Lawless One; a permanent nightmare

18 10 2010

[fiction]

Our star, Larry Lawson, had a rousing morning slapping his girlfriend to her senses.  She was still moaning over that fetus he pushed her to abort.  Zooming down the parkway, he considered that he might stop by the bar after work and see if he could pick up a new hottie, maybe a Latino chic.  That would suit him nicely.  Who knows, he might get lucky, today.  A light turned red, and he breezed through it unscathed, only to be stopped dead by a stale red with heavy cross-traffic a hundred yards later.  A black kid with an iPod stuck in his ears strutted in front of him, earning a honk and a few nasty words.  Larry thought to teach him a lesson for prolonging his red light with a crosswalk signal.  The kid would probably think of this day whenever he considered white people, in general.  He probably hated white men, already.  Larry had the vague recollection of having honked at this kid before.  Across the intersection stood a billboard photo of some guy in a white cowboy hat holding a telephone, with the words, “In trouble with the law?  Call Jesse!”  He chuckled to himself and made a mental note of the number.  The traffic going straight got a green, but Larry couldn’t waste time for the red left arrow, so he pulled an illegal U-turn and slid into the underground parking lot of his glass-walled high-rise office building.  He did a quick glance into the rearview mirror for cops and mumbled, “Sorry Jesse, maybe next time.”

Out of the car, he hopped into the elevator and waited for it to take him to the top floor, where a coffeepot and a corner desk had his name on them.  Some sappy song played over the speaker while he waited; it may have been called Shooting Stars.

“Like shooting stars we shine and then fade,
Breaking the promises we made, what about the promises?
What about the promises we made?  What about our plans for forever?”

Without thinking about it, he hummed along and counted the floors on the display above the door.  He couldn’t get out fast enough.  He put on his best attitude, taking the long way to the coffee maker, past the desk of that hot new intern.  He tried not to huff when she wasn’t there.  At his desk, he barely had the computer fired up when the guy in the cubicle next to him rolled around the cubicle partition and asked him, “Yo, Larry, you forgot to get a chain of custody receipt for yesterday’s Picasso delivery.”

Larry gave an over-the-shoulder smirk at him and said, “I didn’t forget.”

“Then where is it?” the pest insisted.

“I’ll get it to you.  I’ll get it to you.  Just wait a minute.  I just got here,” Larry snapped,  “Don’t rush me.” As soon as the neighbor wheeled back out of sight, he brought up a blank form on the computer and hit the “print” button.  Strolling as casually as possible to the printer, he snatched the document and slipped into a nearby vacant cubicle.  A few forged signatures and falsified dates written in, and he was on his way back to his desk via the aisle next to the file cabinets.  He learned long ago not to make the falsifications at his desk.  The new guy was too sharp; he’d see Larry strolling back from the printer with a fresh document and pause in his own cubicle for a moment, only to appear with the requested document, which was only too obvious.  Justifying the action was easy.  The delivery had been made, and that’s what really mattered.  This was just a lot of red tape, and besides it was a mistake, after all.  Granted, everyone would like to do things right the first time, but that’s no reason to take heat for a stupid piece of paper, or so Larry figured.  So long as the customer never complained of non-delivery, the document was never scrutinized.

All this was so much fuss over dry paint.  Larry figured Picasso to have created almost nineteen hundred paintings in his lifetime.  Of those, he had personally sold over twenty-five hundred, courtesy of a man on Thirteenth Street, named Joe Guiles.  Old Joe was one of those artists who sold art by the pound.  Larry loved his abstract works.  The need to follow reality set rules that made realistic artwork difficult to forge.  Bad art was bad, whether it looked like the original or not.  Abstract art was the sort of thing that could never be bad art, because it never actually had to look like something real.  It was essentially lawless.  The consumer eye couldn’t tell a Guiles from a Picasso, but it could certainly tell it from a Rembrandt.  No Picasso fan could look at one of his works and identify it as a forgery by its poor quality.  That’s because it was all bad.  Without having the real thing to hold up next to it, no one could notice the difference.  With the advance of the Giclee printer, a downloaded work could be printed on canvass to look like a genuine double of the original.  Granted, there were certain risks.  He had to be careful not to sell any of the showcased works, or anything too famous.  The best bet was always something that Picasso never attempted, yet should have.  These were the “lesser-known works.”  That’s where Joe’s talent really shined.

Well, it wasn’t too hard to rationalize, really.  A painting was as good as the owner’s enjoyment of it.  It didn’t really matter who made it or how it was made, so long as it had the certain visual appeal that the consumer was looking for.  I mean, it’s either worth hanging on a wall, or it isn’t.  In the end, it’s just an image.  If the consumer wanted that image, then that’s what the consumer got.  In return, Larry only asked for mass-produced artwork of dead presidents on rag paper.  That should be fair enough.

The phone on his desk rang.  It was Joe.  He answered it, “Larry Lawson, superstar.”

Joe replied that one of his works was ready, and then he disconnected.

Larry stood, passed the bad document over the shoulder of his coworker and disappeared around a corner.  He had been in the office less than twenty minutes, and already he was headed for the elevator and freedom.  Stopping by the receptionist’s desk, he asked the lady to tell his boss that he was on his way to do a pick-up.  She replied that the boss was not coming in today.  This had “good day” written all over it.  He counted the steps to the elevator, waited for the doors to shut, and then he did his best rendition of a football goal line victory dance.  That stop at the bar would be coming earlier than he had planned.  The elevator car dropped a level and opened to a pretty little clerk that he had gotten to know a month earlier.  As soon as she saw him, she made an awkward nod of the head, mumbled, “Sorry, mistake,” and hurried away.  He made a mental note to study that case.  Clearly, something went wrong with that one.  Maybe he had pursued her a little to aggressively.

The doors closed and the elevator car continued on its way.  “Shooting Stars,” played softly over the speaker.  “Come on, people, we just played that one,” he muttered.  Two lines later, he realized that the words were different.  This one wasn’t about shooting stars, like the kind one might watch on a hot August night.  This one was about shooting stars, as in celebrities and with a gun.  He shifted uncomfortably.  “Odd, that one,” he said to the wall.  His cell phone rang.  It was the jerk from the cubicle next to his.

“Larry,” whined the jerk, “This receipt is a complete forgery!  What the heck are you doing, trying to pawn this junk off on me?”

“Just file it,” Larry answered, “you know no one’s going to look at it, anyway.”

