Otherwise

Is there a God?
I think so.
Otherwise
There may not be a sunrise or a sunset.
Only a long, black night.

Is there a God?
I think so.
Otherwise
There may not be a butterfly
And azaleas wilting from disappointment.

Is there a God?
I think so.
Otherwise
There may not be a song or a poem
And never a story.

Is there a God?
I think so.
Otherwise
There may not be a cat’s meow
Or a dog’s happy greeting.

Is there a God?
I think so.
Otherwise
There may not be a hug or a kiss or a laugh
Only the loneliest loneliness.

Yet the world a-color with sunflowers
Robins sing, squirrels chatter and a child’s giggle
A lover’s perfume, a morning coffee and an apple danish
And my cat snuggles on my lap.

Is there a God?
I think so.
Otherwise…

The house off the Via Dolorosa

Happy Easter to all my Christian friends.

It is a late afternoon in Jerusalem when I turn off the cobblestone Via Dolorosa onto a little side street and there it is. The smell of cooked meat from the animal sacrifices in the Temple fills the air. Soon I come to the door I’ve been searching for. A wooden door with the sign of a fish above it. The house behind that door is the home of the Mother of Jesus.

During Herod Agrippa’s recent persecutions, many of the faithful left Jerusalem. These included Mary. Though she wanted to stay in the City, the Apostle John, the disciple Jesus charged with her welfare, sent her away. In Nazareth, she had family and she would be safe there.

A week before the fifteenth anniversary of our Lord’s Crucifixion, our tribulations ended. Agrippa was dead. We faithful started returning to the city. This became obvious by the number who gathered on the Mount of Olives for the sunrise celebration of the Resurrection some weeks earlier. His Mother was one of them, and now her door is open again to her Son’s followers.

I knock. A small woman opens the door.

“Who is it, Salome?” a booming voice calls. Peter, a large, balding man, sits at a table across the room, surrounded by three other men. “Not a temple spy I hope. Caiphas and his prying eyes.” Then he laughs.

“Just a traveler,” I say, “seeking some good company and a place to shake the dust off my feet.”

“Enter, friend,” another calls over to me. His name is John and his eyes burn with the bright light of his Master’s love. “You are most welcome in this house.”

“Take off your shoes,” Salome says to me. “This is a holy place.”

I remove my sandals and set them by the door as the others have.

“Sit, friend,” another man says, looking over me with eyes that remember Emmaus. This large, burly man with the gruff voice is Cleopas, a former Zealot.

I join the four men, Peter and John, Cleopas and Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, at the table.

“Perhaps,” Cornelius says, hope in his eyes. “Perhaps this will be the year of His Return. On the anniversary of His Ascension?”

Mary, the one called Magdalen, walks over and pours me a drinking bowl of red wine. Suddenly I realize how thirsty I am. As I drink, Salome kneels and washes the dirt off my feet.

Across the room, I notice another woman dressed in blue, the woman I have come to see. Though her face and hands are wrinkled and her hair white, the woman in her mid-sixties has a calm peace on her face. And the room glows with her tranquility, her stillness. She is the Mother of Jesus. This coming summer she will pass from this earth and join her Son. But this late spring evening she is here, and I have a chance to enjoy the hospitality of her house as I eat her bread and sip her wine.

She sits in her chair, her hands resting on her lap, a gentleness on her face, gentle yet revealing all the suffering she has known. There she tells her stories and I am comforted.

“He who dwells,” she says, “in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. And I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust’….If you make the Most High your dwelling…no harm will befall you.” Then she folds herself inward and meditates upon all that she has known.

After a long pause, she ends the evening with these words: “Maranatha. Come, Lord, come again.”

Conversation in a bar

God walks into a bar. Says to the barkeep, “Whiskey please.”

The bartender turns to God and says, “Can’t serve booze on Sunday.”

“Who came up with that dumb idea?” God wants to know.

The barkeep says, “I think You did.”

