The Boat: When Alec Meets Mrs. Montgomery

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“I really like that top. What’s it called?” Awaiting Cassie’s reply, Alec reaches across the table and places his hand underneath the elastic forming the low, plunging neck line of her top. His fingers lightly rub the lacy bra underneath.

“It’s called a peasant top.” She gently removes his hand from her blouse. “Should we skip breakfast and go somewhere private?”

Before Alec answers, a voice interrupts.

“Would you two like to order something?”

The waitress has been standing there for minutes, but neither of them noticed her.

“Mom!” Cassie springs from her seat and embraces her mother. She points to Alec. “Mom, I’d like you to meet a good friend of mine. This is Alec Thornton.”

Alec’s face turns ashen and he feels his throat tighten. Cassie’s mother, the lady behind the counter and one of his clients, stands before him. He controls his breathing to remain calm, and the two of them lock eyes. He decides Cassie need not know of their arrangement and he hopes her mother feels the same.

He politely says, “Hello, Mrs.…Montgomery, I assume?”

“Yes, it’s Montgomery. Pleased to meet you, Alec.” The two shake hands. Alec relaxes for the moment.

Mrs. Montgomery sits down next to Cassie and they engage in small talk.

“I can’t talk but for a moment. I’m working until six. What are you two doing out so late, or up so early?”

Alec avoids her gaze and doesn’t react to her attempt at humor. He instead pretends to be interested in a conversation occurring in the next booth over.

“Alec picked me up at a party and he remembered me saying you worked here and he wanted to meet you. And we were hungry and this is the only place open this time of night.”

Alec catches Mrs. Montgomery’s eyes, but he’s having trouble reading her. He remains quiet as mother and daughter chit chat for a few more minutes.

Mrs. Montgomery, reacting to the man behind the cash register, stands, and with notepad in hand says, “What can I get for you two?”

Cassie says, “We’ll both have waffles with blueberry syrup.”

Mrs. Montgomery writes the order on her pad. “Anything else?”

Cassie turns to Alec, who faces in the opposite direction. “Alec, anything else?”

“I’ll have a cup of coffee. Black.”

Mrs. Montgomery closes her notepad. “It’ll be here before you know it,” and then disappears behind the counter.

Cassie frowns. “You weren’t very friendly. That’s my mom and you acted like she wasn’t even there. What’s wrong with you? You’re so moody.”

He may have messed up an opportunity for sex later on, so Alec attempts to repair the damage. “I’m sorry. I guess your mom intimidates me. Besides, I thought you two wanted to catch up.”

Cassie reaches across the table and runs her fingers across Alec’s forearm. “When we’re done eating, why don’t we go to the barn and see your boat. It should be private enough for us, don’t you think?”

The tension exited with Cassie’s mother, and Alec’s earlier good mood has returned. He’ll deal with the ramifications of this recent revelation at a later time.

The Boat: When Alec and Cassie Meet the Winston Brothers

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When they step onto the parking lot, Alec stops. His grip tightens on Cassie’s wrist and he points to a place on the other side of the lot. “See the pickup parked over there?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“You know whose pickup it is?” A scowl forms on Alec’s face.

“I have no idea.”

Alec spits out, “That’s the Winston brother’s truck. They’re the bastards who cut my tire and keyed my car. They weren’t in the restaurant, so where are they?”

“Maybe they parked their truck here and went off with someone else.”

Alec pulls Cassie along. “I have an idea. Follow me.”

Cassie resists. “Wait Alec. You told me earlier they’re dangerous. Why do you want to start something with them now?”

“I also told you they already started something, whether I wanted to participate or not. It’s time for some payback, and it starts tonight. If you don’t want to come, here are the car keys. You can wait for me there.”

Alec remains low and moves across the parking lot, maneuvering between parked cars and out of the light as much as possible. For a moment Cassie hesitates, but then follows behind.

Still a distance from the pickup, Alec glances toward the restaurant entrance. And then to the pickup. And back to the restaurant. He dashes between vehicles, in a serpentine movement, to the other side of the lot.

Reaching the side of the truck opposite the restaurant, in a dark secluded corner of the lot, Alec squats down and retrieves two small pieces of gravel. Duck walking to the front of the truck, he reaches down and gropes for the tire valve stem and removes the cap. He wedges the piece of gravel into the stem valve, which creates a hissing sound as the air in the tire slowly escapes. When the piece of gravel is firmly in place, he moves to the rear tire and repeats the operation.

