Ambassadors

He spoke to them again and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors… (2nd Corinthians 5:18-20)

At our church we were studying the term “apostle.” It comes from a Greek word that translates as “sent one.” This makes a lot of sense given Jesus’ commission and commands to His disciples (who are also referred to as apostles).

I’ve been fiddling around with a Vietnamese copy of the Bible. I decided to look up the word for “apostles” to see how they convey the meaning of that word. In so doing, I had one of the most interesting insights. The word is actually a combination of two words. One means “an ambassador” and the other means “a tracing” like a picture that is made by tracing another image. I’d like to share a little on that.

An ambassador is “an official envoy; an authorized representative or messenger” (Webster’s). They operate with delegated authority of the one they represent. Christ’s message that “all authority in heaven and on earth” have been given to Him is followed by the words “therefore, go.” Our act of going and making disciples is the expression of His authority. We can make disciples of all nations because He, having all authority, said so. We must because He said so.

An ambassador is an envoy– he or she must be sent to a location where the one they represent is not present. If we are called to be ambassadors, then we have to represent Christ in a location where His influence is not already present. In one sense, we can’t fully function as Christ’s ambassadors only within the church community, because we’re trying to represent God to the world that does not yet know Him.

An ambassador also must be faithful in representing the one who sent him or her. Jesus said that He was sent by the Father. At the same time, He made it known that He did nothing on His own– He only did what the Father was doing and what He had been sent to do (John 5:30). He faithfully represented the Father, to the point that when the disciples asked to see the Father, Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father, because I and the Father are one” (read John 14). In the same way, Jesus has sent us, and said that “anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater.” It sounds presumptuous, but our goal is to come to a point where we can say, “If you have seen me, then you have seen Jesus.”

An ambassador has to carry the message of the one who sends him. If I am Christ’s ambassador, I cannot pick and choose parts of the message that do or do not apply. That is not for me to determine. Christ’s commission included the command to “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands” He had given; not just the ones we like, or the ones that make us popular.

That faithful representation leads very nicely into the second aspect I referred to– being a “traced image.” Time and again, the apostles in Acts were noticed by others as being faithful representatives of Jesus, who had already departed the scene. In Acts 4, the teachers took notice, looking at Peter and John, that “they were ordinary men who had had no special training. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” Acts 11:26 shows us that at Antioch, the disciples were first referred to as “Christians.” This was probably a form of mocking, but there is truth to the joke– Christians means “little Christs.”

Many times we think that we are to simply learn the concepts and theology of the Bible in order to be good Christians. When someone is particularly interested in learning the teachings of the Bible, they may be called a disciple. Discipleship actually carries a much deeper meaning; in the time of Christ, discipleship meant a day-to-day, moment-by-moment training where the disciple learns in all things to follow the example of the master. A good analogy would be the way the Air Force does training. A bad trainer would simply throw you a study guide and say, “Read it and follow it, and you’ll be fine.” A good trainer sits down with you and shows you by example how to perform the various tasks that you are required to do. He or she teaches you from experience, from having been there before. “It was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. He then could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18).

Jesus became like us, so that He could present us an example to follow and make atonement for our sins. Now we are taught that we are to follow His example (not simply comprehend His teaching) until we become more and more like Him in all things. Here are, in closing, a few verses to express this thought:

2nd Corinthians 5:15, He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves but for Him who died for them and rose again.

1st Corinthians 11:1, And you should follow my example, just as I follow Christ’s.

Ephesians 5:1-2, Follow God’s example in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins.

What a challenging and difficult calling, but what an exciting opportunity to recognize that wherever we find ourselves, God has sent us there to accomplish His purpose and be His representative, to literally be the visible image of the invisible God.

Therefore, go!

This is What I'm Living For

This is What I’m Living For (Soundcloud)

Several years ago, I was driving around the Kadena flightline on the way home from work. and I was listening to a Hillsongs Australia CD with the song “Faith” playing. If I recall correctly, there’s a line of their song that says, “I give my life for this…” as in, “I am going to commit myself completely to this relationship with God.”  

That sparked a question: What did God give me life for? What does Scripture tell me about who God says I am, as opposed to who I feel I am, or what the world says about me?

I started looking through a lot of verses that talk about what we have “in Him” (which is an awesome list of amazing benefits) and also verses that talk about how God sees us and what He calls us.

In the future, I hope to get a copy of the song loaded, because it’s not quite the same without the music. But here are the lyrics:

In You, all things have been made new!
In You, I am not who I once knew!
I am made new! I am in You!

In You, my life means so much more!
In You, I find what I am living for!
I am made new! I am in You!

