Author Archives: Administrator

The Butcher of Bellaire Boulevard

The winter hadn’t been that cold, but when February came, it was like the season decided to make up for lost time. For a lot of the nation, it meant snow and office closings and school snow days. For Houston, it meant a lot of rain – that sort of cold rain that clings to you and makes you feel every breeze as though it were an arctic blast. It was a wet that got on you when with a raincoat and umbrella, and waiting for the car heater to really start going always felt like eternity (and always seemed to finally get hot once you’ve reached your destination).

“Now this is an interesting story,” the man on the radio droned, and Rob let the words settle through his conscious thought a brief moment, but then let them go.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Janie said in the seat beside him. “Weird, I guess.”

“Officials in Germany have arrested a 93-year-old man for 170,000 counts of accessory to murder,” said the man on the radio.

Rob had already opened his mouth to say something else, to try to reassure her, comfort Janie, provide some wisdom (that he knew he didn’t have), but that caught his attention, and he turned up the volume two clicks. He couldn’t really think of anything to say anyway.

“Yeah, so apparently this guy was a guard at Auschwitz for a few years, and, you know, he’s like this S.S. guard who works at the death camp while, I guess, doing his stint in the army for the Führer or whatever. So he spends the war supervising the part of the camp where they are killing people. I don’t know, I guess the war ends and he walks away, maybe thinking nothing of it, maybe thinking that was it, it’s over, and here it is, seventy years later, and he gets arrested, and he’s going to be tried.”

“Huh,” Rob said, and he lowered the volume as the man moved on to a different topic.

“Huh?” Janie said. She hadn’t been listening.

“They arrested this old Nazi guy who helped kill Jews in World War II.”

Janie looked out of the window.

“Serves him right, I guess,” he said, frowning. “It’s been a long time though. He probably thought he had gotten away for good.”

The girl beside him wasn’t interested.

“Here it is,” Rob said, turning his blinker on as they approached the clinic’s drive. It was quiet that morning – not many cars on the street. The parking lot had only a few scattered vehicles, so he pulled into the front spot.

“Do you want me to come with you?” he asked.

“No,” she said, shaking her head.

“Not even in the waiting room?”

Again, she shook her head.

“Okay, how about I grab some breakfast, and I’ll have it waiting for you. Does that sound okay?”

She nodded, but abruptly opened the door and got out. She had already closed the door and started away when Rob said, “I love you!” He wasn’t sure whether she
heard or not. And he wasn’t sure it really mattered. And lastly, he wasn’t sure he even meant it anymore.

***

It was on another rainy day, though one a bit warmer, and considerably later in years, when Robert Connor approached Austin on the HAL (the Houston-Austin Elevated in official terms, but such a title is far too cumbersome on the tongue, so people had been calling it “the HAL” for years now). The cylindrical train sped on its 30-foot-high track, making the journey is a bit over a half hour. Robert usually thought it was a waste of time. By the time you get off, get over to the car rental booth, and get out of there, you may as well have just driven. It was only a couple of hours’ trip on the road anyway. But in this case, the governor had promised to send his car to pick Robert up at the station, and a ride in the governor’s car meant that the HAL made a lot more sense, both in time and finances.

He sighed. This had all come together very quickly.

Oddly enough, he didn’t even yet know that the verdict was in fact officially guilty, but the evidence was too overwhelming. Gone were the days that these things would take months and years of motions and arguing over evidence collection and all of that. No, those things would be basically firmed up before the arrest, not while someone was in jail. There really weren’t any more of those loopholes to get good evidence thrown out (or bad evidence allowed in). That wasn’t the debate anymore, though Robert could remember a time when that seemed common enough. The verdict would be guilty, and things would move quickly after that. He needed to be there as soon as possible, lest he miss everything.

He looked through his notes, shaking his head. Uphill battle, this would be, and he wasn’t ready. There hadn’t been enough time.