Alec whispers to Cassie, “Do you hear the air? Put your head down here and listen.”

Cassie bends down. “Yeah. I hear it.”

“It’s going to take a while, but eventually both of these tires will be flat as a pancake and they only have one spare in the back of their truck. Bastards.”

Alec stands and pokes his head around the tailgate to steal a glimpse at the restaurant. “I don’t see anybody.”

Squatting down again, he visually inspects the surface of the lot.

“What are you looking for?” Cassie asks.

“A rock. One with sharp edges.”

Cassie scours another area of the lot with better lighting and finds a good size rock. She holds up her discovery. “Like this one?”

“Just like that.”

Kneeling alongside the truck, still hidden from view, Alec gouges a deep fissure in the paint, from the headlights to the rear bumper. When finished, he throws the rock into the woods and wipes his hands on his jeans. But he remains in place, motionless.

Cassie says, “What are we waiting for? Let’s get out of here. We’re going to get caught.”

“Do you have a piece of paper and a pen?”

Cassie removes her purse from her shoulder. “I might have something in here.”

As she digs through her purse, she comes across her “kit” wrapped in a scarf and glances up at Alec, but he’s watching the front of the restaurant and doesn’t notice. She pushes it to the side and continues searching.

“Will these do?” Cassie presents a Bic pen and a receipt from the QuikTrip.

“Yeah, that’s perfect.”

Alec takes the pen and receipt and scribbles out this note:

Nice truck, assholes. You two punks need to be on the lookout. You never know when you might be caught alone some night.

He places the note under the windshield wiper on the driver’s side.

“Let’s get out of here.”

Staying low, while weaving between parked cars, they arrive back at the Trans Am and climb inside. Alec instructs Cassie to lock her door and once they’ve determined it’s safe, they both burst out laughing at what they’ve pulled off.

Cassie inhales deeply and says, “Man that was fun. My heart is pounding. I haven’t—“

Alec catches his breath. “The fear of getting caught is half the fun. You think they’ll be surprised when they see what we’ve done?”

Cassie’s eyes widen. “What we’ve done? I didn’t do anything. You did all of it.”

“You found the rock. It’s your receipt and your pen. You’re as much in this as I am.”

Cassie freezes and her face whitens. “Is that them?”

“Where?” Alec’s eyes dart around the lot.

“Over by the truck.”

Alec peers out the window and sees two men standing next to the pickup, smoking cigarettes and chatting.

“Shit yeah, it’s them. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

The Boat: When Alec Meets Charlie Nichols

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Reaching a point in their journey when they need to separate, Alec says, “Hey, let’s meet at school tomorrow before class.”

Jason says, “Sure. What about out in front of the school by the flag pole?” The three agree to the plan and go their separate ways.

Alec feels pretty good about his newfound friends. Never having any close friends—at least not since his family moved from Massachusetts—he’s excited about the prospects. Life seems good and as the leaves crunch beneath his feet, he runs down the sidewalk in the cool autumn air.

When he reaches the final corner leading to his house, three figures jump out from behind a row of hedges. At first startled, Alec catches his breath, but before he reacts he’s surrounded. It’s the three tormentors from football practice, Charlie Nichols and his two minions.

Alec’s first instinct leads him to run, but he only gets a half block before the three overtake him.

“Thornton, your ass is grass,” Charlie bellows as the other two manhandle him. “Let’s take him over to the alley. Behind that old house.”

The three brutes drag Alec to a corner between two garages. Through clenched teeth, Charlie continues his angry rant. “Did you think squealing to Coach was going to get me in trouble? You think Coach is going to protect you and your little punk friends?”

Charlie reaches out and grips Alec’s right hand. “I hear you’re an artist?” He then bends back his index finger and Alec winces in pain.

“Yeah,” comes out of Alec’s mouth between short breaths.

Charlie turns up the pain. “If you want to continue to be an artist, you’ll never try that shit on me again.”

Amidst tears and crying, Alec says, “I won’t. I promise. I’ll never tell on you.”

Satisfied, Charlie releases the pressure on Alec’s finger. He says to his two flunkeys, “Let’s make sure Mr. Thornton here understands what we mean.”

The three bullies throw Alec to the ground and pummel him with punches, kicks, and gouges, and Alec does his best to curl up in a ball to limit the damage.