Grace and glory on display! Made holy in every way!
Mercies new with every day! This is what I’m living for!
Dignified, called royalty! Making known Your majesty!
Christ my King alive in me! This is what I’m living for!
Blessed to be a blessing! Love and mercy offering!
Light in darkness shining! This is what I’m living for!

In You, I find such perfect peace!
In You, I find such sweet release!
I am made new! I am in You!

In You, lovingkindness overflows!
In You, blessings like I’ve never known!
I am made new! I am in You!

By Your grace now reconciled, loved, accepted as Your child!
Cleansed and pure and undefiled! This is what I’m living for!
Saved to see Your kingdom come! Made to let Your will be done!
A Servant of the Holy One! This is what I’m living for!
Free to know You as I’m known! Free to be Your very own!
Never will I be alone! This is what I’m living for!
Free to bring You my heart’s cry in songs of praise to glorify
My Lord until the day I die! This is what I’m living for!

You gave Your life for me and You’re the One I’m living for!
You gave me life for this and this is what I’m living for!

A Christian nation?

I have a lot of friends who have discussed the topic of a “Christian nation” — saying that America is a Christian nation, or maybe it once was but is not now, or maybe it never really was at all, or maybe it should be. I’m blessed in that I have a lot of good friends who are Christian and generally share the same views as me, many good friends who are Christian but with whom I tend to disagree, and many who are not Christian but are still awesome friends. So I get a lot of different viewpoints on this subject.

One of the first issues with this topic is “What do we mean when we talk about a Christian nation?”

I offer a few possible definitions and my thoughts on whether the U.S. fits these terms:

1. You could see it as a nation that is explicitly founded to advance the cause of Christianity. Laws and policies would be governed by the Bible, or more accurately by interpretation and application of biblical principles. The leaders of the nation would be chosen through a religious process or for a religious reason. An example of what this might look like would be the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, governed by the Law and with a King appointed by God through the prophet Samuel. Another example might be the various theocracies in the Middle East.

The US is NOT a Christian nation by this definition. We aren’t a theocracy, we’re not governed by the Bible, our national leaders aren’t religious officials, etc. I *think* it’s safe to say no one is really arguing for this to change in America. But I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth.

2. You could see it as a nation with an established state religion. Some examples were brought up, like the European nations that many of the colonists fled, where THE religion, or the only accepted religion, was what the state said. The religious leaders in this system are appointed and controlled by the head of State (unless my memory of history is mistaken). I suppose there were a number of places where the Church influenced the State as well.

It seems clear that this is what the Founding Fathers specifically tried to avoid. They did not give America a state religion, and they made provision for freedom of religious belief. I am pretty sure no one is arguing for America to become a “Christian nation” in the sense of selecting a state-approved denomination or establishing The Church of America or any such thing. Again, please let me know if I’m wrong.

3. You could see the nation’s policies and laws as being based on many Christian principles and ideals, looking at the beliefs of many of the Founding Fathers and their cultural background, coming to the conclusion that they made the most “Christian” nation possible, in all but name. Informed by their knowledge of the Bible and of the human condition, these leaders set up a system of government that would not constrain anyone in an official way, but would allow for Christianity to flourish. It could be argued (and I believe some of the Founding Fathers expressed this) that this system depends on, or presumes, the Christian virtue and lifestyle of the governed. Therefore, the definition might also contain the thought that the great majority of the people of the nation adhere to Christian values and morality.

I imagine this is the way most people think of America at its founding, and this is the Christian nation most people are talking about when they seem to long for a return to our “Christian roots” in America. Let me know if I’m wrong or if there’s that much more to it that I’m forgetting.

4. One could make the case, perhaps, that much of the social and cultural religious practice in America has been only that, despite all the Christian terms and symbolism. Actual relationship with God through Jesus Christ might not have been as common as we all would hope. America may have been steeped in Christianity the religion, with very little of Christ at work in the people. From this point of view, a person might say that “Christian nation” means the vast majority of the people are God-fearing and fervent in their faith, doing their best to live up to God’s will. Regardless of what state we feel the nation is in, I’d wager all of us want America to be a Christian nation in this sense more than any other.

It’s possible that much of the religious content of speeches and documents in the past falls into the category of following social or cultural norms instead of truly following Christ, though I would hope that is not the case. It may be that a good deal of the “religious” roots of America come from political posturing similar to what we see in campaigns and politics today. It’s impossible to prove and difficult to judge; the fact is we’ll never know this side of heaven how fervently any of these men believed in God. From this perspective, the religious references in American history don’t prove that God was influencing the nation. A good comparison might be the Jews in Jesus’ time, who certainly felt like they enjoyed special spiritual privilege. Jesus showed them that they missed the point. I suspect that some here are arguing from this position, saying that America might be very much like Israel was, “Christian” in name but not so much in practice. I could be wrong or I could be misunderstanding the view; if so, please clarify.