But he really wasn’t sure more time would make it easier. He would be arguing against what, over time, had been realized by pretty much everyone as Good and The Right Thing To Do. Sure, consensus didn’t always make for good law, and actually rarely did, but some things are really clear in the minds of the people, and this was one of them.

“Be honest with yourself,” he muttered, too low to be overheard. “You’re going to the governor and asking that a truly wicked murderous man be pardoned.”

The HAL started to slow, and the cabin swayed under the pressure of the breaks. There was a high whine outside that grated at the ears. But then again, speed had always grated at the ears, hadn’t it?

The crowd filed out at the station, more efficiently than anyone really got used to, and Robert immediately saw a chauffeur standing a couple of score yards away, holding a sign that read, “R Connor.”

“That’s me,” Robert said.

“Yes, sir,” the man said, then bit his lip, obviously hesitant about the next part of his duty.

Robert shook his head. “Go ahead,” he sighed.

“I have strict instructions, sir. From the governor.”

“I know, it’s fine. I’m used to it.”

“Thank you, sir,” the man said, and then continued, in a very loud, booming voice, to call out, “Bobby Boy! Bobby Boy! Bobby, Bobby, Bobby Boy!”

“Yeah,” Robert said as he heard the chuckles around him. “That never gets old.”

***

“Bobby Boy! Bobby Boy!”

Robert stood up and buttoned his jacket deftly with one hand as he continued to hold his glass of scotch in the other. Honestly, he had hoped to finish it in peace, since the governor’s arrival would turn the occasion very serious, very quickly, and the scotch was good. Still, it was nice while it lasted. He licked his lips, a nervous habit, but it had the unexpected benefit of giving him one last taste the lingering liquor. It was very good.

“Governor MacDonald.”

Jeffrey McDonald was a jovial man, nearing sixty in age, but every bit as fit as he was during the war when he first made a name for himself. In the early days the best soldiers had become the de facto leaders, but war eventually transitions into rebuilding, and not all at once, and a few men had emerged as people who had actually thought some of this stuff through. That was rare – thinking about what rebuilding would look like rather than just assumed it would be good. It was those people who became the second-wave leaders of the emerging Republic, and the ones who made it actually work. MacDonald was one, as was Billings and Van Dyke, and it was strange being among the very people who had so clearly changed everything. Even more so, to know two of the three personally, and to know one of those two very well. “Thank you for seeing me and providing the ride. Your driver was very good.”

“Now, Bobby, we used to play ball together, and you are being way too formal with someone who shared a locker room with you,” the Governor said, pouring himself a glass to join his old friend. He motioned for Connor to have more, but the other shook his head. MacDonald added, “The driver, did he do it?”

Robert twisted up his expression. “Yes.”

“Excellent. Excellent! I knew it would make you uncomfortable. You’ve always needed to loosen up a bit. Formality gets you somewhere, but it’s not normally passed the living room. To really get beyond that point with someone, it takes unbuttoning the top button.”
Connor faked a chuckle, then said, “About why I came.”

“The Butcher.”

“Um, yes.” He said, stressing the words, “Dr. Stuart. I’d like to ask you to pardon him.”

MacDonald plopped into his chair and leaned as far back as it would go. “Well, now, I had wondered if you were here for that. Didn’t make any sense to me, of course, but why else come all this way suddenly on a Friday evening to talk? Why else would you call up in such a hurry on this day of all days? Nothing else in the news. Nothing overly pressing that couldn’t wait a few days. And that got me wondering. I suppose you know my answer already.”

“I suspect I do, but I’d like to have my say.”

“Of course. Your say is always worth the hearing, old friend.”

“Public opinion notwithstanding, we just don’t have proper jurisdiction here.”

“The courts and Senate disagree.”

“I know, and bad rulings are what got us in this mess in the first place. You’ll remember that it was the court that made what he did legal, and now another court in another country is saying that we’ll prosecute because the original country would not. Dr. Stuart has not committed anything that would be considered murder under the law at the time. He has committed no crime at all in the Republic. The law at the time allowed for the practice, and that status was protected under the U.S. Constitution, which did not allow for the passage of ex post facto laws. His business was perfectly legal, and when it became illegal, he stopped it. But now we pass the very ex post facto that he was guaranteed protection against in his country of residence and citizenship.”