“Larry, I looked at it!  Now we’re both involved.  This isn’t just your butt that’s going to get fried.  I never asked for this.  It’s illegal, you know!” the twiggy coworker cried.

“Laws were made to be broken,” Larry returned, “Get a grip.  You’re not going to get arrested for possession of a fake receipt.”  He snapped his phone shut and continued waiting.  This was taking too long.  He looked at the display above the door, and it showed that he was ascending, instead of descending.  “Drat!” he shouted.  Actually, that wasn’t quite the word he used.  The numbers kept going up.  Then, he was back to his own level, which was on the highest floor.  Then he was on the floor above it.  The numbers rearranged themselves into a little face, just a line for a mouth and two dots for eyes.  “What the…?!”

“So, you don’t like laws, do you?” the little face said, and he heard it through the speakers in place of the music.  The face screwed itself up into various Chinese characters.  Then the display went blank and the doors opened, revealing the roof and all of the workings one might find on top of a high-rise office building.

“This is nuts,” he said with a shiver, “Elevators don’t go clear to the roof.  This can’t be happening.”  But the unnaturally dark and smoky sky drew him outside and toward the parapet.  Looking down, he saw that the whole city was on fire, making him think for a split second that it had caused his elevator to rise to the top, but that would still be impossible.  The elevator still doesn’t reach the roof, even if it malfunctions.  A huge billow of smoke rose in the distance, forming what vaguely looked like an angry face, which turned and dissipated a second later.  A moment after that, the roiling smoke formed another face, which rotated and obliterated.  It was only the sort of thing one sees in clouds, when one looks up and makes believe that the thing is shaped like something familiar, even when it clearly looks dissimilar.  Yet, face after face arose and disappeared.  “What is going on, here?” he wondered aloud.

“At the moment, you’re hallucinating, but that could all change in a few minutes,” said a voice behind him.

He turned toward the speaker and saw a man in a leather jacket, leather pants and leather boots.  In fact, it would appear that every thing he wore required the shedding of blood.  “What’s going on?  What’s happening,” Larry asked.

“This day has been waiting for you for thousands of years, and you have only just now stepped into it,” replied the stranger, “But I wanted to give you a moment longer before you met your destiny.  The world burns like incense to appease the nostrils of a holy God, but one can burn swine meat forever without ever producing a pleasing aroma.  Really,  I don’t think we need more of that.  I like to think that there’s a chance to reconcile you with the law you hate.”

Larry tried to give him a look that said, “You’ve got to be kidding,” that looked more like a terrified, “Man, I sure hope this is just a joke.”  He looked back at the rising smoke, which seemed to look back at him.  “So what are you saying?”

“You need Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for your breaking of the law,” the man in leather said.

“Yeah, whatever.  Jesus overthrew the law,” Larry replied.

“No, you overthrew the law.  Jesus fulfilled it.  He loved the law enough to die, rather than break it.  He loved you enough to die, rather than break you.  Something had to break.  It was you against the law, and….”

“That’s nice,” Larry interrupted, “but I’ve got an elevator to catch,” and he headed back to the entrance.

“Are you really in such a hurry to go down there?” asked the stranger.

Larry stepped inside the elevator, turned, and gave the button for the parking garage a resolute push.  There’s something about insanity that makes people compensate by attempting to be extra sane.  They stand a little taller.  They walk stiffly and talk about anything normal, if they can.  They find themselves looking for any symbol of normalcy to which they can cling, even striding with ineffective slowness from an onrush of doom.  For Larry, this meant resetting himself to the last moment before things went haywire, which meant standing in an elevator and pushing the button for the parking garage with the determination of one who actually expected it to go there.  When the doors closed and his stomach rose into his throat from the descent of the car, he hoped life was as normal as it now looked, but four seconds later, when he became weightless and floated about the interior, he realized with horror that he was better-off on the roof, with the freak, where at least he was free and not trapped in a box.  The display above the door showed the little face again, and he heard its voice through the speakers.

“You know, Larry, I know you think of yourself as a minor outlaw, but I happen to know that you love laws,” said the voice in a synthetic sort of way.  Larry was too busy floating about the cabin to venture a response, so it continued, “Take the law of gravity, for instance.  You love that law.  You like being able to use those little stilts you call legs to pry yourself away from the ground and move from place to place across the surface of a dirt ball.  You love knowing that every day, God happens to follow that law faithfully.  Or, take the laws of time and space, even.  You like, or better yet, are tremendously excited to know that your elevator will get to where it’s going in a timely manner.  You like to be able to cross a room in a matter of seconds, rather than decades.  In fact, it would kill you to know that you might not even get there in your lifetime.”

“Oh, dear God,” Larry mumbled, not reverently.

“Yes, both dear and God, in fact,” said the voice.  “Aren’t you glad God obeys his laws?  Don’t you wish you had obeyed yours?  Oh, but then there’s the Master Law, and this one you love the best.  It’s the law that makes all other laws possible.  It’s the law of consistency.  It’s so universal and so important that most people don’t even know it exists.  You wake up every morning, go to work, come home and go to bed.”

“I do not love that law,” Larry groaned.

“Oh, but you do,” argued the voice.  “You don’t like not knowing if, perhaps, you might wake up one day and find that you are a chicken, strapped to the back of a flying purple pig, singing We Are The World a hundred times really fast.  For instance, you don’t like floating about, trapped inside an elevator that talks nonsense to you.”

Larry resisted the urge to puke, and said, cautiously, “You’re right.  I definitely do not like this.”

“Ah, but fortunately for you God is very good at following his laws,” the thing said.

“Then why isn’t he?!” Larry roared.

“Ah, but he is!” the elevator cheered, “You may think that you are floating, but it only seems like that because your entire world is falling with you.  Your coworkers are falling with you.  Your elevator car is falling with you…and it still only takes four and a half seconds to hit the ground!  Even the laws of time and space are obeyed.  Did you know, Larry, that the terrified mind of a human fires signals so fast that he perceives that time comes to a standstill?”

“That’s great!  That’s just fantastic, you stupid, little, whatever you are!  What about consistency?  What about your freaking Master Law?!” Larry screamed.

“It’s about to be taken from you,” said the elevator, flatly.  “The Master is about to be taken from you, and there’s really no way to have the Master Law without the Master, now is there?  I mean, that wouldn’t make any sense, now would it?

“You mean, I’m going to be stuck in this nightmare?!” Larry panicked.

The elevator was silent for a moment.  Then it replied, “Yes, but this is all taking too long.  We are nearly out of time.”

