Angel blows a horn

The Way Out

The supreme leader was still at work, although it was late. He didn’t like the war minister’s report and cast it aside. Surprisingly, he was resigned, not angry. Something had shifted.

The ornate and delicate decorations of his office contrasted sharply with the blasted remains of city centers on the photos spread across his eighteenth century desk. The office was a world in color; the photos black-and-white.

President Diktat slapped his half-full glass on the table, spilling a bit.

‘Dammit! I want facts, not speculation.’ He growled while staring blankly at what spilled, swirling what remained slowly round in the glass.

The war minister shifted almost imperceptibly, trapped between the need of the moment and the truth. For once in his life he needed to be direct, not dissemble. The situation was bad.

But he found the old habit of dissembling died hard. ‘Sir, facts are very hard to come by, even with our intelligence working overtime, and…’

A chopping motion of Diktat’s left hand silenced him. The right gripped the drinking glass more tightly, as though to crush it. ‘We have 85 thousand people in our military intelligence. Surely one of them can provide something tangible.’

‘You are correct, sir. The service is robust. The difficulty is keeping up with the speed of changes on the ground. You’ve said yourself the war isn’t going to plan.’ The minister battened down the hatches and sailed on in the face of the storm growing in his superior’s gaze.

He sighed and spread his hands. ‘If we were to pause the operation for three days, even two days, to allow human intelligence to be gathered, we could make much better recommendations.’

‘No. That simply gives the enemy time to regroup, resupply and rest.’

‘That’s true, sir, but even that brief rest won’t change the maths. We have a larger force, but not an overwhelming one. We can prevail – in time. But it would be good to know more about the situation on the ground.’

‘Can’t our commanders tell us this?’

‘They can, and they have. But we need time to sift, analyze and coordinate the data.’

‘The media will make up excuses about why we’ve stopped advancing. That we’re overmatched, or we’ve run out of fuel, or we don’t have good command-and-control.’

This man spends too much time on the internet, the minister thought. Watching the news is one reason he’s been so misinformed.

‘Sir, with all respect, I say let them say what they want. While they offer lies, we solidify our supply lines and then advance again. When we begin knocking down more targets the media will focus on the explosions, not on how exposed we are in the field.’

The war minister was only buying time, he knew. He remembered the last war, which ground on for ten years before cooler heads (and a depleted national treasury) finally forced a retreat. This war came out of the same wishful thinking as the last one, he thought.

He was on the ground for half that decade, watching good men get killed in ambush against a vastly inferior force, but one which had something to die for. Our army did not and does not, he thought.

The president finally drained the glass, staring off into the near distance.

‘Fine. Order it. Order a 48-hour halt to the advance, but only after the foreign ministry has put out a statement demanding unconditional surrender. Ask them if they’ve had enough.

‘We won’t mean the offer, of course. And they will say no. But it will be a useful distraction. Make sure everyone knows this does not include a cease fire. Continue to target any nearby assets, just don’t advance on the ground. Crank up the air strikes at the same time, with the excuse of protecting our ground forces from counter-attack.’

‘Yes sir. I’ll have the statements and orders for your review within the hour.’

‘Dismissed.’

The war minister left, knowing it was all for nothing. He wondered if the president was dissembling as much as he was. He walked out with the same internal question as his leader: Did anyone tell the truth any more?

We may take the country, the minister thought, or at least its control centers, but that’s not winning a war. He wished war could be left to his generals and field marshals. No civilian leader is worth his salt if he hasn’t been through the War College, he thought. Even if his own supreme leader had been an infantry sergeant ages ago.

The minister walked through the outer office past the president’s private secretary, who looked up. He knew it was now his turn. The secretary entered just as the president was about to call his name. Diktat opened his mouth to speak, saw his aide, offered a twitch of a smile. ‘You anticipate my every need,’ he said.

The secretary walked to the table, took the president’s glass and moved to the bar as he was queried.

‘So?’

‘Sir, I agree with the minister. But as we’ve discussed before, any failure doesn’t come from a military shortfall. We have the power to turn the entire country into a plain of glass. I’ll say again at risk of my position, the miscalculation came before we invaded. It’s the same one the Americans made repeatedly: in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan; thinking they would win hearts and minds. That what they did would be seen as liberation, not invasion.’