—————–

Once we identify what we mean when we say Christian nation, then we can talk more about how that impacts us. A good question at this point is, “Are we really called to go create a Christian nation? Is that what Jesus commanded of His disciples?” My honest opinion is “no, it’s not.” But I know that there are many who may disagree with me, or who think that it’s important for America to remain a “Christian nation.”

A good question for those who advocate America becoming or remaining a Christian nation is, “What would have to change, and what steps would have to be taken, to get there from where we are now?”

That’s where much of the fear and confusion comes from, I think. When an atheist hears talk about a Christian nation and returning our Christian roots, they might think we’re all looking at option #1, wanting to appoint Billy Graham (or whoever) as Minister-in-Chief or whatever. I won’t waste much time with this option, because I personally know not one Christian who wants this.  But it’s good to recognize that some people really expect this from us.

Or perhaps they think of option #2, and look at the Religious Right, assuming that “we” are trying to develop a Church and State relationship, sharing power between the two. I know no Christian conservatives who really want to establish a state religion, but again, people honestly fear this is our intent.

More likely, if they are willing to think well enough of us as to consider we mean option #3, then they’re going to wonder what sort of laws and policies we might put in place in order to bring about that “Christian” nation. And that’s where my question above comes in. If option 3 sounds right to you, what do you see as the necessary steps to get there?

And I suppose if they consider option #4, that for some of us the hope is that the nation will become more of a Christian nation as more individuals freely choose to accept and follow Christ, they might fear that down the road, the collective Christian community will think options 1-3 are a good idea. The same question applies, though; for those who think of option 4 as the ideal (whether option 3 appeals to you or not), what do you see as the way to get there?

It’s really hard to discuss a topic like this without first ensuring we’re all talking about the same thing. So I’ll stop here for now and follow up later (if needed) about why I feel we’re not meant to be a Christian nation, never really were in the first place, and shouldn’t be pursuing that as a goal.

Creative Kids are Creative

Sooner or later, you’ll notice that I have a fondness for Role-Playing Games, and Dungeons and Dragons in particular.

A while back, my wife and I were chatting about what to do with our children, since we try very hard to make sure that we both get to be a part of any regular gaming group. (This eases tensions, it keeps her from being stuck at home with the kids she’s stuck at home with during the work day, and it keeps me from quitting groups in order to save my marriage. Win all around.)

Participation in any regular gaming groups means taking away significant family time from the kids, who usually end up on “game night” watching movies and playing games by themselves until bed time.

But what iftheywere playing the games?

About a year ago, we tried it out. I spent some time with the kids, helping them create characters and understand the basics of the rules.

Deborah had been given a half-tiger/half-man figure as a present, and she begged me to let her make a tiger-man. The beauty ofD&Dis, if you’re not taking it too seriously, you can do whatever you want. So that was an easy “yes.” Her tiger-man became an archer with the unique name of “Beastly Tiger.” (She has a stuffed bunny named Bunny. This is a trend.)

Jonathan wanted a wizard. But he had seen some pictures of 4th Edition D&D books, so he also wanted “one of those dinosaur guys,” better known as a Dragonborn.

A Dragonborn, from 4th Ed D&D
One of those dinosaur guys

Now if you’re familiar with 4th Edition, you will probably know that Dragonborn don’t make for ideal wizards. They’re more the burly fighter types, solving things with battle axes and brawn instead of balls of lightning and brains. But, again, we’re not taking this serious. And, quite honestly, in my head that gives his character something unique and interesting, a background story that raises questions (and creates opportunities for the DM).
Why did this guy learn to use magic when the rest of his society pursues martial training?
What did he experience growing up–was he an outcast?
Is there something he hopes to achieve through magic that he knows he can’t accomplish by traditional means?

So the answer was, of course, a whole-hearted “Yes.”

Justin was about 6 years old at the time, so he didn’t have much attention span for this sort of thing. He was happy to create a “sneaky guy” and decided to name his character “Clayface” because Justin is an insane fan of LEGO Batman (where Clayface is a villain). Clayface has the power to make himself look like other people… and I can easily picture a stealthy Rogue who is also a master of disguises. So again, a definite “Yes.”

My wife made a character based on a previous campaign, a battle-captain named Bethrynivere who could inspire the others to better performance in a fight. And I threw in a favorite half-orc sorceror whose unique approach to problem-solving often made my kids laugh. So we had our party.

