, facing the dozens of others inside. His long, stark-white beard hung low, contrasting the sheen of his bald head. He wore a very clean pair of trousers under a billowy white shirt, its buttonholes tied together with small leather cords. Pinned to the left side of his chest was a brass star.
The crowd silenced. Many of them sat at the modest wooden tables, others in the booths against the walls, while still others stood wherever they could find a spot. Some held a pitchfork, or an unlit torch. Others held lit candles, casting a menagerie of shifting shadows and dim light across the room. The elder re-addressed them.
“Fellow villagers, I know you can testify to the difficulties we have overcome before. We have beaten harsh winters, merciless drought, and terrible disease. I will not let this mere monster be the nail in our coffin,” he said, to a scattered chorus of cheers, claps, and other noise. Most in attendance, however, nervously shifted in their stance, or cast a doubtful eye back and forth between their neighbors.
“But I am not a clever man,” he continued. “We have tried to fight this ungodly beast with clubs and torches, with knives and hammers, with iron and bronze alike. Yet this monstrosity persists, and here we stand in mourning. We mourn for lost brothers, for children it has taken. I am no sage. I open the floor to your suggestions, to your ideas we have not yet tried.”
Many murmured under their breath, while others openly scoffed. They swore, or even spit on the floor. A woman in the corner, who had worn her bright blue dress, sighed and whispered “We are doomed.” But one young girl, no older than fourteen, raised her hand in the back. She even stepped forward, her free hand lightly pushing someone aside. The silence returned.
“You, Magda?” The elder man chuckled, slowly shaking his head back and forth. “Girl, this is no time for playing pretend, or taking the matter lightly. I–“
She interrupted him. “But Taleth, I know what to do!”
Laughter erupted from the onlookers, some holding their hands to their head in mock disbelief. Some hissed, others grit their teeth at her, balling their fists.
Magda was wearing her father's boots, of thick black leather and brass buckles. Her skirt was long, and generously pleated, laying heavy without much sway. Over her waistcoat was slung a backpack, with cords over her arms. She reached back, her delicate hand diving under the flap, and thrust it out in front of her.
At the sight of the willow branches she held, the crowd went absolutely mad: A woman screamed, and a quartet of brothers near the front began to boo. The laughter rose, the mocking growing in intensity. A candle was knocked off one of the tables.
Taleth, the town elder, allowed a thin smile to cross his lips, as though he took pity on her. “Magda, please. This is also not a time for fairy tales.”
“But the scroll speaks of this day, sir,” she retorted. “It tells us of the demon who enters our village, who consumes the children, who has a thirst for our blood and our souls. And it says that one must take up the branch of a willow to slay it,” she confidently pronounced, her sure voice drowning out the doubters.
“Magda,” the elder replied, his voice stoic and methodical. “The scroll also speaks of rainbows, unicorns, and impossible tales. We sing its songs for merriment, not prophecy. Those who believed it to be true died when even I was a boy,” he softly chuckled. “We have already tried great weapons of metal, and fire, and crushing. The soft branches of a willow stand no chance against this foe.”
Magda stood still, biting her lip as her brow furrowed. The tension in the air was cut by a shrill, otherworldly scream – it echoed, sounding far yet closing in, recognized by many as the chilling call of the dreaded Horror they had come here to scheme against.
Grown men rushed for the exits. Women cried out and scrambled away. In the chaos of their scared escapes some lamps were knocked over, candles snuffed, blades dropped and small items left behind. Drinks were knocked over, mugs rolled across the planks of the floor, various liquids pooled in its divots.
In the dark of the night, all other houses and buildings were left unlit. People fled further out of town, or took to special underground shelters. Still others ran to a cave they knew, or toward the trade routes.
Alone, in the middle of the White Stallion tavern, stood Magda. Her golden curls framed her rosy face as she placed one foot forward, bending her knees slightly, holding the willow branches in a two-handed grip. She held about six of them, drooping a bit along their three-foot shapes.
A small “whoosh” swept behind the bar, as a knocked-over candle ignited a pool of hard liquor. Nearby, on a hidden shelf, some thin wooden coasters began to light as well.
The creature suddenly entered, eerily silent and quick, striding through the entrance with hardly a trace of motion or consequence. It appeared like a misshapen woman, a hag – Greasy lengths of black hair swept down over her thin, pale frame. It kept a three-jointed arm wrapped over its chest. At its waist was a dirty rope, tied like a belt, and across it were slung bits of bone, patches of skin, and other items less recognizable.