A few minutes later, the bigger boys have gotten their message across and stop the beating. The thugs leave Alec on the ground, bruised, battered, dirty, and wet. Alec lies there for a few minutes, his head throbbing, before regaining his feet and wiping himself off. The pain pulsating throughout his body screams with every heartbeat, and he recognizes the familiar taste of metal on his lips.

Resuming his journey home, Alec wonders if he should tell his parents what just happened. He assumes his father won’t be home and his mother won’t care, even if she is home, so he keeps today’s events to himself. He thinks of Charlie and he’s scared. He knows he’ll have to see him again.

The Boat: When Robbie Meets the Gutter

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Robbie rolls over onto his side and rubs his throbbing back with one hand and his pus swollen eyes with the other. He reaches behind him and pulls from his jeans pocket a brown paper bag wrapped tightly around a glass bottle. Lying on the bottle, for who knows how long, has awakened him from his drunken stupor. How long have I been here?

He brushes his long, stringy hair from around his face and with shaking hands opens the sack. A weak grin forms on his face as he removes the bottle. Old Crow. It’s still half full. Not yet ready to take another swig, he lays the bottle aside. He massages his throbbing head. Where in the hell am I?

It dawns on him that his shirt and shoes are gone. He glances at his surroundings. A large metal dumpster rests immediately to his left, with trash strewn on the ground around him. Robbie struggles to recall his whereabouts or the events that have led him here.

He turns to his right. A chain link fence stretches from one building to another, designed to shut off escape from or entry into this end of the alley. But the rats and other vermin pay it no mind. How did I get here? He grimaces and tries to remember. But his foggy mind reveals nothing.

Slowly rising to his feet, he groans with every movement. Once upright, he walks forward, but the first step causes excruciating pain and he has to stop. He raises his foot for a closer inspection and identifies a two inch cut on his instep, with the dirt and grime so thick the cut is almost unrecognizable. His feeble attempt to walk has reopened the wound. The freshly oozing blood appears an almost fluorescent red against the black stain on his foot.

Robbie gingerly places his foot on the ground and limps toward the daylight end of the alley. The sound of his frayed, flair bottomed jeans scraping along the ground, create the only sound heard on this early morning. He makes it to the end of the alley and leans against the corner of the building. The street appears vacant in all directions. The occasional piece of windblown trash skittering aimlessly along the asphalt, the only evidence of life.

The far off ringing of a church bell echoes down the street and resonates in his ears. It’s Sunday morning. Robbie’s mind drifts back to those Sunday mornings when Jason invited him to join him at Sunday school. How little he knew about the topics being discussed, but how warm and welcome he felt. And it felt good. Jason. And Alec. And now he remembers. The bar in Macon. The two girls. What happened from there? How did I get here? He grimaces and tries to remember. But his fog addled mind reveals nothing.

Sultry air pervades the early summer morning, and pallid rays of sunshine peek over the tops of slumbering buildings. Robbie notices beads of perspiration bathing his arms, and watches a sweat droplet run down his chest and come to a stop at the top of his jeans. More sweat falls from the tips of his unkempt hair. He jerks his head back and whips the unruly mass out of his face, where it rests temporarily on his neck and shoulders.

Peering down the street, Robbie spots a pay phone. He instinctively reaches into his front jeans pocket, searching for change, and counts out thirty six cents in the palm of his hand. He rummages through his other pockets and comes up empty. Where’s my billfold? With his thirty six cents in hand, he limps gingerly down the sidewalk to the pay phone. He must call home.

Robbie braces himself against the top of the pay phone with one hand and with the other he deposits a quarter and dials home. His family doesn’t attend church so he expects someone to answer. After two rings he hears his mother, “Hello, this is Molly Booker.”

“Mom.” His dry throat and mouth make his greeting sound more like a croaking frog than a human voice. “Mom, it’s me, Robbie.”

“Robbie,” his mother cries. “Where are you? Are you all right?”

Robbie closes his eyes tight, but comes up empty. “I don’t know where I am.”

The Boat: When Jason Meets Jenny

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Only two weeks into his freshman year of school, Jason already feels bored. His class load turned out to be lighter than he anticipated, and his teachers seldom challenge him. And now he has to attend an all school assembly in the gymnasium. Another boring speaker, with a boring message, to bore him further. Oh, well. Jason begrudgingly shuffles off to the gym with his fellow classmates.

