Tag Archives: God

Wrong Number by Clayton Clifford Bye


Ever since reading Dialogues with the Devil by Taylor Caldwell I have been fascinated by the idea of reworking our traditional views of Satan. This theme regularly shows up in my novels and short stories. Today’s short is one example of this. Should you enjoy the story, you may pick up the anthology from which it comes (Behind the Red Door) at http://shop.claytonbye.com.


Wrong Number

The bank teller looks a little on the pale side as she turns over the cheque. I glance downward and see the numbers… $666.66. Even though they hadn’t been there a few minutes ago I smile and say, “Halloween has come early this year.”

Things like this happen to me all the time. It’s like the Good Lord wants people to see me for who I am. It never works. People find it hard enough to believe in God; accepting that I exist and stand before them, in the flesh, is just too much to take in. I can guarantee that the woman in front of me will shrug off her fright the moment I leave the building. By the end of the day it will become a funny story to tell to her friends and family.

I walk out of the bank with the $666.66 in my pocket.

When I reach the end of the city block, I look both ways before beginning to cross the street to the car park. A Corvette materializes from nowhere, catches me in the knees and flips me in the air right over the top of the car. I hit the pavement hard, lift my head and pass out.

It’s much later in the day when I wake up in Her Sister’s Heavenly Devotion Hospital. The attending doctor comes by to tell me that both of my legs have been shattered  below the knees. He also tells me the knees will have to be replaced. Aside from that I have some bruising from the fall and a concussion. Apparently that’s why my ears are ringing.

This is how it goes. When I refuse to stay on my own worlds with the legions of the dead, The Lord goes out of his way to punish me. It’s not fair, really. He knows damn well that his lovely experiment has failed again and that this world will be mine sooner than later. Besides, what’s a little pain while my body mends itself? I’m immortal. This little game should be beneath him.


Night has fallen, and I slip out of the hospital. All my belongings were conveniently stashed in the drawers beside my bed. However, I’ve been forced to steal a pair of extra-large scrubs on the way out. My clothes were ruined in the “accident.” How do I manage this? Unless the Lord is messing with me, I can go unseen whenever I wish.

Outside, I walk in the crisp fall air and enjoy the wind rattling dead leaves in the trees and on the ground. The stars seem so close that I might touch them. Before long a beautiful young woman in the process of getting into her car spots me and asks if I would like a ride. My own beauty makes this human throw all caution to the autumn wind.

“That would be nice,” I say.

Inside the car my pheromones take over. She’s smitten in mere moments.

“My place is about an hour away,” she says.

“Wonderful! We shall have ample time to get to know one another.”

“Like a first date,” she says, head down for the moment, eyes averted, a shy but firm offer.

Tonight will be a welcome diversion from the ongoing pain of my knitting bones.


In the morning, over coffee and toast, Anna tells me more about herself. Being a Harvard student and an undergraduate in Law wasn’t her choice. The family is all about the law—mother, father, even her older brother work at the family firm.   Anna would have preferred the sciences but had been given no opportunity. I sense a lot of anger. Yet … she seems grounded.

How would she react if I told her she was going to hell, that the sixth mortal sin is still on God’s list of punishable acts? True, she won’t stay there long, because she was influenced by my scent. Just a taste of what happens to man when he fails to live by an untarnished moral code. Would she laugh the revelation off like the bank teller? Would she kick me out of her apartment as some kind of crazy person revealed? Or would my musk overcome her fright and anger and bind her to me as it has up until now? One never knows what will happen when strong emotion is involved. His Brightness only allows me to influence, so the winners of these little games I play are by no means pre-ordained.

I like to experiment. It passes the time and helps me gauge how far His Highness will allow me to go in any given situation. Today I just choose to enjoy Anna’s fine coffee and her lively voice.


It’s evening now, and I head for one of my favourite haunts. I acquire a stool at the bar and adjust my image so that I am a nondescript example of a human. My pheromones have already been dampened. Tonight is about watching for my next soul.

I soon find one.

A man has a woman trapped at the back of the bar beyond the pool tables. To the untrained eye they are a vibrant couple who have decided to throw caution to the wind and make love right there, against the wall. In reality it’s a rape in progress. Humans!

The rapist finishes as I rise up off my chair, and he heads outside. I follow close behind.


“Wha … ” He turns his head, unsure of who’s there.

“Jake,” I say again.

He zips up his jeans and turns to face me.

“I don’t know you!”

“But I know you.”

“Get the fuck out of my way!”

“That’s not going to happen.”

The drunk takes a swing but finds himself on the ground.

I reach down, penetrating both clothing and flesh. As my hand curls around the heart a pale blue light flows up my arm and into my mouth. Jake is dead, and I have my soul.

Look, I’m not uncaring. If I had been able to help the woman, I would have. The deed was basically done by the time I noticed she was in trouble. I don’t hate people; I hate the idea of them. Free will is a gift that all other high level, sentient life-forms have embraced. But not man. The creator has given him complete freedom. His glorious experiment, and look at what mankind has done with it.

So … I work on my long-term plans for their ultimate demise, and I hunt for souls.

I think of myself as a vigilante. The Lord wants to deal out all the justice, but he can’t stop me from eating souls. Well, let’s say he won’t stop me, as I only take the deserving. People like Jake. But since there are far too many evil individuals for me to deal with on my own, in singular fashion, I’m always planning for the big ones … the organizations of evil, the armies of madness, the men and women who come forward as potential martyrs. And there are, of course, my legions of demons, those previously claimed souls who now help me in my work. Between the two, life is fulfilling—and this planet doomed.


Today I wake up alone, sporting a set of ancient sheep’s horns. Why didn’t he paint me red at the same time? I order a sabre saw to be delivered. It puts a dent in my pocket money, but it also gets rid of the horns. I hide the nubs with my long and beautiful hair.

It’s a lovely fall day. The sun warms me as it passes from one brilliant cloud to another. Snow birds whoosh about in the trees, moving as a single body. I’ve often wondered how they do that. Telepathy? There was a bipedal race on SSV17 that exhibited something similar. The entire world went into a common depression when they sensed themselves falling into my welcoming hands.

