Consoling Tales

The Short Stories of Cynthia Jeub

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Leviathan

“Leviathan,” literally translated to English, means “to twist.” How fitting.

The creature looked across the tabletop that held the many intricately designed game pieces. It appeared that he was playing by himself. He looked not at the fascinatingly painted wooden playing board, nor at the many pieces placed haphazardly about it, each one standing up in a fighting position. One small figure stood tall and ready in the square of combat.

It licked its lips, a recent meal of raw meat leaving his fangs reeking of fresh blood. Its hands, unlike those that if looked at will give reassurance that even the impressive have average hands, gave a feeling of fear. Its fingers were long and thin, but strong and sharp-clawed, precise strategy and power in the slightest motion. Despite this, the fingers hesitated slightly and the distastefully colored gems studding its many rings flashed in the sole yellow light overhead as he reached for the die.

Two die rolled easily into the monster’s sharply defined hands. Though these die were six sided, there was no way to guess what sort of symbol would appear on the top-facing surface. Each time the creature thought it knew every possibility, a new thing would display itself as the result of a roll of the die. This was strategy, and it loved the challenge.

The creature shook the die with a combination of carelessness and precision; letting the two game pieces roll onto the empty part of the rough wooden table. The results illuminated themselves on the top of the die, devilish symbols that cannot be understood by human eyes. They communicated the details of a situation on the game board. Long, straight black hair fell below the knees of the creature as it leaned over the board to watch the die light up.

A word appeared on each of the two die. The first read, “Success.” The second, “Wealth.”

Good things, wonderful things. The devil grinned and moved the pieces on the board for simulating combat. This would be an easy fight. It whispered with a voice that sounded like many instead of one, “Pride,” and he lifted a piece from another place on the board to place it next to the small man-figure in the combat square, “will turn success into a curse. As for wealth—it will become a curse with gluttony, greed, and complacency.” And he placed three more pieces in the combat square.

The tiny figures began to animatedly fight. The man-figure, however, did not see its opponents, but was surrounded by them on all sides and slowly dropped to its knees.

“Defeat for you, victory for me,” the monster said. It took another human-shaped figure from a box and placed it into the now-empty combat square and rolled the die again.

The words illuminated atop the die: “Wisdom” and “Influence.”

This human had the power to change things for the better. It must be stopped, but the demon was unthreatened. It brushed its hair aside and looked a little bored as it placed the pieces “limited perception” and “temptation.” The human figure fell like the one before it.

The onslaught was continuous. When the die read “courage,” the demon attacked it with normalcy, and when the die read “love,” that human was attacked with fear.

A beautifully painted young child figure with a happy face was lifted from the box. She was placed roughly onto the board as the die determined her gifts. There were two: innocence and potential. The creature could not create counter-gifts; it could only twist. Innocence would be twisted into horror and regret, potential stunted by a lost family.

The girl would grow up concerned about her self-image so much that her body grew weak. Another defeated victim.

A young boy was placed in the combat square, and the dice rolled to show the phrase “musical talent.”

A new game piece displayed itself on the board. It was a digital timer, counting down the years to when the boy would be born. The demon cocked its head and looked at the country where the child would grow up. Instead of sending direct combat to the combat square, the demon began placing attackers all around that country. They would attack with chaotic order. Chaotic, for blending takes violent mixing and makes one thing indistinguishable from another. Orderly, for if people are indistinguishable, it matters not who takes what position, all will behave the same way. The opposite of beautiful individuality.

The chaos took its toll slowly. As the leaders grew restless and began to impose fear upon the citizens, each generation became less aware of its lost freedoms. Soon it what not just freedom that was lost—it was the awareness of freedom. At last the day came when music no longer existed.

The child still stood in the combat square, and the timer counted down the last few seconds before vanishing. The demon leaned on its crossed arms and tapped its black fingernails on the worn tabletop to watch the show.

There were no visible enemies around the child. He grew happy and was able to learn, to blend in. The gift, when it manifested, was not inflicted by the demon. The gift was musical talent, yet this gift was a nonexistence because the society had no place for music. Each time the boy had a moment of inspiration, he did not know how to hum or whistle it because nobody did such things anymore. It felt like hell was inside his head, yet the thing inside his head was beautiful.

There was a teacher figure who noticed the boys’ darkened eyes from sleepless, painful nights. He was given medicine that helped him to sleep dreamlessly and to study without distraction. He blended in with the others and was glad to be free of his gift.

