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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Letter of Revised Discontentment

Peter stepped out into the biting, stiff air that morning, his letter home ominous in his pocket. The sun was just peeking over the tin roofs of the other hovels that surrounded his. The smell of rot sweltered up into his nostrils, still numb from the moment he had awoken that morning. No heat. He loathed the fact that he had no heat in his shack to keep himself and his companions warm.
“Frozen fingers weren’t in the brochure,” he thought cynically to himself.

They had only the tattered and aged wool blankets that at one point had been new and acceptable, now a thorn in his side. He once had a pillow but lost it to an infestation of some type of beetle that had been foreign to him until then. The town people called them burrowers. His worn bedspread now doubled as both a blanket and a knob to rest his head. His neck was taut. Rigid. His back still ached from sleeping on the cot, or rather, scarcely sleeping on it.

I abhor this place. I barely sleep. The food is nearly intolerable. I only eat when I must. I fear I am beginning to look as sickly and frightful as those I am caring for.

The door squeaked shut behind him. He tugged, forcing it into the door jam. Leaning down, he tucked the towel back under the door, attempting to keep what little heat there was in the house to wait there for his return. His first step fell on the dirt road. Tire tracks lay petrified in the solid mud from last months storm. He started his one-mile hike into town. Peter thought of his first few months here. He remembered the eagerness of the young pastors he was training and the joy in the eyes of the villagers that he prayed over and provided medicinal support to. He felt God in him then. He had known peace. It seemed only the sting of death could embitter that. Unfortunately he now resided in a living graveyard, the dead already assigned their time, just ignorant of it. He gazed around and saw only walking corpses, sapped of all hope and refilled with desperation. Thin. Pale. They hardly had the strength to carry themselves. Their country seemed to care nothing for them. All too quickly Peter’s convictions faded and faith no longer felt sufficient. Each dawning day increasingly appeared worthless and lost to him. His heart ached at times but had become all too desensitized by the horrors he had witnessed in his three years there in the village.

The sick come to me for help. Some crying out in pain, some with no more tears to cry. They look to me as their savior. And I have begun to loathe them for putting me on that pedestal.


He had heard that there were riots, revolution and insurrection running rampant before he decided to come. His heart staggered when he first knew the Lord was calling him to minister to the poor in such a violent and unsure corner of the world. He had often wondered why God couldn’t call him to emulate major champions of faith. A position as executive pastor for a predominate national church would not have been so unpleasant.

Peter kicked a pebble along as he walked. A poignant, distant smile began to creep onto his face, followed shortly by misty tears clotting up in his eyes. His mind drifted to his first day in missionary training. That was when he first met her. She sat two seats over from the chalkboard and only one row up from him. He waited through the short and informal roll call to hear the name she responded to. Rebecca. Nowhere had he ever seen a more beautiful seraph and the name suited her. She looked like a Rebecca. She looked like a girl he could no longer live a normal life without. He wondered which program she was in. His mind, a skipping stone, jumped over waves of thought, from question to question. “Is she going to the same country as me?” “Where is she from?” And of course, “Is she single?” Nowhere in time had someone fallen in love so quickly as Peter did for Rebecca. She, in an instant, was his everything.

Machine gun fire bawled out through his thoughts. His senses returned and now, almost instinctively, he dropped into the mud. Bullets flickered over his head, scattering terror across the hillside beside him. He waited in silent despondency for the ringing of gunfire to conclude. A desperate prayer whispered on His tongue. Simple.

“Please God…” words ceased and the Spirit within him spoke the rest, frantically praying for safekeeping.

Daily there are gunfights. I feel trapped. Like my life will be lost at any moment, with only my small Gideon’s bible and three years of heartache and poverty as my memento. Where was our God then?

