Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

PHOTO: Becky with latch hook

This is one of my very favorites: our daughter Becky doing latch hook when she was maybe seven. I didn't know anything about lighting at the time--it was lit only by the floor lamp beside her--but I like the mood it gives. It won second place in a local photography contest. Notice Boots on the arm of the recliner?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TED: Just Imagine

(This was my brother Ted's first published story. It appeared in BEYOND FANTASY FICTION in November 1953, which is so long ago I'm sure there will be no copyright infringements in my re-printing it now. Ted was 15 when it came out but I'm pretty sure he was 13 when he wrote it.)

 He liked them for what they were--why did they have to like him only for what he wasn't?

     The Figment liked the young of Earth.  He enjoyed romping with them on the grass or crawling under the covers with them at night.  At this moment the baby was very persistently trying to detach his rubbery antennae, while the older child, whom they called Joan, tickled his webbed feet.  Far from resenting this, the Figment liked it.  Everybody here was fun.  He liked this world.
     On the porch of the wide house that fronted the lawn, two men were thinking.  The Figment listened to their thoughts with part of his mind.  As yet no one had found out that he was telepathic--a receiving but not a sending station.
     One man's thoughts were familiar.  Kane's.  He was thinking of the Figment.  His mind was worried.
     Six weeks--only six weeks ago Joan came rushing into the house, slamming the door behind her, breaking into the study, calling "Papa! Papa!  There's a flobbity downstairs!"
     A flobbity--the gremlinish creatures of the Land of Slan, one of Joan's books.  It was rather surprising to find that there really was something in the yard.  Not a flobbity, of course.  It was the Figment.
     The other man interrupted with speech.  The Figment knew that this human was a scientist, Dr. Brandt.
     "I wish you'd change your mind, Kane," Dr. Brandt said.  "We can gt a court order, you know.  It'd be easier just to hand him over."
     "I won't let him be harmed.  He's part of the family by now!"
     "I'll tell you again just what the machine will do."  Dr. Brandt sounded impatient.  "It will record thought-waves as electro-magnetic patterns.  If we ask the machine to find out where he was born, it will stimulate those brain cells which carry that information and record it and throw out the result on the screen. It won't and can't hurt him a bit.  The machine is infallible."
     "I still say no."  Kane sounded firm.  But his thoughts told the Figment that he was weakening.
     "I'm thinking of you too, you know," Dr. Brandt went on.  "How do you know what he really thinks?  He's not from Earth.  Nothing like that ever evolved here.  He might harm your children--"
     "He wouldn't," Kane objected.  "He's friendly--"
     "And think of what you owe science," Dr. Brandt continued remorselessly.  "Think of the things he can tell us!  The complete knowledge of an alien being--all he has known and seen!  Strange worlds, creatures, new viewpoints. . .and how did he get here?"
     The argument continued.  The Figment eavesdropped, feeling the old, old fear.  If the Earthmen tried to read his mind. . .
     He had been on many worlds and met many intelligent beings.  Most of them had been friendly.  Sooner or later, however, they had all tried to learn his thoughts.  Those races who were telepathic read his mind quickly.  Those who used machines took longer.  But they all tried, and when they learned his thoughts, they wouldn't play.  They simply wouldn't pay any attention to him at all.  He liked these earth people too well to lose them. . .
     He knew that Kane wouldn't want to let him go.  Eventually, however, he would give way to Dr. Brandt and the other scientists.  He couldn't let his children play with a potentially dangerous creature.
     Therefore the Figment was not surprised when, a few days later, Kane lifted him by his forelegs and carried him carefully to the car.  He could have struggled, but not without the possibility of injuring Kane.
     Here it was again.  They were going to read his mind.  His already frantic thoughts speeded.  No solution was in sight.  No solution had ever come along at such times, though each time it was different--different motivations, different techniques, instruments.  But always he hoped. . . oh, they mustn't learn his secret.
     He crouched in a corner of the large room where Kane had set him down.  The room was filled with wires and shining apparatus and a huge machine that glowed redly in the center.  The Figment shivered, foretasting loneliness.  If he could only tear out some of those wires, it might delay his betrayal.  Eying some of the nearer ones, he made ready to leap--
     Hands closed over him.  Kane lifted him and carried him to a small metal box, connected by a cable to the machine.  He struggled, but other hands held him tightly.  He was placed inside and straps were fastened about him.
      He must hold his secret back!
     The electrodes were fastened to his head: "First feed the machine this one, 'Who are you?'  Then put in, 'Where were you born?' and 'Where did you come from?'  Then try the others."
     "Watch the screen! Give it the first question!"
     W-h-o a-r-e y-o-u? 

     "But why--why?" asked Kane, stupified.  "What happened to him?"
     "He was nothing but a will to exist," replied Dr. Berndt.  "He wanted to exist so greatly that he hypnotized us into believing that he did."
     "But he was--"
     "No, he wasn't.  He wasn't real.  He just made us think he was.  He fooled me, too--but as soon as the machine told us that he wasn't real, then we knew the truth and so he couldn't even appear to be.  He was just a figment of his own imagination.  It's too bad.  I liked him."
     "You liked him!  What about me?  And what do I tell the kids?"
     The Figment pawed at Kane's leg, but the human paid no attention. He wouldn't play any more.  The Figment would have to go on.
     All he wanted was a friend.
     Just a friend.


Monday, July 19, 2010

STORY: My first story

A short, short no title story

It was rather a nice door, round as a ball. As a matter of fact, the whole house was that shape, so it was no wonder the door was. All the doors and windows in that house were round. All seventeen. As Betty came to it on her way from school, she noticed it for the first time. It hadn't been there when she went to school. But she didn't wonder, she never, well, hardly ever wondered. The only thing was, her house had been there.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

STORY: Classic Rejection

     Some of the world's greatest literary classics might not have seen publication had they run the gauntlet of today's editorial and marketing experts. Here are a few of the rejection letters the authors of yesteryear might have received from the editors of today.