Things only got better once we started playing. After getting the feel for combat with a few bouts in the training arena, they pulled a shift of guard duty and were able to rescue a merchant whose wagon was under attack by goblins. Justin decided his rogue would do some acrobatics as well, jumping into a pit for cover while throwing knives at his target. Jonathan’s wizard cast a couple spells, and then decided he really wanted to run around the pit to crack some goblin on the head with the wizard’s staff (highly unusual behavior for a wizard, but it was still awesome).  Jami had her elf spring up onto the wagon to fight the goblins, sending them flying off the back of the out-of-control vehicle. Seeing that the goblins were beaten but the merchant and Bethrynivere were about to be in a wagon crash, Deborah had Beastly Tiger leap up onto the wagon, grab hold of both of them, and spring off in a backward flip to save them from harm. (Borak, my half-orc, pretty much slept through the whole event.)

I love game night with adults — it’s always interesting to see what creative solutions (or attempted solutions) my friends come up with. But I never knew how full of surprises my kids and their characters could be. I’m sure there will still be some D&D nights where they’re stuck watching a movie or playing upstairs in their rooms. It’s great that there can also be some D&D nights where we hand them their dice, lay out the maps, and ask, “What do you do next?”

Who Are We Dying For?

This is a post from a forum about 2.5 years ago. Now my family and I actually live here in Omaha, and we attend the church I mention below.
While I’ve been apart from my wife and kids, sent TDY by the Air Force to learn an exciting new aspect of management in my career, I have been attending a great church in Omaha, NE. The Friday night young adult group is particularly special to me, because from the first time I visited, they exemplified a welcoming loving community.Tonight, the speaker shared about love. I am trying to jot most of it down from memory, so of course some of it is lost. It is long, but I found it to be a very good message, and I hope others do too.

More specifically, he shared about relationships and how we show love in the relationship (anything from “I love pizza” to “I love my good friend” to “I love my wife” to “I love God”). He went to Plato and Aristotle, and then of course to the Bible, discussing concepts of “love” and how it works in our relationships. Naturally, there was discussion of the various Greek words, agape, phileo, eros.

Aristotle broke down “phileo” into three categories of “friendship.” There’s the friendship of utility; this is what we see in business. When you have something I want and I have something you want, we have to interact in order to make a deal, and generally we will do so in a polite way, treating each other nicely, being “friendly.” But this friendliness is more like that of an acquaintance. When I walk out the door, I really don’t think about that person any more. They don’t think about me either. Our business is done; we both got what we needed from each other.

The next step up was something like “friendship because we share a common interest.” Some people will go out and drink together, and they have a bond while they do that. People who share the same hobby may get together to pursue that. While they are together doing whatever it is that interests them, they have that friendship. It’s a bit closer than mere acquaintances. Maybe it’s a workout partner, or a member of a band, whatever. The key is, when the association stops, so does the friendship… kind of like how far too many of us probably are when we walk out of the church building.

Then Aristotle says there’s the friendship of character. I appreciate your character, I get along with you, we think alike, I enjoy your company, we have a good time together. We may be the best of friends… so long as neither of us change too greatly. When that happens, people often drift apart. Whatever held us together no longer does so. In the most extreme cases, you can think of common excuses for divorce. “He’s not the man I married.” “I don’t feel for her like I used to.”

The key point is that all of thisphileo– all of this “friendly” or “brotherly” love — is still focused on “I” and “me.” What do I get out of this relationship? What do you do for me? Are my needs being met?

Even among Christians, the two answers to what is the most important expectation in a relationship are honesty and reciprocity. In other words, a lot of how we relate with whomever we relate to has to do with “give and take.” Put another way, “I will give in the relationship so long as I get something from the relationship.”

The unspoken but obvious end to such relationships is that at some point, I will NOT love you if you ________ (fill in the blank). All too often, if we’re honest with ourselves, there is some line, some situation where I will no longer love you… because I no longer get what I want out of the relationship.

If that is any part of how we view our relationships with others, if we find ourselves looking at people’s value in terms of what they do for us, then we will sooner or later be willing to cut them off when they don’t meet our expectations.

When you boil it down, all those different versions of phileo seem a lot like eros. He didn’t mean just the “erotic” form of love, but the passion, the lust, the desire for something, the yearning to possess or control something. The “Oh, I’ve got to have that” sort of “love” we might feel. When you see that all those other relationships, the friendships mentioned above, are so easily based on me getting what I want from you, then you can see how deep down, it’s all about what I want and what I feel I must have.

It’s almost like we’re consuming ourselves, trying to find our satisfaction. “I like you because you think like me, you get my jokes, you make me laugh, you talk with me about what I’m interested in.” Basically, that’s saying I like me, and I see enough of me in you that we can get along for now. Don’t go changing on me.

It’s so refreshingly different when we see people who care about us or who love us without any sort of expectation, without looking for anything in return. People for whom the relationship is not “give and take” but simply “give.” People who die to themselves a bit and exemplify Christ.

This is, of course, how God related and relates to us. He doesn’t cause the sun to shine on the good people, or the rain to fall to nourish the righteous. He doesn’t extend His grace only to those who earn it or who qualify. He qualifies and accepts the “whosoever.”