All at once, the elevator groaned softly, and Larry was flung at the floor, where he stopped, mid-air, spread-eagle, with his nose an inch from the ground, hovering.  He brought his arms and legs down, and he carefully stood to his feet.  The moment the doors opened, he rushed outside, into the parking garage, and for a moment life seemed to have returned to normal.  A short distance away was a small one-person restroom, used mostly by the security guards and the incontinent.  Into this he rushed, either to vomit or to splash water on his face, whichever he could manage best.  It was one of those cold, ugly places, with a steel mirror and a steel toilet and a push-button washbasin.  He got one splash of water to his face before he began to doubt his own reflection.  It didn’t look right.  He worried that the nightmare might be returning.  It was his face, alright, and it even imitated his movements, but somehow it felt like the image of someone else.  The man in the mirror looked like the sort of jackass a person loves to hate, bearing a sneer best removed with a tightly-clenched fist.  Then, he could contain himself no longer.  He fell to his knees before the toilet and spilled his breakfast, which appeared to be a diet of worms.  In between retches he could still feel them wriggling in his throat, which made him retch all the more.  Gripping the bowl with both hands, he felt himself surrender to the panic.  There was no end to the worms within.  That’s when he noticed his hands.  They were covered in worms, too.  In fact, they were so covered that he could not see his hands.  He swiped at them vigorously, knocking them in large clumps into the toilet, taking off whole fingers and then an arm, into the bowl.  That’s when he realized that the worms were not on his arms.  The worms were his arms.  He pushed himself to his feet and examined his body, a seething mass of worms in the general shape of a man.  His right arm flopped detached over the edge of the bowl, spreading in an array of nematodes, until it no longer resembled an arm.

Larry had one thread of sanity left, and with it he barged out of the restroom, up the ramp and out onto the street.  He was going to wake up or die trying.  The street outside was packed with pedestrians, marching routinely to work.  He pushed through them rudely, not knowing where he was going, or why.  He overheard their conversations with each other, normal and unrelated to him, but his mind picked out one word from one person and one word from another, fitting it nicely together into a sentence that was never spoken by a single individual.

“Hurry…call…on…Christ!…now,” said no one and everyone.

Larry stopped at the street corner and looked each way.  It was an alley, crossing with the main boulevard.  The alley had nothing but two old trash cans, a cat, and a homeless bum, who was striding purposefully toward him.  Everyone else was walking or driving along the boulevard.  In the moment that he recognized the bum as the man from the roof, he looked up at the street sign and saw that he was at the crossing of Hell Avenue and Heaven Alley.  “Oh, very funny!  Oh, yeah, this is all just one big hilarious joke, isn’t it?!” he yelled at the stranger.  The people on the street stopped in their tracks and stared.  Even the cars slowed to watch the madman.  Everyone was waiting to see what he would do next.  He was about to say something more, when he heard the whistle of a train.  It was the Seven-Ten, and for once it was right on time.  He knew what he had to do.  He turned up the boulevard and ran madly for the tracks.  The stranger broke into a dead run after him, trying to stop him.  Up ahead, he saw the tracks.  To his left, he saw the coming of the Los Angeles Westbound.  Larry was determined to meet the LAW head-on.  Someone or something was going to break.  With his legs spread, he stood and faced the oncoming diesel engine.  To his left, the stranger kept coming, with a look of horror on his face and his hand upraised in warning.

“Larry!” yelled the man in leather, “You can’t wake up from this kind of nightmare!”  But Larry turned toward the engine and ignored him.  The stranger slowed to a stop when the futility of his effort became evident.  The words barely squeaked from his throat, “Not again.  Oh, for pity’s sake, not again.”

The impact was so thunderous that everybody thought a bomb had gone off.  The doors and large pieces of the elevator car blew out into the cars parked opposite, rebounding with a clatter, a tremendous racket and a billow of dust.  A dozen car alarms sounded, honking in protest like frightened donkeys.  The entire office building came alive with workers buzzing about, trying desperately to know what was going on.

The event was summed up in a news article the next day, that the elevator in a downtown office building had become detached from its pulley mechanism and fallen all the way from the top floor to its resounding demise far below, killing one person in the process.

A clerk from the top floor minus one considered that she barely missed getting on that elevator seconds before the disaster.  Strangely, she was saved by her disdain of the victim, which, incidentally, made the victim harder to disdain.  Had he not been on that elevator, she felt that the victim would have been her, instead.  Somewhere on the top floor, the victim’s coworker made a callous remark that he probably hit the ground and kept going, straight to Hell.  Both were wrong in their own way.  The reason she did not die was simply because it was not her time to die.  He did not go straight to Hell, exactly.  Somewhere along the way life took an unexpected detour, before continuing on into the permanent nightmare.

But it is not for others to know the full story of a man.  His interaction with God is known only to him and God.  He can’t tell, and God won’t.

[/fiction]

Some say that the genre of Christian horror is a self-contradictory and impossible concept.  In truth, those who see the world falling headlong into a permanent nightmare are audience of the ultimate horror story.





The Problem with Divination

29 06 2010

A man came back from vacation telling of his trip to the top of Half Dome, a great mountain of rock with a sheer cliff on one side.  According to him, a man was seen feeding a marmot by placing the tidbit on his foot and offering it to the small furry creature.  The marmot, used to the generosity of humans, approached the man and gratefully took the piece of food.  A second later, the man kicked the poor animal right off the edge of the sheer cliff, where it fell to its death.  “Don’t feed the animals,” the park rangers say.  In fact, they’ll land you with a hefty fine if they catch you doing it.  Few people understand the harm done by taming the wildlife.  When the cute little beast approaches you with his plaintive pitiable stare, you might find yourself offering a piece of your granola bar, or a small morsel of trail mix.  What harm could it do?  The poor thing is starving, and it was brave enough to beg from a human.  It behaves as though it were your own pet, and, in a sense, that’s exactly what it has become.  You certainly wouldn’t hurt the little creature.  You know I wouldn’t hurt it.  Most people would not dream of harming it.  But while its trust in you may be well-founded, it’s trust in the next hiker is a gamble.

Rattlesnakes are dangerous, but squirrels are safe.  Is a human safe?