Time to look for some souls…


I can find what I want almost anywhere mankind gathers, but the best hunting places are the darkened streets and alleyways of rundown city centres around the world. Tonight I walk in one of my favourite cities. Toronto is a super-city with an army of human tragedies to select from. It’s similar in makeup to New York City in that any given moment I can find someone to make my own. It’s not that people everywhere aren’t faced with these choices. No, it’s more a matter of numbers. I can claim more souls a night in Toronto than I can in most other cities. It’s a fun place to be.

I stop for a few moments to recover from a drive-by shooting. Good thing I’m wearing black tonight. It hides the blood and the bullet holes. I give a nod to God in Heaven.

Anyway, for a sin to be Mortal [which makes you dead to Heaven], it must meet three standards:

1) It must be a serious matter.

2) A person must have reflected, however briefly, on the gravity of the situation before acting.

3) A person must have chosen, of his or her own free will, to commit the sin, even if coercion was involved.

So, this means that mortal sins can’t be done “accidently.” A person who commits a mortal sin is one who knows that their sin is wrong, but still deliberately commits the sin. This means that mortal sins are “premeditated” by the sinner and thus are truly a rejection of God’s law and love. And I can see right through these beings. The tainted soul is a golden thing, dusted or even streaked with black. And the truly evil ones? They have no inner light at all. Special projects of mine, they are.

Tracking down so-called BAD PEOPLE is a talent I nourish. In fact, these people are often brought into my inner circle so they can work on my behalf. You would call them devils.

Off I go …


I begin this day joyfully. The Lord has been in absentia since the shooting two days ago, and I am quite relaxed. Souls are coming in at a marvelous rate. Prospects are good. And I’m just about ready for some fun with my latest special project.

Bryan Cole has one more meeting with me today, then I’m going to pull the trigger. Caring for Bryan’s admittedly conflicted soul has been a challenge. But a year of work has brought him to the point where I believe he’s ready to take his chosen victims. 9/11 will be small compared to this.

“Hey Rick.” He still has no idea who I am.

“Hello Bryan. Are we ready for the live run?”

“I don’t think so,” he answers, his face like stone.

“What’s wrong?”

“Look, I said I’d do it, and I meant it. But there’s a lot of innocent people who’re going to get hurt.”

“I thought we went over this. If we want to make an impact on society, then some innocents must suffer. People aren’t going to care if we kill a bunch of low-lives.”

“What do you mean we? Sure, you showed me where to find the plans, but I’m the one who built this thing. And I’m the one who’s going to die setting it off.”

“I’ll be staying with you.”

That gets his attention.

“This is something new.”

“I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. And you’re right. All along it’s been you … You planned. You found the materials. You did the building. I just watched. So, I figure I’ve got to take a stand here. I’ve got to stay.”

His jaw drops. Confusion flickers across his broad face and finds a home in his blue-gray eyes. “I find that hard to believe. You know why I’m doing it. People have no right. There should be a law that looks after those who can’t look after themselves. Instead, what do they do? Society puts them into great big boxes, locked up like they were in jail. And then they hire people right off the street to ‘look after them.’ Evil people. People who mock and hurt and steal. They don’t put any safety features in place, like cameras, because it isn’t cost effective. Well, Maggie isn’t going to spend what’s left of her life in a hell-hole like that. I might not be able to take care of her, but I can help her. What’s your reason?”

Bryan pushes his chin forward, challenging me. Daring me to prove myself.

“Don’t need a reason, my friend. People piss me off. The government needs a wake-up call. Today’s a good day to die. It’s all the same to me. What counts is that I’ll be standing right beside you when you hit the switch.”

I smile my warmest smile.

Bryan looks hard at me now. “You mean you’re really going to stay with me?”

“Yes, I’ll stay.”

We’re in an apartment of mine not far from the residential core of Toronto. The atomic device (Bryan has conveniently forgotten it wasn’t “all him,” that it was I who sourced out the uranium we needed for the bomb, but that’s okay) is far more sophisticated and powerful than the last ones used by the United States. The city of Toronto will never be the same. And there will be enough injured left over to last a lifetime. The Lord will be sorry he didn’t stop me.

Bryan stops talking and flicks the switch. Nothing happens.

He resets it and tries again. Still nothing.

Perhaps I spoke too soon about His Highness leaving me alone.

Bryan speaks … “Uhm, maybe someone is trying to tell us something.” He glances upward, rubs his face with his hands. He’s looking tired and edgy.

I don’t believe it. This guy has never, not once, mentioned God and, now, he thinks he’s been given a sign. It doesn’t matter that what he’s thinking is true and that God hasn’t left us alone. What matters is that he’s thinking it at all.

“What, you don’t have a spare switch?”

“Sure I’ve got one. But what’s the sudden rush all about, Rick?” He gives me a probing look. “Is there something going on here that I don’t understand?”

“Yeah, there is. I want all the people surrounding us to be dead. I want it now.”

“And, again, I ask why?”

“Okay, listen very carefully, Bryan. I’m going to say this once, and then I expect you to fix that switch.”

I begin to cough, and I can’t stop. I cough until I see blood, and then I cough some more. Finally, when my throat is so raw I can barely speak, The Master lets go of me.

Bryan is looking more and more like a frightened rabbit.

I get a drink of water from the kitchen sink.

“Bryan,” I croak, “I’m a terrorist. I want this country kneeling before me, petrified of what will come next. But if it will help get this job done, then I’ll leave the rest to someone else. I’ll end my journey here. Because I believe in my cause.”

They don’t call me the King of Lies for nothing.

“I think I knew that you were a terrorist, Rick. But I let you help me, because I believe in what I’m doing. It just seems like today isn’t the day.”

I point to my blood on the floor. “Does this look like the leavings of a person with lots of time on their hands?

“What, now you’re going to tell me you’re dying?”

Bryan is a big man. Almost as tall as me. Right now, he looks like a thunderstorm on the horizon.

I shrug my shoulders.

“I always knew you had an agenda, but it didn’t matter to me,” he says, running fingers through salt and pepper hair. “Maybe it should matter. After all, if you’re so filled with hate that you want everybody around you dead, how much of the hate has influenced my own anger?”

I look up into the air myself. He must be laughing by now.

“Bryan,” I say, “you can do whatever you want. I was just offering you some companionship, so that you didn’t go out on your own.”

He looks at me for a long moment then goes to get the spare switch.

Bryan comes back with a strange look on his face.

“What?” I ask.

“I saw it there not half an hour ago. Now it’s gone.”