“What do you mean I did?” God has about had it with the guy behind the bar.

“Isn’t it one of the Big Ten? Something about remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.”

“Oh, that one. Maybe My way of keeping the Sabbath day holy is to have a drink. What do you think about that?”

The bartender ain’t giving an inch. “You can drink all you want. Just do it in somebody else’s place. I ain’t about to lose my license. Even if You are the Almighty.”

“Look, if I say it’s okay, it’s okay. Why do you think I came up with the 613 laws in Leviticus?”

“Don’t know,” the bartender says.

“Technicalities. I put enough ifs, ands and buts in there that you can drive a camel through that sucker, if you’re a liking to. Now give Me that drink.”

“No can do,” the bartender says firmly. “And if You keep pestering me, I am calling the cops.”

“You would call the cops on God?” the Almighty asks. He is getting very frustrated.

“Darn tooting I would.”

“Well, I’ll be—” God says.

“Hey. No taking the Lord’s Name in vain.”

“I was just going to say son of a bitch,” God says.

“And none of that either,” the bartender says. “This is a family establishment.”

“Did anybody ever tell you that you’re acting like a lawyer?”

“I’d take that as a compliment. I have a Doctor of Jurisprudence. I just can’t practice at the bar in this state.”

“What do you think you’re doing here? Practicing at the bar.” God laughs.

“Oh, get off it.”

“Look,” God says. “I’ve had a long week and this is my only day off.”

“At least, you get a day off. I haven’t had a day off in a month of Sundays. Trying to pay off my Student loans.”

“Well, it was one heaven of a week,” God gets going. “If you know what I mean. Monday I made the heavens and the earth and separated the dark from the light. Tuesday, I had to get the water where I wanted it. It was all over the place. Thought I would never get the Pacific to play along and shape up. Wednesday, I started growing plants and trees and stuff. That was hard to pull off since I do not have the best of green thumbs. Along comes Thursday and that’s when I give everybody a starry night. Friday, birds and fishes. Then Saturday, it was the animals. I should have left well-enough alone and stopped there. But no, I had to go and screw everything up. And I was having such a good time too.”

By this time, the bartender is leaning on the bar, looking into God’s sky blues, listening. He asks, “What’d you do?”

“I made a man.”

“You didn’t?” The bartender is taken aback.

“I did. Worst mistake of My life. First thing the guy starts off, asking questions. Like I have all the answers.”

“You don’t?”

“I most assuredly do not,” God says emphatically.

“Thought they taught you all the answers in God School.”

“They do,” God says. “But I CLEPed out. I figured I already had all the answers so I just tested and they gave Me My diploma. Little did I know.”

“I see what You mean. Don’t take the easy way out. That’s always been my motto.”

“Before I know, the guy goes on a naming spree. Can you imagine calling a thing a dog and not a wolf. How he can tell the two apart I will never know. I was happy just calling them thing-a-majigs and whatchamacallits. And you want to know the worst part?”

“What’s that?” The excitement is killing the bartender metaphorically speaking.

“He wanted a wife.”

“He didn’t.” Barkeep can’t believe his ears. “Why would he want to go and do a dumb fool thing like that?”

“Beats me,” God says, shaking his head.

“So what did You do?”

“Figured he wanted her that bad, he should get what he deserved. I gave him what he wanted. Lilith. She was nice. I should get First Prize for that creation. You know what happened next?”

“Haven’t a clue.” The bartender is in suspense.

“The dumb ass goes and cheats on her. Some girl from Eden name of Eve. Lilith was royally pissed. I had to give her a divorce. I offered marriage counseling. But she wasn’t having none of that. So it was a divorce. He didn’t sign a pre-nup either,” God smiles. “I must say I am kind of proud of her. She took him to the cleaners. Then I had a good talking with Adam. Told him that he was in big trouble if he did it again. Breaking one of the Big Ten. Adultery. Can you imagine?’