Her skin was wrinkled, and somewhat translucent; a thick, black liquid could be seen just below the surface, oozing at various spots and rushing through others like blood. Magda took a breath in through her nose, noting the monster's features. What struck her most, besides the small mouth and pitch-blank eyes, was the hands.
As the nightmarish being extended a stick-thin arm, it unfurled a hand – and, in place of fingers, it only had long white points, glinting in the light, like fangs extending from the knuckles. Magda's eyes widened in shock, though, when it began to speak.
Its mouth, though narrow, opened wide. The lower jaw unnaturally distended – and in the maw were revealed a set of fingers. The fingers were skinny, hung about the gums where teeth would be, a matching set of about a dozen per top and bottom. As the creature spoke, these fingers gave it a sickly lisp, spilling over certain syllables and making the creaking, croaking voice difficult to understand.
“Magda,” it rattled. The teeth were constantly in motion, restlessly shaking and trembling, even between words. “I have been on your scent for days, pretty thing,” it rattled. “You can join your friend Mary in my belly. She calls to you from my gut, Magda.”
The two stood several feet apart. A single tear crept out of Magda's eye, sliding down her cheek. Without another word or warning, the monstrous hag leaped forward, her spindly legs flaying backwards as she dove through the air of the tavern.
Just as Magda had been waiting for.
With a wince, the peasant girl stepped to the side, swinging the weak branches toward the oncoming foe. With a wet rip, the ends of the willow branches tore straight through the flesh of the enemy, as the dark sludge of her insides began to spew forth, splashing onto the floor.
The witch-thing screamed again, as it had outside, the full brunt of its voice now shaking the structure they were in.
But Magda held no hesitation nor fear. She stepped towards her target and raised the branches for a furious strike.
Magda was walking towards her home, raising a hand to knock at the door. She wore a breezy yellow dress, complementing her blonde curls and matching the mid-day sun before a voice called out from the road behind her.
She turned with a curious frown, raising an eyebrow as she watched the village elder approach her. “Oh, hey, Taleth,” she fumbled with her words. “It's been a while.”
“I know,” he smiled, stopping a yard in front of her. “Look, I know you're busy, but I had to ask: How did you know?”
She smirked. “Excuse me?”
He nodded. “Last week, when you defeated that which had plagued our families. You spoke of the scroll, and of the willow branches. How did you know that would work? How did you know that the old words were actually true?”
The girl looked down to the ground, idly shrugging her shoulders.
“I had faith,” she said.
Satisfied, the elder left, and Magda returned to her home.
Monday, 10 December 2012
The Bible is awesome. I enjoy reading it. I find some parts more interesting, for better or for worse, than others; or more or less boring, or relevant, etc., although my opinions and views can change with time and other factors.
Lately, I keep reading Isaiah 40. There is so much other text to read, and I am stuck on Isaiah 40. I haven't been this infatuated with a passage of scripture since I fell head-over-heels for John 1.
I do not even believe I have any especially profound, helpful, or intriguing insights on the chapter. But, for whatever reason(s), it is intractably appealing to me, and full of study-flavored goodness. I am going to, at least, try to point out some of its more unique points that may explain my fondness.
The opening, verse 1: "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." Well, okay, this one is just sentimental, there is some nostalgia there. When I was a teenager, I got to participate in a cantata program, where I narrated portions of Scripture, carefully timed during instrumental music and between vocal sections from the choir. It went splendidly, and a great time was had by all, and we put a lot of work into it -- yet I had completely forgotten about it, never even considered it, until recently coming across Isaiah 40 and it leaped back into my mind. The look of a dimly lit sanctuary, the amazement of everyone that I could read music and keep my reading in time with it yet could not play an instruments, the choir director gently chiding me with each mistake, etc. Excellent times. And this, the comfort, comfort my people line, that was the opener.
And verse 3: "A voice of one calling: "In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God." Perhaps I tipped my hand earlier, and perhaps this is part of why I like Isaiah 40 so much now, but this is the passage that John the Baptist quotes in John 1, when he is asked who he is and what he has to say about himself. That is simply so cool to me. To have someone ask you who you are, and then to quote a centuries-old prophecy, to look the questioner straight in the eyes and reply I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness...
Verse 6 feels a little personal: "A voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?" " You see, I have a big mouth. I like to say things. Sometimes, my problem is that I have no idea what I should say.
Then we come along to verse 8, a classic: "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever." It might be tough to retain the awe in this one, seeing as how often some of us have been exposed to it via various embroideries and cross-stitch patterns, but this is a fantastic sentiment. Especially so, maybe, in the context of verse 6 where, remember, human beings are compared to mere blades of grass, and their faithfulness to the flowers of the field. Fragile, indeed.