“Are you telling me we can’t use the bomb right now?”

He shakes his head.

“You can hot wire this thing?”

Bryan nods but doesn’t move.

“I haven’t been much of a religious man, Rick, but it seems to me God is determined to give me a second chance.”

I can’t believe this. God is really fucking with me today.

“And by that you mean what?”

The big man stands up straight, looks me in the eye and says, “I don’t think I’m going to do it.”

“Today, or not at all?”

“Not at all.”

I can see it in him. He’s been converted.

“Give me the key to the apartment and get out.”

“No, I have to disassemble the bomb”

I laugh out loud. It isn’t a pleasant sound. Thanks to his conversion, I can’t even take his soul. What a clusterfuck.

To rub some salt in my wounds, God sends me a couple of break-in specialists. They go straight for the bomb, waving their guns in the air. I move to stop them (I’m a master of the ancient arts of battle). I take one man down and reach for the other. He beats me by a fraction of a second, the bullet taking me full in the chest. As I lie on the floor, he comes up and points his gun at my head. Wearing a completely bored expression, the thug pulls the trigger.

Some time later I wake up. My head and chest wounds have already healed. The bomb is gone. Bryan is gone.

I go into the master bedroom, grab some clothes and head for the shower. I emerge in a little while, no worse for the wear and tear.

It’s evening now, and I head for one of my favourite haunts. I acquire a stool at the bar and adjust my image so that I am a nondescript example of a human. My pheromones have already been dampened. Tonight is about watching for my next soul.

~ ~ ~

Clayton Bye is the author of 11 books and 30 ghostwrites. The traditional publisher of 5 other works, he also offers writing services and acts as a small business consultant.


“Clayton Bye is one of the most prolific and talented writers I know. He is an eloquent poet, insightful critic, imaginative novelist, and a self-help expert. The sheer volume of his work makes me dizzy, and he seems comfortable in all genres. From his compelling collection of short stories and essays to fiction winners like “The Sorcerer’s Key” and inspirational works like “How To Get What You Want From Life” and “Getting Clear,” he seems to find more hours in a day than most writers find in a week. He makes you think, touches your heart, and fights the good fight with his pen as his sword. You can number me among his great admirers.” – Timothy Fleming

Celebrating Faith edited by Kenneth Weene


As part of my own celebration of the Passover-Easter season, I asked my fellow members of The Write Room Blog to contribute short pieces about celebration of faith. (Ken Weene)



by Slavatore Buttaci

When God the Father sent His only Son

To be born of flesh and die on the cross,

He could have refused. It was not a done

Deal, but Jesus agreed to pay the cost

Of expiating man’s sins. He would die

A most ignoble death so we could live

Eternally. No human could have tried

To sacrifice what only God could give

To atone for sin –– Himself! A God born

Of a woman so that our sin against

God in Eden would let us all be saved.

He gave Himself to ridicule and scorn,

But it does not end at the Lord’s grave.

On Easter Sunday He rolled back the stone.

No greater love the world has ever known!

Salvatore Buttaci has seen his work in print since 1957. A retired teacher and professor, he writes daily both poetry and flash fiction. He lives with Sharon in West Virginia. www.salbuttaci.blogspot.com



Easter and Africa

by  Rev. Jon Magee

It was 1966. I crouched down beside the grave in one small corner of Africa and studied the writing on the tombstone. “Robert Baden-Powell, Chief Scout of the World” Then, below the dates of his birth and death I noticed the tracking sign well known to many Scouts, a circle with a dot in the middle. It’s a sign instantaneously recognized as a message declaring, “gone home”. Its possible that the message was intended to relate to the place where he was laid in Nyeri, Kenya, where he loved to be and where he had a residence. It was a place he felt a sense of peace; it was his home. In that sense he was at home in the environment where he loved to be during his life. However, as I reflected my thoughts began to wonder, realizing that often people have spoken of “going home” as they referred to their death. As a young teenager, I grappled with this whole sense of being at peace when there is no life

I was at the beginning of a 3-week working holiday in Kenya with a party of men from our church at the Royal Air Force station at Khormaksar, Aden. As we made our way north from Nyeri towards Meru on the foothills of Mount Kenya I was conscious that there would be many new experiences I was to come across. There was my first experience of standing next to a sign declaring the border between the northern and southern hemisphere, the equator. There were my first sightings of some of the wild life of Africa, the lion, one of natures most fearsome creatures, the swift running gazelle and the tall giraffe, to name just a few. There was the excitement of not only visiting the site of where they filmed “Born Free”, but also the home of the Lioness, Elsa which the film was the story of. Experiences that few of my western peers could have hoped to have known. Yet, on reflection, the greatest experience for me was to meet with the local people and get to understand them in their life and culture.

Initially, we were the ones being observed. Each morning we began another stage of the building work we came to carry out. It became a ritual that the young Africans made there way to visit us, to stand as a group and to wonder at who we were, and why had we come to work in their community. There would soon develop quite a sizable crowd, including the young children each wielding their panga, a larger cleaver like knife. Soon, a bond began to grow until the invitation was given by one family to visit their home. They lived in a cluster of round mud huts, and we sat in a circle in one of them as our hosts showed their hospitality. The first item they brought through, they described as being like porridge. It was a liquid, made out of maze, cooked over a charcoal fire, and tasted like charcoal. No self respecting Scotsman would have called it porridge, but we took it appreciating that they had given what they had, simple as it was, given from the heart.

As a teenager, this made a deep impression on me. From a Western perspective I had everything that’s needed to have a meaningful life. I had a home with a roof over my head, the guarantee of being well fed each day. Our hosts had such a simple life in comparison. Though they had none of the essentials as we see it, there was certainly a peace in their life which I did not know. It struck me that the one difference is that they had discovered that the best to be gained is not necessarily within the material, but from their perspective a simple trust in the one they knew as their Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ.

We are in the season when many are speaking of Easter, though not always for the spiritual reasons, of course. At the heart of the Easter message is the hope that can be known even when everything seems hopeless. Jesus died on the cross, but on the third day rose to life again. The disciples gathered around the cross felt they had lost everything, but were soon to find that the things they feared most had been conquered. Jesus was to reveal there can be victory over death and sin, and the promise of abundant life can become a reality. There is an eternal dimension within all of that, of course, but when it begins with a simple trust in the Saviour, even when not everything can be understood, then an abundance of life can be known in the here and now too. For a Christian, we can rightly speak of a heavenly home, but the message of Easter also declares we can be “at home” where we are now when we are at peace with Him and where he has placed us. Gone home? Yes, with such a peace we can surely be at home this Easter.