Up in a small town called Sierra City, there lies a small pond teeming with trout.  Next to the pond stands a gumball machine that dispenses food for the fish.  All day, people buy a handful of pellets for a quarter, tossing them in, one at a time, for the merriment of watching the fish attack the bait.  Most of the people who visit the pond would not harm the fish.  To them, the fish are a joy to watch and a pleasure to feed.  Sometimes, a person comes to the pond with a fishing rod.  They aren’t there for more than a couple of seconds before getting a bite from some unsuspecting fish.  Where humans were known to be harmless, the fish swallowed anything that they were fed, and they did it aggressively.  The safe humans made life more dangerous for the fish by teaching them to trust humans, in general, and unsafe humans, in particular.

A scorpion is dangerous.  A polar bear is dangerous.  A black widow is dangerous.  A hummingbird is safe.  A rabbit is safe.  A mouse is safe, even if it is a pest.  Is a human safe?

Generalizations can be made about each species with regard to its relative safety to other species.  In fact, generalizations can be made about the temperament of each species if it is wild, or each breed if it is domesticated.  If a squirrel were to ask you if you were safe, you might say “yes,” and you might be telling the truth.  What the animal may not realize is that while one human may be safe, then next one, a kid with a new bee-bee gun, might pose a serious hazard, even if his aim is bad.  Animals are predictable creatures, and they expect the same from other animals.  Humans, on the other hand, display a unique tendency toward individualism.  That is to say we have a propensity to make our own decisions and carve out our own nature, independent of the nature of our species, as a whole.  If you don’t believe me, just ask the marmot.

The human marmot is a woman who attempts to communicate with her guardian angel.  It is a boy who tries to use his Ouija Board to contact the spirit world.  They beg and they plead, and if they got what they wanted, then they would learn to beg and plead more fearlessly.  Most of the angels are faithful to God.  Only a third rebelled with Satan, and yet, on any given day if a person managed to get a message from the other world through active divination, that message would almost always be from an evil one.  The reason is simple.

Are angels safe?

Angels have one thing in common with humans that they have in common with nothing else.  They had and have the ability to choose between good and evil, and some, but not all, have chosen evil over good.  They cannot be generalized as a species in the same way that humans cannot be generalized as a species.  That being the case, anything that a good angel feeds an eager audience merely serves to make people more vulnerable to the fallen angels.  As I have said before, we are clearly at a disadvantage in our relationship to the spirit realm.  Unless we approach the matter with a healthy dose of fear, we stumble blindly into a dark room with lions and lambs.

A divine law has been set that, except under special circumstances, the angels are not to feed bits of communication to the humans, lest they become tame and vulnerable.  Unlike the human campers, the angels tend to do as they’re told.  That’s the problem with divination: invite the spirit world to your party and the demons will come to crash it.  I do say facetiously that the angels are commanded not to participate in our divination.  This I cannot verify, except to say that the outcome of such involvement would be certain evil.  God has commanded us not to engage in divination, and one must consider that no good being would encourage disobedience to God.

The problem with humans is that they cannot be generalized as safe or unsafe.  The same is true for spirits.  The problem with divination is that only the evil ones respond.  The good thing about divination, ironically, is that only the evil ones respond, which keeps the sanest among us leery of anything that comes from it.





When Surrender is Not an Option

10 05 2010

It was our second anniversary, and we were headed down a certain freeway that I now avoid with a superstitious dread.  The man in the green Nissan to my right decided to change lanes very quickly and without warning, which would have been tolerable if not for the fact that I was already in that space.  There’s this annoying principle of matter that says that no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time, which is why I reacted very quickly to save my car from certain destruction.  Unfortunately, there’s also a physical constant called a friction coefficient, which does not change no matter how fast a person’s reflexes are.  I avoided colliding with the reckless driver, but my car went into a fishtail, as the road beneath me seemed to turn into a well-greased slab of slightly melted ice.  It’s funny, really, how static friction is so much stronger than kinetic friction.  Once the car skids, the tires glide across the asphalt with amazing ease.  The next thing I knew, I was staring straight at the concrete divider.  I steered hard away from it, but I had to stomp on the gas to make the car move in the other direction again.  Merely turning the wheel wasn’t cutting it.  Then I was facing the other way, and I had to turn the wheel and hit the gas to get it back again.  Back and forth, and back and forth again, the car slid one way and then the next, and there seemed to be no getting it straight again.  When the blood was coursing through my veins with an adrenaline high like three pots of coffee, I felt like I was living life at two-hundred miles per hour.  Actually, that’s the speed of a nerve impulse, so I really was living at two-hundred, but I digress.  At least I was able to get the car into a predictable oscillation.  That, alone, was a small comfort.  Still, getting the tires to stop squealing and getting the car to move in a straight line again would have been nice.  I was surprised at exactly how much care was required to shrink the back and forth motion to a slight veering.  A little less gas each time and a gentler steering got it to a point where it was barely moving back and forth at all.  In fact, if the tires had not been skidding, my path of travel would have been perfectly normal.

But the tires were still skidding.  I could not simply return to normal driving, or I would end up crunched like an empty soda can against the concrete wall.  Fighting the great back and forth movements was scary, but the battle was an easy one to fight.  Once the car was basically going straight, I found myself wondering what I was going to do next.  For the longest time, I was driving straight down the road with squealing tires that had about as much grip on the road as melted butter.  I was going straight, but only if I concentrated on it.  This was the hardest part, because I began to seriously consider whether the car would ever regain traction again.  It seemed to take forever, with no progress, and I was exhausted and shaking.

What unnerves me most about the event is that an idea crossed my mind that there really was nothing left to do but let the car do its own thing and be done with it, to give up and have a collision.  But…no matter how unbearable the situation was at the time, the alternative had to be worse.  No matter how long this continued, even if I felt that I couldn’t do it anymore, there was never any point in giving up.

“What do I do now?!” I wondered again and again.  The car was going straight, for crying out loud!  Then I tried taking my foot completely off of the gas and let the road move the wheels.  Eventually, enough friction between the two got them moving at the same speed and in the same direction.  After what seemed like forever, the squealing subsided, and I was back to driving the same as normal.  I was shaking like a leaf, and the world seemed several times brighter than midday sunlight, but we were alive, and the tires were gripping the road again.

Years later, I was riding in the back seat of someone else’s car, and I heard the familiar squeal of someone else’s car coming the other way.  At first, I couldn’t tell which car it was, because they were all moving straight ahead.  A man in a large truck had gone into a fishtail and managed to get it under control, in so much as that he was going straight, but his tires were still slipping and sliding along.  In that moment, I knew what he was thinking, and he chose the option of surrender.  From a straight path of travel, he suddenly swerved right, into the car beside him, then left, into another car.  He got his truck to a stop, but he had to wreck it and a couple of others to do so.  In that moment of fatigue, when there seemed to be no hope in sight, he chose the unthinkable alternative of surrender.  After getting it mostly under control, without regaining traction, he simply gave up.