“Such is the way of twisted perception,” the demon said as it looked at the fiery black and red tattoos on his arms, indicating that his name was Leviathan.

Leviathan stood up and stretched, looking with bored pride at his night’s work, and walked slowly to the door of the little run-down barn. It opened the lightweight wooden door and a gust of wind rattled the loose floorboards and stirred up the dust in the corners. It clicked off the light with the exposed wires connecting it to the old yellow fixture hanging above the table. The human figurines in the bowl still looked happy and innocent as the musty glow faded to red in the ancient bulb above, which swayed gently in the chilly dark night.

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Dreams of Solace

by Cynthia Jeub

 

One last perfect verse is still the same old song
Oh Christ, how I hate what I have become

Take me home—but I don’t deserve it, I’m a whore for the cold world
Forgive me, I have but two faces—One for the world, one for God, save me
I’m a whore for the cold world

 

Sliver was caught in the half-consciousness of sleep. She knew she was dreaming, but the theme kept playing: whore for the world. Whore. The words were hateful, but she knew them to be true, because like a prostitute who knew many men, she spent her time getting to know worthless things. This world was cold, she said to herself as she let down her long, dark blue hair and wandered out to the balcony to think. This idea that she was fornicating the things of this world was an attack on her past mistakes. No longer would she live that way. The moons showed that it was still the middle of the night, so Sliver returned to her bed and saw a vision:

            Wood, the creator of all things, held out his hand to her and she took it. He gave her a gentle grin. He was the king, the most powerful, loving person there was and ever would be. As they flew across the galaxies together, Wood looked into Sliver’s auburn eyes and said gently, a test is coming.

            Wood disappeared, and Sliver was standing in an empty meadow, the grass and flowers lusciously colored. To her right stood a beehive, quite natural and quiet in the buzzing of the busy bees. Then smoke began to billow up around the beehive, and the bees attacked her, stinging and whizzing in a great multitude around her head. Sliver could not cry out, but though she couldn’t express it with her voice, the bee stings were painful. She reached her hand into the beehive and pulled out a sticky piece of honeycomb, free of bees. When she held it, the pain faded away, and she knew only the warmth of the fresh honey and the sweet taste as she ate it.

Hold love like a honeycomb.

            Immediately the scene changed, and Sliver was standing in the announcement tower of the palace, and all the people in the empire were listening intently to her. She had been mute since birth. Now standing on the tower, she did not move her lips, her silence drifting across all the people.

Your silence is my shout, the voice of Wood said.

 

The vision ended, and Sliver knew that it was time to go to the authorities and turn herself in.

 

*    *    *

 

Fool sat in his office, sorting through official documents. There were three piles of paper in front of him, some to be sent to his secretary, some to be read over more carefully, and some to be thrown away. None of the information he’d read so far this morning was at all interesting. There was a knock at the door.

“Enter,” Fool said absent-mindedly. Lack of Logic, the chief of police, walked in and sat down across from Fool’s desk. He looked bothered by something, and Fool waited for him to collect himself.

“There’s been some resistance among the people lately.” Lack said at last.

“Resistance happens pretty often. What’s the problem?”

“Well, it’s this religious group, I guess you could say. It’s nothing new; the Fragments have been around for years—”

“The Fragments? Hmm, they’re a pretty peaceful religion.”

“I know, that’s what I thought. But now that the government is growing more legionistic we’re running into problems.”

“What kind of problems?”

“Well, for instance, education. The Fragments are concerned that education is too standardized, that all the kids who go to the government-run schools are too alike.”

“They are. Why should that be a problem? Differences in people create problems.”

“Yeah, but they not only argue about that, they’re not letting their kids go to school.”

“Anything else?”

“Lots of things. The issue is incredibly deep. These people are quitting their jobs and trying to start their own businesses, not to mention the fact that they’re converting others to the religion by the dozens…and…well, I came to ask you about something.”

“You want to change a law?”

“Yeah. It would be a lot easier if it were illegal to be a Fragment.”

Fool sat back and thought. “I would have problems with that if it were a race, but people can choose their religion. Is it that serious, though?”

“Look, legionism is a new philosophy for running government. It means we know the masses, not individuals. It makes sense, it’s efficient, and I just think that Fragmentism is the only resistance left. These people refuse to be willing subjects. If it were outlawed, then we’d be free to make arrests, scare the masses from joining the Fragments.”

