Another Thief on the Cross

Stratford Upon Avon (myticklefeet.com)Photo by My Ticklefeet

I’d just finished a month-long gig, teaching acting in London and Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, and had said goodbye to the last of my students. It had been a heady time, suffused with history. I had tickets for The Merchant of Venice, which was wonderful, but didn’t have a place to stay–every room in Bardland was booked.

So after the show, as the crowd ebbed away, I asked the eminently efficient theatre manager Ray if he had any suggestions. He gave me several numbers and I rang them all: “Sorry, no.” “Sorry, no.” “Sorry, no.”

“Come on, then,” said Ray as he locked the lobby. I didn’t know till later that “Come on, then” meant I’d be staying in his spare room — and not just any room, but a half-timbered room in a 400 year old Tudor house overlooking the Avon River! “Thank you, God,” I whispered. “All this history. I’m just sorry my purpose here has ended!”

It hadn’t.

Ray and I caught on like a thatched roof afire, talking until late and all the next day, and the day after that. We talked Shakespeare, of course, and history, and where to find the best fish and chips. But before long, God, the object of my deepest affections, came up.

Ray had never heard faith described in personal terms. He’d grown up in the Church of England and had rejected it, but over the last year had begun to reconsider “religion.” We were talking apples and oranges, my apples being a relationship with God, Ray’s oranges being strict adherence to rituals and ordinances in order to secure a berth in Heaven.

“But what about the thief on the cross?” I asked. “He didn’t have time to make up for what he’d done wrong. He threw himself on Jesus’s mercy. And Jesus said, ‘Today you’ll be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:43)

“Jesus didn’t say ‘Heaven,’” Ray averred, “He said, ‘Paradise.’ The thief wasn’t saved.”

“Wait–you mean Jesus was telling him, ‘You’re going to spend eternity in Hell, but, hey, we’ll do lunch together on the way there’? That’s not mercy. That’s sadism!”

“But it’s not fair!” Ray protested. “I have to be religious while the thief gets to do what he wants and go to Heaven anyway?”

“No!” I said. “I mean, yes, the thief was saved, but he missed out on a lifetime of knowing his Creator! When you know God, really know him, you want what he wants, and he changes you!”

“But, religion—” Ray protested.

“Forget ‘religion,’ Ray! God wants you! Let him love you!”

It turned out Ray had been studying “the law of the gospel” with Mormon elders, and had been squirming on that cross for a year! (I know and love a lot of Mormons, some of whom are family members, but I do not love their religion.)

“Look, why don’t you put ‘religion’ on hold for a while, Ray,” I gently urged, “and try God?”

After a long time, he whispered, “Maybe I will.”

We said goodbye the next day. I gave him my dog-eared Bible, full of personal notes about my spiritual journey.” We hugged. And cried. A lot.

My time in Stratford was infused with history, both temporal and eternal. And even though I never saw Ray again, he has a permanent place in my heart. I’m looking forward to seeing him…

In Paradise. 

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments

Pre-loved People

Malcolm's MusingsMy Featured Blogger this week is Malcolm of Malcom’s Musings. I don’t know Malcolm’s last name (pretty sure it’s not “Musings”), but I do feel I know his heart — and it’s a ringer. Malcom’s posts shine with compassion and a good deal of wisdom; he’s a retired teacher. But then he’s still teaching through his blog — and that’s a ringer too, btw. Read on!

malcolmsmusings.org

I smile when advertisers use the term ‘pre-loved’ to avoid describing an item as ‘second-hand’. A pre-loved wedding dress must be better than a second-hand one; pre-loved toys sound more attractive than second-hand toys.

I’ve bought many pre-loved books. Recently these have included Pinocchio, The Railway Children… To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice And Men… books that I should have read before.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ arrived yesterday. ‘Keziah Greatorex’ had written her name in the front and certainly pre-loved it – with multicoloured highlighter pens and extensive notes in the margins!

Pre-loved clothes, cars, furniture, pets… were loved once, but they’re no longer loved… The hope is that they can be loved again.

This image is used repeatedly in the Bible. The once loved wife, left deserted and distressed, who finds new love… that nation moving from good times, through bad times, back to good times… the journey from love…

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Duck and Cover!