“But we have no such protection when it comes to murder,” MacDonald said. “You know that. The U.S. Constitution banned it, but the Republic Constitution does not, especially when it comes to murder.”

“But he was not a citizen of the Republic then.”

“So we ignore murder because the murderer was in a different jurisdiction when it happened?”

“No, we return him to that jurisdiction.”

“Which doesn’t exist anymore. And which was, at the time, actually here. This very spot. The original country is defunct, and we replaced it.”

“I know, but we have to consider the law he was under.”

“A barbaric and insane law – one, like you said, that came from courts.”

“But it was the law he had, and he followed it. Dammit, Governor! He didn’t break the law! He didn’t break the law, and we’re going around proud that we’re killing him for what he did! We’re toasting drinks and feeling like we accomplished something here.”

“Bobby, come on. Look, I get it. I understand. But you are asking me to just ignore the fact that we have a mass murder as a citizen of this land because the prior leaders of this land were okay with it. That butcher, that monster, who has escaped justice so long, is finally getting what is coming to him. He mercilessly slaughtered thousands upon thousands of children and made money off of it. Why in the world should I not be happy that he’s finally being taken down?”

“Because he’s a man. He’s not an animal, he’s a man.”

“A man who made a living as an assassin.”

Connor shook his head. “It wasn’t like that!”

“Yes, it was.” MacDonald’s statement was sympathetic, but nonetheless firm. “Yes, it was. Just because abortion was technically legal at the time doesn’t change the fact that he was slaughtering children for money. He knew what he was doing, and he did it anyway. Whether or not it was technically legal at the time doesn’t change the fact of what it was. The whim of the state doesn’t make murder not murder anymore. You can’t with the stroke of a pen make two and two into five. The whim of the state has been seeking for generations to call evil good and good evil, to declare this people or that not really human, to say the innocent must make way for the guilty. These abortionists decimated entire generations, cutting down millions. Millions of people who would never then have children. Tens of millions gone, and tens of millions more, and that legacy is being passed down to this place, here and now, and our world will never be the same because of it. You remember what effect that had. You remember how much was lost. You were there, Bobby. You were there with us all when we went to war with nearly an entire generation of people missing.”

The admission was weightily said, “I was there.”

“Then why aren’t you standing with us today? He personally killed thousands, and no one stood for them at the time. Why are you standing up now?”

Connor was silent at that, not sure what to say.

“Look, Bobby, come stay with us for dinner. The ballgame will be on, we’ll have some beer. Just like the old days. It will be fun. And if you want to talk further on it, I’d be happy to.”

Connor took him up on his offer, but the conversation made no progress on either end. It was deadlocked then – Connor unwilling to give up, and MacDonald unwilling to concede. Except at last Connor did give up, and for the rest of the night, it was about baseball. But finally, with still a couple of hours before midnight, and with goodbyes and a hug, the two friends parted. It had tried them, but they parted friends, and MacDonald chanted, “Bobby Boy! Bobby Boy! Bobby, Bobby, Bobby Boy!” as his childhood buddy left.

Even Connor smiled at it that time.

***

The fact that midnight was slowly approaching had lingered on his like a faint dew all evening, but once he was alone in the back of the car again, he felt it more than ever. He glanced at his watch. Little after ten. Couple of hours left. And there was nothing he could do. He didn’t want to go back home, so he requested to be let out at a familiar corner, and once out, he looked over the fading lights of the street, a dim reminder of the old days, when this place was more alive at night than in the day, and yet also a reminder of how far they had come. It was odd – being part of the generation who had seen that very street too crowded to move, and also completely empty of life.