“More than that,” Fool finished, “anyone who insists on loyalty to this faith will be persuaded out of it.”

“Yes, like we’ve already done with other dissenters. They can be taught to believe legionistically.”

“Alright, I’ll write up the law and get it passed as a decree.”

 

            That meeting had happened three months ago. Hundreds of Fragments had been arrested and under the intense means of persuasion from the government, had embraced legionism. Still, there were many more who were being found out and were turning themselves in. This was new for Fool, to have people go to government offices and confess that they had been hiding until now, submitting to arrest then and there. The fight was nearly over, and the government would remain unhindered by these people soon. Fool had taken charge of the prison, and worked tirelessly to talk these people out of their delusions. Today he walked into the office of the prison manager, Bystander.

            “Anyone new today?” Fool asked casually.

            “Yeah, there’s this girl, she’s about seventeen, and she’s mute. She turned herself in last night, and I’ve got her in this cell.” Bystander pointed to a clipboard on his desk.

            Fool lifted the clipboard. “You want me to talk to her? What’s her name?”

            “Sliver. She wrote a lot. We’re convinced that there’s no convincing her; she claims to have seen visions, and that she’s unafraid of any pain.”

            “So we’re just starting on the…uh…persuasion process?”

            “If that’s what you want to call your torture, yes.”

            Fool headed for the girl’s cell.

Sliver was Orulean, of the race with the blue hair and dark auburn eyes. When Fool arrived at her cell, she looked up at him with a wistful, far-off, but questioning gaze. She seemed, he didn’t know, ready for what he was going to do to her. The process of tearing down a prisoner doesn’t start out too bad. You can’t just start right in with the pain. Make the emotions thin, and then the pain is more effective and doesn’t take as long.

“Hi, Sliver. I’m Fool.”

She nodded her understanding.

“I just have a few questions for you, okay?”

Again a nod.

“Are you a Fragment?”

Yes-nod. This was going to be difficult; he hadn’t brought anything that she could write on to explain her dedication to her religion. It didn’t really matter, though, he decided. She would not be convinced just yet.

“Sliver, this is how it’s going to be. I need to convince you to abandon this belief set of yours because it’s against the law.”

She went a little pale, looked away briefly and took a deep breath, but nodded again.

“That means that I’m going to check on you now and then to ask if you’re ready to join the government and our legionistic principles. Do you think you can do that?”

No, was her firm decision.

Fool took out some handcuffs and she held out her wrists. He locked one cuff around her right hand, then looped the other one through one of the bars to the cell, and locked on her other hand. With her hands chained in front of her, she was in a standing position that seemed harmless at first, but he would leave her here for three days. The hunger, the solitude, and the difficulty in sleeping would do the work that was needed to make her listen. Usually this was the only thing necessary. Fool hoped this would be the case for this beautiful girl. He explained what would happen, and she looked away, a look of determination in her red-brown eyes. Then he left.

 

Alone in the darkness, Sliver stood for a few hours before she began to get sleepy. She couldn’t sit or lie down, or even lean against the bars of the cell, because her arms were in front of her. Leaning back in any way cut off the circulation to her hands quickly because of the cuffs. Soon the only thing she could manage was folding her hands together and leaning her forehead on them to get a few minutes of sleep, but it wouldn’t be very long before her legs would give way, waking her, or her hands, loathing the metal digging into her wrists, needed to have an adjusted position. Hungry and exhausted, she finally felt herself drifting into a vision of comfort from Wood.

Sliver was free of her chained hands, and she stood in the most colorful outdoor area she’d ever seen: surrounded by green hills, with dozens of flower varieties. A tree appeared with leaves of gold and sparkling-ruby fruits. As she walked toward it, a branch directed itself toward her, holding an envelope. Sliver picked up the envelope and saw a seal made from a kiss. She knew that it was the kiss of Wood, and broke the seal gently. Inside, there were two lines of delicately written words:

When questions question the questions

There will be suffering for the answer’s sake

But there was no pain. She looked up from the envelope and saw Wood standing before her. A smile spread across her face, and she looked at him hard, afraid to close her eyes. She didn’t even blink, taking in his genuinely friendly face, and at his simple but glorious crown.

Sliver, my daughter, look at me.