The president said nothing, just stared at his refreshed glass. This very thought had been through his mind more than once.

‘If I may, sir…’

There was no response, so the aide gulped and continued. ‘We need a way out, sir. You need a way out. We can win this war, but we will definitely lose the peace.’

His leader finally looked up, still silent. The secretary himself was the answer to his question. There was still someone who would tell the truth. And, we can still like them, Diktat thought, even if we don’t like the truth.

The aide felt a catch in his throat. He had no idea what was coming. Finally, Diktat croaked, ‘Thank you, my friend. You can go. Please close the door on your way out.’

The president sat there a long time, and remembered something his mother would say: You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. Just make sure an omelet is what you want before you break them. Simon Diktat had built his life, established his empire on breaking eggs. Now somehow, his omelet left a bad taste in his mouth.

After long reflection he rose to study the situation map pinned to the wall. It was old-school, that paper map. Old school, like me, he thought. But he could put pins in it, make marks on it. It was better than the electronic screens in his situation room, where the generals and advisors played in their virtual reality world.

Nothing but video games for them, he thought. The generals were divorced from it all. This map, this paper map, this political map, this is the real map. This map told the truth.

He’d used a map like this on maneuvers as a much younger man. He could take a map like this and find his way into the wilderness and back out again. It told him the terrain, held memories of the weather, suggested strategy and showed concentrations of people. That thought stopped him.

The people, he thought. In his mind, each face became imprinted on a broken egg. Damn the endless media pictures.

Down in the situation room these same individuals were dehumanized into collateral damage, unfortunate but excusable. They were rows of figures, not dead bodies. Dead data not dead souls. The president knew better. He’d been on the giving end and the receiving end of gunfire. He’d taken life and been faced with those who would take his.

Images of innocent faces from that other war also bubbled up, unbidden. His mother’s face also now looked at him steadily out of a shadowy corner of the room.

I was wrong, he finally thought. Those people didn’t need liberation after all. They needed to be left alone.

He poured himself one more drink, swallowed half of it and returned to his desk, where he opened a drawer. Papers, pens, a notebook, his cigar case. The handgun.

The phone buzzed, startling him. The foreign ministry had the statement ready, his secretary said.

‘Send it over.’

It would take a few minutes for the email to arrive after being printed; again, being old school, he only reviewed things on paper.

It was enough time. The drawer was still open. The gun was still there.

He took it in his left hand and drained the last of his drink with his right, after silently saluting his truth-telling aide through the door.

Glancing one last time at the map, he walked toward his apartments. His secretary was right and told the truth. He needed a way out.

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soup with vegetables on white ceramic bowl

Homemade Soup

The telly came on in the middle of a movie.

A mother was instructing her new daughter-in-law. ‘Let me show you how to make a proper soup for my son!’ Her tone was confident, knowing. It exuded warmth and familiarity. But he wasn’t paying attention to any of that. The phrase had opened a window to his past. The aromas of his mother’s kitchen seemed to float into the room.

He and Bea had just married and were visiting his childhood home as a couple for the first time. Mom pulled his young wife into the kitchen.

‘Let me show you a few tricks about how he likes things cooked,’ she said, smiling.

From the next room he could almost see the chill silence covering the room in frost. Bea drowned that offering of love in ice water, holding it down until it suffocated.

When the weekend was over and they motored home, he heard all about it.

‘How dare she do that! As though I don’t know how to cook for you,’ she said.

‘That wasn’t it at all. She was trying to be helpful. Help you love me even better than you do now.’ He smiled and turned to her. She continued to stare out the passenger window.

‘It was insulting,’ she said. ‘She could have asked.’

‘Mothers don’t ask, they tell. Does yours ask?’

No answer.

It was the first salvo in a war that escalated over the years, a war he’d had no idea was coming. His pre-marital expectations did not include this. Bea planted a grudge that day, and watered it and nursed it until it sprang up and choked the life out of any chance Dad and Mom had of getting her to receive their love. It finally grew into a huge tree on which Bea tacked up a sign saying, You don’t truly love me so let’s not pretend.