We were also singing a song with a chorus about how we can give God “my everything, all of my incompletes, the worst and the best of me.” The worship leader had invited someone to church, and the man’s response was, “Oh, I can’t go. I’d have to hide my sin.” Somewhere along the line, his picture of God got skewed to look like how we treat each other all too often. Somewhere along the line, he learned that he can’t be honest with God, and he can’t give God what God wants in order to earn His love.

That is a horrible shame, when we know that God’s way of loving qualifies and accepts and restores and welcomes all who come to Him. I’m very grateful to God for the sense that I do comprehend a little bit of just how deep and how far-reaching and how amazing His love and grace and mercy are. I do know that He loves me, all of me, and that I can come boldly to Him, just as I am, without trying to present myself a certain way in the hopes of being accepted.

But this challenges me to wonder about what kind of picture people get of God’s love through my relationships with them, especially those I deem difficult to love. It is all too easy to be forgiven an incredible debt myself, to be treated in terms of grace… and then turn around and treat others based on what benefit they are to me.

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…”

So who are we “dying” for?

Table-top RPGs: When I "got it"

I’ve played table-top RPGs here and there most of my life. My brother and a friend got started playing Iron Crown Enterprise’s MERPMiddle Earth Role Playing. They were both huge fans of Tolkien, and my brother got me started on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as well. So of course I wanted to play a game set in that world.

This was in the days when it seemed everybody in the evangelical church “knew” thatDungeons and Dragonswas like a gateway drug to all Satan’s deceptions. You start playing that game, and next thing you know, you’ll be flying on a broom throwing fireballs and summoning evil spirits… or so the traditional wisdom said.

So D&D was out of the question. But a game based on Middle-Earth had to be okay, right? Of course it was!

We played MERP for a while, and then we switched to BattleTech, a futuristic game where your characters pilot 40-foot-tall humanoid destruction engines, pounding each other with lasers and missiles across a hexagon battlefield. My brother usually ran the games… I’m sure both systems had some term for what they called that person, but the common term from D&D is “Dungeon Master” or DM.

Years later, I found myself sitting at a table with a few friends from the Chapel who were interested in a casual RPG group. I had picked up the newest rulebooks ofD&D, by now freed from the fear that these books were instant portals to the deepest levels of hell. It turns out, if you read through the books and talk to people who play RPGs, all they’re doing is cooperative social story-telling. The devil’s work, indeed.

I had a grand plan in mind to start off the new group’s adventures, and I was both nervous and excited about what it meant to be a good DM. You have to be able to come up with a fairly interesting setting, then communicate that setting, then adapt to all the ways the players will find tobreak everythingin that setting. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The players fought some bandits that had set up a “toll” on a busy merchant road. They learned where the bandits had set up camp, and decided to pay a visit. This was all pretty mundane, but we had several players who had never tried an RPG before, so it was an easy way to start learning the rules. The team decided to approach the camp, and developed a plan. Some snuck around behind the camp, climbing up a sheer cliff face. Some stayed hidden in the trees on the outskirts of the camp, ready to rain arrows and magic down on the bandits if needed, and the main “voice” of the group strolled right into camp with my wife’s character to negotiate with the bandit leader.

At this point, I’m just having fun, playing the part of the surly bandit that my friend is trying to negotiate with. What might the bandit be thinking? He’s trying to trick me, he’s some heroic type… but he makes a good offer, and the money might be worth it. Plus, me and my crew, we have this fellow and his friend completely outnumbered. So if he tries anything, he’s going to get beat down fast.

Then my friend says to me, out of nowhere, “I attack the fire.”

What?  I probably did a double-take. “You what now?”

“I attack the fire. It’s a pretty big campfire, right?”

“Yeah…”

“I want to attack it,” he continues. “I don’t know how hard it would be to do this, but I want to basically swing my warhammer like a golf club and knock the burning wood and embers into this guy’s face.”

My mind is racing, trying to figure out what happens next, and my friend rolls a die to see how well his character does at this attempt. He does pretty well. I’m excited, because I never would have expected this.

My player asks, “So the fire is pretty well scattered, right?”

“Yeah…” I answer, probably with a cringe for where this is headed.

“So… these are all human bandits, right? And you said it was a pretty dark night when we were coming to the camp. So this is the only real source of light. And none of us are humans… all of us havelow light vision.”

We had a dwarf paladin, a few elves, and a halfling (more or less a Hobbit). According to the rules, all of them could see in dim light as well as you and I can see during the day. My human bandits… not so much.

The glorious battle I had planned turned into an epic slaughter in seconds, starting with the fateful phrase, “I attack the fire.”