Daughter. Sliver wasn’t worthy to be called Wood’s daughter, but he reached out a strong hand and gently caressed her face, pushing her windblown hair behind her ear. She saw things written on his arms: maps, clocks, planets, names. The pattern of the symbols was beautiful and had many colors, but it wasn’t like a tattoo. It was like she was looking through his being to see things as they really were. Unity and intricate design had been produced out of these things that were frustrating and patternless from her perspective.

Come with me, Sliver. Wood said. She followed him closely over a hill and a waterfall was revealed just beyond it. Wood held her hand and they walked close enough to the waterfall to reach out and touch the stream. Gently taking her wrist, Wood held Sliver’s hand under the rushing liquid. To her surprise, it was not water. It was too light, too colorful, she now realized, to be water. Instead, the most beautiful sensation of creativity and calm and emotion filled her ears. She was touching the very essence of music—a waterfall of music. “What does this mean, Wood?” She asked. She could speak in her visions though she was mute in life, but rarely did.

 I created the senses you have. Why not combine feeling with hearing, as a way to experience music, one of my favorite creations?

She smiled, and let the music run over her hand until Wood pulled it back. There’s more.

She instinctively looked down at her feet, but she didn’t see grass; only hard dry ground. Wood knelt on the ground and began whispering to the dust. Poetry in perfect rhyme, beyond any that can be comprehended in this world, began to form in the shape of grass. It grew, paper-like and covered in black calligraphy, but when Sliver touched it the poem-grass was as soft as flower petals. Wood pointed her to turn and look at a little man who seemed to be frustrated. He looked at the poetry around him and, rather than just sitting in it and enjoying its softness, he began ripping the poetry from the ground and trying to decipher it. He tried to line up the words, but they just grew more jumbled with each new pattern he tried. Finally he started screaming in anger. “Move, words! Tell me what you say!” He screamed. Then his ears mysteriously folded upon themselves and his eyes turned a dull white.

Do you understand, Sliver? Wood asked.

“You know I don’t. You know everything.” She replied solemnly.

This man is narrow-minded, he cannot enjoy poetry in its lovely mysteriousness. The answers were right here for him: my words are soft and bring comfort, a place to rest. He wasn’t satisfied with that, so he passed the answer by. The second lesson is that whoever screams cannot see or hear. That was why his ears and eyes failed him; you can’t continue listening and observing if your only care is for your own words and demands.

“Why do you show me these things, Wood? Do I need them for a later time?” She asked.

The reader needs them.

The vision ended, and Sliver was aware again of the hunger pains in her stomach. She sighed and said an old proverb to herself: “alone with pain, everyone gets humbled.”

 

*   *   *

 

Now we turn to the tale of another prisoner, called Chip. When Fool walked into the interrogation room where the prisoner was chained to the table, Chip looked up and smiled. They exchanged names, and Fool took a seat.

“Chip, I’m here to ask you about this belief of yours. It’s become more common among the prisoners.”

He sat back a little and gave a half-smile as if he knew something.

“What is it?” Fool asked, making a feeble attempt to not sound too eager.

“We call ourselves the Fragments, but have you ever asked yourself, ‘Fragments of what?’”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I’ll tell you: Fragments of Wood. That is the name of our king, and we’ve all met him. You can’t silence us, no prison and no torture can frighten the Fragments of Wood.”

“Why?” Fool was angry now. “Why aren’t you afraid?”

“I’ll tell you what we’re afraid of. Monotony. Blending in. Becoming like everyone else. Everything that legionism is about.”

“But you’re a group. The Fragments are as easily categorized as any other group of people, and this form of government means that we are all comrades, we work together, everyone is equal.” It helped him to use the words describing legionism.

“You’ve spent many days arresting, incarcerating, and torturing us. Are we alike? Can we be stereotyped?”

Fool was silent for a moment. The truth was that they came from every race, from the Oruleans to the Karrans, all with different professions, different personalities. But he didn’t let the pause last long before he said, “you have one similarity. You have no fear. Equally dedicated, as a good legionist should be.”

“In losing yourself to the rulers of this land, you gain nothing. In losing myself to Wood, I gain a personality. That’s why I will never submit to legionism.”

“Then you will suffer and die. What does that say about this, this king who you say loves you?”

“If a man’s wife is in pain because she is in labor, has he stopped loving her?”

“But I’ve heard others say that Wood is supposedly powerful. Can’t he save you from the power of my wrath?”

“When evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match.” Chip paused, considering what he would say next. “There’s a prophecy…”

“Stop it. You’re full of some sort of delusion about the world. There never was a prophet.”