She painted that declaration in the blood of her own childhood wounds. Will realized too late that Bea had grown up in a conditional family, where love was doled out as deemed earned. They were always all at odds. They were all orphans. They weren’t a family. They were a group of snipers.

Where suspicion reigns, each loving gesture is perceived as a threat. Broken lives take input for insult. Bea’s heart had been broken long before Will had met her. Sadly, he didn’t realize how those broken pieces would be like glass, cutting all who trod on them.

Will’s heart was broken too, although he didn’t learn that until years later. When he did, and began to heal, a rift opened between them. She wanted no part of that healing. And so they drifted apart. He marched toward health, while she slid toward increasing bitterness and isolation.

As their marriage broke down and fell apart, he watched the leaves on her tree of resentment wither and fall off. They littered the ground between them.

In his dreams, after the divorce, he had long conversations with her about much of what had transpired between them. He could speak of his failings and mistakes, but she could not. She had nothing to say to his imagination. Sadly, he realized he never actually knew her. She was unwilling to be known.

Will had acknowledged his own mistakes and the acceptance of each one hurt him badly. He prayed for release and forgiveness, knowing he’d likely never receive it from Bea, even if they ever spoke again.

On a walk years later, a leaf drifted out of an empty sky, landing at his feet. He stooped and turned it over. That settled the matter.

He then straightened and moved forward.

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Star Trek Toy

It’s Dead, Jim

When I was a child, I wanted unlimited power. I wanted to be like ‘Q’, who was a character in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Q was a supernatural being with unlimited power. He could be anything, do anything, and cause anything to occur. He could shift time or create alternate timelines. He could do things beyond imagination for his own amusement.

Decades before Q was written into the Star Trek Universe, I wanted to be Q. I wanted that type of unlimited power to make anything happen.

Why? Because I felt powerless and alone, abandoned by God and misunderstood by the grown-ups in my life. I was angry at what I couldn’t control and afraid of what others could. Being powerless, I needed a source of power.

I had the answer at the start, but threw it away: His name was Jesus. Jesus was my miracle-worker, He is the ultimate superhero, He is on beyond Superman, He is the best role-model in history, the only one of value.

After having my innocence ripped away through sexual abuse, and my childhood disrupted by endless seasons of isolation, I abandoned Jesus. After that, the only power I had was the power of imagination. This imagination was at first enhanced, but then quickly deceived by pornography, and then by drugs, and finally by alcohol.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians you see Jesus for just this: a Super Man, the Firstborn from the dead, the forerunner of a people who will inherit God’s kingdom.1 Even better, Jesus doesn’t hold himself up as a seemingly impossible example to follow under my own power.

Instead, Jesus lifts Himself up as an example where, through faith in Him, I can become more like Him. He’s invested in my journey and not worried about my destination. It’s already assured.

If I look to Jesus, to be like Jesus, I can rely on Jesus. That’s His plan for all of us. But I ran up against evil forces I couldn’t address and abandoned all that.

The Illusion of Fairness

Oddly, hope remained even in my darkest days. Through it all, I still sought a whole-hearted redemption, a reconciliation, a world put to rights. We are all wired for this. We like saying, ‘It’s not fair!’ Made in God’s image, we desire justice because He does.

But justice isn’t justice unless it’s absolute. Anything less is inadequate and cosmically unfair. Let me explain.

Left to our own devices, you and I can’t achieve true justice, only justice based on the lie that somehow life should be “fair.” The unfixable flaw is that my sense of fairness may not align with yours or someone else’s, and so we are in conflict. The daily news provides endless proof of this. In God’s domain there is only absolute justice and it is measured by one standard only – His standard. Using our broken world’s standards, people can only contrive relative justice.

This relativity is the endless failure of all human systems: in order for one person to receive full justice, someone else has to be denied it, or it’s doled out without mercy. There are no true win-win resolutions in human conflicts. Relative justice may offer incremental change along the old spectrum, but doesn’t bring transformation into a new one. Only God can do that.