Jon Magee is the author of 2 books, Paradise Island, Heavenly Journey and From Barren Rocks to Living Stones, as well as pieces for magazines and local newspapers. Much of his writings reflect his broad experience living throughout the world. Currently he is based in Fife, Scotland, as a minister with the Baptist Church. http://www.amazon.com/Jon-Magee/e/B003VN33WA/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1386409674&sr=1-2-ent



Honoring Our Ancestors

by James Secor

Obon (お盆) is the annual Buddhist holiday honoring the ancestors’ spirits which, it is believed, return to this world in order to visit their relatives at this time each year. Lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestors’ spirits home, graves are visited and, in some cases, cleaned off, food offerings are made at house altars and at temples, and dances (bon odori) are performed to entertain them at the Festival (bon matsuri). At the end of the three days of Obon, in order to guide the spirits back into their world, lanterns are floated on rivers and lakes or the sea. Perhaps in olden times these boats were shallow bowls and as the name “bon” means “bowl” (or “tray” in some dictionaries).

This Buddhist-Confucian custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday and has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years. Confucian because of the focus on veneration of the ancestors and the heavy influence of Neo-Confucianism on Japanese culture.

Obon is a shortened form of the Sanskrit Ullambana (盂蘭盆會, urabon’e), “deliverance from suffering,” symbolized in Japan as “hanging upside down.” Obon arose from the story of Mokuren, a disciple of the Buddha, who wanted to look in upon his deceased mother. To his horror, he discovered she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts where she was being tortured by starvation and being hanged upside down. Mokuren embarked on a grueling journey to the underworld to bring food to ease her hunger. But when he offered the food to her it erupted into flames before she could swallow. Mokuren ran to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from such horror. The Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat. Mokuren did so and his mother found release. Happy at his mother’s release, Mokuren danced with joy.

Japanese and Chinese Buddhist tradition believes Ullambana Sutra was translated from the Sanskrit by Dharmaraksa in the 3rd or 4th century.

Obon occurs in the heat of the summer–mid-August–or as late as fall. The most famous obon celebrations are those of Tokushima on the small island of Shikoku. There, the bon odori is known by its ancient territorial name, Awa-odori, sometimes also known as the fool’s dance as the dancers dance and shout as if they’ve lost their minds. Perhaps not to be wondered at as the bon odori is said to have started in the later years of the 16th century as a public entertainment, possibly sarugaku noh (monkey noh), a precursor to Noh. In the modern day, the religious coloring of the dance has been all but lost.

The Mexican counterpart is Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead. The three days of the Christian celebration are All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day and All Souls Day. People in the West tend to celebrate Halloween only.

Jim Secor is a Buddhist with many years’ experience in Japan and China. Every year in Japan, he returned to Tokushima for the Obon festivities, some of his friends dancing odori. The temple was at the top of the mountain, the house at the bottom. The river flowed in between. Jim can be found at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com or on Linkedin as James L. Secor and is e-mail literate at hellecchino@inbox.com. He is the author of Det. Lupée: The Impossible Cases, which won bronze from P&E.



Confessions of a Love-Aholic

by Yves N. Johnson

How many females can you handle in your life?  I have a lot.  I think it’s because I’m so charming. All seven of my ladies want my time and attention.  Well, if you “have it,” you “have it.”  One day I’ll share with you how to love multiple females but for now, I’ll simply share a little bit about them.

I’ve been with one of my loves for a long time. She was with me at a special event where I was speaking on career transition.  I saw the love in her eyes.  It seemed to drip out of her eyes and roll down her cheeks.  I felt the pride she was feeling and it made me feel good.

Another one of my ladies seems to always want to hold my hand and spend time with me.  I must admit I think of her constantly.  She’s special to me. I’m a much better man since she came into my life. I feel like I’ve known her forever.  Have you ever met anyone like that?

I have three young pretty ladies also. Years ago we had watershed moment that transformed our lives.  I had received two very prestigious awards.  I was dressed razor sharp.  I think I was walking above ground on that day.  I decided to share my joy and achievement with them.  I was stunned to find they didn’t care nor did they share in my excitement.  The funny thing is they just wanted to spend time with me.  Our relationship is more complicated than the other two ladies. Theses females were roommates and at times volleyed to spend time with me. They were upfront and unbashful in letting me know they wanted “their time with me.” Honestly, I feel 10 feet tall when I’m with each and every one of them.

I might as well continue to spill out my heart. I met a much younger female.  We instantly connected and fell in love. One day we went walking along the river.  For some unknown reason she wanted to jump on rocks!  I tell you, younger ladies.  She held my hand tight at first.  I think she was a little scared.  Then she started to jump on her own.  She stumbled but didn’t panic.  For some reason, she knew I’d be there to catch her.  That was a defining moment for me.  She loved and trusted me without question.

Hold on, there’s more.  While on vacation with my wife I met my latest love.  She was as pretty if not prettier than the previous six female.  When she looked at me she would flash a smile that melted my heart. She had a problem going to sleep and decided to lay her head on my chest.  My wife was in the next room!  She squirmed around and finally settled down…her heart beating at the same cadence as mine.

I confess. I’m a very blessed man.  I have the love of a wonderful mother, a great wife, three beautiful girls and two “wrapping me around their fingers” granddaughters.  Who were you thinking I was talking about? I’m not certain if my “ladies” have me wrapped or if I have them wrapped.   I’m just happy to be wrapped by them.

Yves N. Johnson is the Founder of Christ Is My Savior Ministries LLC.  As a speaker his subjects range from personal development to spiritual warfare. Yves recently published his second book, Outside The Wire: Every Man’s Guide For Spiritual Warfare. His well-received debut book was, There Is No Gray In Moral Failure: A Practical Guide In Preventing Financial and Sexual Abuse.

Learn more at http://www.amazon.com/Yves-N-Johnson/e/B008GZ2UC2


April 16 photo of Church

On Faith

by Clayton Bye

When I was a young teenager attending the local First Baptist church, I had the misfortune to fall in the crosshairs of an overly zealous pastor. He basically pushed me into being baptized, something that felt so wrong afterword that it was the beginning of a long walk away from the church.