“Mr. Connor,” said a voice behind him, and he realized the chauffer had the window down. “Do you plan to return to Houston tonight, or will you be staying the night in Austin?”

He shook his head. “Haven’t decided yet.”

The chauffer handed over a business card. “I am at your service this evening, sir. Call me when you are ready.”

Robert muttered a thanks and then began to walk. The capitol buildings sparkled in the artificial lights. No, not as bright as it once was, but that wasn’t because they lacked the technology. Instead, it was a question of population. Fewer people meant fewer lights. There were many dark storefronts that had remained rentable since Austin was repopulated, but hadn’t been filled even now, and even at large discounts. Restaurants with too much seating for demand, so half the dining hall was unlit. Still, the infrastructure was there, and the population, at last, was growing.

He absent-mindedly put some tobacco in a pipe and lit it. There were only a few people on the streets that evening, and he definitely wasn’t the only one with a pipe lit. It amused him to wonder about how that trend had reignited, so to speak. A lot of the paranoia of the old world went up in as much smoke in time, perhaps to be replaced by something else, but only time would point out the foibles of this age. People were notoriously bad about recognizing the weaknesses of their own generation.

He turned into a bar on the main street, not far from either the governor’s manor and, he noted mentally, the very jail where Dr. Stuart would be hanged.

He ordered a drink, and he tried not to listen to the news that was being proclaimed from the television above the bar.

When the newsman reported the execution just after midnight, the other patrons didn’t seem to notice. Connor himself just toasted the air, and then downed the remaining brew.

***

The place was gradually clearing by then, and every few minutes saw another customer pay their bill and depart, their bellies full and their spirits high. It was Friday night, after all, Robert mused. The weekend was there at last. The worries of the week were behind them.

“Anything new on tap?” said a voice beside him. The newcomer was just sitting at the bar and the barkeep had strolled over with some pretzels.

“Sure, Rev,” said the barkeep. “PB finally got us a keg of their new bock.”

“Sounds good. How is it?”

“Fair enough,” was the honest reply.

“Worth a try, then,” said the newcomer.

“Yes, sir!”

The beer came quickly, and it was a nice amber color which seemed to glow in the low lights of the establishment.

“You’re Rev Billings,” said Robert, recognition dawning on him. “I barely recognized you.”

The man looked up. “Wait, I know you. Bobby O’Connor?” he asked.

“Connor, just Connor.”

“Oh, sorry about that. It’s been a long time.”

“No problem. I wouldn’t have remembered your name even half that well if you weren’t, well, if you weren’t Rev Billings.”

The other man laughed at that. He was a lanky man, early sixties, with a whiff of white hair on his head a wrinkled face. He didn’t look old, but he certainly looked like a man who had seen much in his life. Well, they all could lay claim to that.

“I’m glad to know you survived,” said Rev. “We were separated before the end of it all, so I fear I never knew what happened to some of my old soldiering friends. I’ve caught up with several, but a lot of them, well, we won’t know on this side of glory.”

“True enough,” Robert said, sipping on his cup.

Rev leaned back and rubbed his eyes.

“Long night?”

“Indeed.” He paused. “What about you?” the older man asked. “You living around here now?”

“No, I’m lawyering out of Houston.”

“Oh, good, good. What brings you here today?”

Robert tipped his beer toward the television, which was still discussing the story.

“Heh,” Rev grunted.

“I was discussing staying the execution with the governor.”

Rev licked his lips after a long sip. “I see,” he intoned.

Robert laughed suddenly. “Rev, I’m sorry. I didn’t come here to make things awkward. I just wanted a beer after a long day. I’m not here to argue anymore. It’s done. I tried, and I failed.”
Billings nodded knowingly. “I’ll drink to that. Might surprise you to know that I feel like I failed too.”

Connor didn’t understand the comment, but it didn’t seem the type that needed an answer, so he let it linger there as they sat together for a while, watching the coverage, but the volume was down, so they couldn’t even hear what was being said.