I think of this now, because recently I saw the car in front of me fishtail, and the driver ultimately spun in circles and stopped, facing backward.  In fact, whenever I see the telltale wavy skid marks in the road, I watch to see what the outcome will be.  Almost always, they end in a great big loop like a question mark.

We fight, and we fight hard, and then we fight some more.  Then we wonder if there’s any hope, or we wonder if it’s worth the trouble.  No matter how unthinkable the alternative is, people usually give in to that unthinkable alternative.  Swerving back and forth is a nightmare, but it beats the alternative.  Life is full of such cases.  At what point do we give in to sin, say it’s too much temptation to bear?  How much is too much?  It’s never too much, because as long as we are still fighting, we are better off than the alternative.  Yet, there is a threshold for everyone, a point of striving beyond which they will not venture.  It’s the test of tenacity.

How seriously do you take your faith?  Will you keep it under adverse circumstances?  Will you keep it if those circumstances appear to have no end?  Is an endless arduous battle always better than the alternative?

In the words of Churchill, I say, never give up.

We are but weaklings, dwarfed by the martyrs who came before us.  We give in to little temptations where they held fast to the point of death.  Yet, though we can only hold fast in little ways, we can do so indefinitely, because it simply beats the alternative.  No matter how strong the drive to do that which God has condemned, we can and must always resist, because the alternative is absolutely unacceptable.  No one is granted a vacation from morality.  Personal preference isn’t worth crap.  You don’t stop fighting, and you never give up.  You work that lifestyle until the right thing becomes a habit.

When put to the test, you hold to righteousness even if it kills you, because the alternative is unacceptable.  Sometimes, surrender is just not an option.  Excuses won’t break your fall like the ground will.





Rumors

13 03 2010

That night a rumor was born out of a back bedroom of my home in San Diego County, which traveled the full length of the Pacific coast of the continental United States, all the way to Washington, where it turned around and met me again halfway up California in a town called Sonora.  I was sitting in the fellowship hall of a local church, playing Mancala with a fellow student from Washington.  We had been canvassing the Sierra Nevadas for a field trip in search of flowers to classify.  I was just telling her of a certain troublesome individual who had caused our home much grief, when my classmate jumped up and announced excitedly that she had heard of this crazy woman.  We traced the rumor back to her home state, and, from there, back to San Diego.  Surprisingly, the story had not lost an ounce of truth in the telling.

 Lori is one of those people I can name by her first name, and if you know her, then you will likely know about exactly whom I’m talking.  She’s a former witch, who claims to have special knowledge of the spiritual world through her past dealings with the devil.  At the time that I knew her, she waved the banner of Christianity, and she proclaimed herself to be one of God’s own prophets.  She was a bane of families and churches.  Every thought she conceived, every dream, was a gift of the divine, straight to her.  She had plans for a mountain in southern California to become the hiding place for the elect in the final days.  Initially, that land was in drought, but she predicted rain.  She told that a dry lake would one day be filled, and she was right.  Later that year it did rain, the lake did fill, and the mountaintop turned from brown to a luxurious green.  She had actually predicted climate change, and the climate obeyed.

 The next summer, the lake dried, the grass turned brown, and everything returned to the way it had been at first.

 Lori was one of those people who are never wrong.  Anything she wanted, she got.  Many women strive for beauty and high esteem.  She strove for power over angels and men.  Every little thing she did, she praised.  Every decent thing that anyone else did, she disregarded.  If given the chance, she would have started her own little cult community.  I can only thank God that she did not muster that kind of influence.  In retrospect, I can see why she was involved in the female part of the Masons.  She craved the perceived power in that secret pagan ritualism.  Through her, I was able to glimpse some of the lesser rites.  Nothing Biblical comes out of that organization.  The Masons are a collection of would-be sorcerers in a quest for spiritual power, not a club of good fellows.

 As an adolescent, I was stuck in the unfortunate position of being old enough to realize that my parents were being taken for fools, yet I was too young to have any say in my own fate.  Lori convinced them to sell our home and buy a place out in the great tinderbox of rural San Diego County.  Together, her family and ours lived in the same home, mostly at my parents’ expense.  They had visions of a blossoming ministry, which, although it was not on the aforementioned mountain, was destined to move there one day.  That day never came.  I cannot say that no good came of that move.  In fact, my parents were able to make a positive impact on some less fortunate individuals.

 The really irksome problems began when a rumor started in the church.  People were beginning to tell my mother and Lori that they seemed to have an unnaturally close relationship.  The most brazen of them hinted at lesbianism.  Oh, yeah, that feels like a punch in the gut to have people call my mom a dyke.  Lori called it a nasty rumor, and she found someone to blame as the originator of that rumor.  Looking at the situation honestly, I realized that this was not a rumor at all.  People were merely making conclusions based on what they saw.  One person had the guts to say it like it was, but she was not the cause of my mother’s ill repute.  The fact was that Lori looked very much like a lesbian in pursuit of my mom.  So I had this woman getting a little too friendly with my mom, and our families moved in together.  The kids on both sides were starting to confer with each other and wonder what the heck was going on.

 I didn’t think I was affected too much by it, until one day at school while waiting in line for class.  A friend and I were having a little fun inventing funny insults.  Then he landed the line, “your mother is a lesbian.”  The next thing I knew, I turned around and he was rubbing his jaw, eyes wet, saying, “You hit me.  I can’t believe you just hit me!”  I couldn’t believe it, either.  I wasn’t even conscious of it.  I was amazed and horrified that I had just hit a friend.  I still don’t really remember doing it.  I must have turned around, slugged him, and then returned to standing in line as though nothing had happened.  What a way to lose a friend!

 Lori brought some interesting times to my life, most of which I could have done quite well without.  Fortunately, these things could not last.  Due to the “rumors,” the church stripped both of the ladies, my dad and Lori’s husband of their involvement in youth functions.  From there, they retreated to a poor little country church.  During this time, Lori found a new best friend, named Laura, which caused a great deal of chaos in our home, especially since Laura was living on the property by my parents’ benevolence. 

 Then events really got crazy.  My dad and Lori got into a fight, in which they both went for their guns.  He was tired of letting her push everyone around, and she was tired of having him stand in the way of her dreams.  I don’t know how we ever survived.  I cannot fathom how my parents’ marriage lasted. 