Dear Mr. Dickens:
     Thank you for your recent submissions. I regret to tell you that we are unable to use them. In David Copperfield, all of your characters are stereotypes, particularly your young women, every one of whom adores her father, weighs less than 100 pounds and cannot understand business. Also, the use of coincidence must not be strained.
     Above all, you are far too wordy. Nicholas Nickleby is three times longer than the books we publish. Cut, cut, cut! Your sentences are far too involved--page 693 is a single sentence that runs 354 words! Try using short paragraphs and choosing simple words. You are assuming too much on the part of your readers.
     Thank you for thinking of us.
     By the way--A Tale of Two Cities might work if you retitled it Heads Must Roll.

Dear Mr. Melville:
     Your manuscript, Moby Dick, is difficult to get into. Try opening with the climactic scene in which the whale is harpooned, and then use flashbacks. Start with something like, "When the breaching whale tossed our longboat bow over stern, I heartily wished I had never signed on board the Pequod."
     What you really have here is two books--a novel about man's conflict with nature and a documentary of whaling. You will need to decide which you want to go with.
     Please keep us in mind for further submissions.

Dear Miss Austen:
     Your book needs more action. What you have so far in Pride and Prejudice is a group of very nice people working out their problems in rural England. The Napoleonic Wars are under way at the time your novel takes place. You should have some echoes of that, perhaps some minor characters going to war and getting killed.
     The elopement is offstage. Let's see and hear it. Show; don't tell!

Dear Mr. Dostoyevsky:
     We find The Brothers Karamazov obtuse, confusing and downbeat. What are you really trying to say?
     Crime and Punishment has possibilities, but that name will never sell. How about calling it The Old Pawnbroker Murder Case?

Dear Mr. Cervantes:
     Your work needs variety. You have dialogue, followed by a mini-adventure, followed by dialogue. The action is corny.
     Try interweaving drama and dialogue. You might open with, "'No, no, Don Quixote!'" cried Sancho Panza. "'Not the windmills!'"

Dear Mr. Hugo:
     I am sorry to say that after consultation with our lawyers, we are going to have to cancel our contract to purchase Les Miserables. Your book attests strongly to the triumph of faith over opposition. The ACLU has warned that it will take immediate legal action against us, on behalf of unbelievers everywhere, if we proceed with publication.

On the other hand, an acceptance these days might be worse. For instance:

Dear Mr. Hemingway:
     We think your latest manuscript may work as a movie, if we visually heighten the drama in the boat. We'll have close-ups of the old man's hands and back as the line plays out, cutting his flesh to mush. Lots of blood. We'll play up the cracked lips, the searing sun. When he eats a fish raw, we'll have the audience gagging.
     How about this? He's got the marlin alongside. He's desperately trying to fend off the sharks with his harpoon--he falls overboard! He thrashes, he screams, the water bubbles red. Good box office.

Dear Ms Bronte:
     Jane Eyre is nicely done, but can you rework the love scenes and make them more explicit?

--Jessica Reynolds Shaver and Ted Reynolds

(First published in Westways, July 1988)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

SONG: Is it safe to be me?

[Sung by two couples, slowly, staccato, with dignity:]

With Bibles large
we're in our pew
every Sun-
day right on cue.
We stand to sing,
we sit to pray
Our faces won't
give us away.

[First couple, stepping forward]
W're insecure--
you'll never know.
We'll never let
our weakness show.
Depressed, afraid
though we may be,
that side of us
you'll never see.

[First couple steps back. Couples together:]
Our hair is coiffed,
our clothes are neat.
We're dignified
from head to feet.
We'll shake your hand,
We'll smile and wave.
You'll never know
the love we crave.

[Second couple, stepping forward:]
Our marriage won't
survive the year.
Our son's on drugs--
or so we fear.
Our unwed daught-
er's pregnant, too;
"We're just fine, thank
you. How are you?"

[First couple steps forward, joining second couple.
Both couples sing last two stanzas.]
We'd like to tell
you how we feel
To share our pain
so it can heal.
We'd like to let our-
selves be real,
if you will care
and help us heal.

We long to find
someone to care,
To share our doubts
and ask for prayer.
I think we would
if we knew
that you have doubts
and need prayer too.

Friday, July 16, 2010

POEM: Parody of William Cullen Bryant


When beechen buds begin to swell,
  And wood the blue-bird's warble know,
The yellow violet's modest bell
  Peeps from the last year's leaves below.

Ere russet fields their green resume,
  Sweet flower, I love, in forest bare,
To meet thee, when they faint perfume
  Alone is in the virgin air.

Of all her train, the hands of Spring
  First plant thee in the watery mould,
And I have seen thee blossoming
  Beside the snow-bank's edges cold.

Thy parent sun, who bade thee view
  Pale skies, and chilling moisture sip,
Has bathed thee in his own bright hue,
  And streaked with jet thy glowing lip.

Yet slight thy form, and low thy seat,
  And earthward bent thy gentle eye,
Unapt the passing view to meet,
  When loftier flowers are flaunting nigh.

Oft, in the sunless April day,
  Thy early smile has stayed my walk;
But midst the gorgeous blooms of May,
  I passed thee on thy humble stalk.

So they, who climb to wealth, forget
  The friends in darker fortunes tried.
I copied them--but I regret
  That I should ape the ways of pride.