“That’s what you’ve been told. But there were prophets ages ago, and there are still prophets today.”

Fool folded his hands, thumbs showing, and made direct eye contact with Chip. “You are not a prophet. You are full of strange ideas about dreams, and dreams don’t come true.”

Chip looked down at his chains. “I dreamed my arrest.”

“Anyone can make something like that up.”

“You’re right, but I think honesty isn’t about proving yourself to other people. It’s about being able to live with yourself as a dishonest person. I can’t do that—lie. It would drive me crazy. You don’t have to believe me for me to know and believe the truth.”

Fool ran his hands through his yellow hair. There was a pause.

“Back to the prophecy,” Chip interrupted his thoughts, “It said, ‘the battles are still won by losing, but the fool wonders how to maim the sliver.’”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Fool said.

“There is no word for ‘fool’—that’s just a name, and a common one. But I didn’t think the rest of it made sense, either, until I thought it through. The battles are won by losing. By not fighting back, by turning ourselves in, we are showing you that we have a greater strength than you do. Our strength is the strength to face the dreadful treatment that awaits us in prison. And “maim the sliver”, a sliver of what, Fool? A sliver of wood. Wood is what we are, we’re all fragments, representatives, of king Wood, but he has asked each of us individually to call him Wood.”

“You all speak of this ‘Wood’ as if you’ve met him, and as if he’s always with you.”

“He is. We love our king, he’s told us that we can be with him if we die at your hands. You try to wound the sliver of wood instead of going after Wood itself. That’s why we suffer at your hands, you can’t track Wood down and try to kill him. He’s powerful beyond you, and even though he doesn’t have to, he’s present in the cells of this prison, offering comfort to those who suffer because they love him, and he loves them.”

“Enough!”

“Just listen! Fool, you wonder how to maim the sliver. And you won’t stop.”

“Guards! Take this man away.”

As Chip was led out, Fool refused to give him the pleasure of receiving a last glance. These followers of Wood had to be stopped.

That night, Fool retreated to his office and looked up at the moons—one rising, one overhead, one setting beyond his view from the window. The words of this “prophecy” of Chip’s wouldn’t leave his mind. He refused to be superstitious, to let the prophecy come true. He must do the opposite: stop trying to maim the Sliver.

But killing isn’t maiming.

“Kill the Fragments, instead of trying to maim them,” he said to himself. Starting with Sliver, because her name was in the prophecy alongside his.

 

Sitting on the floor of her cell, Sliver clenched and unclenched her fists, careful not to move too much because of the pain in her back. “Wood,” she said, “Please, help me through this. I’m hardly even like you yet, I’m only a sliver of wood. A Sliver.” She did not weep hard enough to shake—that would hurt too much. Opening her right hand, she watched the tears fall into her palm with the apathy that is a combination of despair and distraction. Her hand formed a fist around the water molecules. She mouthed the words: “Would you wash the tears from my salty fists, Wood?”

Would you let me? It was not a voice, not emotion—a sense, a notion. If I came to wipe away your tears, would I have to pry open your fists, or would you open your hands willingly?

“Let you. Please Wood, I don’t want to be a whore. I want to be a fragment of your goodness, your love.”

Just then she heard footsteps in the corridor. It was Fool and an executioner. They pulled her to her feet and walked her down the hall to a room with a metal table in the middle of it, chains attached to each corner. They laid her down on the table and chained her to it roughly. Fool crossed his arms and watched as his companion lifted a long knife. Sliver closed her eyes tightly and her heart began to beat rapidly when she sensed the voice of Wood: Be still, my child, you’re almost home

She told herself not to strain at the cuffs around her wrists.

Oh, when did you become so cold?

She forced her eyes open to watch the glinting blade draw close to her face.
All you need is to feel my love

Drawing her last breath, she bit back the scream that was no longer from pain, but fear.

You’re beautiful, not a whore

Search for beauty, no more war

The knife across her throat was quick, clean. Then all the pain and fear was washed away.

You forgive them all, bleed no more

Out of the hurricane the rainbow reaches like a hand

Sliver’s eyes opened, and she felt awake and ready for some sort of adventure. She was flying over an ocean, and she found her shore: the one with the sparkling sand, with the colors of the rainbow dancing across the warm beach. Her feet, white and perfect, landed gently on the shore. The ocean was as blue as her hair, now long enough to reach her knees. Sliver waded into the water, letting the cool foam brush the ends of her flowing pink dress.