“I can’t.” The bartender shakes his head at the gall of the guy. “I been with the same woman for thirty years now and we have the best of marriages. Oh, sure. She gets on my nerves and I get on her nerves from time to time. That’s to be expected. That’s why I go off on my hunting trips and she goes on one of them Napa Valley Wine Tours.”

“One of these days I am going to have to try one of them tours myself. I hear those California wines can compete with any of the Frenches.”

“I wouldn’t know about that,” the bartender says. “I’m not much for wine. Give me a brewski and I’m a happy man.”

“I’m not much of a connoisseur myself,” God says. “Other than turning water into wine occasionally. If you’re ever up for trying wine, the Cana Wine Tasters Association have a great weekend in the fall every year. They do the place up real nice. You and your lady would enjoy it. Give you a chance for a second honeymoon.”

“Maybe I’ll take you up on that,” the bartender says. He’d been thinking second honeymoon lately. Something special for their anniversary.

“Anyway back to the Garden of Eden,” God says. “I get the guy and this Eve fixed up and married and I am off taking a nap. Nothing like a good siesta to get the energy back up. I wake up and find out the two of them have gone and done it.”

“What’d they do?” the bartender wanted to know.

“They ate one of my apples. After all the work I put in on that apple tree, they just pluck one off the branches and take a big bite. I would have let them have one if they had asked nicely. But no, they had to go and take.”

The bartender was amazed. “Ain’t that the way with some. Take, take, take.”

“So I up and kicked their butts out of Eden. After all I have done for them. Now they’re on their own. Good riddance.”

“Good riddance.” The bartender can’t believe what happened. “You have had a tough week. You still want that drink?”

“You’re going to bend the rules for Moi?” God asks.

“After what you’ve been through.” The bartender reaches for a bottle of Johnny Red  behind the bar and pours a glass for God. He passes it over to the Man Upstairs.

God smiles. Then pulls out a badge and says, “I’m closing you down. No booze on Sunday means no booze on Sunday.”

“But-but-but.”

“No buts about it, Lucifer,” God says. “I’ve been trying to close this Purgatory Bar of yours down for millennia and finally I get to do it.”

God pushes the bartender out the front door, then padlocks the joint. He turns to Lucifer and says, “And you can tell that brother of yours, Beelzebub, I am going to close him down too. I am sick and tired of folks being sent off to his place every time they ask for directions. I ask them what happened and they say somebody directed them and said, ‘Go to Hell.’ I’m telling you his Hell Bar and Grill is going the way of the dinosaurs if I have anything to say about it.”

With that, God got in His new Mercedes and drove off, a huge smile on his face. It had indeed been a good Sabbath.

A War Widow’s Prayer

Inspired by “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

Lord.

I shot a Yankee today.  I know it ain’t right to kill a man. That’s what the Commandments say. I had no say in the matter. He come snooping around. Wanting to know where Peyton was. I didn’t dare tell him Peyton was off fighting Yankees down at the bridge.

Little Eli, he told the Blue Coat to git. The man was having none of that. He just laughed and laughed like he knew something we didn’t. He knocked my boy out of his way and come at me, looking like he had something dreadful on his mind.

I pulled that pistol Peyton done give me out of my apron. It was hard cocking that gun but I done it. I shot that Yankee in the face and killed him.

My oldest, Noah, was out plowing the field. He heard the shot and come running into the house and seed the dead man, lying on the floor. He rolled the Yankee’s body onto the rug I braided last winter, rolled that red rug up, and tied that rug around the body real tight. Then that boy, only thirteen, threw the bundle onto his shoulders. With that body of his, all tall and muscular like his granddaddy, he toted the bundle out to the back of the house. I stood there on the back porch and watched my boy bury that Yankee and cover the grave so there’s no trace.

He said to me that we got to speak some words over the man. Ain’t right to leave a man in his grave without some words, no matter how mean he was, or how much he’s out to do the bad things this Yankee had on his mind, So that was what we did. We stood over that grave and my boy said them words just like the preacher would’ve. Noah made me so proud, him taking charge and all.