I didn’t lose faith. In fact, I’ve always had a strong connection to that Supreme Being we Christians refer to as God. No, what happened was I came to see the church as a very flawed human construction, something I didn’t need to reach out to God as I know him.

At the height of this battle I was involved in, I attended every denomination’s church or bible group I could find. Nothing shook the feeling that I didn’t belong under these roofs. My visits always seemed to end in anger: from my observations that each church was only as good as the people running the thing, that many just spouted things they didn’t understand or, at times, that they didn’t believe.

Understand when I say I understand the very human longing to belong to something larger than yourself and how the church provides that for many. It just isn’t for me.

But there’s an unusual and happy end to this quest of mine. It came in the form of the largest fraternity in the world, that body known as Freemasonry. This is an institution that teaches a moral code based on the belief in some sort of Supreme Being. One that has revealed his will to man and that will punish vice and reward good behaviour. The bible is always open during our meetings, plus whatever book any individual might believe in. This is to remind us to give up some portion of each day to study these books.

Freemasonry takes in good men and tries to make them better, but it never tries to do so without instructing you to turn to your own religion for guidance. It is completely nondenominational in structure, and while it is not a religion, it is does have religious aspects, especially in the appendant bodies that one may pursue.

One of these bodies emulates the code of Christian Knights and has done more to bring me closer to the church than anything else in my life. I still don’t attend on a regular basis, but I celebrate such things as Maundy Thursday and Easter, and I can now visit a church and read the Bible without the anger of my youth.

It is strange where one can find God.

Clayton Bye is a writer, editor and publisher. The author of 9 books and a varied collection of short stories, poems, articles and hundreds of reviews, he has also published (under the imprint Chase Enterprises publishing) 3 award winning anthologies: general fiction, horror, and short detective stories.

Mr. Bye also offers a wide range of writing related services, including small business management for writers.

Visit his website and bookshop at: http://www.claytonbbye.com and http://shop.claytonbye.com



Domingo de Pascua (Easter Sunday) at an Orphanage by T.R. Heinan

The women arriving at Queen of Angels House orphanage are fewer in number than usual this morning.  Easter is a family day in Mexico and the teachers, tutors, our psychologist and some of the caretakers are allowed to be at home with their own families.  Those who have agreed to work today are all carrying flower bouquets to place near the altar in the orphanage chapel.  It will be the first day since the beginning of Lent that the chapel will have flowers.

The night crew files through the metal security door and out the gate, having already assisted the Easter Bunny in hiding plastic eggs and candy around the playground.  The bunny is a very un-Mexican visitor, not much of a feature in the national culture, but our orphanage is located just three blocks from the United States in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico.  The community shares a border with Douglas, Arizona.  Here the Easter bunny and Happy Meals are as much a part of the local flavor as picante and piñatas.  What is missing is Mom and apple pie.  Apples are expensive in this desert locale and Mom died from cartel violence fueled by the American appetite for drugs, or for survival, she abandoned her child to feed the American appetite for cheap labor.  In some cases, Mom is in prison, or tried to sell her child into prostitution. Maybe Dad was abusive. There is no Mama at an orphanage.  The priest, who will arrive this afternoon is addressed as Padre (Father) and, for some reason I have been given the title “Papa Tim”.  All other male visitors are called Tio (uncle).

One of our goals at Queen of Angles House has been to minimize the effects of institutionalization.  It is easy to overlook the small but critical skills children acquire from parents…how to sew a button, how to manage an allowance, how to launder your own towels.  Every effort is made to simulate a caring family environment.  Having a consistent, reliable staff is important.  That requires careful health, educational, and psychological screening as part of the hiring process.  Tactile and visual stimulation is especially important for the babies in our nursery. Sensory stimulation during the first two years can actually help build neurons in the brain. It affects intelligence.  Student volunteers are recruited to help the “tias” hold and touch the infants.

The children range from newborns to age 17, so we must develop skills that can help break the cycle of poverty.  English as a second language and computer skills are added to basic tutoring as part of our curriculum.

Our tias start the day with a cup of Café Justo, coffee roasted locally by a local better-than-fair-trade coffee cooperative, before they head off to change diapers and getting the older children showered and dressed.  Adorning the girls’ hair with ribbons is always a part of the morning routine, but it seems even more important on Easter morning. Dress today will be casual. The kids love a day without uniforms. The menu for the hot breakfast was designed by a certified nutritionist. An Easter egg hunt, videos in the TV room (deliberately built to be the smallest room in the orphanage), and family-style games will fill most of the day.

Queen of Angels House orphanage is a project of the Blessed Nuno Society, Inc., an integrated affiliate of the Catholic Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota.  Correspondence can be sent to The Blessed Nuno Society, P.O. Box 3484, Duluth, MN 55803. Both the Society and Queen of Angels house were co-founded by T.R. Heinan.  His book, “L’immortalité: Madame Lalaurie and the Voodoo Queen” is an Easter themed story focusing on a fire that took place during Easter week in New Orleans in 1833. Proceeds from sales help support the orphanage. http://www.l-immortalite-madame-lalaurie-and-the-voodoo-queen.com/




Maryam Sakeenah

The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, ‘there is a festival for every nation, and this (Eid) is our festival.’

There are two Eids in the Muslim lunar year, essentially about thanksgiving, sharing and strengthening communal ties. The first of these (Eid ul Fitr) is celebrated at the close of Ramadan (the fasting month), as an expression of thanksgiving for all that Allah has blessed us with, particularly the Divine Guidance in the Quran the revelation of which began in the month of Ramadan. It is also a thanksgiving for having received the blessed month and acquired spiritual reward through spending it in intense worship and self-restraint.

The second Eid (Eid ul Azha) celebrates the end of the pilgrimage season and the Abrahamic legacy of sacrifice that Islam revives. Both emphasize on giving and including others in joy and festivity by making charity on the occasion a compulsory religious obligation.

On both Eids, the day begins with special prayers performed in congregation in which God is glorified and the prayer leader (imam) engages in ritual invocation to God before the congregation. This invocation calls upon God to ease the suffering of Muslims in specific and mankind in general, to keep one guided and accept one’s effort in His way. At the end of the service people meet and greet each other and give charity to the poor, many of whom congregate to mosques to receive their share to be able to partake of the festivities. Hence a day of celebration commences.