And when again the genial hour
  Awakes the painted tribes of light,
I'll not o'erlook the modest flower
  That made the woods of April bright.
                William Cullen Bryant, 1821


(Bryant's "The Yellow Violet" re-worked
a la the Age of Enlightenment)

When Fagus buds protuberant
  And sings the Musicapidae,
There blooms the small, herbaceous plant
  Of fam'ly Violaceae.

Its open flow'r, with sepals green
  And petals five conspicuous,
Assists, with form of pistil seen,
  Taxonomist meticulous.

In woods this species oft is found
  In eastern states like Conn. and Mass.--
If it has rhizomes underground,
  You'll see it's in a separate class.

On this identity depends:
  Abundant where most temperate,
A leafy, large stipule subtends
  Leaves heart-shaped, simple, alternate.

If each seed's oval-shaped and small,
  If basal petal's large and spurred,
If black-streaked yellow overall,
  Its geneaology's assured.

Its symmetry bilateral
  Along its length its anthers split,
With odor just discernable--
  Give clues to subdividing it.

And so we know, by rule of thumb,
  Its genus is chasmogamous,
And must not be confused with sum-
  mer's lesser-known cheistogamous.
                Jessica Shaver, 1991

Thursday, July 15, 2010

POEM: Now I understand Auschwitz

" I was raised Catholic,"
               said the Director of the clinic

          "but I think women should have a choice."

"I'm against abortion,"
               said the nursing student
          "but I need the credit."

"I wouldn't let my wife get one,"
               said the guard at the door,
          "but I need the money."

"If I don't do it,"
               said the doctor,
          "she'll just go to someone else."

"Abortion upsets me,"
               said the mother,
          "but I brought her in because I knew
               she'd get one anyway."

"I'm sorry about it,"
               said the boyfriend,
          "but if she had the baby
               she'd come back on me for child support."

"I think abortion is terrible,"
               said the landlord,
          "but the doctor has a lease."

"I wish they'd do them somewhere else,"
               said the neighbor,
          "but I guess no neighborhood is perfect."

"I would have helped you shut the place down,"
               said the pastor,
          "but I have a sermon to prepare."

"I wish I could picket the clinic with you,"
               said the pregnant Christian,
          "but I have an appointment there tomorrow."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

LIFE SONG: I'd have liked to be a father

[to be sung by a man]

I'd have liked to be a father
if it hadn't come so soon.
It came before the wedding,
before the honeymoon.
I'd have liked to be a father
if it wasn't a surprise.
I was thinking of my finals--
not of lullabies.

She called me and she told me
and the news was hard to take.
The last thing that we needed
was--a little namesake.
I thought about the future
and what we could afford.
All night I paced--and finally,
I thought about the Lord.

"I've come to be a sacrifice,"
my Savior's words rang true.
"This is My body
I lay it down for you."

I saw myself a husband,
I saw her as my wife.
I pictured us together
with this tiny life.
The next day when I saw her,
I told her of my night.
"We'll raise this child together.
I want to do what's right."

She pulled away: "It's over.
I didn't want to be
a mother or a wife just yet--
I wanted to be free.
I don't care if it's selfish.
It's what I chose to do.
You have no right to interfere.
It isn't up to you.

"I don't intend to sacrifice,"
my girlfriend said with ease.
"This is my body
I'll use it as I please."

Lyrics by Jessica Shaver c) 1988

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

LIFE SONG: Throwaway Baby

[to be sung by a man, sadly; guitar?]

I had a wonderful life
and a marriage to envy,
a job I enjoyed and a partner to prize.
The world was a place
to cherish and treasure;
I had no complaints,
I could not criticize.

When I found that my wife
was expecting my baby
it seemed like my cup
overflowed more and more.
I wanted a family,
I longed for an heir,
a daughter or son
to teach and adore.

But my wife didn't want it--
How painful the day--
I has happy 'til then,
'til the afternoon when,
'til the woman I loved
threw the baby I wanted

My wife didn't want it--
How painful the day--
when the woman I loved
threw the baby I wanted

Lyrics by Jessica Shaver c) 1988

Monday, July 12, 2010

LIFE SONG: Disposable Society

[Man singing briskly and arrogantly;
last two lines spoken slowly and with regret,
rather than sung?]

Disposable society: life is great
I've got it all on a paper plate.
Crush it, dump it, let it be--

Plastic forks and paper gowns,
Burn it up or flush it down.
Biodegradable, life's a blast.
Living loose and living fast.
Love 'em, leave 'em, that's my style.
Abandon everything with a smile.
Syringes made for one-time use,
diapers, towels so profuse,
Colorful bouquets are plastic
So are collars ecclesiastic.
Careless living, that's for me:
Exchange a partner, dump a mate
Discard and eliminate.

Before a life can interfere
Make the baby disappear.
Disposable society; lifestyle cool.
My convenience is the rule.
Everything goes back to dust.
So tear it, toss it, what's the fuss?
If it's in the way, it's out--
That's what life is all about.
If it's old or weak or sick
Kill it off and make it quick.
Keep things pleasant, keep things free--

Or so I thought
'til "it" was me.

Lyrics by Jessica Shaver c)1988

Sunday, July 11, 2010

LIFE SONG: Someone's Child

[Perhaps with a long poignant lead--humming or something]

Someone's child
How can I miss you?
How can it hurt to have you gone?
Someone's child
woven in secret,
fashioned by God to be His own
Tiny heart beating,
tiny arms reaching,
tiny mouth able to yawn.

They told her you were less than nothing
merely a choice she could make.
Because you were small,
hardly there at all,
she didn't know a life was at stake.

Someone's child
I wish I'd known you--
who would you have become?
Someone's child
I would have loved you.
Now I can only feel numb.
Tiny heart beating,
tiny arms reaching,
tiny mouth holding a thumb.