About the time Noah got hisself cleaned up, this Yankee lieutenant come riding into our yard. He was real spit and polish sittin’ on the back of a mighty fine horse. He calls down to me, “Ma’am, we hung your husband. He’s on that wagon there. Where you want him?”

I never cried. I would not cry. I would not wring my hands. I would not grieve. I would not let that Blue Coat of a lieutenant see me weak like he was expecting. I give Mr. Spit-and-Polish directions to the little church down the way. Then me and the boys followed that wagon to the church. Preacher tried to comfort me, and I was comforted best I could be. It was best to get the burying over with, and that’s what we done. We sent Peyton on to You, Lord. I just want You to know that Peyton was a good man. The best man I ever knowed. And I’m wanting You to take good care of him, y’hear. I’ll be much obliged if You do.

There’s just me and my two boys left now. That Blue Coat lieutenant told us to gather our things and git. We couldn’t stay at the house. The Yankees aimed to burn the house and the barn down, and the crops too. He give us no choice but to hitch up our wagon with the mule. So we’re going now.

Oh, Lord, strengthen me for the road ahead in these dark times. Lead this husbandless woman with her two fatherless boys safely through the wilderness and to the promised land of my sister’s house.

I got to go for now. Night will be upon us soon. May light return on the morrow, and may Your grace light all our tomorrows.

Amen.

Missionary Positions

It was a day like all others. Only the spring was still springing. The doorbell rang. I answered it. Before me stood a man and a woman in their early twenties. They were dressed in dark blue suits and had big smiles on their faces.

“We have good news for you, brother,” the young man said.

“Yes, good news,” the young woman repeated.

“Good news?” I asked. Then said, “You mean that the world isn’t going to hell in a hand basket?”

“‘Tis true,” the young man said. “It is that. But Sister Naomi Musette and I have good news.”

“Yes,” Sister Naomi Musette said, “Brother Obadiah and I are here to show you a better path.” Her smile looked all shiny and new.

“A righteous way to not fall into darkness,” Brother Obadiah said. “A way to light a candle and see your way forward amidst all the world’s troubles.”

“Did he say amidst?” I asked myself.

“He did,” the little devil sitting on my right shoulder whispered in my ear. “Tell them to go to hell before you get caught up in the foolishness they’re offering you.”

The angel on my left shoulder said, “Now, hold on. Don’t do that. It won’t hurt to invite them in and feed them some of your homemade chocolate chip cookies and give them a glass of milk.

“Don’t listen to her,” Devil said.

But I did listen to her. I hadn’t had a chance to test my new cookie recipe out on some victims. I mean, guests. They tasted wonderful to me but what did I know. I could neither taste nor smell the darn things. That’s what happens when my allergies take over and I am sneezing my way from here to Loch Lomond and back again. After downing several pills of medication, I finally got the allergies under control. But I still couldn’t smell and taste worth a darn.

“Would you care to come in?” I offered. “I have a new batch of chocolate chip cookies and some milk if you would like.”

“Of course,” Brother Obadiah said. “We’d love to come in.”

“Chocolate chips are my favorite cookies,” the good sister said.

“I did not know that, Sister Naomi Musette,” the good brother said.

“‘Tis true, Brother Obadiah,” Sister Naomi Musette said. “I haven’t found a chocolate chip cookie I could resist. And I am sure that this brother’s are wonderful.” I had never seen such enthusiasm for chocolate chip cookies. And her enthusiasm was the bubbling over kind.

They came into my house and I introduced them to the sofa. It fit the two of them perfectly. I then retreated into my kitchen and soon returned with a plate of chocolate chips and two glasses of milk.

“Help yourself,” I said as I set the cookies and milk on the coffee table before them. Then I eased into my big chair and relaxed. I was ready to give these good people a bit of my time.