Celebrations on each Eid have unique cultural aspects all over the Muslim world. While the essence is the same, the expression varies across cultures. In my culture, some of the interesting and spectacular Eid day practices include the Pakistani ‘three step hug’ and eating sweet vermicelli cooked in milk for breakfast. For the ladies it means dressing up in glittery traditional clothing- the ‘shalwar kameez’ and ‘dupatta’, which consist of loose pantaloons and flowy long shirts draped with a long traditional scarf. Ladies also wear coloured bangles and paint their hands in intricate patterns with henna. For children Eid means getting pocket money from all uncles and aunts called ‘Eidee.’

One beautiful experience exclusive to Eid ul Azha is the distribution of sacrificial meat. I remember family elders gathering to do the annual ritual efficiently and zealously. According to Islamc tradition, the meat is to be divided into three parts: the first for oneself and one’s family, the other for relatives and neighbours and the third for the poor and needy in one’s community.

One of my Eid day moments is when the door bell rings… I rush to the door and find some hungry old man with sunken eyes or a ragged woman with her malnourished children wanting to know if they could get a share of the meat. The act of giving of what has been entrusted to you by the True Giver, and which is to be spent in His way for His people is spiritually fulfilling.

Having studied at a Catholic convent, as a child I always found Christian celebrations more grandly ritualistic and colourful. I now realize that the simplicity characteristic of Islamic festivals is beautiful in its own quiet way. Islamic sources strongly condemn extravagance, pomp and luxury as ingratitude to God and a sign of selfish arrogance. The simplicity levels all to reinforce Islamic fraternity and egalitarianism. The simple joys of Eid are affordable to all.

Venturing out in the streets of my city on Eid day is a heartening experience- I see, for once, smiles and laughter- little girls all dressed up, children at the park flying kites and holding balloons waiting for the ice-candy man. I let my spirit join in, my heart light and celebrating a vicarious happiness. It comforts me with the illusion I wish to hang on to just a while longer- the world is a happy, sunlit little home, after all!

Although not a member of The Write Room Blog, we are delighted to have Maryam Sakeenah join us with this special post about Islam. A freelance writer based in Pakistan, Maryam divides her time between teaching Sociology and Islamic Studies and working for the education of the underprivileged in Pakistan. The prominent themes in her work are Islam and society, international politics, human rights, the clash of civilizations and the war on terrorism. Her work promotes the values of moderation and the idea of ‘middleness’ between extremes as enunciated by Islam. http://www.suhaibwebb.com/tag/maryam-sakeenah/


Song of faith – A Passover reflection

by Kenneth Weene

We never sang. I knew from Sunday school that we were supposed to. Passover, Pesach, the feast of the Exodus: there should be singing and joy. There wasn’t. Every year I learned the songs anew; we sang them in class and discussed their meaning; but at home — actually my uncle and aunt’s home, where we had the yearly family Seder — we didn’t sing.

My uncle did not understand the joy of the holiday. For him it was all obligation and seriousness. The bitter herbs of captivity mattered; the sweet manna with which God fed the wandering Israelites did not. He yelled and growled through the Haggadah, the order of service for a Seder. He yelled at his children, growled at his wife, and then went to sleep while we ate chiffon pies.

Very quietly we said goodnight: Always say goodnight to sleeping gorillas; it does not do to have them feeling ignored and angry. But it is far worse to wake them. So very quietly indeed, we said goodnight. We would leave, dreading that another year would pass and we would again have to listen to him monotonously say those prayers and angrily correct everyone’s Hebrew.

Being a Jew in those days was not a reason to celebrate. Many people, even some who had helped liberate the camps, thought Hitler should have gotten rid of us. And the myth that matzoth were made with the blood of Christian children persisted. Sometimes, I would try to point out that there were no Christians at the time of the Exodus, but that didn’t stop the taunts or slaps. There were gorillas everywhere.

I don’t know if it was the camps, Hitler, the war, or the pervasive anti-Semitism that made my uncle so sour. Perhaps it was just being stuck in the house with his wife and children for a holiday.

Years later, when I developed a more intellectual sense of religion, one in which God is more a metaphor than a supreme being, less a gorilla than a ground of being, my wife and I celebrated the Passover in our own home. No fancy dining room for us, we sat on the floor under a makeshift tent and leaned on pillows. Our animals (live, some stuffed, and others of wood) surrounded us. We wrote our own Haggadah and celebrated the Eucharist in remembrance of the long-ago preacher who taught that God is love. We invited friends and we sang folksongs: Songs that rejoiced in the joy of life, the love of creation, and the wonder of human freedom. Songs that challenged us to live with dignity, compassion, and truth.

I no longer think of myself as a Jew or a Christian. The God around which I build my worldview is the God of Spinoza, the unification and reason of a universe which I cannot understand but which challenges my mind every day. The Hassidic philosopher Martin Buber suggests we need an aesthetic model of the divine against which to view our lives and purpose. Such a modern God will not guide us out of Egypt, nor will that God protect us from Hitler or from other haters. Still we can draw on that sense of the divine and on the realization of order and beauty in the universe to help us appreciate the wonder of it all.

And we can sing. Oh, yes, we can sing.

Song, spontaneous and joyful, is the true fruit of faith.

Ken Weene’s novels, short stories, and poetry reflect his continual search for personal meaning and universal humanity. http://www.kennethweene.com


Spinoza and Me by Kenneth Weene


It was Tuesday afternoons, two-fifteen almost every Tuesday for the school year—for my seventh grade school year. They would leave—dismissed early from school to attend religious instruction. Most, the vast majority of my classmates would leave to learn about God, to learn about faith, to learn about dogma. Almost universally they were Catholics. The city in which I grew up was almost entirely Catholic, half of Irish background and half of Italian, ­ but all Catholic and all scheduled for confirmation.

Off our classmates would go in mass exodus, and we, a small number, would huddle in our respective homerooms while being watched, as questionable minorities must be.

The remainder of the school day was designated a period for “guidance and moral education.” We were given neither guidance nor moral education. Instead, we huddled in our minority and did homework. My homeroom teacher taught English so we did English homework. Next door was a social studies teacher. His minority worked on geography and memorized facts about our city, Somerville, our county, Middlesex, and our commonwealth, Massachusetts. On the other side of our room was a math teacher; there fractions and equations held sway. Therein lay one of the basic moral lessons of my youth: free will may exist, but free choice does not.