They told her you were less than nothing
merely a choice she could make.
Because you were small,
hardly there at all,
she didn't know a life was at stake.

Strong legs running,
happy voice laughting;
all that you would have been--gone.

Someone's child
Someone's child

[At the end, instead of fading out with "someone's child," maybe a counterpoint between "She didn't know" and "I would have loved you."]

Lyrics by Jessica Shaver, c) 1988

Saturday, July 10, 2010


                                                        POEMS FOR PARENTS
                                                                 A Haiku Series

                                                             for Ben and Becky,
                                                who, by God's grace, turned out okay
                                                                  in spite of us.


No wonder you cry:
Just being alive is
Sensory overload!


Another summons?
I can't!--until your softness
Touches me again.


Scientific mind:
You experiment with taste,
Sampling a dead fly.


Struggling with new skills--
crawling, walking, sky-diving--
Muscle frustration!


Just a year ago
I couldn't imagine you
Would define my life.


Where can you have gone?
Ssh! curled up asleep in
Grandma's turkey roaster!

          THREE (1)

You start nursery school;
I find myself along--
watching Sesame Street!

          THREE (2)

Sat through a sermon
On being free in Jesus?
Your eyes dance: "I'm f'wee!"


My philosopher!
"How does it feel to be four?"
"Like chok'lit!"


Five fingers, five toes,
So many important things
come in five's.  Like you.


Stormy, forgetful,
Body-obsessed. Hang in there:
First adolescence.


Each lost tooth we cheer--
Aren't those the ones we couldn't
Wait to see come in?


Here's where it begins--
Parent-child role reversal.
Now you read to me.


Gum in the washer--
What was life like without kids?
I can't remember.


You may be ready
For lipstick and strapless gowns--
Cool it 'til I am!


You can't wait, young man,
Outgrowing all your clothing,
to outgrow us, too!


I thought I was through
With school. Out of my depth--and
Algebra to come?


Son: Endless riddles
And shrillest whistle west of
The Mississippi!


Lingering fragrance--
Spearmint gum and suntan oil:
Our 'tween-age daughter.

         FIFTEEN (1)

Someday you'll have girls
And I hope they're just like you!
Just retribution!

         FIFTEEN (2)

Someday you'll have girls
And I hope they're just like you--
My daughter, my friend!


You dream your own dreams.
Sex can't explain the marvel--
Where did you come from?


Confident, eager--
You scare me! You think you know
How fragile life is.


Room clean? Homework done?
Trash out already? Is my
Job over--so soon?

Cover design by Kathryn Dickerson
(Poems previously published in Pebbles and The Christian Communicator, 1991.)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Poems by my first-born, Ben

Poems and a letter to Jesus by Ben Shaver (in honor of his 40th birthday today):

Happy birthday Jesus. It's a pretty strange birthday you had. Us getting the presents and you dying on the cross. Only you could have been so willing to do that. That is by far the greatest present I ever got.
                                                                                               From Ben Shaver (age 10)

(Published in "Birthday Greetings to Jesus," Horizon International Magazine, December 1980)

A rainbow lies over a forest of greenery,
Abundant in lush and beautiful scenery,
The bald eagle stretches his wings
And the nightingale wakes up and sings.
The fox hides and looks for prey,
Baby raccoons begin to play.
It is begun another day.
       Ben Shaver, age 10 (unpublished)

Dutch apple pie and chocolate so sweet,
or fudge ripple cake for a weekend treat.
Upside down cake or a chocolate eclair,
I really love desserts, I must declare.

Cookies, doughnuts, ice cream and pie,
or a hot fudge sundae, my, oh my.
I could talk all day about things that are sweet,
but excuse me now. . . I gotta go eat.
                           Ben Shaver, age 12

(Published in The Rainbow Generation Magazine, July-August, 1985)

Red hands and brown hands, black hands and white,
You can use them to cook, to drive or to write,
There are so many things that hands can do,
Here's some things to name a few.

Painting, bending, catching, feeling,
Wrapping, sculpting, clapping, peeling,
Building, sowing, and assembling parts,
Throwing, drawing and that's just for starts.

But also God has given us hands for
Sharing with, praying with and even more,
Hands for loving and caring with too.
There are hundreds of things that hands can do.
                             --Ben Shaver, age 12               

(Published in The Rainbow Generation Magazine, July-August, 1985)

I've got a little friend that no one else can see,

And when I need advice I sit him on my knee.
We've got a non-verbal code and this is how it goes,
He nods for the yeses and winks for the noes.

It's a funny thing, you know, he always seems to wink,
To things like if I'm fat or not, or if my sweatsocks stink.
Or if it's fair that I can't go to the circus on Friday night,
Cause my little invisible friend always seems to answer right.
                     Ben Shaver, age 12 (unpublished)

Who but a mother, with grace and charm,
Who gives but seldom receives,
Who but a mother, in time of need,
Sickness and pain she relieves,
Who but a mother, when tired out,
Always has time for you,
And who but a mother, at 5 o'clock,
Makes meals and cleans dishes too.
But without a mother, so gracious
And kind, what's a poor child to do?
    Ben Shaver, age 12 (unpublished)


Thursday, July 8, 2010

STORY: Report on Suspect "B" (2nd half)