That pretty much sold me on being a DM. It’s great to set up a world or a story, to describe a setting or a mission… it’s even better to set all that out and see how the players will break it and make it theirs.

That sneaky devil… clearly his trick worked. (/sarcasm)

"Enthrall"

McKennon adjusted the straps of his backpack that kept getting caught on his flak vest shoulderguards. Can’t have this bouncing around when I get the signal… need to be able to drop it in a flash, too. Beads of sweat formed around the rim of his dark wool cap. Hopefully the camo on my face is still dark enough.

He waited for the signal with an eyepiece, huddled in an alley behind an old rusted-out car, watching an abandoned building two blocks up the street. “Let Jun make it,” he whispered hopefully, a prayer to no god in particular. It was hard to believe that God cared any more.

I think He’s been out of work for a while now.

The Volani sure hadn’t. McKennon tried not to think about it; they said that’s what drives people mad. Think about how things were and how they are now, you start losing faith that we could make a difference. People would just give up on the Resistance. Not turn themselves in, not turn others in, just turn themselves off. They’d take out their buds and give in to Peace.

The constant hum in his earbuds was usually easy to ignore, but it was in moments like these that the buzzing got to him. Sitting in silence, waiting. That’s when he could hear it, when he couldn’t help but hear it.

He used to go diving as a teenager growing up along the tropical coastline, and his mind often went back to that whenever he heard the buzzing. He imagined trying to go through the rest of his life with an oxygen mask on his face, living underwater. Could it be done? Sure, maybe. But it would be maddening.

High-power speakers on cell towers and subtle adjustments to radio transmitters ensured the Volani signal was always out there, like an ocean waiting to drown your ears. The earbuds were pumping a scrambling frequency of static to keep the Peace out.

The Volani must have started out small, McKennon guessed. Maybe they built an initial cadre of ground personnel and brought key figures into their fold. The strange policy changes here and there, the bumbling way most nations lurched toward a one world parliamentary government practically out of the blue… By then, the leading minds in the Resistance figured the Volani had flipped the switch, brought everyone within earshot of a cell or radio tower under their fold.

He thought of Jun again. She should be flashing the signal in – he checked his watch – two minutes.

Scar it, but I never thought I’d be relying on North Koreans. It was one of the few places in the world where the aliens hadn’t gained any ground. The freemind Koreans developed the scramblers and started the Resistance when radio waves beamed in from China and the ROC were brainwashing Kim Pak Il’s precious people. Only Korean dictators get to do that, you know.

North Korea… those crazies were alien enough before the Volani dreadnoughts showed up; the two groups had a lot in common.

Well… had, until the Volani bombarded the Peninsula into the ocean.

McKennon did one last function check on his gear. All the circuits flashed active. One minute. He looked over the device, impressed. The freemind Afghans knew their business. Then again, this was nothing new to them.

The aliens were using human infrastructure already in place to run their signals, including vulnerable computer networks. Jun was trained by Chinese hackers; she would have no trouble tapping into their servers. The trouble was that it would trigger an alarm. And that was why McKennon was there.

He took a few deep breaths, desperate to slow the racehorse pounding in his chest. This was it. His hand gripped the stock of his AK, and he crouched like a runner ready for a sprint. He pictured his daughter and son as they had been the last time he’d seen them, mindlessly carrying out their duties in the work camps. This was for them. He was ready.

The IR strobe flashed twice, invisible to all eyes but his eyepiece. She was in. He bolted out of the alley, turned up the road, and charged toward the hardened facility. One alarm went off, a clanging bell, and then a siren. They knew she was in the network.

He kept his swift stride as he raised the AK. The security guards were watching their monitors, discussing the situation. He triggered two short bursts, and the guards’ legs no longer supported their weight. They should live, McKennon thought with a grim smile. At least someone will.

The front door of the building was sealed as soon as the alarm went off. McKennon smashed the plastique charge in his pocket against the locking mechanism, and turned away as it blew.

He put the muzzle of the AK into the newly-made hole and let loose, keeping the security personnel in cover. Then he ripped open the door and burst in, laying down more fire, moving for the nearest support pillar. Plaster sprayed as the guards shot back, and McKennon slapped a new banana clip in.

Running and gunning, he made it to the stairwell unscathed. Jun should be accessing tech data by now. The real goal of the mission was to gather information on the signals so the Resistance could one day shut them down on a large scale. McKennon was the distraction and the cover for Jun’s operation. The Volani can’t find out that their network was compromised.

He made it to the second floor, taking out a guard in the stairwell. He dropped a flash-bang down the stairs to delay the guards, and ran on.

Buy her time.

That thought, and all others, left his mind as he took a punch across the face that stopped him cold. Another in the ribs – he coughed on blood—and something wrapped up his arms and legs. His AK clattered on the floor.