So we, in our suspicious minority status, sat quietly and tried to appear compliant – to appear as a well-disciplined and obedient unity. There was only one problem: we were not a unity. For within our small number there was yet another division, another even smaller minority, a minority of one, of me, a Jew. The Catholics were gone; the Protestants—undifferentiated from the vantage point of the Vatican—had become the majority. I, I alone, was left to be different. “Hebe,” “Kike,” “Shylock”: I heard all those epithets and more while growing up; but the worst was “Jewww” pronounced with hash J and drawn-out W—pejorative in its correctness. Make no doubt about it; I was the hated “Jewww,” the killer of Christ, wearer of devils’ horns, killer of Christian children and consumer of their blood, ah, blood-libeled matzoth.

It was not easy being a Jew in that classroom, in that school, in that city. There had been a time when the numbers had been different. If Jews had never been the majority, they had once been a serious minority, but that had changed. Most had moved away, across Boston to Brookline and Newton a the other end of the transit system. Only the temple remained to let the world know that they, a number of them—us—had once lived there. It was a solid building of granite and cement, a building as substantial as one of the many churches that serviced the rest of the community.

But, inside, within the people, within what survived of the congregation, little substance remained. Commitment had gone with the members to those newer and wealthier communities. A few stragglers, a few professional men whose careers required them to stay, a few old people with neither the means nor the will to move: this was the congregation. And, it was led by a rabbi whose lack of standing was consistent with the temple’s ever diminishing stature.

Leo Shubow had nothing to recommend him. He wasn’t particularly learned, he lacked charisma, he spoke poorly, and, just to make things worse, he sprayed spittle with every sibilant. There were those who opined that Rabbi Shubow would not even had merited our small congregation were it not for his brother, a well-known and highly respected rabbi who not only led but also dominated one of the most important temples in all of Greater Boston. This successful rabbi had demanded a congregation for his inadequate sibling; presumably it had been decided that he could do the least harm in our already failed flock.

My father, one of those professional men who felt that they needed to stay in Somerville, insisted my brother and I attend some religious education. For their part neither of our parents ever went to the temple except for those rare but socially mandatory bar mitzvahs and weddings. Very few adults did go to temple. At most services the required minyan was a last minute miracle.

It was probably just as well that almost no adults attended services; Rabbi Shubow had only two topics on which he could comfortably sermonize:

The first was the need to support the just-born nation of Israel. He would particularly exhort us to give coins to plant trees there. Presumably he thought it would be too political to ask us to help buy weapons for the fledgling Israeli army. Nevertheless, underlying our understanding of the importance of those trees was our dread of the incomprehensible hatred that had become the irresistible tide of the holocaust. Even in our small community, each of us in some way was connected to the dead of Europe and to the precious saved—that minority who had survived the camps—and to those among them who were trying to make a new home—a refuge—for themselves in Eretz Israel.

His second topic had nothing discernible to do with Israel or Judaism. He was passionate about the threat of icebergs in the North Atlantic. I never learned if he had lost somebody to an iceberg-related sinking or had simply been traumatized as a very small boy by the end of the Titanic. Whatever the reason, he would speak at length, poorly, but at length, about the need for a better warning system to protect sailors.

His preoccupation seemed somewhat silly to those of us who bothered to think about those icebergs. The world was still reeling from the war. Oceans of blood had been spilled. Even if one were to think of death in the North Atlantic, it made more sense to focus on the torpedoes of the Nazis than on the icebergs breaking away from Greenland and Iceland.

I would probably have no adult thought of Leo Shubow were it not for a book that he suggested I read. That year, that year of confirmation, I read the book he had suggested. It wasn’t a very sophisticated book, but it did raise an interesting question. Could one be a bad Jew and still be a great Jew? Felix Mendelssohn, the great composer, was one example. Shabbetai Zvi, the false messiah, was another. But, the most important example was Baruch de Spinoza.

That book didn’t teach me much about Spinoza, the brilliant Sephardic Jew who had been expected to become an important rabbi but who, instead, was perceived by his community as doubting the very existence of God. Still trying to come to grips with the Inquisition that had driven them from Spain and that had killed so many of their fellow religionists, the Sephardic community in Holland was deeply religious, strongly observant, and extremely intellectual. Spinoza’s perceived apostasy was an outrage.

Ostracized and (very unusually for a Jew) excommunicated, he had made his living as a grinder of lenses, some of the best lenses available in Holland. He had also written brilliantly in his attempts to understand whatever he could of the essential nature of the world and to define mankind’s ethical obligations. Although he had remained outside the Jewish fold, Spinoza had become the spiritual father of the modern age. His simple abode was to become a place of pilgrimage for modern thinkers, perhaps most notably Einstein, who stopped there during his flight from Europe to America – his escape from the Nazis.

Spinoza ground lenses, at that time one of the purest mathematical activities. Using mathematical formulae, light could be forced into orderly behavior. Einstein went beyond that; he applied mathematics to the understanding of light and to the fundamental physical nature of the world. Shubow was not so brilliant. He could only worry about seeing the physical dangers in the natural world, but he, like Spinoza and Einstein, understood that the physical world could be known, that the dangers inherent in it could be understood and perhaps overcome.

Precision of mathematical and scientific thinking could give mankind control over nature. It was not necessary to invoke God, nor was it meaningful to think of God as intervening in that nature—given by Him or perhaps more properly synonymous with Him. To appreciate that order, to truly appreciate it, was to love God, to be, in Spinoza’s phrase, intoxicated with God.

But, mankind is often more intoxicated with itself than with God. It is our nature that we see threat in the mirror of existence and turn on our fellow humans over and over again. Human nature is not so predictable nor so beautiful. It turns us against minorities and thereby against ourselves. We may call it prejudice and hatred, for my part I call it Evil.

The Inquisition was rooted in Evil as was the Holocaust. There was Evil in that classroom, too. Sitting there on those Tuesday afternoons so acutely aware of being a minority within a minority I was at once both a victim of that Evil and a participant in it.

Rabbi Shubow had lived with enough Evil to appreciate the goal of goodness—to understand nature and use that knowledge to save man. Now I am older. I have lived with enough Evil to wonder if man is worth saving. And I have lived with enough of mankind to wonder if mankind can save itself. Perhaps it is enough to appreciate human nature, to study the psychological world, and to accept that our species may well reach its own self-doomed end.