     So far so good.  We've got them on the run.
     By the second Sabbath I had Jews posted all over to hinder the proceedings.  Just about everyone in the Pisidian Antioch came to hear the men.  Just curious but curiosity can be dangerous.  The Christians take advantage of any discontent or confusion.  Young people, especially get emotionally charged.  You know teenagers--any cause as long as it's overthrowing something stable and sacred.
     We set men up to challenge and disagree with them on every point.  We didn't want the masses to get the impression they were more than a heretical minority.  Some of our men got more riled up then necessary and called them names.  I don't think the Christians are bad at heart. They're just deluded.
     Saul and B. weren't even too upset. They walked out of the synagogue stating loudly that if the Jews didn't think themselves worthy of eternal life, they'd go to the Gentiles.  The Gentiles outside cheered and surged forward to hear more.  Things were really getting out of hand.  People were being drawn in by the hundreds.
     I rounded up some of the prominent Jewish leaders and the society women and intensified the operation.  It's hard to control a riot and things got so fierce, it seemed like the whole city was screaming and throwing things.  Saul and B. got knocked around a lot but they didn't defend themselves--how could they, against the mob?  The people shook their fists, spat on them and drove them out of the city.
     I stayed around long enough to organize the city elders to keep the heresy from thriving in Antioch: mark out the Christians and threaten them, take away their jobs, hold their families captive, etc.  Whatever it takes to get this thing quieted down.
     By the time I caught up with the heretics, they were gathered outside the city, stamping the dust of Antioch off their feet.  I thought at first they were going to hold a council to see how to get revenge but  they dropped to their knees and looked to heaven and praised God.  It floored me, I'll tell you.  I've never seen men look so doggone happy.
                                                                             Agent Aleph

     When I saw the Christians start for Iconium, I was sure they were aiming straight for home.  But no.  In Iconium we had the same pattern: the believers invaded the synagogue, talked Jews and God-fearers over to their side, and even healed some of the blind and crippled people of the city.
     You should see these men under pressure--unified, earnest, as if they're competing in team sports.  The Jews were enraged and got some of the Gentiles angry, too.  The whole city was divided and the only question even between friends was "Whose side are you on?"  There were bloody, bitter fights in the streets between brothers.  The rulers got right in the middle of it all and grabbed Saul and B., tearing their robes and beating them.  Before anyone knew what had happened, it was one big free-for-all and stones were whizzing overhead.  Somehow, Saul and B. ripped themselves loose and made a dash for it.  They left the city in chaos, with soldiers trying to force some sort of order.
     This rioting got out of hand. The injuries were tragic--I wish we could stop the heresy without violence.  The Christians have no right to break the law and turn people against each other like that.  Still, the persecution was out of all proportion to the crime.  These men were really doing people some physical good and it isn't really their fault their message is a controversial one.
     B. was hit by a rock and has a bad gash near one eye--just for helping a blind man see and giving a little crippled girl a whole arm again!  That was unfair.  They haven't said a word against the Iconians, though; they just keep talking affectionately about some of the ones who took a stand with them in the melee and wonder aloud how they are doing.
                                                                             Agent Aleph

     We had quite a time in Lystra.  Saul ordered a lame men to get up and the man jumped to his feet perfectly whole.  Incredible.  You should see some of the magic these men do.
     Well, the people are unbelievably superstitious and thought Saul and B. were gods!  They bowed in a circle around them, kissing their robes and feet, calling them Zeus and Hermes. What a commotion!  It was bad enough to be stoned but to be worshiped was almost worse.  Saul was horrified and B. was so embarrassed he was at a loss for words.
     All of a sudden, in comes this priest, fat and perspiring, with all his satins and beads and baubles on, carrying flowers and presents and followed by a whole retinue of men prodding oxen before them.  They set up shop nearby and announced to the crowds that Zeus had come to earth and everyone must offer a sacrifice to him!
     Poor B.  He didn't look much like a god.  He looked like a panic-stricken young man.  Saul nudged him and lunged into the crowd, shouting for them to stop and trying to explain that they were just men.  B. joined him, tearing his own clothes in agitation and pleading with the people to worship the living God.
     Most of the people didn't pay any attention.  It took close to an hour to talk them out of sacrificing their cows to the men.  About the time Saul and B. convinced them not to, Jews who had followed us from Antioch and Iconium pushed into the fracas and accused them of being fakes and liars.
     Now all at once everyone thought Saul and B. were men claiming to be gods--as if their own misunderstanding was the result of some deliberate deception.  They were indignant and lost their heads, egged on by the newcomers.  They stoned Saul until he collapsed bleeding and dragged their "god" out of the city as if they were a pack of wild dogs.
     We followed the crowd out and stood around Saul's battered, bloody body, where it had been dumped.  B. was pale and stood over Saul as if paralyzed.  I was sure he was praying.
     After a long, long time, when the sun was almost down and the women who had come out to mourn for him were worn out with crying, Saul stirred!  He rolled over, beaten and bruised, with one eye swollen shut.  B. thanked God with a cry of joy and gave him a hand as he struggled to his feet.
     We half-carried him back into the city, where one of the women let us into her house secretly and washed his cuts.  After a night's sleep, as stiff and sore as he was, Saul insisted on leaving for Derbe.  That man is going to drive himself to an early grave.
                                                                                        Agent Aleph

     Journey over.  Derbe was mild, compared to some of our escapades.  A lot of people were won over and the team didn't meet anything like the opposition at Iconium.  But they're gluttons for punishment.  We turned around and headed for Perga--back through Lystra and Iconium and Antioch. The men were at least wise enough not to call attention to themselves openly again.  They rounded up the believers and had them choose leaders and then prayed for them.  (I got smart.  I keep an eye out for an inn when they have these sessions--fasting seems to be standard practice.)
     They couldn't take the easy way back, overland, through Tarsus.  Oh, no.  We caught a boat at Attalia and suffered it out.  To tell the truth, B. was concerned and prayed for me and I was hardly queasy at all.  The Mediterranean was a beautiful blue and we had games identifying parts of the coast as we passed them.
     Had a good talk with Saul.  He remembers when I was in his sleuthing class.  I have to admit he's really sold on what he's doing.  This "Damascus Road" experience of his must have been something pretty impressive to change Saul.  He's a different man.  Still tough and stubborn but not cocky like he used to be.
     Back here in Antioch, the Christians got together to hear the whole story.  Saul (they call him Paul now) showed his bumps and bruises and said God had given him the privilege of suffering for Christ's sake.  Strange way to look at it.  B. told how God had opened up a door for the Gentiles.
     I sure hope we stay put for awhile.
                                                                                      Agent Aleph