 Lori’s marriage did not last.  Her son became enamored with the preacher’s daughter, and Lori saw it as an opportunity to exact revenge not only on her estranged husband, but also strike a blow to the preacher.  The timing couldn’t have been worse.  The church was splitting, and the board was trying to oust the preacher.  His daughter was eighteen and entitled to make her own marital choices, which she did against her father’s will.  Lori’s son was just sixteen, which meant that she could emancipate him against his father’s will.  Add to that the fact that her friend, Laura, had received a mail-order minister’s license, and what we got was two kids getting married in a back bedroom against the will of three parents, thanks to one clever and especially vindictive mother.  My parents and I huddled in the common area of the house, grumbling helplessly against it.  It was entirely legal, and it was all incredibly stupid.

 News of the odd marriage traveled from there to Washington through an unlikely channel of people who did not know us.  From there, it found its way back to Sonora, to a surprised and energetic classmate.

 Lori, Laura and the newlyweds moved to Arizona shortly after that.  The kids had a couple of their own kids immediately, and then the preacher’s daughter took those kids and went to live with her parents again.

 At least that disaster was out of my life.  My parents’ stormy marriage healed to near perfection within a year.  I married my own bride in that very church, just after the pastor lost his own daughter to a back room wedding.  We’re still happily married after all of these years.  I put Lori out of my mind.  She continued to make her way east.  She left her friend, Laura, and, as far as I know, made her way to the other side of the continent.

 I don’t know why I was surprised, recently, when yet another Lori rumor found its way all the way from the other coast to here.  I was sitting outside of church, when my dad leaned over and said, “Lori got married…to another woman.  Don’t tell your mom.”

 Apparently the “gossips” at church had been right all those years ago.  They were following their God-given mandate to warn people of their sin.  Things may not have been what they appeared to be, but they were certainly close enough to merit mention.  While Lori was claiming divine revelation, her opponents were the ones getting the message from above.  She may go to Hell, but it won’t be for her ignorance.





Of Mice and Momes

13 02 2010

[fiction]

Warren Wormwood lived in the quaint little town known as Lasciate Ogne Speranza Voi Ch’intrate, more familiarly known as Lasciate Ogne, or L.O. for short.  He was a single white man trapped in a neighborhood of people very much unlike himself.  It’s the age-old phenomenon: a man finds a nice little community of individuals of similar character, moves in, and finds his neighborhood slowly slipping out from under him.  One by one, familiar faces move out of the area in their quest for upward mobility, and one by one, immigrants who don’t speak a word of the native tongue move in around him.  Pretty soon, he’s trapped in a setting that he did not bargain for.

“Momes,” he calls them, the archaic word for moron.  He finds that it relieves some of the angst to insult people openly with words they would never understand.  Open profanities are far too obvious.  A person doesn’t even need to understand what was said to know that he was slighted, if the accusation comes laced with an obscenity.  Almost no one knows what a mome is, and so Warren finds himself free to express his ill will.

Perhaps the first day was when he saw the neighbor lady take one lazy step outside to deposit a large untidy bag of diapers and rotting food on her own doorstep.  Convenience, the universal currency for which there is no equal, demanded that she do no more than absolutely necessary to rid her home of the unwanted garbage.  Out of sight was out of mind.  She didn’t care that her neighbors and everyone driving down the street were now faced with the blight of her front stoop.  She had maximized her benefit to cost ratio, and that was good enough for her.

“Lazy wench,” Warren grumbled, “Too blasted lazy to put her trash where it belongs.  There goes the neighborhood!”

He had wrongly anticipated that his fellow neighbors would share his sentiment.  To some degree, they did note the unsightliness of a large gaping poke of refuse blowing in the wind, but they were of a similar heritage as the woman, and they, too, discovered the joy in the convenience of not having to take the trash any further than the front door.

One day, Warren plucked up the courage to go next door and speak his mind.  This, of course, was not received in any better manner than it was given.  Wild words in that foreign language flew around, intermixed with something that his mind could latch onto, generally expressing the belief that Warren was a jerk for imposing upon the business of strangers next door.  Besides, the woman could easily survey her area and point out others who were living just as basely as she was.  Therefore, she was right, and he was wrong.

But he tried to explain to her that she was bringing down the neighborhood.  She replied by telling him to find a new neighborhood.

Having failed at that, Warren sulked about for the next several weeks, unable to think about anything else, until a new neighbor moved in, who was not only of a different race, but of a different species altogether.  The first mouse of bitterness showed itself, of all places, in his kitchen trash.  There it sat, staring up at him with his beady little eyes, looking like a kid caught with its hand in the cookie jar.  He quickly tied up the bag and darted about, not really sure what to do with the thing.  In the end, the bag and the mouse found their way into the trash can outside.

But, for a moment Warren felt a pang of empathy for the little critter, trapped in a bag, slowly suffocating.  So he rescued it and dumped the pest into an old terrarium that he had stashed in a closet.  For the next two days, he fed it and admired its little pink nose that wiggled at him, and the little white whiskers that stuck out from his face.  He named his pet, “Peevy,” and he kept it in the attic, where he spent most of his leisure time.

Well, one mouse under glass is fine and cute, but two mice in the room are an annoyance.  When he found the next mouse in his kitchen trash, he promptly took it outside and flung it at his neighbor’s yard.  “You’ll get plenty to eat from them, I’ll bet!” he yelled after it.

Two mice in the room are an annoyance, but three mice in the walls are an infestation.  He heard the telltale scratching and scrambling behind the gypsum board, and he knew he had a problem.  Upon closer inspection, he found that the drain pipe under his sink lead through an oversized hole into the wall, providing a highway leading straight out over his trash can.  He marched straight to the store and bought a tub of spackle and the biggest box of rat poison he could find.  He poured the poison into the wall and sealed off the hole.

Night after night, he lay awake pondering the constant gnawing on the framework above him, beside him and below him.  They seemed to be gnawing at his mind, munching away at his heart and slowly eating away at his sanity.  That wasn’t the only thing eating at him, though.  Bitterness, like the mice, was gnawing at him.  At first, he had nurtured his little pet peeve, but it had reproduced and filled his thoughts like an infestation.  It was that stupid lady next door with her ill-managed garbage that was drawing the vermin into the area.  It was all of these people, imitating the easiest possible lifestyle that brought the pestilence.