Not usually a loner, but certainly an observer in crowds of people, Jason scouts out the upper sections of the bleachers for an open seat. Robbie and Alec haven’t appeared, but how would he spot them in this crowd anyway? He makes his way to the top of the bleachers, in the far left corner near the windows, out of authority figure eyeshot and earshot. Watching the other students from his perch, will be a small consolation. At the least, it should prove interesting.

Once the bleachers fill, Jason notices a girl sitting on the next row down, directly in front of him. She wears a cap sleeve blouse, decorated in red and white checks, a pair of blue jeans, and on her feet, she has on white athletic socks with red stripes, tucked inside red tennis sneakers. She must like red. Her strawberry blonde hair falls nearly to her shoulders.

He catches himself watching her out of the corner of his eye. At first, he struggles to hide it, but finds himself unable. In fact, each time he glances away, his gaze returns, like a magnet to steel.

And then, not caring who sees him, Jason stares at her. When she turns her head to the left or right, he notices her cute, slightly upturned, button nose. And her hair, neither straight nor curly, but instead wavy, flips up at both cheeks and creates a frame around her face.

He leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees, placing his face within a foot of the back of her head. He breathes in and smells her perfume. At this distance, he notices tiny little blonde hairs at the nape of her neck, and wonders how soft they would feel to his touch. And from this vantage point, when she turns to the side, he can count each individual freckle that forms a raccoon mask between her eyes and nose.

Growing bolder, Jason leans in closer, just to see if she notices. Up to this point, she hasn’t given any indication of his presence behind her, and so Jason makes a move. He sits back against the wall and places both feet on the bench on either side of her. He then lightly brushes her hip with the toe of his shoe. At first nothing. He does it a second time and she startles him when she spins around and places both arms on his knees, rests her chin on her hands, and says, “Hi, you’re cute.” She wears a big smile on her face, while she chomps on and pops a mouthful of chewing gum.

As she stares up at him, Jason feels butterflies flittering around in his stomach, and his face turns a bright red. He stammers, “Uh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to touch you.” He conceals and justifies his lie at the same time.

At that moment, her eyes grow wide. “Jason?”

Simultaneously, Jason says, “Jenny? Jenny Geneseo?”

They both laugh, oblivious to the boring speaker standing behind the microphone and blasting out his dull message. Before Jason utters another word, Jenny has climbed up a row and moved the student sitting next to Jason out of the way. She now sits next to him. Right next to him. He feels her warm skin touching his.

Still nervous, he finds his composure slowly returning. “I didn’t recognize you, Jenny. You’ve, uh, filled out.” Jason notices that Jenny now has curves, in places where young ladies naturally form curves, and he finds these curves pleasing to the eye.

Jenny laughs again. “Jason, you’re a goof. A cute one, but still a goof. Yeah, I’m filling out all right,” she pokes his stomach, “and apparently so are you.” After giggling for a moment, she places a hand on Jason’s knee, which jump starts the butterflies again. “When was the last time we saw one another? Sixth grade? Seventh grade?”

“I don’t know, but it’s been a while.” Jason remembers Jenny from their grade school days. They were good friends back then. And he remembers her being a twig.

Since coming to junior high school, they haven’t shared any classes, and so he hasn’t seen her in quite some time. The difference in her appearance has thrown him for a loop. And he likes what he sees.

“We’ve known each other since kindergarten,” Jenny says, “and I remember the first day of school…that one kid, Ty, Cy, Guy, whatever his name was, he wet his pants, poor thing, and his mother had to come pick him up and take him home. And you were a funny little kid then. I remember playing hopscotch with you and when you jumped, it reminded me of a frog. We had to bring our blankets and take a nap in the afternoon and you and I would never close our eyes, well, only when the teacher would walk by. And in first grade we learned how to read, ‘see Dick run and see Spot chase Puff,’ and I think the reading book was called ‘Friends and Neighbors,’ and…”

While Jenny rambles on, Jason gazes into her eyes and listens. Peering into her soft, light blue eyes creates an anxious sensation within him. Those butterflies again. He wonders if love at first sight really exists. If it does, he now knows what it feels like. While he stares, he imagines diving into and forever floating within her limpid blue pools.

Jenny’s monologue has moved from kindergarten, through the first grade, and now she reminisces about the second grade. While she pontificates, Jason focuses on her mouth while she speaks. Her top lip, pleasingly plump, has a cute little pouty configuration that seems to invite him in for a kiss. Or a nibble. But not here in the gym.