Billings sighed, and said, “But then, so much depends on the trying, and that’s the only part we really have any sort of say in. Succeed or fail, we did our part, and we should be able to rest easy in that. Doesn’t always help, knowing that. Sometimes resting is not at all easy.”

There was silence between the two then, and Connor was unsure how to proceed, even though it seemed like Billings was staying there, ready to be his drinking companion for the night.
“Were you his lawyer?” Billings finally asked. “I followed the case a bit, I would have recognized your name on the stories, whether Connor or O’Connor.” The men laughed at that part, even though the statement was a moment of levity atop a tense subject.

“No,” he said. “I just felt like I should say something. I thought I should make an appeal on it, whether it would go through or not.”

Billings nodded thoughtfully. “Not his lawyer, but his advocate nonetheless. That was good of you.”

Connor chuckled. “Didn’t think you would say that.”

Rev shrugged. “The thing that got me interested in criminal justice in the first place was a wrongful conviction. I perhaps have the reputation now of advocating for harsher sentences than we had in the Old World, but all of those harsher sentences, when they actually are harsher, and most were in fact not nearly as harsh, also had stricter rules of evidence and fairer rules of representation. My journey through all of this began before the war, you know, when I saw a man come out of prison after more than ten years, newly exonerated because of DNA evidence. It had been a man so many of us cursed a decade before, and it was a shock to see how wrong we got it. It got me wondering what put him in there in the first place. It was a dimly-lit street, a moment of being seen, a well-intentioned eye-witness who believed his own eyesight was better than it actually was, and an overworked appointed attorney with no experience and less discernment. A lot of media pressure too. No, that was no way to treat a man, and I knew it. That got me moving. And I got nowhere until the war, and then, suddenly, providentially, I suppose, I was where I was meant to be the whole time. Lots of trying, over the years, not much succeeding until it all fell together.”

“Hm,” Connor said thoughtfully. He mused upon the story, then said, “But you took that into a completely different direction than most people seeing that play out would have.”

“Did I?”

“Well, let’s just address the elephant in the room. You were the one who advocated to the Senate to not protect abortionists from ex post facto laws. They were ready to put that protection in until you changed their minds.”

“Ah,” Billings said. “Well, that is something different, isn’t it? A lot of people confuse one thing with another. A lot of people assumed it from me. Well, Rev, he advocated for the death penalty, but they never saw me oppose the death penalty on people we assumed were guilty, but didn’t have good evidence on. Or maybe they hear me talk about rights of the accused, and they are surprised that I testify in favor of a law like this one. They think you either want justice or rights, and that’s it. Well, I take a much simpler path than all of that. I’m after the truth. I don’t want to be on any other side than that.”

“The truth is, in this case, that the man was doing something legal when he did it. When it was illegal, he stopped.”

“I can see the logic in that, but I think the truth is much simpler still. I’m sympathetic with you, Robert. I am. I understand the struggle. The difference between us is that you are thinking that if something is legal, then it should not be punishable. I think if something is that wicked, then we should seek justice.”

Connor began to reply, but Billings lifted a hand, saying, “I know. I know. The law is what we have, and that’s the thing by which we measure these things. Well, in a limited sense, perhaps. But then you come at things with a clean slate, and you get to with it what should have been done a long time ago if you are brace enough to do it. That happens more often than we think. The British Empire returned back to the island, and a lot of little provinces are suddenly in control of themselves. Nazi Germany fell, and they started over. America fell – we started over. Governments are changing hands all the time. When we find ourselves in that place, we take a hard look at the wickedness that originally helped bring us down, and we decide to stop it there. We react, perhaps too much, perhaps not enough. We try to take the good and change the bad. The government that came before is gone, but the stain of sin remains. The stain has to be dealt with. The blood cries out from the ground, and that cry is not sated because the country changes names and leaders. Sometimes you land in a place where there was deep wickedness, and what do you do then? Just ignore it? Or try to make it right? I thought very long and very hard before I addressed the matter, and I think it was the right path, but it was not the easiest one.”