You have such oceans within. This time it was not a mere notion, it was a real voice—the voice of Wood.

“Wood!” She said, her dark eyes unable to meet his. She started to kneel before him, but he took her hand gently and opened it, revealing the salt from her tears that was caked on her palm and fingers. Wood wore a robe full of colors Sliver had never seen before, patterns that were otherworldly and beautiful. A bird in one of the palm trees chirped gently as Wood raised Sliver’s hand to his lips and kissed it. The salt disappeared, her hand was clean. She grinned at him now, there was no room for mere gratitude, only joy. He pushed back the hair that the wind had blown into mild strands across her face, and kissed her forehead, then wrapped her in his arms.

The voice of Wood was heard once more: In the end, I will always love you.

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Rebuilding the Temple

And a demonic shadow descended with intensity upon the midday, unleashing chaos to cover the sun. The One called the Son of Man let loose a cry of perfect anguish, pain, agony.

“Trusted one, how come I’m alone?”

The blood in his veins had long ceased to contain more than what covered his body. A terrible scream was heard, and the one who felt abandoned made a final act of faith: committing his spirit to the one he was no longer sure remained present.

The maimed messiah’s tortured body fell limp.

The Spirits of evil did not linger. They let loose a celebration upon the city, crushing boulders, shaking the very earth. The darkness was so chilling, even children felt the dementing horror. God was dead at last, so the demons laughed together as they blasphemed the holy of holies, ripping through the ancient thick cloth of the curtain of the temple.

* * *

My body was nothing. It was marred with my sin, and what am I to God? Nothing, I am a prostitute in every meaning of the word. If a glass can only spill what it contains, I wish that I would never be spilled, for all that comes out of me is iniquity, I entice the weak-willed man too easily and hate myself for it. My body is worthless, can’t you see that I think so by my loose clothing? I have nothing to live for, I’ve murdered my own babies in the womb, and my arms are hidden because of the scars I must conceal.

Then came the day that I dropped the blade hovering over my wrist. A light shone before me, and a man unlike one I’d ever seen held out some keys to me. “These,” he said plainly, “are the keys to the kingdom. I want to place them in your heart for safekeeping.”

I was stunned. “You must have the wrong person. My body is nothing.”

He gently caressed my face, warmly—like a father to a dear child. I’d never known such a touch, but I liked it. I felt full, and I wanted more. I have been told that such is the paradox of love. “This body,” he said, gesturing to all of me, “this is what I want for my temple. See, I let my enemies destroy the religious building that had become a barrier between you and me.”

I remembered the day that those priests had kept me from entering the temple because of what I am. I knew then that I was worthless to God.

“I am rebuilding my temple,” he whispered to me. “I’m rebuilding it in you.”

I tell you this, because today, nothing keeps me from the presence of the love of God. He has been victorious in his death, and I am his place of worship and residence. He has taken me and shown me that my soul is beautiful, and I live a new life, fully alive.

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Raiding the Temple

The young man stepped casually up to the temple. Beneath a white hood that concealed his face, he stood against the wall to observe his surroundings. This wasn’t just an ordinary business day, it was the Passover, the most sacred of all Jewish holy days, a feast, a time of reconciliation. Hundreds of people crowded the steps, and the inside of the building. It was a perfect place and time to stir up chaos.

All over these sacred steps were signs of corruption: a man turned to leave, his sin apparently “unforgiven” because he could not pay for the birds being sold. A beggar woman sat hungry at the entrance, while the priests had full trays of money, organized carefully for counting. He noted the pattern he would take, his hands growing sweaty on the handle of the whip he had carefully spent many hours to braid together. The latch of the birdcage. It contained perhaps a dozen white fowl, sweet and innocent, sold in God’s name. He fingered the end of his whip in anger at these people’s arrogance. Promising forgiveness for money, and they never thought of the great forgiveness they were in need of for such a despicable action. The faces on these merchants were plastered smiles, pretending to feel sorry for those who were too poor to afford a dove.