Watching her lips move, stirs that same anxiousness within him. Her husky voice cracks at certain points in her speech, especially when she giggles, and it too brings on those same, electric feelings. In fact, all of Jenny electrifies Jason. Every bit of her.

Jason sees Jenny as a live wire, and he can hardly wait to be lit up. Oh, what a jolt.

The Boat: When Alec Meets Cassie

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A loud honking and subsequent jerk of the steering wheel return Alec to the present and his car into the proper lane of traffic. The QuikTrip looms ahead and rather than waste gas, he pulls into the lot. He needs to think. Not wanting anything from inside, he finds a spot on the outer edge of the parking lot and shuts off his car. The sun sets early this time of year and dusk has passed.

Rain covers his windshield. It’s one of those early winter rains, the kind that falls steady and straight. The kind of rain that chills you to the bone. Alec sits alone—the radio silent—and the rain peppering the roof of his car adds to his melancholy. Viewed through vacant eyes, the lights from cars entering and leaving the lot are distorted by rain drops dripping down the windshield.

Soon, all the windows are fogged over, but Alec doesn’t bother with the defroster. Instead he’s content to sit and contemplate. He wonders why he ever allowed Charlie Nichols to own him or why he continues to do Charlie’s dirty work. He can’t tell Robbie or Jason; he doesn’t want to drag them into this. But it’s more than that. He’s ashamed of his weakness. He assures himself that a finished boat will allow him to leave his troubles in Aubreyville far behind. But until then, he has no one in whom to confide. He feels lonely in his brand new Trans Am.

A light tapping on the passenger window startles Alec. Through the glass he notices the outline of a figure standing next to the car. He lowers the window.

“Hi. Can I come in? It’s wet out here,” A young girl stands outside, with water dripping from her nose and the tips of her long, blonde hair. “Nice car.”

Caught off guard, Alec answers, “Sure. Come on in. Yeah, the car’s new. Only fifty miles on it.”

Alec recognizes the girl from school, but doesn’t know her name. He thinks she may be in the class two grades ahead of him, or it could be she already graduated. “What’s up?” Alec asks.

The clothes underneath her jacket have gotten wet. The girl appears well proportioned, with her shape clearly outlined in her clingy, wet blouse.

“Oh, I was just walking around town when it started pouring down rain. What about you?” She has an engaging smile.

“Just riding around. There’s nothing to do and I’m kind of bored.” A brief pause ensues before Alec says, “I’m Alec, what’s your name?”

“Cassie. Cassie Montgomery.” She reaches out her hand and they shake.

“Well, Cassie, you want to ride around for a while? You’ll at least stay dry.” Alec digs through his cassette collection. “What do you like to listen to? I have some hard rock, some disco, pop rock…”

“I like Pink Floyd. Really, it doesn’t matter. Anything’s cool with me.”

“I bought their new release, The Wall. Listen to this.” He starts the tape and then drives the two of them eastward out of town.

Cassie sits back and seems entranced by the music. Alec focuses on the rain soaked highway in front of him, but catches himself casting furtive glances in her direction. He finds her very attractive and his heart pounds. The warmth of the car dries her clothes and Alec inhales the intoxicating scent of sweet perfume. Cassie doesn’t acknowledge Alec’s attention.

Comfortably Numb comes on and Cassie listens intently to the lyrics. Her eyes glaze over with moisture.

“Just a little pin prick. He’s talking about heroin you know.” Alec watches for a reaction.

Cassie faces Alec, and with a sad expression in her eyes says, “Yeah, I know.”

Feeling uncomfortable, Alec changes the subject, “Man, listen to those guitars. Beautiful song, isn’t it? How can a sad song be so pretty?” He realizes he could be talking about her.

As they leave the lights of town behind them, Alec exits onto a side road and continues driving. Cassie ejects the cassette. “I’m tired of music. Can we talk?”

“Sure. That’s cool. Are you out of school?” Alec tries unsuccessfully to keep his eyes on the road.

“I’m out of school, but I didn’t finish. I dropped out my senior year.”

“Where do you live? Do you have any brothers or sisters? I’m not sure I remember seeing you in school.”

“Well, you’re a few years younger than me. What grade are you in?”

“I’m a sophomore, soon to be a senior. What about your family?”

“What do you mean, ‘Soon to be a senior’?” Cassie asks.