Connor furrowed his brow. “I thought you were here to celebrate tonight,” he said. “But now I don’t think you are.”

Rev shook his head with a wry smile. “No, I’m here because I had a very long day of pleading and arguing, and I needed a drink.”

“Who were you arguing with?”

“Dr. Franklin Stuart,” he said, pointing to the television. He looked at the man’s image, the man who not long before had been executed for countless acts of murder. “I was in his cell all day, begging him to repent of what he had done. And to his last breath, he refused.”

There was a thoughtful silence at the bar, and the whole room seemed to have quieted to a reflective melody of night sounds and clinking glasses. The crowd had mostly dispersed, and the barkeep was cleaning up. Connor’s lip had gone dry from thinking too long about what had been said without licking them, and he blinked rapidly at once, trying to think of something more to say.

“Robert,” Rev said, dropping some bills on the bar, “another thing was argued that day in the Senate, and that is whether to punish those who had procured abortions. The Senate decided against it. I do not know whether this was the right decision. They asked me to speak on it, and I did not. I just didn’t want to say, because my heart was torn on the matter. In other words, I don’t know whether the government should have you up there too or not. Doesn’t matter, because you won’t be. You have been shown mercy. What you do with it now is up to you. I think you wish to cover up the stain of that man’s crimes because in doing so, you want to cover your own as well. You don’t have to. You have been offered forgiveness. Go, and sin no more.”
He patted Connor on the shoulder and went to go, but the latter turned suddenly to him. “How did you know?”

“A guess,” Rev said, putting on his coat. “But an educated one. It was good to see you, Robert Connor. God bless you. Come see me next time you are in town.”

And the old man shuffled out into the night.

***

She didn’t say anything when she got back into the car, and she didn’t touch the kolaches that Rob had bought. They would only be consumed later when Rob found his lunch hadn’t filled him up as much as he had hoped. She just looked through the window as they drove, and there was something missing in that car, and Rob stifled the understanding of what it was that was gone between them, trying to replace that understanding with something else. Maybe the thing that was gone was trust, or love, or maybe she just didn’t feel well. But despite all of his efforts to find a different reason for it, he knew, and so did she.

He would not cry then, but he would, but oddly, it wasn’t until the bombs began to fall years later, when he was on his porch, knowing he should run, but also knowing there was nowhere to run to, and he watched the clouds born of fire fill the sky, and he then, for the first time, put words to it, and he whispered, “My God, what have I done?”

The Lord’s Day vs. Christmas

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them.

-Acts 20:7

Several years ago, I distinctly remember walking up to the church doors on a particular Sunday morning to find them locked. I was a little surprised, and I turned to examine the parking lot. Yes, I was a touch early, but not that much. I was the only one there, and no one else would be joining me. There would be no corporate worship on that day, at least not in that building. Somehow I had overlooked the announcement.  That is not terribly unusual – I am often overlooking important information.

It so happened to be Christmas Day, one of the few times it lands on a Sunday, and several churches decided to close their doors so that their worship team, pastors, choir, etc., could spend the time with their families.  Other churches cited different reasons, but the result was that members were encouraged to stay home with families rather than to come to worship.

I confess I was a little shocked. I already knew that certain large churches had shut down. While I didn’t agree with the decision, I at least understood the reasoning. It takes a lot of people to put on a show with lights and music and video as many of those churches have. Those people were likely going to want Christmas Day off. Now is not the time for an argument against this sort of church model, but one jumps to mind.  But the church I was at wasn’t like that. It was smaller, with less production. It was a conservative church too, one that is unlikely to cancel for anything.church-closed

I am reminded of that day because this year, as it was then, Christmas happens to fall on a Sunday. I don’t know what percentage of churches will cancel worship, but I know that some of them will. Some of them will have the excuse that it takes a lot of people to run the service, and those people want the day off. Some of them will use the family excuse. But ultimately, we will find, these are excuses, and there is a fundamental theological flaw that brings this about.