And it was Warren, who just couldn’t poison and kill them fast enough to keep them from boring holes through the walls, bringing down the house.  He likened the vermin to the people, invaders with bad hygiene.  In a sense, it was the fault of his neighbors.  In a sense, Warren could not be faulted with blaming them for his own problems.  However, it was not his neighbors that ate at his soul.  They were not the ones biting and chewing their way through his mind.  They were minding (or not minding) their own business, and they were oblivious to his suffering.  But while he fought the infestation of mice, he fed the infestation of evil thoughts.

Then, one day, he realized that it was easier to kill a few people than to kill hundreds of mice.  That’s how he ended up in a concrete studio apartment with bars on the windows.  At least it had room service, with the warden delivering his mush on a platter three times a day.

And, as he sat there contemplating a mouse that inched its way into his cell in search of his gruel, he remembered the words of his neighbor, telling him that if he didn’t like the neighborhood, then he should move out.  That would have been great advice, but it was advice for an earlier life.  This was a neighborhood that he could never move out of, and the mice were there to stay.

[/fiction]





Demonic Progression

29 01 2010

Axiom 1: not all potential hosts are equal.

The demon roamed the countryside in search of a suitable host.  A matter of chance brought him to the eastern shore of the Galilee, mostly populated by gentiles.  As such, they were mostly followers of pagan gods.  But not all of them were to become the host to this parasitic spirit.  Only one would fall victim to that fate.  The fact that he was a subject of an idolatrous religion probably helped.  Likely, he was a little further along than his neighbors.  How the demon homed in on him is left to speculation, but something about the man was a draw.

There he was, living on the peaceful coast, drawing fire from the well with no bottom.

Axiom 2: a subdued host is an easier target for further possession.

The thing latched onto the man with its talons, digging deep into the poor victim’s mind.  After a psycho-spiritual struggle, the demon won, and the process of further possessions had begun.  One by one, new monsters found him and came to feed off of his life.  Ultimately, a whole legion of these vile things had him.  It was not the entire countryside that became possessed, though there were enough demons to do so.  Nay, as with the first axiom, not all potential hosts are equal.  A man already subdued makes for easier colonization by others.  A legion in one body is easier than one in a legion of bodies.

Axiom 3: the host cannot or must not die.

As with any parasitic relationship, the goal is to take a little here and a little there…as much as possible, without actually killing the host.  When the host dies, the parasite is in jeopardy.  No matter how many demons possessed a single human, the human soul was not to be parted from the body.  This was not to say that such a thing could not be done.  If one demon could subdue the human spirit, then a legion might be able to permanently separate it from the body.  Such a thing would be death.

Axiom 4: the demon is not a counterpart of the human spirit.

Separating the human spirit from its body would be death, and as by axiom three, such a thing would be undesirable.  If the human spirit could be completely replaced by a demonic one, then there would be no problem with this mortal severance.  However, a human spirit apparently has traits that a demon does not.  The demon cannot take the place of a human spirit, because it is not comparable in nature.  Therefore, no matter how many of these evil things involve themselves in the human psyche, the human’s spirit-body connection must remain intact.

Axiom 5: possession causes insanity, a mental disconnect from the body.

The poor demoniac, now hopelessly consumed, went raving mad, wandering the land, howling and wailing.  He cut himself with sharp rocks and bits of pottery.  The pain no longer evoked the same kind of reaction in him that it would have in a sane person.  Something had come between him and his senses.  This may be why he had seemingly gained superhuman strength, like a man drugged and unable to feel the pain of over-exertion.  His friends and family attempted to subdue him and to chain him, but he was able to break the chains.  Eventually, they were not even able to subdue him enough to put chains on him.

Axiom 6: demonic possession causes demonic affinity.

Taking on the unclean spirits, the poor man developed an attraction to graveyards, where the unclean decomposing bodies were stored.  Could he but roll away the stones blocking their entrances, one might wonder what he intended with those bodies.  Perhaps he succeeded.  His interests were no longer his own but the ones cast upon him by the alien influence.

Axiom 7: demonic possession may be contagious.

Were there two demoniacs, or was there one?  Most say there was one, but one person recorded that there were two of them.  In all likelihood, there was one primary victim, the most notable case, someone who had been possessed longer and to greater effect.  The second victim may have come later, or been a weaker case.  Either way, they were found on the same shore, together, grappling with the same enmity at the same time.  This can be no coincidence.  They were related cases.  The vastly overwhelmed original demoniac may have spilled over to a second victim.

Axiom 8: demons in possession have perception that extends beyond the limits of the human senses.

This is another throwback to axiom four.  The human spirit cannot see beyond the confines of its own mortal shell, but the demon can.  They are not built the same.  One is not just an unclean version of the other.  Somewhere across that lake, they perceived an enemy.  He was coming.  Their hosts could not see that man, but they knew well that he was on his way, even as far away as he was.  They knew that if this man were allowed to arrive, that their demise was imminent.  They knew that he must be stopped.

Axiom 9: demons in possession have powers that extend beyond the limits of the body.

They would cause a storm.  Somehow, though they were physically confined to the shore, they were able to reach out across that lake and stir up the winds and the water.  They filled the boat with water and terrified its passengers.  They nearly capsized it.  But they could not overcome just a few words spoken by that man.

Axiom 10: demons are absolutely helpless against the Word of God.

He could not be stopped.  With a few words, he caused their power to melt like butter on a griddle.  The storm ceased.  He stepped onto the shore, and with a few words, they knew that he would remove them from their host.  Like a parasite removed from the body, they would writhe and suffer.  Nothing could be done to stop the Word.  Once spoken, it was an unbreakable law.  They begged and pleaded to not be left without a host.

Axiom 11: between one body and the next lies an Abyss.

“Don’t cast us into the Abyss,” they pleaded, “Don’t torture us!”  The option on the table was not to stay in their current host.  They already knew the intentions of that man, the Word become flesh, the Son of God.  They could not keep their present abode.  They begged for an alternative better than being left with nothing.  They asked to be cast into a bunch of pigs.  The alternative was the Abyss.  A spirit without a body is thoroughly dead, lost in darkness.  Anything would be better than that.  And then they were granted their wish.

Axiom 12: possession of an animal is not comparable to possession of a human.

They could not adhere to axiom three.  The pigs could not be controlled the same way as a human.  Once in the pigs, their behavior was different from that of the human.  Unlike the human, they caused the death of the porcine host.  Something went wrong.  The connections didn’t line up, or the host response was erratic.  What they had not anticipated was that the pigs would cast themselves into the sea.  At least, they had not expected the pigs to drown.  The host was lost, and the end result was the same.