My Real Memoir

It was autumn, yet the thermometer was still climbing. And so was the economy—Dad’s income was booming. So to celebrate we’d decided to shoehorn a swimming pool into our miniature suburban Southern California backyard. I’d just started junior high school, and visions of bikinied teenage girls applauding all the spectacular dives I would make were dancing in my 12-year-old head.

We visited a dozen swimming pool sales lots—they were everywhere in the 60s. Life was good, and soon to be gooder! We found a contractor, appropriately named Aladdin Pools, to make our wishes come true, and were about to rub their magic contract when…

The Cuban Missile Crisis struck! Every channel on our crisp black and white 19” Magnavox TV was suddenly interrupted by President Kennedy’s announcement that Russian missiles with nuclear warheads were aimed at the United States!

Instantly, everything changed. At school we learned to “duck and cover” because, by golly, no measly atomic bomb could ever stand up to a well-made Masonite desk! Forget swimming pools; Dad started coming home with a different kind of brochure, and suddenly we were visiting bomb shelter sales lots. We stepped down into one depressing abyss after another, and were about to rub their magic tragic contract when…

At the end of October, President Kennedy declared that the crisis had ended. He and the Russians had come up with an eleventh-hour bailout based on the MAD doctrine (not Mad Magazine, but something considerably less amusing–“mutually assured destruction”). In a nutshell: “If you destroy us, we’ll destroy you, and then we’ll all be dead and no one will be left to care who started it.”

So Dad tore up the bomb shelter contract and rubbed the Aladdin contract, and alakazam! the sweetest little swimming hole in all of balmy suburban SoCal appeared! The crisis was over, bring on the bikinis, right? Wrong. I sensed that the real crisis would never be over. True, we hadn’t gone into hiding, but my belief that the world was a safe place protected by the God they talked about at summer camp had.

Three days later, the least scary Halloween I’d ever experienced arrived. Why? Because now I knew the truth: it wasn’t zombies and ghouls you had to worry about…

It was humans.

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Reach Out

Dog and kitten

Thought for the Week

“Reach out” is the contemporary term for making contact. People don’t simply “get in touch with” others anymore, they “reach out” to them. There’s something sweet and maybe a little desperate about that phrase in this age of widespread disconnection and intolerance. Yes, agreement is good, but it’s not always possible. Understanding is even better, and always possible — if we’re willing to reach out. As my cat regularly reminds me, There are very few issues that can’t be resolved by touching noses.

“No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding.” ~Plato

In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” ~Dalai Lama

“Son, brother, father, lover, friend. There is room in the heart for all the affections, as there is room in heaven for all the stars.” ~Victor Hugo

“Bear with one another and forgive those who have offended you. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Clothe yourself in love, which is the bond of perfect unity.”

~Colossians 3:13-14

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Eclipses Are Illusions

I Am the Light

The word eclipse, from the Greek ekleípō, means to “fail” or “abandon,” reminding us that throughout most of human history, eclipses have been viewed with horror as the sun’s light “abandoning” us, it’s “failure” to continue shining.

But eclipses are illusions. Not only is the sun still there, its image is obscured by a much smaller and relatively insignificant object. Not to dis our lovely, romantic moon, but it’s only a quarter the size of the earth, and a mere 400th the size of the sun. So how can it block the light? In a word: Umbra. Because the moon is so near, its shadow (umbra) completely obscures our view of that much larger heavenly body. You can probably see me edging toward a metaphor here, so I’ll get to it.

I’m talking about fears. The things we fear are nearly always smaller than they appear to be. If you hold your thumb up in front of your eyes, it can block anything from view: a skyscraper, a mountain range. It’s nowhere near as large as they are, but when it’s that close, it’s all you can see. Like giant thumbs, our fears are 10% real, and 90% illusion — the light is still there.

Yesterday, an old high school friend who says the purpose of most religions is to create fear (umbras, if you will) in order to control people, asked if I knew any true source of enlightenment (literally “to give light”). Yes, I replied: Just as we moderns know that the sun has not failed us, so we can know that our Creator has not failed us. In fact, Jesus promises that those who follow him “will never walk in darkness, but will have…

The light of life.”

~AΩ~

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A Secret Tragedy

Abandoned Farmhouse (dailymail.co.uk)Photo by Dan Circa (dailymail.com)

The Wishing Map is a full-length fantasy that is being posted episodically at this site. To read the previous episode, click here. To read the entire novel, begin here.Wishing Title (logo only)

Gina had unwittingly adopted a dragon, deeply offending the 11-year-old miller boy B’frona. And then she’d discovered he was an orphan.