“Well, I have plans to leave here as soon as I graduate, and it can’t come too soon.”

Cassie seems to be avoiding the family questions, but Alec persists. “What about your family?”

Cassie sighs. “I live with my mother in a trailer park. You know the one over off Central Avenue?” Alec nods affirmation and Cassie continues, “I’ve never met my father. I have a little brother, Michael, but we’re so far apart in age, we don’t relate much. Mom works a lot, but doesn’t bring home much money. I’ve been working at William’s Metal Fabricating to help keep up with the bills. What about you?”

Alec wonders how a gorgeous girl like this can have that kind of life.

“I live out by the golf course. My dad is never home. He travels around the world for his job, but mainly stays in New York City. My mother spends most of her days at the country club or entertaining friends at parties.”

Cassie, upon hearing country club, leans in closer to Alec and listens intently. “I don’t have any brothers or sisters. I spend the majority of my time at the barn. Funny how such a large house can be empty so often.”

Cassie inquires about the barn and Alec tells her the story about his boat and his plans after school.

“Where is the barn?” she asks.

Alec describes the old logging road and she says she’s familiar with the place.

Now miles from town, Alec drives into an empty farm field and shuts off the car. For a moment they sit in silence and their warm breaths fog the windows. The rain patters soft and steady on the car’s exterior, creating a soothing and peaceful rhythm.

Alec has a hard time thinking of anything other than sex. All night he’s been casting glances at Cassie’s numerous physical attractions—her long blonde hair, smooth white skin, tight jeans accentuating long legs and a well-shaped ass—and he can’t keep his mind from wondering what her breasts are like underneath her blouse and lacy white bra.

Breaking the stillness, Cassie pushes the cassette tape back into the player, but dials the sound down so it becomes background noise. Alec leans back and closes his eyes, but his mind races.

Moments later, Cassie sits up and removes her jacket. She then takes off her blouse. Speechless, Alec stares at the alluring body being revealed to him in the light coming from the dash. It requires all his effort to control his emotions, but he maintains his composure and awaits her next move.

For more of The Boat, click here.

I Won’t Be Fooled Again

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Cognitive Dissonance:  psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously

My wife Julie and I don’t watch much television, for reasons you’ll understand shortly, but when we do, we prefer the cozy mysteries produced in Britain, the one I reference here being Midsomer Murders. With Netflix, we can watch season after season without interruption.

We both enjoy Midsomer Murders, but like most shows today, the producers and writers have an agenda that aligns with a worldview, and a recent story-line featured that worldview. The narrative portrayed a sympathetic, Hugh Hefner like character, replete with a mansion full of scantily clad, busty young women, hosting wild parties with young, vibrant attendees shown having an uproariously good time. The plot pitted the playboy and his entourage against the local church, which featured old, unhappy, bigoted and evil, vicars, elders, and church ladies. It didn’t take long to see where the plot was headed and sure enough, the bad guys turned out to be, you guessed it, the pious, behaving any way other than saintly, followers of Christ.

And then, the next night and two episodes later, three mysterious murders end up being committed by a nasty, evil man, full of hate, jealousy and anger. Guess who? The local vicar in the church, of course. Who else would commit such horrendous acts?

But, do these portrayals, and they are prevalent, match up with what I know to be true? Do they correspond with common sense derived from personal experience? The truth is, I associate with, work with, go to church with, am related to, and have numerous friends who are Christians, none of whom exhibit any of the characteristics ascribed to them by the media. Of those whom I encounter on an ongoing basis, most are happy, kind, and generous, good citizens who pay taxes, follow the law, and make every attempt to raise their children to be respectful of others. Of course there are exceptions, but in the main, my experience and common sense profoundly contradict the caricatures offered via today’s entertainment.

And thus, cognitive dissonance. And when cognitive dissonance sets in, internal conflict arises. And a struggle ensues. Here’s the dilemma: What do I believe, that which I know to be true, or the constant pounding of a contrary worldview, the opposite of my own?

After watching the second show, we both agreed that we didn’t care for the slant. I asked my wife if she could recall any show or movie, in recent memory, that portrayed a minister, preacher, clergyman, elder, deacon, etc., in a positive light. Neither of us could. I also asked her, in recent memory, to name any main protagonist in a movie or show, portrayed as having a strong faith in God. Again, neither of us could. In fact, most lead characters are either agnostic, atheist, secularist, and rather than remain neutral, they express negative views regarding people of faith. The ignorant rubes. Yes, I’m a fool for Christ.