A Volani! The jet-black humanoid held him suspended in the air. Fool, he heard in his mind. What did you hope to accomplish here?

Its hand reached up to yank the earbuds away from his head, and he heard laughing as everything faded.

Jun slammed the laptop shut; the download was complete. As she turned to leave, there was a blue flash, and then orange flames burst from the windows of the second floor. Did he set it off? Or was it the fail-safe? There was no way to be sure.

Either way, McKennon was gone. His last comm, before her signal, was “When this is all over, Jun, find my kids. Make sure they know this was for them.”

She smiled despite the glistening moisture that clouded her vision, and she scampered down the stairs to the unguarded exit. The bomb had a trigger circuit connected between the two earbuds so that if McKennon was compromised, the mission would still succeed. The EMP wiped the network of any trace of her presence before the bomb blew, just as planned.

Those Afghans sure knew their business.

"Cakewalk"

A steady breeze fought against the summer noonday blaze and swept across the gentle slope at the feet of the Chornauren Mountains. Unfazed by the heat, a small form in tattered clothes struggled on its way, one foot dragging behind, twisted, making a rasping noise as it slid upon the rocky ground.

Must… reach… Khordûn…

There were a few leagues to go yet. This was the difficult part, the part where Neldon had failed so many times before. The northern end of the Chornaurens was dotted with mines, property of the dwarvish kingdom he wanted to reach. He had to avoid them as long as possible, to delay contact until he could reach the city gates.

But many other creatures made their homes in mountain caves, creatures much less reasonable, far less diplomatic.

Less reasonable than dwarves… Neldon thought with a chuckle.

Save energy. Don’t think. He gave himself one more thought, goal in mind once again. Khordûn.

The twisted foot scratched through dirt and gravel as Neldon struggled on.

The ‘Marches were mostly wide open spaces, untamed, difficult to traverse safely by day, perilous by dark. He had been lucky last night; the moon was waning, but it was still near full. Even that limited light kept many of the mountain’s denizens in their caverns, and so he had shambled along all through the night.

There was no pain, no sense of the withering heat, no thirst or hunger. There was only the next step forward… never turning, always pointed for the gates of Khordûn.

The word had come to mean “hope” to Neldon, and so much more than that. If he was to survive, if he was to escape his daily torment, Khordûn would be the answer. The elves of Lanaloth were too far away to the south, and the human settlements across the plains were too small to help– what few survived the Bloodsworn invasion during the winter. Aelwyn might hold an answer, but that was a day’s travel past Khordûn at a healthy pace.

In the distance, Neldon thought he heard the sounding of a horn, and he scanned the sparse growth for cover. A few paces to his left, the stony ground rose sharply about half his height, and the tangle of bramble there would help. He turned hastily, lurching forward.

His injured foot caught on the sharp rocks, taking him off balance. Unable to fully catch himself, he slammed into the ground and thought he heard another bone break, this one in his arm.

A second horn sounded, and he heard shouting, too distant to make out. He had no time to worry about the injury, let alone get back on his feet. Crawling forward, pushing even with his misshapen foot, he half-lurched, half-skittered into his chosen hiding place.

Panic set in as he listened for approaching voices. He hadn’t expected to be spotted this far out. Had he attracted too much attention on his last few attempts?

The deep voices drew nearer, and he would have sighed in relief if he could. At least they were dwarves, and not goblins or worse. Dwarves of Khordûn. My only hope.

If they would listen this time.

“…saw it over there, I think!” one voice called.

“Sure moved quick if it were one o’ them again,” said another, a female with a tone of authority. “Spread out, lads. Be lookin’ out for others. They raid in packs.”

They raid at night, fool. I come each time alone in the light of day.

Stop thinking so much! Above all else, Neldon knew he must not be detected. A few stray thoughts here and there would not arouse Palla-Nel’s suspicion… or so Neldon hoped.

“Ya see anything?” the leader called out.

“Just rock and thistle down here,” a voice replied from nearby. “Strange, don’tcha think it, Ma’am?”

“What’s that, Torhalin?”

“Well, as ya said, there oughtta be a pack of ‘em about these slopes if there’s a one. But there ain’t. An’ you heard Hammerhelm’s patrol talk how they saw just one the other day too.”

“A scout, then,” she replied tersely.

Neldon peered through the bramble looking for the source of the nearby voice. The dwarf stood four paces from Neldon’s little refuge.

“I just–“ the dwarf continued. “It ain’t good sense, to come scout in the daylight across open ground.”

She ignored him and stamped further up the incline. The dwarf shook his head.

My chance… Neldon thought. Khordûn…

“…help… …me…”

The raspy whisper was just enough to get Torhalin’s attention, and the dwarf looked about as Neldon whispered again. “Help… me… …please…”

“…quietly…” Neldon whispered, but it was too late.