            The man with the whip didn’t merely note the doves. He only focused on them first because they were the smallest, and because these were marketed to the poor. Remembering the day that he had first been to this temple, the anger came back to him. Thieves, these people were thieves, robbing the poor of any dignity, gaining money for themselves and giving little of it to God, all the while claiming to be ministers of God. He also looked at the other animals around, the pen full of sheep, bleating relentlessly. Then there were the cows. The day he’d first come to this temple, he had spent several hours respectfully asking the priests questions. He had been only twelve years old, and tried to make them see the error in their ways by asking them about the scriptures. His study of the Scriptures helped him to compare what it said to the way the temple was run today. They were impressed, they said he was a smart kid, and none took his observations seriously. Here he was, eighteen years later, and he recognized one of the priests as someone he had met back then. That priest had put up a façade of being genuinely interested and concerned, but still worked the political system that this temple had become to gain a place of power and reverence.

            Carefully mapping out a zig-zag pattern and taking mental images of the cage latches, he positioned his whip at the ready. Just as another poor person was let into the temple with a bird that he had sacrificed good income to purchase, Jesus made his move. Throwing back his hood, he walked with determination up to the greedy-looking merchant behind the table with the birdcages. It was difficult to control his voice, to keep it nonchalant: “Hi, I’m here to buy a dove,” he said, then added in mock sincerity, “to have my sins forgiven. Because I’m poor and I can’t afford a better animal to offer God; and God likes the gifts from the rich, they can afford it.” He might have grinned a little at the absurdity of the statement, especially if he received some sort of reprimand for pointing out this obvious hypocrisy of the religious system.

But the salesman didn’t even look up. He nodded and said, “mhmm, that’s two pennies.”

Not even a reprimand. This guy didn’t even care to admit that he didn’t care for the poor. Jesus had brought two pennies, and he laid them down on the table, shuddering with the adrenaline of what he was about to do.

Again the merchant didn’t look up, he just reached out to take the money. That’s when the whip, rolled into a circle, was placed over his hand. Surprised, the merchant looked up into the ordinary face of the poor rebel. His hand was held firmly to the table, still gripping the coins.

Jesus said, “You steal from the poor because you don’t fear them. Today you’ll see what a poor man can do.” With his free hand, he knocked the coin collection to the ground, spilling its contents across the steps. The beggar woman sitting there was too startled even to go after them; she just watched expectantly to see what would happen next. Still pinning the merchant’s hand to the table, Jesus unlatched the birdcage door and knocked the cage to the ground, making the doves fly away in fright.

“Those are my birds! My money!” The stunned merchant finally managed to say after his shocked moment of silence.

Jesus didn’t have time to reply. The priest had seen him. A few birds would not be a big enough commotion to bother the majority of people here. He ran to the other end of the building and unhinged the cow pen. A few cows wandered out when he weaved through the crowd of large animals, careful not to step in the BS littering the floor of the holy temple. The herder had looked rather bored, sitting atop the fencing, when he suddenly noticed that the gate was open. Too late; Jesus was already behind all the cattle. He swung the whip loud and hard, whacking an animal that faced the exit. It didn’t retaliate, it just ran.

“Yah!” the Christ yelled, herding the other beasts with the firm skill required to get the lazy creatures to move along. It took only a couple of minutes before the cows were running scared among the crowd. In a few steps, the rebel reached the edge of the fence and clambered to the top of it, looked down at the merchant tables that had sold the cows. The cashiers had left; the money stood in piles and in pails. With one powerfully strong movement, the heavy wooden table was turned over, the money scattered.

“Hey! You!” A voice came from behind him. Jesus turned and saw an angry priest catch up to him, reaching for his arm. Taking a deep breath at the weight of the moment, he wriggled out of the leader’s grip and swung the whip at his hand. The priest cried out in pain, holding his hand tenderly, and called out after the ordinary-looking man: “He’s over here! Get him!”

The last stop was the sheep pen. There were two tables in front of this, and the merchants were still making negotiations, counting their precious gold and silver. Jesus swung the whip again, hitting the back of a merchant’s arm. The man screamed, but the movement of knocking over these tables also was too fast, and again the floor was covered in disorganized money.

“Thieves!” Jesus yelled at them, “You’ve taken my father’s house, and made it into a den of thieves!”

Then he lifted the handle to the sheep pen and unlatched the gate, letting out the all-white herd, baa-baaing as they went. When there was enough room, he slid among the wooly swarm and herded them out from the back with his whip. When he finished this task, he stood atop one of the few still-standing tables. The temple was in total pandemonium, people and animals and yelling priests everywhere. He rolled up the whip, slid it under his sleeve, and pulled his cloak hood back over his head. Following one group of people that seemed to be moving in the general direction of the door, Jesus slipped out into the sunshine. Two guys, also poor and ordinary-looking, were standing on the road, their arms folded, watching the hubbub.