Justice Ain’t the Problem

For many years, I lived in the hope of a Star Trek future, where crime is history and poverty doesn’t exist and governance is altruistic, enlightened and universally just. In my 65 years I’ve seen enough political futility to know there will be no Star Trek future. Not ever. As human beings under our own power alone, we are incapable of pulling that off.

I’m not a wet blanket, just telling you the truth. It’s not that you and I aren’t capable of kindness and mercy and courage and heroic sacrifice. Individually, we are! It’s because we are made in God’s image, and that’s who He is! But we’ve proven ourselves incapable of this en masse, because the world is full of sin.

The world has a righteousness problem, not a justice problem. We try to find redemption under our own power, and we fail. We can make change, but little progress. We can ease poverty, but we will never cure it.2 We can create welcoming communities, but not welcoming societies. We will never truly beat our swords into plowshares. Not alone.

Even atheists can set up charities and spend billions to ‘do good.’ But in and of itself it isn’t enough. In the long term, it transforms nothing.

The Problem of Evil

There’s one final piece to consider: the problem of evil. Relative human systems all fight evil as they define it in their relative ways. But in God’s kingdom, evil is absolute just like everything else.

All the evil in this world comes from the devil, the enemy of God. He hates God. He hates me. He hates you. He wants us to look to ourselves for answers, not to God. Satan’s greatest delight is when you don’t believe he exists. Because then you are captive to him.

Ironically, the final piece of my faith puzzle years ago was not belief in Jesus, it was belief in the devil. Until I accepted that the devil really did exist, working evil in my life, I couldn’t come fully into my own as God’s man. The great lie of every age is that there is no Satan, not that there is no God. The second greatest lie is that God somehow contains or creates evil as well as good.

Have there been many evils perpetrated in the name of God? Of course! People are broken. Evil acts can come through people of every faith and by those of no faith. But think of this. If I went out and robbed a bank, and said I did it in your name, would you have any of the blame or responsibility? Of course not.

So, if you have been hurt or misled, or wounded or lied to by someone in the Church, leader or laity, mentor or friend, or if you’ve suffered at the hands of someone who claimed Christianity, don’t blame God. He didn’t do it. It was people – fallen, broken people who do bad things in His name, people tricked by the devil.

It’s easy, I suppose, for a secular mind to conclude that God doesn’t exist, because the mind alone is limited to its own powers of observation and reason. How can a human use finite resources to grasp something infinite? No, we have to tap in with our hearts, connect in faith in the face of what our senses tell us.

It’s Dead, Jim

There are great scientific leaps of understanding every year, and yet, there is always more to know. The secular scientist holds out these leaps as proof of a human delusion that the universe has evolved from nothing into an infinitely complex marvel, and that given enough tools and time, we’ll fully understand it. It’s another fallacy from the Star Trek Universe.

The Christian looks at these same things and instead sees how they all validate what’s written in Scripture about God’s creation. Every scientific breakthrough then bolsters faith, instead of being an argument against it. Reason is an important part of faith, but must be subordinate to it; the reverse cannot logically follow. Christian faith is not at odds with science and does not war against it. Rather, it is the scientific atheist who wars against Christ.

A veritable atheism industry has now sprung up. Books containing the apologetics of atheism top the best-seller lists, as do books about how to proselytize to make more atheists, books instructing Christians how best to reject their faith and books about why they should. The Case Against God by George H. Smith is my favorite of these.

I confess I haven’t read it, so won’t judge the content; for me, the title is enough to show the illogic of it. The title says that God exists, but the author will make a case against Him. This is atheism’s dilemma, claiming disbelief in God while actually waging war against Him.

Atheists can only argue their identity in a negative. Atheists are not nihilists – they don’t believe in nothing. Instead, they purport to believe against something. And that is not identity. It’s a sad form of circular logic.

Are you an atheist? I admire your perseverance. Keep listening.

Star Trek is dead.

It’s dead, Jim.

Jesus is alive, and He’s knocking at the door. And He will keep knocking until you either let Him in, or are yourself dead.

The final lie from the Star Trek Universe is that death is the ultimate end. Death is not the end, but when you pass through it, who you have faith in (and refuse to have faith in) will determine the train ticket you find in your pocket.

1 Colossians 1:15-18
2. Matthew 26:11

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