                                                                                       Antioch, AD 46
     Just when I thought things had settled down for good, the lid blew off.  Some men from Judea started teaching the believers that they weren't really saved unless they were circumcised.
     This led to some hot debates.  Paul has always held that this Jesus of Nazareth came to fulfill the law, thereby freeing people from it.  B. was in the thick of the fray too.  The leaders were arguing among themselves and this confused the new Christians, who didn't know what to believe.
     Finally Paul and B. and some others agreed to go to Jerusalem to get an authoritative word from headquarters.  I came along, too.  We stopped in Phoenicia and in Samaria to tell how the Gentiles had been included in God's plan of salvation.  The "Son of Encouragement" did his job well.  Believers responded with exuberance.  I wonder if these people ever stop praising God.
     In Jerusalem, as you know from your own local agents, the debate continued to rage.  Some of the Pharisees who had come over to the Christian side insisted that believers have to be circumcised.  There was a lot of prayer and discussion on the subject.
     Peter, who is pretty much top dog in the church there, stood his ground.  He said that God had given the Holy Spirit (part of the Godhead, they say) to the Gentiles too, and that they had received him by faith, just as the Jews had.  He called circumcision a yoke which no one could bear.
     It was an effective argument and Paul and B. added to it the experience they had, seeing Gentiles turn to God by faith.
     This apparently wasn't the first time these things had come up.  I'm sure you have records on this, but I'll summarize what I know.  Remember how Peter came to Antioch when Paul and B. first started working together?  Peter had several Gentile friends until a group of Jewish Christians said Gentile Christians had to be circumcised.  Then Peter started avoiding the Gentiles and Paul confronted him with it.  He lit into Peter in front of the whole assembly, accused him of being two-faced, suddenly demanding that Gentiles live by the Jewish Law.  You remember.  He said heatedly that Christ made believers dead to the Law and that men cannot be justified by obeying it.
      There was a big scandal and B. sided with Peter for a long time, but I didn't think much about it at the time.  Now Peter and B. have both come over to see it Paul's way.
     James offered a compromise.  He said that Gentiles were not required to keep the Mosaic Law but that it would be good for them to stay away from immorality and sacrifices made to idols.  Everyone thought that made sense.
     They all pitched in and drafted a letter for Paul and B. to carry back to Antioch.  Judas Barsabbas and Silas, two of the bigshots, went along to clear the matter up in person.
     So things are back to normal--whatever normal is--and the church is growing like a weed.
                                                                                      Agent Aleph 

                                                                                       Cyprus, AD 47
     The big break has come, just like we planned.  Remember John Mark?  I was sure if we used him as a wedge, Paul and B. would split.
     It was Paul's idea to visit Galatia again.  He wanted to see how the young believers were doing and strengthen their faith.
     B. was all for it.  John Mark was back in Antioch and had apologized to B. for abandoning him and Paul.  He'd done some growing up and was proving to be a good right-hand man.  B. had been kind of grooming him for a leadership position.  So he suggested taking John Mark with them.
     Paul hit the roof.  He couldn't see taking a quitter along.  B. didn't have a chance to explain how far J-M had come, how he'd been giving a hand in the work lately and all.  Paul wouldn't hear of it.  He made one of his snap decisions and that was that. Paul picked Silas to go with them, won the backing of the church and set out with their blessing for Syria and Silicia.
     B. doesn't hold it against Paul--says he'll come round when he's cooled off a little.  He's convinced that John mark is capable and trustworthy.
     In short, Operation Opposition is a success.  The movement is split, the leaders are at odds, the new believers have been shaken--
     (Unless this will double their effectiveness. . .)

     Meanwhile, we're back on Cyprus.  B's folks are putting me up.  I found out B. knows I helped get the Christians kicked out of Antioch of Pisidia--and he doesn't hold it against me!  He says if I pray, God will forgive me for harassing His people.
     If it's okay with you, Chief, I'd like to resign.  Barnabas is going to let me stay at his house as long as I want and he'll teach me more about Jesus.  I hope you understand, Chief.  I've got to find out what makes this Christians so invincible.
                                                                                        Ex-Agent Aleph    
(Written May, 1990) 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

STORY: Report on Suspect "B"

                                 REPORT ON SUSPECT "B"
                                             by Agent Aleph
                                        (alias Jessica Shaver)

                                         from the files of the
                               Pharisee Bureau of Investigation

                                            TOP SECRET

                                                                                      Jerusalem, AD 42

Dear Chief,
     Have Headquarters start a file on a guy named Barnabas.  Seems to be making a name for himself in the assembly here.  Good pal of Saul's but I think we can handle that with a little luck--you know the drill: play the leaders against each other.  Barnabas is a hard-headed young fellow once he's got his mind made up and Saul's not one to take well to competition.
     I've done a little snooping. Barnabas is an alias the head honchos gave him--means Son of Encouragement.  Real name is Joseph; background is Jewish--Levite, no less.  It's all adding up.  Changed his name, moved out of Cyprus (as far as I can tell, he just struck out for the big city to make a name for himself), got in with this religious cover organization and worked his way up.  Looks bad.  Haven't seen him in a synagogue except when he goes with Saul to break up meetings and put the place in an uproar.
     You should see him the next day with his buddies, though.  Real smooth talker.  Teaches in the morning, first day of the week.  This thing's really moving.  We've got to nip it NOW.
                                                                                        Agent Aleph 