While his companion ate a cookie, Brother Obadiah said, “Brother, we are two missionaries on a mission from on-high. The angels have sent us forth into the world to deliver a message of good news. To all willing to clean the wax out of their ears and listen. Are you willing?” The good brother was not susceptible to the charm of a cookie. He did not take a cookie.

“I am. I haven’t had a good wax cleaning in a month of Sundays,” I said, leaning forward to hear their message. Anything to get out of the way of the avalanche of bad news that had lately come our way. There were earthquakes and tornadoes, plagues and contagious viruses, wars and rumors of wars. And if that wasn’t enough, just the day before, two polar bears had walked down Main Street, trying to hide from the global warming that had been stalking them for days. Any good news was welcome.

Sister Naomi Musette had eaten two cookies by the time I had gotten through with the last paragraph. She finished off her milk, then wiped cookie dust off her mouth. “Mmmm good,” she gave my cookies her imprimatur. Then she asked, “Do you know Jesus?”

“I haven’t met Him personally,” I said, “but I do know who He is in a general sort of way.”

“Well, all you’ve heard,” Brother Obadiah said, “is incorrect. We are here to give you the Real Deal.”

Sister Naomi Musette continued, “Jesus didn’t walk on water.”

“I did not know that,” I said, amazed.

“‘Tis true,” the good sister said. “He waded through the water.”

“You don’t say,” I said, amazed some more.

“Yes,” the good brother said. “We do say. What’s more He did this because He wore platform boots. When He saw Simon Peter throwing his net out into the water to catch some fish, the Master said to Peter, ‘Follow me, and I will give you platform boots.’ Well, Peter being Peter, he couldn’t resist. Anything to get out of the flip flops his wife insisted he wear.”

That was my cue to check out their feet. Both missionaries wore platform boots. When I first saw them at the door, I thought they were a bit tall for their ages. But they being so friendly and smiling and all, it had slipped my mind.

He pulled a large book out of his shoulder bag and opened it to the first page and read:

“In the beginning was God. And God went around naked until one Tuesday in May He realized He had not a stitch of clothes on. Then He reached down to the fig tree and pulled a fig leaf off that tree to cover His nakedness. At least the genital part of His nakedness. Then He made Hisself a business suit to wear over His fig leaf. It was blue to match the Lord God’s blue eyes. Navy blue.

“Then He made Hisself a pair of blue jeans and a pearly white t-shirt for the one day a week He is off for some well-deserved R and R from all the work. That t-shirt, being a holy t-shirt, had writ in bright blue letters on it the words,, ‘Go Cowboys.’ After all, despite what ESPN says, the Cowboys are God’s team.

“Then He made Hisself a pair of platform boots. Two He made. One for the right foot, one for the left foot. And He saw that it was good. They fit His size 16 feet oh-so comfortably. And everything and every being around the Lord God was happy because He now had a pair of platform boots to let him step over all the manure His creatures shat. God was pleased. Very pleased and He pronounced it all, ‘Good.'”

“That is unbelievable,” I said, not believing a word of what the missionary was reading.

He closed the book. “Have a look for yourself,” B.O. said. S. N. M. passed the black book over to me. Embossed in gold letters on its cover were the words, “Catalogue of Ye Platform Boots.” I opened it up and truly there were the words the good brother had read.

“How come I never heard of this before?” I asked.

“The One True Prophet Barnum of the Circus only revealed it to his people some fifteen minutes ago.” the good sister said. “It’s only been fourteen minutes since he incorporated the Church of Jesus In Platform Boots in the State of Florida. And a little over twelve since the Church was given its 501c tax status by the IRS. So you can see how legitimate we are. We are no fly-by-night scam religion. We are truly a true religion.”

“I can see that,” I said. “What must I do?”

“Our Congregation,” Brother Obadiah said, big smile on his face, “the First Church of the Church of Jesus In Platform Boots, meets at the corner of Nowhere Street and None-of-your-business Avenue for services every Sunday at ten in the morning. Come and ye too will be given your own pair of platform boots.”