So, what to do? The short answer, watch less television, movies, and nightly news.

But a better answer comes from Proverbs 19:27- Stop listening to teaching that contradicts what you know is right.

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Sharing with My Friends (and those who would rather I didn’t)

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Copy of Cross Roughed In

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”         -Quote attributed to atheist Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller

Yes, how much do you have to hate someone to not share with them the way out of eternal damnation, in effect, the good news?

The sermon today was centered around this statement: “Friends share good things with their friends. That’s what friends do.” Of course they do. After all, they’re friends. However, the first statement then led to a question: “Why then is it so hard to share the gospel?” A good question with many answers. Put another way, if you have a friend headed to prison, and you have a “get out of jail free” card, why wouldn’t you give it to them? Of course you wouldn’t want to see a friend suffer. Would you?

So, I just noticed I have 270 friends on Facebook (1133 Twitter followers). I’m sure I’ve shared with them the “good news,” but if I haven’t, here you go friends of mine.

I once lived a destructive life that not only hurt me, but hurt others around me. I wallowed in my sin and had one foot in the grave, but didn’t know it. God saw me in my helplessness and sent his son to rescue me. Whereas I was lost, I am now found. In Jesus Christ, I have been redeemed. I now have a peace that surpasses all understanding. I have a hope for the future. I have a purpose for living. I’m no longer a slave to sin. I no longer have to fear death.

The good news. News that everyone needs to hear. Friend or foe. We all need redemption. Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost. And that would be everyone.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Misfit Toys

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Charlie in the Box

This is the time of the year when all of the classic Christmas specials are shown on television, some more than once. There are A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole ChristmasFrosty the Snowman and many more. One, however, has the distinction of being the first in a long line of animated Christmas specials, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. First shown in December of 1964, it has been telecast every year since, making it the longest running Christmas TV special in history.

Rudolph recognizes he is an outcast among the other reindeer, due to his glowing, shiny red nose, and in his isolation he befriends an elf named Hermey, also an outcast, an elf who would rather be a dentist than Santa’s helper. The two of them, in the midst of a winter blizzard, run away and eventually end up on the “Island of Misfit Toys”. This island is where all unwanted playthings, with some sort of physical defect or flaw, reside. Because they are unwanted and defective, they fail to fulfill the role they were designed for and are in effect lost.

Within the group of broken toys are a jack-in-the-box named Charlie, a winged lion, a polka-dotted elephant, and “A Dolly for Sue” who seems normal, with red hair and red gingham dress, but suffers from depression as a result of being unloved and abandoned by her owner. There are also a bird that swims instead of flies, a cowboy who rides an ostrich, a train with square wheels on its caboose, a boat that sinks rather than floats, a squirt gun that squirts grape jelly, and an airplane that cannot fly. All broken and rejected.

As I ponder these misfit toys, I’m reminded of the Church. Aren’t we all in fact misfits? Paul says it well in 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, (and I could add many more including, gossips, liars, greedy, envious, and jealous) shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”  We were broken, unloved, abandoned, defective and unwanted; not able to function as we were designed and in need of saving, rescue, and redemption.

Prior to leaving the island, Rudolph promises the toys that Santa will come and rescue them and deliver them to a deserving child. After the first showing in 1964, there was a backlash from the public because Santa was never shown going back to the island for the toys. A new scene was produced for all subsequent rebroadcasts, where Santa, with Rudolph in the lead, makes his first stop at the island to pick up the misfit toys.

Unlike the misfit toys, we weren’t designed with flaws, but because of free will and our choices we became flawed, unable to function as God designed. But, like the toys, we were redeemed, saved, as stated in Romans 5:6, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” And in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

The misfit toys were eventually delivered to some welcoming child, as is, flaws and all. We however have been made new. “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Now we can function as we were designed. No more square wheels on our caboose to slow us down!

Choosing Hell

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heaven-or-hell

A few years ago I posted the story Highway to Hell, a reference to the AC/DC tune, and it turned out to be my most read blog post of the year. It seems people have a fascination with Hell, even those who would say they don’t believe in it. In that post I intimated that many people, given the choice, actually choose Hell. Most people have a difficult time wrapping their minds around that concept. How could someone choose Hell? Why would someone choose Hell? As strange as it seems, there are those who blatantly, defiantly, stubbornly say what AC/DC put to music:

Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme, ain’t nothing I’d rather do. Going down, party time, my friends are gonna be there too, yeah. I’m on a highway to Hell.