     Big excitement in Antioch--the group in Jerusalem packed Barnabas off to get in on it.  Some men from Barnabas' home town landed here and are getting the rabble stirred up--Jews, Gentiles, they don't care who--around this blasphemer Jesus of Nazareth that we took care of awhile back.  No regard for tradition, nothing but contempt for the heritage we Jews have as God's people.  They say this is a new deal and Gentiles can join the club, too.  One big, happy family.  One big bunch of fanatics, if you ask me.
     You should see the inn shortage here.  I got stuck in with a room full of tourists from Cyrene that came to help the rabble-rousers out.  Invited me--me!--to sing with them.  No reason.  They just wanted to sing.  I mumbled something about singing at their funerals and not before.  I've got to watch those slips.  They may suspect me already.
                                                                                        Agent Aleph

     You should see me now! Pious as they come.  The day after Sabbath (Sunday, they call it), I got lost in the mob and sidled up to where I could keep my eye on B. while the meeting was on.  He was in a house helping pass out cups of wine and something on a plate I couldn't quite see.  There were people all over, shoved in at the door, sitting on the wall, peering in the window.  I scrooched up behind a bush so I could take notes inconspicuously.
     At some sort of signal everyone got down on their knees and started talking out loud.  Made me nervous.  They were thanking somebody for all the new proselytes and asking for wisdom and courage and stuff.
     Finally, B. got up and told the people to keep up the good work and gave them all greetings from Jerusalem.  Seemed like a great guy.  He really believes all this business.  Or else he's sly like nobody I've ever seen.
     Now get this.  Back about the time we nailed that carpenter, this B. sold off his land and turned over the entire amount to the bosses in Jerusalem.  From what I can tell, it was his own idea.  He's impetuous.  I'm keeping close tabs on him to see what he'll be up to next.
                                                                                      Agent Aleph

     I'd hardly dispatched my messenger with the last report before I had to split.  B. up and left for Tarsus to bring Saul back.  More and more, Antioch is looking strategic for our purposes.  Be thankful I'm not tailing Saul.  I studied under him, as you know, and he's a pro.  He gave me my first taste for the blood of these traitors before he went over to their side himself.  But B. I think I can handle.
     The group has real status now.  People have started calling them Christians.
                                                                                         Agent Aleph

     Saul and B. are as tight as ever.  They just came back from a mission to Jerusalem.  Someone came through with a sob story about a famine coming and the Christians all got together and had Saul and B. take money and food to Judea to help out.  They came back with a kid named John Mark, a real mama's boy.  Maybe we can play on Saul's nerves a little.  He doesn't go for wimps.
                                                                                           Agent Aleph

P.S. Could you forward my salary right away?  I've got a kid sister in Jerusalem and the guys promised if things get bad, they'd have someone there see she gets a square meal.

                                                                                            Antioch, AD 44
     This morning the whole clan gathered before daybreak in this meeting-house they've got rigged up. Without any breakfast, would you believe?  Well, the kids and babies had a snack but the rest of them have been going strong all day and I don't think food has occurred to them.
     Sometime after noon, when it started getting hot, I must have dozed off, because the next thing I remember, Saul and B. were in the limelight again with everyone gathered around looking serious.
     Lunchtime?  No such luck.  They just put their hands on Saul and B. and prayed for them.  Half the town must have followed them to the city gate and waved them goodbye.  At the last minute, the runt John Mark ran up and asked to go along.  I heard them say something about Seleucia and B. put his arm around J-M's shoulder and off they went.
     I'm waiting 'til dark to get on their trail.  Seleucia's a second-rate fishing village--shouldn't be hard to keep them in sight once I get there.
     I've been needing a good long walk.
                                                                                      Agent Aleph

     Well, how was I to know they'd grab a ferry and sail for Cyprus?  I made it just in time; had to bribe the captain to get aboard--the boat was full and the next one wasn't leaving for a good two weeks.  Even so,  I had to sleep in the hold with a cargo of fertilizer.  You know what happens to me on boats anyway.  Well, what with that--and the rats!--I hit Salamis ten pounds lighter and three shades greener and I didn't care if I never moved again.
     Saul and B.?  They took the whole trip in stride.  I heard them singing on deck overhead when the boat was pitching its hardest.  B.'s family met him at the dock and everybody hugged and kissed.  B.'s mom apparently thought twice after he left home and she came over to the cause.  The Christians went home with B. and I found a little place in an olive orchard--no sea in sight--and settled down, hoping to write my memoirs and grow old quietly.
     Today I discovered B. has already picked up again and is marching across the island giving speeches and winning the people over.  They really go for this kind of things.  They'd probably elect him to any office he chose.  John Mark is helping and isn't doing too bad.  Fortunately we've got enough men on our side to keep up relays heckling and causing trouble.
                                                                                         Agent Aleph

P.S. We reached Paphos, Cyprus, yesterday A.M.  This letter has been held up waiting for someone who'll be traveling to Jerusalem.
     There's a prophet here who's doing us a service.  The proconsul, a man named Sergius Paulus, is a friend of his.  Sergius got curious about these men--they've made news all over the island--and called them in to tell him their line.
     This prophet Bar-Jesus (or Elymas, they call him) got in the way every chance he could get.  He had the proconsul almost talked out of going along with these fellows but Saul put a hex on him and he's been blind ever since.  Made him look like a fool.
     To top it off, Sergius was so stunned that he has thrown in his lot with the Christians.
     I must say, it was pretty dramatic.
                                                                                     Agent Aleph