His mind digressed to the small, green bible in his pocket, side by side with his letter home. He often mused, in an ironic manner, how of all the locations he could have been called to, he chose one where his devotions could be his demise. He kicked his heart every time he got word of his family back home and their ministry efforts to the poor and illiterate. If only he had stayed…He wondered if he would still carry his faith like a banner instead of the band-aid it was to him now; patching up the occasional scrape but leaving the gaping wound of doubt exposed for this village and its vicious country to prod.

With his nose now buried in a small, solemn patch of crab grass, his thoughts fell to her once more. He remembered how her lips, a soft pink, tasted on his. A sweet taste. A comfortable sensation.

If only you could have seen her. You would have known in an instant why I loved her…still love her. She couldn’t hide anything behind her hazel eyes, but I knew she had nothing to hide. The first time we kissed, I could see her contentment.

His thoughts of her had traveled too deep to notice that the insurrectionists had passed him by, mistaking him for a simple townsman. They saw no need to stop for this lump of cowardice lying in the mud.

He picked himself up, his clothes now heavy in front from the mire, a tugging reminder to him all day of the morning’s events. He took out a small cloth from his breast pocket to wipe the muck from his eyes then pulled it away to replace it in his pocket. Red. Its glaring contrast to the drab gray of the handkerchief is what caught his attention. Again his eyes became doleful. His strength to hold the tears in regressed.

“I too am a man of sorrows.” He muttered to himself. “So why is it I get spat on? Why was she taken?”

His hand melded with hers. Lifeless. The crimson of her blood pouring into his lap from the wound on her back. His denim jeans soaked in her blood. He wore them for three days. No strength to stand. No strength to bat a single eyelid. Peter’s eyes burned through the night. Insomnia is for the rich. He had hollowness to keep him up at night.

He felt like a fraud. She had died for her faith. The faith he had once also. They had tortured her. They had put her to death, and all he could do was struggle with the men who forced him to watch. They marred him far more by allowing him to live. When they loosed their grip on him, Peter plummeted to the soil, now ignorant of the bodily damage he had endured. They were limp together. Lifeless. He crawled to her body, finding her with his palms and fingertips. Salty, warm tears blinded him.

Her blood was warmer than my skin at that moment. Life ripped away from her just moments before. She had only been dead an instant but I suffered as if an eternity without her had just passed all bundled up in that one second. My only reaction was to cocoon her. Cover her lifeless body with my arms. I clasped her to me tighter than I ever had before. I whisked the hair away from her forehead as I had done when she slept in my arms many cold nights before. I pressed my lips to hers, insanely expecting them to kiss me back. They were dormant. I tasted blood. My blood? Her blood? Mixing to be the blood of our covenant… Till death we did part.

The sound of distant battle aroused Peter to the place where he was standing on the road. The mercenaries were still close and might be back soon. He wiped his eyes once more and took one step toward the town. Slowly he made his way down the broken pathway. A gushing sense of loneliness surrounded him as he walked down the side paths toward the village.

While he walked down the erupted paths, the carcasses of dead beasts, half putrefied, reeking of brutal fatality, dotted the fringe of the road. He seized the letter in his pocket, making sure no harm had befallen it during his swim in the mud. Dry. He was unsure of the impact his correspondence might have with his parents. He imagined his mother. She would be sad but supportive. She often wrote to let him know that whenever his missionary work was over he could come home. Frank, Peter’s father missed him as well. Both longed for him to be home, but neither at such a cost. Faith sold upstream. His mom would smile, uneasy, hiding her hurt. Frank would try to veil it for a while. It would take him a week or so to bring it up. And even then would the conversation be so convoluted and awkward that it would only result in an invitation for Peter to attend a church service again. The old man would have a glossy look, his teeth grit shut, tightly holding the tears behind his eyes.

I’m sorry for any hurt that my loss of faith may cause. Dad, you have always been supportive and loving and I feel as if I am letting you down in some way. Like I am walking out on a family tradition. Maybe one day the Lord will call on me again, but until then I have to live in the valley of death. My heart hates it but my soul has made quite a home here.