B’frona picked up a book and caressed it. Gina sensed that he, like she, had books for friends. Perhaps only books. She sat down beside him on his rag-filled pallet; the little dragon stood staring out the open window.

“How long have you been alone?” she asked.

The boy did not answer. Instead, he thumbed the pages of the exquisitely crafted book, Tales for Mothers to Tell, and, in a barely audible voice, said, “She read this to me. It is all I remember of her.” On the title page were the carefully calligraphed words, “To my darling boy.” The volume was filled with wonderfully illustrated children’s stories. B’frona ran his thumbs over the cover.

Gina’s eyes moistened. She fought the impulse to stroke his hair.

The Miller’s son picked up a large rust-red leather tome entitled Of Knights and Dragons. “And this one was given to me by my father just before his…accident.” He opened it to a page with a rendering of a full-grown Frengan dragon. Even in woodcut, Gina could see how beautiful these creatures were.

But opposite, as if in contrast, was an etching of the Ismaran world’s most hideous beast, a Hadessian dragon. Ancient Holosian guards were depicted lowering a man into its thousand-toothed maw. Gina shivered. It suddenly struck her that B’frona’s family had begun like a beautiful Frengan dragon, full of love and tenderness, but then, at some point, changed into a Hadessian monster, full of anger and pain.

She was about to ask B’frona what had happened when she saw Puff unfurl his wings. He’s going to try to fly out the window! “Puff, no!” The hatchling turned at the sound of her voice. A shadow crossed his face. He ran and lay down next to Gina, placing his long neck across her lap.

Answering her unspoken question, B’frona said, “My mother and newborn sister died when I was in my third cycle.” Gina nodded silently. “The people of Rennou flooded the Millhouse with food and drink. They wept with me, like the sympathetic strings of a Kellish harp.”

Gina nodded: They were happy to give something to a family that had never needed them before.

“But the kindness stopped when, three days after my mother’s death, my father shouted, ‘Go back to your pathetic farms and stupid shops, and do not return unless you have grain to grind and money to pay!’ He was drunk. But it was the same when he was sober.

“He never healed from my mother and sister’s deaths. By the time I was seven, he could no longer operate the mill: he swilled nectair all day, and was forever in danger of crushing a hand or foot. But then, suddnely, he began to change. He stopped drinking. Told me about my mother. Bought new tools and loupp oil to dress the stones. And brought me this.” B’frona stroked the book of adventure stories. “He said we would read ‘every book in the world together!’”

Gina let out a sigh, remembering the hours she and Zack had spent listening to their own father read aloud.

“But one evening the water wheel stopped. My father never went to the wheel because it is where my mother and sister are buried. I said I would go, but he said no and took a bottle with him. He did not come back. Two hours later I found him pinned beneath the wheel. I do not know how—” B’frona stopped abruptly, as if he too were pinned beneath the wheel. Gina tried to take his hand, but he pulled away.

“I buried him next to my mother. And so you see it is better that he died.”

“What? B’frona, no!”

“Everyone thinks he is still alive, and that he only avoids them because he hates them. They think I feel the same way…which I do.”

Gina touched the orphaned millboy’s hand, wondering what she’d gotten herself into…

And how she would ever find her brother?

φ

Thoughts: If we don’t share one another’s burdens, are we ever truly alive?

Wishing - Ismara

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No Hope for the Human Race!

OK, so the title might be a smidge on the snarky side. Then again… Warning: The following images contain dangerous sarcasm triggers. Don’t blame me if you feel an uncontrolable urge to shout ascerbic witicisms at your screen. On the other hand, think of it as therapy (you’re welcome). For balance, next Friday’s Photoblog will be about Hope for the Human Race. The evidence is out there. But it’s going to take dedicated research to find it. Meanwhile, have a snarky weekend!

Click on any image to enlarge it, or to begin slide show.

“Where is the truly wise person? Where is the learned scribe? Where is the debater of our age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”

~1 Corinthians 1:20

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47 Years Ago Today

Vietnam Mem'l Wall

By the time the war ended, 58,220 American soldiers had died in Vietnam. And, in a strange irony, 50,000 of the people they’d gone to save had been evacuated to the United States. It was the largest airlift in U.S. history.