                                                                                      Perga, Pamphylia
Dear Chief,
     Back to sea again!  I was about ready to turn in my badge on the ship, but who should come around offering moral support but B. himself.  Took me for walks around the deck to get fresh air and brought me cups of broth when I was flat on my back.  Funny thing.  He's no jerk. He's not fooled a bit.  Remembers me from Antioch.  Says he's been praying for me.  What kind of mess have I gotten myself into?
     John Mark ditched and is heading back to Jerusalem.  I had some of our boys threaten him some.  They told him Saul was a publicity-seeker and would drive him to death.  Said B. would be buddy-buddy only as long as he could gt something out of him.  J-M and Saul haven't hit it off too well.  Personality clash.  We're working on Saul and B.  Surprised they've gotten along so well this far.  B. leaves all the ranting and raving to Saul except for cell meetings and individual button-holing.
                                                                                      Agent Aleph

                                                                                       Antioch, Pisidia
     What a day!  Since it's the Sabbath, the gang went to the local synagogue.  (This is part of a little routine they've worked up.)
     Everything went fine until the Law and the Prophets had been read.  Then the officials came over and asked if the men had any message for the people.  And did they!  Saul isn't one to pass up an opportunity.  He leaped to his feet and started in.  You think I wasn't embarrassed!  The people just sat there with their mouths hanging.
     Saul went on and on about how God chose the Jews and gave them rulers and then he went on smoothly into their heresy about Jesus being the eternal king that God promised David.
     He said this man which we put to death was raised again by God (this is the heart of their heresy) and that whoever believes in him is no longer subject to the Law of Moses.
     I expected the people to tear him apart but they ate it up.  They begged him to come back next week 
and tell them more.  They followed Saul and B. all over town, like they were some kind of heroes.  The men couldn't eat or change clothes or turn around without a dozen admirers at their elbow watching and asking questions.
     This is getting to be too much.  I'm launching Operation Opposition immediately.
                                                                                        Agent Aleph

(To be continued)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

SONG: Legacy

When I was young
I used to dream
Of who I would become.
Now that I'm grown
I wonder if
that little girl that's me
Would like the woman that she sees
Am I who she dreamed I'd be?

I have a legacy
from the child I used to be.
Do I live up
to what she hoped for me?
I don't want to disappoint
the child I used to be.
Would the child I was
be happy to be me?

Do I reach out in love
to those who hurt
As she longed for me to do?
Or have I pulled inside
Because in growing up
I've been hurt myself?

I have a legacy
from the child I used to be.
Would the me I was
approve of who I am?
I want to be faithful
to the child I used to be
Would the child I was
be happy to be me?

Am I as thoughtful as she hoped.
As kind a friend?
Can people trust me
with their secrets to the end?
Would the me I used to be
Approve of who I am?

I don't want to betray you,
Little girl in me.
I don't want to abandon
your ideals.
I don't want to fail you,
Child I used to be.
Thank you
for believing in me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

SONG: Ticket to Tarshish (Duet)

[1st person] I've got a ticket to Tarshish
I'm gonna flee from the Lord
I don't want to do what He's told me to
I've found a ship and I'm gettin' aboard.

[2nd person]You can't run-from-God [words stretched out]
He's gonna find ya
You can't get-away

He's gonna catch ya.
Try your best [pause]
to escape from His love--
It won't work! [rapid]

He's gonna chase ya
like it or not.
He's gonna love ya
like it or not.
He's gonna bless ya
like it or not.

[1]I've got a ticket to Tarshish
[2, overlapping]     (You can't run       from           God)
[1] I'm gonna flee from the Lord
[2]                                           (He's gonna find ya)

[1]I don't want to do what He's told me to

[1]I've found a ship and I'm getting aboard
[2] Try your best! to escape from His love
It won't work!
He's gonna fol-low-you.
He's gonna ride you hard.
He's gonna fol-low-you--
Until you follow Him! [abrupt]

Sunday, July 4, 2010

SONG: Forlorn for--? (age 19)

 Forlorn for--?

Somewhere, casting a shadow over hills, seas, hearts,
                                              a sadness moves,
                                                           and where it lingers
tears form fall and death is but a pinch-upon-a-flame away.
         erecting unseen barriers around each
a                               loneliness                 is at its subtle work,
snipping the trembling bonds which men have wrought of trust,
and pointing out man's catastrophic                                   self.

We stand in a lukewarm bath, while the world plunges,
                                                                         and tears,
unreconciled,   course questions
                                                         our cheeks. . .
Can you spare a tear for life?
                                                  Can you spare a tear for the
ecstasy which lifts us close to Truth--
                              quite harmless if not indulged in. . .
                               mistaken for reality--easily rechanneled
                               thanks to modern psychoanalytic methods.
Spare a tear!   Just one
                                   for that moment when all Time stops
to let a butterfly alight upon a lotus,
                                                      and two cars collide,
                   a babe is born deformed,
                                                     a girl is robbed. . .cigar
smoke, stench of bodies scattered on a field, all this distracts
our thought and Time?  creaks on.
        One tear!  To show your love, one tear for
elves and         pixies and         sprites and        all delightful fantasies
                                           and Pooh!
and Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass, and Jo in Little Women
who should have known enough to marry Laurie;  Beth,
        the exquisite, ideal, of a higher world, not long
                                                                             for this--
and one tear for the infant wriggling in a bed of straw, much
              to the cows' distress; and one
for squirrels who talk
                                and ugly toads who are transfigured
                                                                 like we knew they would be--
Yes, and one for those who come from theaters with shiny nose
and red-rimmed eye; and one for those who love and those who lose
and those who cry     

(Written January 17, 1964, two weeks before I became a Christian;
Set to music by Daniel Fung and sung by soloist at International Christian University student recital)