Axiom 13: a newly freed host is a vulnerable host.

The former demoniac begged and pleaded to follow the Son of God back into the boat and across to the other side.  He sensed his own weakness, and he knew that he was vulnerable.  He was afraid of being left alone without his savior, and for good reason.  Had the demons returned and found this host clean and uninhabited, they might have possessed him in greater numbers yet.  But God did not leave him alone.  He would be safe.  Though the Christ got back into the boat and left, the spirit of God remained, and the man was safe.





Managing the Forced Dilemma

23 01 2010

They want to kill us, and we want to live.  This is the problem at hand, that Muslim fanatics in this world aim to destroy as many of us as possible.  The question is how we are to stop them.

Every person has a list of priorities.  When we let someone take something from us that we value highly, this is only for the sake of something that we value more highly than what we lost.  A man in Beirut was assigned to guard Bathist headquarters.  He was not disloyal, nor was he willingly derelict in his duties when he let PLO terrorists inside to steal paperwork and set explosives.  He did it for a note and a lock of hair.  He did it to save his kidnapped wife.  A forced dilemma was set before him.  He could sacrifice his job and his employer’s property, or he could sacrifice his wife.  It was the essence of any effective diplomacy.  If you want a thing that someone values highly, then you offer him something that he values more highly, or else you threaten to take it away.

There are those who value our destruction highly.  We must bribe or threaten something that they value even more if we wish to have diplomatic leverage.

Eve was not generally a disobedient woman when she took the forbidden fruit.  If she had been, then she would already have been fallen.  Therefore, it stands to reason that she was not without loyalty to her God, and she did not disobey for disobedience’s sake.  When the matter came down to the fire, she valued her vanity higher than her loyalty to God.  The snake appealed to the higher priority, and the lesser one was sacrificed in the process.

A man may value his job, may wish to be appreciated for his work and may wish to be esteemed by his coworkers.  However, he may also wish to relax, and this priority may be higher on his list.  Everyone has a list of priorities, and no two things are of equal value.  When put to the test, when forced to choose between two things, a person’s prioritization determines the outcome.  The homeless bum does not wish to be homeless, but, very often, his desire to avoid strenuous work is a higher priority.  A homosexual does not necessarily want to be a sinner or face possible wrath in the afterlife, but his desire to live the homosexual life is a higher priority.

Life is all about priorities.  We can all say that we want to be good people.  We can all say that we want to do the right thing.  Even the common criminal could say it, but the will to do the right thing is a lower priority than the desire to indulge in someone else’s property, some defiled lifestyle or some manner of vengeance.  One might easily say “I can’t help it.  That’s just the way I am,” when we want to do the right thing but never actually do it.  Of course we want to do the right thing, but we value something else even more.

Of course we don’t want to die in a nuclear inferno.  We must find that thing that the enemy wants more than our destruction if we are to survive.

Iran is working on making nuclear weaponry.  This is not for energy.  They have enough crude oil to provide them with plenty of energy.  This is not for defense.  They don’t need provocation.  The people in charge over there just want us dead.  We make fools of ourselves when we threaten sanctions.  We could starve their economy into oblivion, but it wouldn’t touch their nuclear ambitions.  We in the West put such a high priority on the almighty dollar that we can’t imagine other people not shaking in fear when money is at stake.  If they don’t stop their uranium enrichment, then we’ll stop buying their stuff.  Money, for the terrorist, is just a means to an end.  The bad guys in this case aren’t looking for prosperity this side of the grave.  Some of them are, but the martyrs aren’t.  When a man is willing to blow his own flesh to a thousand bacon bits just to kill you, one might wonder what a person could possibly offer or threaten to convince him to stop.  If Iran gets nukes, then Iran will use nukes, and unless we can find something more important to the Ayatollah than paradise, then this is the unavoidable end.

How did we come to the point where a weak nation with one bomb could cow a superpower with many bombs?

It’s all in the priorities.  We wish for prosperity.  We wish to live normal lives.  We wish to think well of ourselves.  We want people to like us.  We want to avoid conflict.  We want to close our eyes and make it all go away.  A few nukes from submarines and the Iranian threat could be gone by tomorrow.  It could be gone forever, but we have a higher priority, which is the preservation of human life.  Much as the crazies want to kill us, we don’t want to actually lash out and hurt their people.  But, even if we did, the question to ask is whether those madmen value their own peace and security above our demise.  To this, the answer is a resounding no.  If they wanted to live in peace, then we would not be in this situation to begin with.

They want paradise.  Can we take paradise away from them?

Much as people whined about the war in Iraq, it had the worthy effect of casting doubt as to whose side Allah is on.  If I’m going to blow myself to bits for God, then I’d better be absolutely certain that I’m really on his side.  There’s no sense in losing Paradise with a misdirected waste of life.  Then, the Muslim must be in a bit of a bind in that department.  Allah doesn’t make his intentions very clear on the specifics.  When the Muslims lose war after war, the favor of their god is in doubt.  When that happens, the dynamite belt might just be a blast-off to nowhere.

But the defeat of a Sunni regime is no deterrent to a Shiite.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  We know that.  They know that.  At least, people are conscious of their own evil.  Show a man his shame, crush a woman’s pride, reveal that sin and do what you like, you only illustrate something that nags universally at the back of the human mind.  We are a bunch of sinners.  Promise a man his get-out-of-Hell-free card, and he’ll do anything for you.  We are all aware of our shortcomings.  The suicide bomber doesn’t don that belt because he’s a faithful Muslim.  He does it because he knows he’s screwed up, big time.  Death by jihad is to him an automatic win, despite his failures.  Overcoming sin is a higher priority than life, itself.  Losing life means losing everything.  When you kill yourself, you give up on friendships, family, prosperity and everything else.  It means you don’t get that promotion, that sunny weather, that cup of coffee, or anything else.  What does the terrorist want?!  He wants to be absolved of his sins when his own efforts are clearly in vain.  He wants to be forgiven by God for all of the wickedness that stains his soul like grease on a new white dress shirt.  Every other thing is a lesser priority.  Nothing trumps it.  There is no higher priority to use for diplomatic leverage.

That man needs Jesus.

Once, so long ago, there was a martyr who gave his life in a battle to absolve all sin, but the sin that he absolved was not his own.  It was yours.  He died the martyr’s death so that we, who could not get into Heaven by merit, could still get into Heaven.  That martyr was Jesus.  He is that automatic pass to Paradise.  It is only through him that we are saved.

Because an exploded sinner is just a sinful mess.