“It’s over here!” the dwarf yelled, and the others came lumbering down the hill, chainmail clinking, axes and hammers drawn.

Neldon knew this attempt had also failed, but he clung to a small hope. He rose from hiding, and spoke as clearly as he could muster.

“My name is Neldon Darowdin, from the town Delfindor. Our town was destroyed by a lich, who is now attacking you by night. He has–“

“Shut up, ya bag o’ filth!”

The squad leader roared as she sprang through the air, hammer swinging down toward the decayed form. Neldon tried to dodge, but the stroke connected with his right arm, tearing the skeletal limb from his ravaged body, scattering pieces of rotted flesh down the hill.

“The lich, Palla, is–“ he continued, salvaging what remained in this opportunity. But her next stroke tore through his jaw, shearing skull from spine. As his head fell away, she spun back around to plant the spiked end of her hammer deep in the undead creature’s ribcage.

By luck, the skull landed upright, and as the sickly green glow of undeath faded from its eye sockets, Neldon watched the other dwarf closely. Torhalin stared back, lips parted as with something to say, brow furrowed considering this strange event. Perhaps the message would get through this time. Someone would recognize the name from decades earlier.

Neldon returned to the black, the empty void. There was an advantage, however small, to the psychic bond formed when Palla consumed Neldon’s body and became Palla-Nel.

Neldon reached out tentatively, listening for any reaction from the lich at the loss of one of its slaves. Palla-Nel’s focus remained fixed on digging deeper under the mountain, seeking… always seeking. Seeking what, Neldon did not know, but while Palla-Nel’s attention was diverted elsewhere, Neldon could take another husk and send it on his fool’s errand.

This was the easy part. Just one simple, overriding thought filling the new husk’s head as it lumbered off. Khordûn. Must… reach… Khordûn.

"Prosetry" Piece 3

Last “prosetry” piece. This one’s definitely just prose thoughts instead of a rhyming rhythm like the first “prosetry” piece I posted. This comes from a time when my wife and I were evaluating a lot of the things we’d believed — not questioning our core faith doctrines, but a lot of the particular “flavor” of Christianity that we had been pursuing for years. It started to seem like some of what our churches said was incredibly important actually wasn’t, and how we had been taught to go after our faith (or perhaps how we chose to go after it) seemed more painful and misguided than powerful and beneficial. For me, this was a bit of “I want to make sure I get the basics right.”

 

I’m desperate to know what You see in me; what You believe I can be. I’m desperate to live up to Your standard, like a child wanting to be like his father; only I try a little too hard sometimes… and sometimes I don’t try at all.

I’m desperate to be approved, to be holy, a vessel You can use. Only I don’t like the path I’d have to take to get there. Isn’t there a shortcut I can follow… perhaps go from ministering to resurrection while skipping the part about a cross. Then I’d have no part in You. I’m desperate to have part in You.

And though it’s deemed incorrect to say it, I feel defeated, weary, maybe broken… though I don’t know what that means. I only know that I can’t turn my back, and I can’t stay here… but I’m afraid to move on.
What more must I face? Haven’t I done enough? Well, it’s not works that save me. Haven’t I believed enough, then? I don’t really know what to believe sometimes.

All I can do is follow, and I don’t even do that very well. But here I am, walking after You on this narrow road that some time ends in Heaven. And I see that sanctification isn’t as fun as it sounded when the preacher shouted “Hallelujah” and the music played. But it’s in this place that You do Your work, and it hurts to see flesh die. But it hurts to see flesh live.

So I walk down this lonely road, desperate to take my foot off this jagged stone and lay it down on streets of gold.

"Prosetry" Piece 2

I’ve forgotten what it meant

that You reached out to the leper.

You saw the need and You responded.

I’ve forgotten what it meant that You ignored the condemning cries

and told the sinner, “Go and sin no more.”

I’ve forgotten what You came for.

Sitting with the wicked,

yet separated by Your virtue…

I separate myself by venue.

You reach down into the gutter

and lift up the one in need.

I’d be afraid to get dirt on my Sunday best.

My Christian tie could get ruined.

And You loved those You saw

as You traveled by foot from city to city.

I try not to get caught speeding,

since someone might see the fish

or the church bumper sticker on my car.

Miracles followed You.

They don’t seem to catch up with me.

You did all You could

to make the message known,

while I get scared someone might ruin

the gold edge of my Bible as I witness,

armed with a leather-bound book.

You were armed with a heart of love,

and You died innocent between two thieves

to heal the one who was sick but never knew it.

I’ve forgotten what it meant

that You reached out to the leper,

but now I remember Your touch.

And though nine others forget,

I’m coming back to thank You,

And I’m bringing some of my sick friends.