His foot caught on a rut in the trail. It was just enough to bring him out of his haze. He was almost in town. His stomach turned. Panicky expectation slowed his walk. It was worse than inviting someone on a date for the first time, or anticipating that initial kiss. However, this was his family. His flesh. And he tortured himself at the notion that he in some way was betraying them.

I find myself singing worship at night. Hoping it will help me sleep. I don’t know mom, if it is the nostalgia or the Spirit, but either way it helps. Many times has “My Soul Knows Very Well” lulled me to sleep. But I feel like the words are hollow…

Just a few days over fifteen months ago was the last day he and Rebecca had walked that path. It was on that day that she was ripped from his life. His bride to be. They had been talking of a certain scripture when three patrolling soldiers stopped them. She had this verse memorized. He had recently lost a string of interns to famine, disease, torture and expulsion. His flesh wailed for revenge and revolution. She knew better. Her loving wit could always calm his rage.

She told it to me ten minutes before she died and I committed it to memory to keep the last cheerful moment of my life alive. She told me to calm my soul, my unrest. “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hand. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the Earth, the refuse of the world.” 1 Corinthians 4:11-13.

He entered the wooded archway that lead to the main sliver of the small village. Everyone knew him by name. The last he had seen of another American was five weeks previous, so by his best count it was Thursday. Neither of his housemates spoke English very well. One was from a small country in eastern Europe that Peter dared not attempt to pronounce and the other was from another small village just thirty miles from this one. An easy walk home in comparison.

On this particular day the agency mailman was supposed to be arriving at 3 o’ clock. Peter detested these days. He only got the occasional letter from home telling him of lavish feasts, running water, and smiling friends. They endorsed his homesickness. Just once he wanted bad news from home, something to draw him back. Just a single funeral to give him a valid excuse to abandon this crypt. Pot roast. Last month was pot roast and a friend’s wedding. The wedding stung.

“…Rebecca…”

His fingers danced over the envelope. His concentration raced. How would his family react? He fiddled with it. It actually felt restless in his hands.

Across the street a little boy played in a muddy puddle. He knelt before it, splashed his hands around, causing ripples to collide and crash into each other, to swallow each other. The bigger consumed the smaller. He thought of what Jesus had said about children. “The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” He smiled. Sanctity. Only a small reassurance. Peter whistled. The little boy looked up from his amusement and saw Peter kneeling across the street. They both smiled. Peter had always wanted children.

What now? Now that she is gone, I will never know the joy you had in fatherhood.

Peter’s eyes glazed over; a glossy distancing from perception. His lips, cracked and blistered, now barren of the earlier smile. Just then a woman entered his view. She whispered something in the little boy’s ear. He abruptly ceased his wallowing, waved to Peter, then, as if she had told him a great secret, took off down the ally toward his family’s home. The woman looked to him. She grinned. Peter’s heart descended deep into his stomach. Her familiar chocolate eyes glimmered.

I knew her. Her name was Maria. It took me seven breaths to recognize her. She had come into the clinic. She was malnourished, abused… downtrodden. Her face was spiritless and her eyes were so empty I could see the back of her skull. She came a few times and seemed to be healing nicely, physically and spiritually. She was intrigued by what the gospels had to say. Then she stopped showing up. It did not surprise me. I wrote her off as a casualty in my mind. Most ended abruptly in this area of the world.

She stood there. Uneasy. Fidgeting nervously. She stepped one foot out toward him, unsure if she should approach. Peter sat in simple wonderment. He must have appeared beautiful to her. Her eyes swelled, red with joy. Her palms shielded her lips, her knuckles white.

The afternoon haze split the reflected light. Peter shielded his eyes. His stomach hurt. She walked to his side. Her lips quaked. Two fingers danced over a small wooden cross she wore around her neck. She dribbled out six small words…”Thank you…you saved my life…” Her steps hurried away, leaving him alone in the solitude of thought. The smell of astonishment and perplexity wafted in through all his pores. His joints hurt. He wept. Salty, clear tears. Purity. Peter’s heart felt tugged at, ripped apart, left asunder but strangely finally felt freed.