“James, John, guys!” Jesus said, hugging them both.

“Man, it’s a mess back there.” James commented.

“Yeeeaaah,” Jesus said slowly, taking his whip out again. “It’s kinda what I was going for. I can’t wait to tear down and rebuild this thing. But seriously, it was a mess long before I stepped in there today.”

“Jesus,” John said, smiling slightly, “You do a lot of crazy stuff, but what you just did is definitely going inside your biography.”

The three laughed, and left the scene of chaos in their wake.

 

 

So yes, I did just dramatize one of the most controversial moments of Jesus’ life. For a little perspective, here’s what I have to say on this event, and what it means. For many years, I’ve been dealing with a lie that says that Jesus doesn’t care. It’s been a hard lie to fight, one that has taken me to depths of despair and temptation. I have to wonder when I look at the troubles of the world around me, if these things go on, does God really care? Then I was reminded of this story of the righteous anger of Christ. If God walked this earth, would He be angry at the sin, the suffering, the favoritism, the politics we’ve made out of church? Yes. It says it right there in the Bible that he did care, He cared enough to get angry and to spread chaos through a temple.

There’s another question here, too: isn’t violence a sin? Wouldn’t it be a sin, to swing a whip at somebody, to cause a stampede? If the answer to either of these is yes, Jesus sinned. Either Jesus sinned in this action, or sin isn’t always what we think it is. Think about that. Thanks for reading.

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The Relationship Test

by Cynthia Jeub

 

It was an ordinary day when the drunk and the hypocrite were called before God to give an account for themselves. The Father stood before the legendary gates of heaven and looked down at these children and asked them, “Do you know that I love you?”

            “Yes,” both men replied with eagerness.

            “Then tell me, what memories do we have of love, of knowing one another?”

            God was looking at the man who was dedicated to his church, whose family was always looking neat, who kept himself from worldly lusts and was careful not to associate with the world too much. The man realized that he had a satchel hanging from his shoulder. Therein, he saw some blue sand. In wonderment, he looked up at the Father questioningly.

            “Those are your memories,” it was explained.

            Instinctively, the man retrieved a handful of the sand and cast it into the air in front of him. The sand began to swirl and twist, forming a smoky memory-image. There stood a perfect-looking Jesus, wearing robes and sandals, holding a little girl who wore a nice Sunday uniform consisting of a pink dress. She looked perfect, he looked perfect, and the scene faded. There was a vision of a cross, and over it were written the long words, “propitiation,” “salvation,” and “redemption.” The man felt proud, for he knew exactly what all these words meant, and that they were intended for him. He looked confidently at the gates of heaven, wondering about the treasures beyond them. His eyes did not meet the face of God, but he knew that he had done things right.

God turned to the man who gave the outward appearance of being not very dedicated—he only went to church once in a while, his family was in disarray, and there was this drinking problem. “How do you know that I love you?” he asked.

            This man also had a satchel hanging at his side. His sand, however, was not blue, the color of peace and universally loved. The contents of his little pouch were colored vibrantly, with reds and greens and yellows mixed in with colors he didn’t know the names of. He sighed quietly, knowing that his life had been one that did not offer great things to God, and he hunched a little under the watchful eyes of God and the good man beside him. With a sigh, he let a handful of the dust fall from his reluctant fist.

            The scene that unfolded was full color. “I know that You love me, Lord,” the colors formed not words, but deep knowledge without doubt; “For You were there when I thought that nothing could get me through, that I had to turn to addictions instead of making sure that my relationship with my wife was a healthy one. You helped me along the more difficult path when I could not have handled it alone.”

            God smiled and waited. There was more.

            “I know that you love me, Lord, because of the good times that we’ve had together. When I was fishing that weekend that one time, Lord, I had a conversation with you, and You showed me the great things of creation around me. The absurdity and perfection of creation made me laugh. You put me at ease in Your presence.”

            There was a pause, and the scene faded. The drunk fell to his knees.

            “Lord,” he said, “I was not worthy. I am not worthy. Cast me away from Your sight, I so dearly want to be in Your presence alone, and I wish for no other treasure.”

            The story ends here. It needs no conclusion, or does it? In this, the Lord turns to us and asks this: Do you love Me for the things that you have been told that I have done, or because you know Me? If I were human and introduced myself to you as a stranger, would you notice My personality, or would I be to you just that—a stranger?