There is creation, there is nature, and there is man. For all these there is order, that most divine of all possibilities. Order exists. I revel in that fact and I am too intoxicated with God to think of praying for heavenly intervention.


In addition to the great honor of being a member and editor of The Write Room Blog, Ken Weene writes short stories, poetry, and novels. You can learn more about his writing at http://www.kennethweene.com and you can listen to his ideas on It Matters Radio, which is proud to co-host at http://www.itmattersradio.com/ Ken would like to thank the wonderful Deb Harris of All Things That Matter Press for her editorial help with this piece.

A time of war and a time of faith: a true story by Jon Magee

Jon MageeIt was early morning as the airman set off on the sixteen mile journey to his place of duty. It was a routine that both he and his young wife, Joan, had come to know. As he left there was also the certainty that his return would be at the same time each day, regular as clockwork, unless a message reached Joan to say that maybe an exercise had been called, which required him to stay on base till it was completed. This was their life. But today was going to be different. Today, the unexpected was going to happen as events were to transpire that would bring about new and radical change to their lives. The tranquility of their idealistic life was about to explode because of decisions made on the international scene.

Cyprus, where they lived, was considered to be an ideal place for a young couple to begin married life. Cyprus has often been called the island of love. It was on the island of Cyprus that Greek mythology refers to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, being born of the foam of Paphos. Aphrodite, who the Romans would have referred to as Venus, was known as the Greek Goddess of love, desire, beauty, fertility, the sea, and vegetation.  This was their island home, a natural romantic extension of the honeymoon of married life.

Unaware of all that lay ahead, Joan began her routine of chores. For a young girl raised in the Scottish highlands, living on a Mediterranean island really was romantic. But there were still things that must be done. It was always best to ensure the housework was carried out early in the day, before the heat became too intense. And even though they were still expecting their first child, they were living in a reasonably sized, three bedroom bungalow with a large living room and a budgie that sat in a corner in a cage. Yes, there was much to do.

The building had a flat roof, as was the case with so many houses in the east and certainly in this locality, where the washing could be hung out to dry or where one could sunbathe when desired. Down stairs, towards the front of the bungalow, was a large, shaded balcony on which to relax in the welcoming cool breeze. In the evening during the summer months it was not unusual to see the local people using such areas as if they were their living rooms. They would sit together with their families, perhaps drinking coffee or watching television or just socializing. The family was traditionally the most important institution in the island society. Especially in village life, where people thought of themselves primarily as members of families and rarely spoke of themselves as individuals in the existential sense. They traditionally identified themselves first as members of families, then according to their places of origin, and lastly as citizens of a nation.  Jon and Joan had also come to know that the pace of island life was leisurely, that the people were kind and helpful and always ready with a smile. The people were hard workers too, resilient people who had withstood and accommodated a succession of invaders throughout their long history.

As the day progressed, Joan began to prepare for the return of her love. She looked through the window, but he was not there. She stepped through the door, but he was not there. She looked into the horizon, but there was no vision to brighten her life. There was a certain eeriness about that day which she could not completely comprehend. This was July, nineteen seventy-four on the island of Cyprus. There was no telephone in the house to communicate with the wider world. There was no one living nearby who would understand her anxious concerns being expressed in English. She was alone, upset, and anxious, not understanding why it should be that her love was acting so much out of routine. Was he alright? Had there been an accident? She did not know. There were so many questions, yet so few answers to match them.

Nightfall came down very quickly in Cyprus. The eastern countries did not have the long periods of dusk known in Scotland, and as Joan continued to wait in her Cypriot home there was still no sign of her love. All she knew was the terrifying sound of gunfire that was surrounding her home. Could it have been fireworks, she thought? Was there some local tradition or celebrations she was not aware of? No, the sounds she was hearing were clearly different from any fireworks she had ever heard before this day, there had to be another reason for what was happening. And as she sought to secure the premises, Joan was beginning to understand the full meaning of fear.

The windows and shutters were closed as she went from one room to another. The external doors were locked. Every means of access to the home were checked and then double checked, nothing could be left to chance. The house lights were all turned off, just in case any undesirable person should be attracted to the home lit up. Even her radio was switched off–though along with that action came the fact that any news from the outside world was switched off too. Her desire for protection ironically also became the means of her isolation. Add to that her increased discomfort, because, at the hottest time of the year in the Mediterranean, she had switched off the fans designed to keep her cool, just in case their noise compromised her security.

As she sat down in the safest part of the house, still not knowing the cause of the day’s events, she thought of the one whom she had married. Was she widowed already? Would she also be following him into death? Just one day can change ones perspective so dramatically. Life had appeared to be hopeful as the day began, now it seemed to be so hopeless. Her heart began the day with leaps of joy as she considered the wondrous moments that they shared; now, however, her heart was thudding with such an awesome dread. Life was now appearing to be so out of control. What could she do? The reality was clear: there was nothing she could do except to pray that someone, or something, could intervene and bring back her heart’s desire. It was at that moment, though the explosions and the gunfire continued on, that an inner battle of her own began, as she sought to discover a spiritual trust in the midst of the unknown.

Joan began to read a book related to the underground Christian church in Eastern Europe called “I Found God in Soviet Russia” by John Noble. As she did, the words “I prayed” sprang out of the pages from the second chapter.  She knew that was her only answer as she poured her heart out to the only one who was there to listen… God. Her circumstances were not changed. The fearful happenings outside, whatever they may be, were not changed. The terrifying noise of gunfire had not ceased, and the absence of human company continued to be. The concerns at the absence of Jon were still there, but she knew she did not need to face those fears alone. She was already a woman of faith, but it is in the midst of trials and adversity that a full understanding of what that means in practical terms can be grasped.

The words I have written are just one part of a true story. My wife, Joan, and I were the young couple starting married life in Cyprus 40 years ago as a military coup and Turkish invasion transformed the lives of so many irrespective of their national background. Not everyone survived. For some, the questions in their minds and hearts may never have had an answer.  Yet for so many came a realization that when the world appears to be out of control, human answers are often insufficient.

To learn more about Jon Magee visit: http://about.me/Jonmagee.author.minister
and Amazon.com