Verse 9 has a call to evangelism, verse 10 speaks of the Lord's mighty arm (which will be referred to again in Isaiah 52:10, which itself inspired a wonderful Rich Mullins song, which is what 40:9 thus always reminds me of), verse 11 has the shepherd/lambs analogy, and verse 12 has echoes of Job in it. I love Job, by the way. I really like Job.
We then go through some superb visuals, some resonant illustrations, metaphors and powerful language, but keep a close look at the words as we run across this little ditty in verse 22: "He sits enthroned above the circle of the Earth..." A round Earth, absolutely.
Verse 26 asks us to consider the heavens and ask who created them. I am a fan of dichotomy and juxtaposition, likely to a fault, so I dig what is at work here, as Isaiah's words beckon us not only to the very beginning of the Biblical narrative, the creation story, the origin of our planet itself, but are also, of course, speaking of the coming of Christ, God's work for humanity yet to be done. Not only are we told of promises, but given evidence as to why we can trust those promises. We are assured of God's healing works through his history of monumental actions.
Verse 28 refers to some names of God, some titles. The Lord. Everlasting God. The Creator. And, finally, a reminder that his mind is larger than ours, and we can never fully fathom God.
The fortieth chapter of Isaiah ends with another classic bit, verse 31: "but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." This is so great. I am sure that many have chosen this as their "life verse" of sorts.
Isaiah 40 is certainly quotable, and definitely powerful. It is one of those "Oh yeah, that's where that verse comes from!" chapters, with several parts that remain oft-quoted throughout Christian circles, and referred to in sermons, and run across in quotations elsewhere, too.
I am stuck on it, right now, and trying to take my sweet time with it.
Thursday, 20 September 2012
Friday, 03 August 2012
That is something I have heard from a few people, in light of recent events. A quip akin to “But Jesus never addressed homosexuality” is, I assume, supposed to imply that because Jesus never said it was bad, it is okay.
To that, I have to wonder: What did Jesus ever say about arson? About domestic violence? About animal abuse? About pedophilia? How about guns? France? Video games?
To think that something is not a sin because Jesus specifically never mentioned it is... interesting. I suppose I could say “Y'know, I really enjoy dousing kittens in gasoline and lighting them on fire – which is totally okay, because Jesus never specifically addresses that.”
As for homosexuality specifically, it is established as a sin (even an “abomination”) in both Old and New Testaments, and God's intended order for a relationship to be between a man and a woman is also established in both. You could argue that the entire book of Ephesians is about proper marital order, and significant portions of Titus are devoted to not only describing appropriate gender roles, but includes the qualification for an elder as “the husband of one wife.” These sentiments are included in 1 Timothy, albeit being a very similar letter anyway. There are, of course, examples elsewhere that affirm these values.
I mean, seriously: If you use the quoted title question as a line in your argument, I have to question your motivation. What are you looking for, when you study the words of Jesus? What do you seek when you read your Bible? If you are looking for a passage that says “homosexuals are exempt from sin,” or “homosexuals are perfect,” you are not going to find it.
But you know what Jesus does address in his words? He explicitly rebuked the religious leaders of his day for getting caught up in the little details of the law. In fact, he also rebuked them specifically for their practice of trying to put him into a "trap" by twisting his words, which I am sure they did by close examination.
There is no such thing as a perfect homosexual. There is no such thing as a perfect heterosexual. They are sinners. Everyone is: People with tattoos, people who wear clothes with blended fabrics, people who have ever lied, people who have ever insulted another person, these are all imperfect people.
Everyone needs Jesus. Straight people, gay people, little people, big people, black people, white people, purple people, male people, female people, people who like to try and say that genders and genitalia do not exist, people who like stargazing, people who hate Nickelback, people who like Christopher Nolan – every single one of them, everyone walking the planet today, they all need Jesus.
It is not about people, it is all about Christ. In fact, whenever you move the discussion away from Jesus, you make it worse. Remember: Jesus.
Also, Christians, the next time you get a debater to concede that homosexuality is indeed a sin, but then they ask what the difference is between homosexuality and all the other sins? Here is one response you can use: While it is true that all people are sinners, and all need Jesus, and no sin will have any greater effect on their damnation than another – typically murderers are not proud to be murderers, and there is no such thing as a Rapist Pride Parade (at least, I sure hope not). To a Biblical Christian who believes that homosexuality is a sin, expressing such a prideful lifestyle about it is remarkably... notable. I will use the word “notable” here.