I remember when the refugees arrived at the Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County, just minutes from where I lived and studied at the University of California, Irvine.

During the sweltering summer of 1975 (the hottest in thirty years), wave after wave of uprooted Southeast Asians settled into reinvented lives. “Little Saigon” in Garden Grove became the largest enclave of Vietnamese (over 200,000) outside of Vietnam. Nguyen Cao Ky, the former president of South Vietnam, ran a liquor store there.

I sensed some sort of circle had closed when, in the mid-90’s, I overheard a couple of teenagers drooling in “totally” SoCal girl accents over a dress in a mall window. I turned to see two first generation Vietnamese-Americans.

Today, while the airlift generation’s grandchildren play, the soldier’s grandchildren plan trips to the Vietnam Memorial.

Nothing happens the way we expect it to. Lives that were supposed to go on ended. And lives that were afterthoughts continued. I write this in honor of those who gave their lives…

And those whose lives were changed forever.

φ

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A Mother’s Love

'Mothers Love' by Andrae Ricketts (unsplash.com)Photo by Andrae Ricketts

NginaMy Featured Blogger this week is Ngina of the blog site Euonia: Stay and Shine. I know nothing about Ngina, whose motto is “Blossom. Re-blossom. Keep doing it,” except that she’s African (but I don’t know which country), and that her poems are full of passion, longing, and unconditional love. These are words you feel, rather than merely read. To feel more, visit Ngina here!

I’ll weave my shredded heart
into a basket for your worries
and bare my bony shoulder
for you to cry on
I’ll take my skeletal hands
and earth-filled fingers
and stroke your face
and wipe off your tears
I’ll slap my aching back to bend
and pick you up when you fall
My eyes won’t know any tears
but when yours do, mine will be wet with love                                   I’ll drain rivers of pain with my cloak
and clear thorny bushes with my bare hands
I’ll take life’s beatings with grace
so it can be softer on you

ζ

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High Times in Junior High

'The Ugliness of a Quad' by Mitch Teemley, age 12My 7th Grade essay on The Quad, the asphalt-covered area between our school buildings.

My Real Memoir

Junior High Schools have pretty much gone the way of the mastodon (my kids attended middle school). But Los Coyotes Junior High was designed to be just what its name implies: high school lite, a taste of teenagerdom — “Now with half the acne!”

We had core rooms where we’d study multiple subjects grammar-school-style: Social Studies—about which I was ambivalent. Reading—which I loved; except I hated “speed-reading,” considered important back then due to the efforts of a crazy lady named Evelyn Wood whose “Reading Dynamics” system is now considered the educational equivalent of Monopoly money. I could have told them back then that books, like food, are meant to be chewed and savored! So, RISP (rest in speedy peace), Evelyn. Language Arts—this was my favorite subject because it meant that I, future bestselling author Jules Paris Casino (my sophisticated pen name), got to write!

Core room was also about Citizenship, considered so important it was broken into ten categories! My core teacher, Mr. Dickson, a retired Marine Corps drill instructor, was responsible for all ten, including #9 Self Control. Little-known fact: It was Mr. Dickson, spock-vulcan-death-gripnot Mr. Spock, who invented the Vulcan Death Grip. He would step up behind some blithely jabbering boy like, say, me, and squeeze their shoulder so hard that his thumb and forefinger would actually kiss beneath the clavicle (I learned that word in Science class). Discipline, thy name was Dickson. Still, like my 6th Grade teacher, Mr. Dickson did it all with a gleeful glint. Plus, he drove a cool car (a Corvette Stingray!) and he loved my writing, especially when I waxed sarcastic (see essay above). So, shoulder pain notwithstanding, Mr. D was my guy!

After core room, we’d shuffle off to high-school-style single-subject classrooms: Math, as taught by so-skinny-you-could-blow-him-over Mr. Peters, was boooooring. Except when he tried Mr. D’s famous death grip on me and I made the entire class roar by pounding my desk and squirming in mock agony. Science was pretty cool, especially when we made conical paper “phalanges” to illustrate finger bones during Mr. Poljack’s anatomy lecture and made him laugh so hard he cried. Practical Arts—wood and metal shop for boys, homemaking for girls (sorry, it was the 60s) was groovy. And Elective Period, the crown gem of my school day, Drama, was life-changing. But for that…

You’ll have to wait till next week, kids!

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

Posted in Humor, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , , | 38 Comments