I sat there on that dusty bench and stared at the sky; stared at myself. How could I have been so ignorant? How could I have been such a hypocrite? I preached the good news but my heart sat empty. I taught on being filled with the Spirit but my heart had shut Him out long before. But now I saw it, now I knew what part I had been missing. Obedience; Obedience in the face of tribulation. Jesus never once promised a life free of trials. He told us over and over that we would be tested, hated, spat on and put to death. But our treasure awaits us when we join the Father in heaven. Obedience is the key. Rebecca knew that. She died for that. She told me once that if she would die here in this place, then all she would need to know was that God had used her to help one person; just one person. I never understood that. Not until that moment when I sat face to face with Maria did I understand that. Rebecca had helped me… Rebecca died to help me… She helped me save that woman. She had saved me.

A mist of dust trailed near as Peter sat on his bench now clenching the letter, rolling it up tightly in between his finger tips. An old, filthy station wagon stopped in front of where Peter was sitting. The man rolled his window down and waited for the envelope to be passed over to him. Peter beamed. He looked to the clouds and his heart spoke to him. It uttered unknown chants. Peter replaced the letter to his pocket then lifted his hand and simply waived the man on. He had no mail to send out that day.

Peter’s family would receive a letter from him but it was not the one that had been in his pocket while he lay face down in the mud. It would be a new letter. They would receive Peter’s letter but never would again receive Peter in their arms. He would be buried in a small unmarked grave beside Rebecca. Only the villagers would know where it is and who he was. They would remember the couple for years to come and even their grandchildren would know their names.

The Freed Thinker Podcast - Episode 5.2


In this episode of The Freed Thinker Podcast we continue our discussion of the Kalam Cosmological Argument by discussing some of the more common objections to the first premise regarding the Principle of Sufficient Reason and evaluate those objections.

We will now be posting video and audio versions of each episode. Due to limited space on my feed server, this will limit the podcast to about 2 episodes a month.

You can stream the episode here, http://freedthinker.podbean.com/ or search for The Freed Thinker Podcast on itunes and upload it directly from there. 

Click it! Subscribe to it! Love it!







Friday, December 16, 2011

Guest Appearance on The Skeptics Testament Podcast

This week I had a great discussion with atheist Nicholas Bruzzese and host of The Skeptics Testament Podcast for their Christmas episode. We looked at some of the common myths surrounding Christmas and discussed some of the historical details surrounding the Jesus birth narratives. I highly recommend this episode and this podcast in general. It is always at the top of my play list.


You can find this episode and previous episodes by searching for the Skeptics Testament Podcast on Itunes or you can stream them live from their webpage, add comments or ask questions at

http://podcastlaboratory.libsyn.com/

Enjoy!


Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Freed Thinker Podcast - Episode 5.1 - The Kalam Cosmological Argument

In this episode of The Freed Thinker Podcast, we continue our discussion about natural theology by starting to examine the Kalam Cosmological Argument. We cover the history of the argument, the logical form of the argument and then reasons to accept the truth of the first premise. In our next episode we will discuss the various objections to the first premise. Hope you all enjoy the show!

This podcast is available on Itunes at the Itunes store. Just search "The Freed Thinker Podcast" or at the freed at: http://freedthinker.podbean.com/2011/12/10/the-freed-thinker-podcast-episode-51-the-kalam/

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Freed Thinker Podcast Episode 4 - Natural Theology and Contingency

In this episode we begin our look at natural theology and we discuss what natural theology is and then examine the first argument for God's existence - the argument from contingency - and explore several objections raised against it.

As always you view the podcast from my podbean.com page at http://freedthinker.podbean.com/2011/12/05/the-freed-thinker-podcast-episode-4 or you can search for it on Itunes, download it and take it with you on your mobile device.

The Itunes version is an MP4 and so some portable players may not be able to upload it. Just FYI.

Click it! Listen to it! Love it!