Whoopee!

The recent election led me to revisit this topic. Apparently one of Hillary’s mentors, as well as someone influential in the rise of current president Barack Obama, was a man named Saul Alinsky. Known for his book, Rules for Radicals, Alinsky had some interesting thoughts about God and Hell. From his famous book:

“Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgement to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins–or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment, and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom–Lucifer.”

If that homage to Satan wasn’t enough, here’s what Alinsky had to say in a 1972 Playboy (go figure) interview:

“If there is an after-life and I have anything to say about it, I will, unreservedly, choose to go to Hell. Hell would be Heaven for me. All my life I have been with the have-nots. Over here if you’re a have-not you’re short of dough. If you’re a have-not in Hell you’re short of virtue. Once I get into Hell I’ll start organizing the have-nots. With a smile. They’re my kind of people.”

So, you see, there are people who would choose to go to Hell. Those who would choose to laugh with the sinners rather than cry with the saints. Only, based on my reading, I don’t believe there will be any laughing going on in Hell. Take this story from Luke chapter 16:19-31.

Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus, while alive on earth, lived a miserable existence, sickly and poor, while the rich man lived a life of “gaily living and splendor.” Upon their deaths, Lazarus was carried away by the angels to Heaven, where he resides in the comfort of Abraham’s bosom. The rich man, however, ends up in Hades, being in constant torment there.

At one point in the story, the rich man cries out to Abraham, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.”

I find the rich man’s request bizarre. Here he has an audience with Abraham, and instead of asking to be removed from Hell (“get me the hell out of here” would seem appropriate) he instead asks for cold water to relieve his agony (“I don’t mind staying here, just give me a cold drink and I’ll be fine”). It’s as if those in Hell have chosen to be there and would rather remain. As Alinsky said, “Hell would be Heaven for me.”

As a follower of Christ, one of the most important things I am commanded to do regarding my interaction with the rest of the world is to “preach the gospel” or good news of the Savior. I take that command seriously, but often wonder if the message is falling on deaf ears. What if there are those that just don’t want to hear the good news? Living in America it’s hard for me to believe that everyone who lives in this country isn’t already familiar with God, Jesus, Heaven, Satan and Hell. What if there are those who don’t want to be saved and know exactly where they’re headed, but simply don’t care?

I’ve heard it said that being a follower of Christ is like preparing for Heaven. Following Jesus is taking step after step closer to God, so that when you finally arrive in His presence, you will already know Him. I suppose the converse could also be said; living a life apart from God while here on the earth is preparation for Hell. Each step you take away from God today is preparing you for an eternity away from His presence. If you don’t want to know God now, why would you want to know Him for eternity?

I remember a time in my life when the anthem that is Highway to Hell was one that I sang with much glee; forcefully and with compassion. Almost as if shaking my fist at God and everything He stands for. I remember a time when I would flippantly answer the benign question, “Where are you going?” with the response, “To Hell if I don’t change my ways.” I was arrogant and cocky and I wasn’t about to let anyone tell me how to live my life.

The simplified version of the two world views is that a life of following Jesus is one of restrictions and boredom, whereas the life not following Him is one of freedom; with no restraints. Or put this way in the song:

No stop sign, speed limits, nobody’s gonna slow me down. 

Those heading for Hell are going of their own accord. What can I do to stop them? They seem to revel in the knowledge that Hell awaits them. Their lyrics are prophetic; there aren’t any stop signs and no one is going to slow them down. God allows each of us the true freedom to follow Him or not. He allows us to shake our fist at Him, to our eventual doom. He only wants those that truly love Him to spend an eternity in His presence.

What Mr. Alinsky and many like him don’t understand is that Hell won’t be like it is here on earth. When you choose to separate yourself from God here, you only do so in a limited way. He still remains in control and due to His restraints on Satan, the world remains a tolerable place to live. In Hell, God removes himself entirely from the picture and the result is, well, hell. Ask the rich man from Jesus story.

So, what to do? Strother Martin’s famous line in Cool Hand Luke goes, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach.” I realize that’s true. Should we then just give up? Jesus tells us to preach the gospel. He doesn’t say to share it with only those who will listen. Just preach the good news. Simple as that. He’ll take care of the rest. After all, He kept sending people my way and I finally listened.