“And,” the good sister followed up with, “they are very fashionable. I just love mine so much I am getting a second pair. All I have to do is convert ten people to the faith and that second pair is mine. It’s called the Second Pair Quota and all the members of the Congregation are vying for it. But I will be the first. I already have fitted nine Suckers for their boots.”*

Suckers?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” Brother Obadiah said. “That is what the Holy Book calleth newbies who join The Church. As the One True Prophet Barnum stated in his Sermon in the Big Tent, ‘There’s a Sucker born every minute. All we have to do is go out and reel them in.’ Such wisdom from the One True Prophet.”

“Hallelujah, Brother,” Sister Naomi Musette shouted out right there in my living room. At first, I thought she was speaking in them tongues, but then she continued in good ol’ American chicken-fried English, “You would be amazed at what it means to be a Sucker. It changed my life. Before Suckerdom, I was a down-in-the-mouth complainer, always saying f— this and s— that. Now that I have had my feet fitted and slipped on my pair of boots I am hallelujahing all the time. It’s enough to give a horny person an orgasm.” Her enthusiasm made me think she was about to have an orgasm right there in my living room. Now, I am not opposed to orgasms as long as I am a participant. Since I wasn’t participating, she was getting downright embarrassing.

“Preach on, Sister,” Brother Obadiah shouted. “Preach on.” The shouting was getting so loud that I was wondering if the neighbors would call the cops.

To calm the two down, I asked, “So you want me to come to church with you?”

The two nodded their heads yes. Then Brother Obadiah said, “Will you commit to just one service? You will not regret it.”

The good sister looked at my feet and sized them up. “I can see you are a size twelve. Brother Obadiah, we have never had a size twelve.” Then to me again, “The angels shall shod your boots, then you too can sing ‘These boots are made for walking.'” She was giddy with her enthusiasm.

“Now, Sister,” he said. “Let’s not get carried away. The brother has not even agreed to attend.”

She pressed hard. “You will attend?” She held her breath, afraid that I was about to say no.

Devil and Angel were back. It was feeling kind of heavy what with three heads on my shoulders. Ms. Angel said, “Please don’t do what you’re thinking. It’s not nice.”

And I’m thinking, “Since when was I nice.”

Mr. Devil had the biggest smile on his face. “Go ahead. Do it. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

So I said, “Yes, I will come to your church. On one condition.”

“Of course,” the good sister agreed without taking a moment to consider the proposition. “As the Holy Book of the ‘Catalogue of Ye Platform Boots’ says, ‘Ask and it shall be given unto you.'”

“If I come to your church,” I said, “you have to attend one service of my church. Will you agree to that?”

“Absolutely,” the two said in unison, assured in their faith that one of their services would be all it took to make a Sucker out of me. After all, wasn’t it a very holy woman who once said, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”

“We would be more than happy to attend your service after you attend ours. Like the Book says, ‘A deal is a deal.'” The good brother put out his hand to shake mine to cement the agreement.

Then Sister Naomi Musetter asked the sixty-four thousand dollar question. “When, and where, is your service?”

“You know where the KMA Park is?” I asked, smiling and thinking about the gotcha that was fixing to come to pass.

“Sure do,” Brother Obadiah said. “Before I converted and repented, I spent many an hour there, giving the passers-by the old moon pie.”

“My church meets there on the night of the full moon at midnight,” I said.” You promise to be there? Oh, and one other thing.”

The good sister was turning from her nice tan to a pale white. It looked like she didn’t want to know but the good brother plunged ahead, enthusiastically asking, “What’s that?”

“You’ll need to bring a live chicken for the sacrifice. And, bring something to throw over your clothes. The chickens always shoot blood all over our clothes when we do a beheading.”

The two missionaries jumped up and ran out the front door. And they didn’t even say goodbye.

That was right down rude of them.