But this issue is not merely about Christmas. Even those conservative churches who would never close on any Sunday are still apt to be controlled a little by the calendar. I’m not speaking of a liturgical calendar – I don’t have a problem with those at all; I’m speaking of a secular one.

In certain churches, Mother’s Day would not be complete without a special sermon on the wonderful sacrifice of mothers. Or perhaps a patriotic holiday has you singing “God Bless America” and the pastor preaching on politics.

Here’s another question, more to the laity than the pastors – how much does attendance drop on Super Bowl Sunday?

Don’t misunderstand me – I’ve heard plenty of God-honoring sermons about mothers, and there is much overlap between theology and politics that should be addressed from the pulpit. But what is our focus in these cases? If we have a special prayer for mothers on Mother’s Day or a sermon that takes up the theme, but continue to focus on Christ, then we have done well. If our purpose is to praise mothers instead of proclaim the Word, then we have a problem.

In the same way, I am very much in favor of our churches praying for our soldiers and politicians. I would even advocate for us preaching as to what politicians and soldiers should be doing.  But I am very much opposed to our worship turning from our Lord and Savior in order to pay tribute to someone else.  We’ve missed the point of what we are doing.

And as a layman, I must recognize that when worship takes a backseat to football, then I have an idol.

The very fact that a church would consider passing a Lord’s Day without corporate worship (except in extreme circumstances) says something of our understanding of the day. Do we worship on Sunday simply because it is convenient? Is it a tradition that can be trumped by something more interesting or by another tradition? Or is it something greater still?

***

The Jews of Jesus’ day, as people have done ever since Creation, have set aside Saturdays for worship and devotion. The early church, under the guidance of the Apostles, moved that day of worship to Sunday to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Revelation 1:10, Acts 20:7).* From these days forward, it has been the habit of the Christian church to gather for worship on Sundays.

But over the years, I think the church has thought this move one of convenience and not one of obligation.  It was certainly not convenient.  Sunday was a work day in ancient Rome and in ancient Jerusalem, so this was not a thing simply done.  The church was worshipping in a way that was in opposition to the culture around them.

And the commands to corporate worship stressed the importance of it.  The writer of Hebrews tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, emphasis mine).

Truly, as a priesthood of believers, when we are called to worship, we have a priestly duty to be there, barring some circumstance that is preventing it.  And that circumstance isn’t football.

And this point may be the most helpful for us. When we look at the Old Testament commands for the priests and the Levites, we see clearly that there is no room for the duties to go undone for a week, or for a ceremony to be skipped. Oh, certainly an individual may have taken the day off or the duties be rotated (as indicated in Luke 1:8), but the work was always performed. Someone qualified to do the work was there. As believers after Christ’s incarnation, we sometimes pass over these passages as being part of the types and shadows that have been fulfilled. After all, Christian churches typically do not have priests in a formal sense, excepting that Jesus is our High Priest. But it is not that the office has been abolished, but rather expanded, for the Bible now describes all believers as priests (1 Peter 2:9).  As priests, we are to come when worship is called, and it is called for on Sunday by teaching of Scripture.

We have a duty to be amongst the brethren on Lord’s Day if we are able. That is commanded of us, and the elders have a duty to lead that worship.

***

In the Reformed tradition, there is actually only one “holy day” – and that is Sunday.  I once quipped that the Reformed have a church calendar, but it is only seven days long.  It was said in jest at the time, but there is some truth there.

Brothers in Christ disagree on this point, and many have a liturgical calendar that separate out particular feast days.  As I mentioned, I really have no problem with this, but the temptation then is to, as Rome has done, regard Easter and Christmas as the high holy days and Sunday as part of the weekend.

And there is the trap we must avoid.  Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, but he did not abolish it.  He abolished the ridiculous man-made laws of the Pharisees associated with the Sabbath, but we are called to keep Sabbath as prescribed in the Law.  God even lists that command with others that we would find good and profitable:

Keep justice, and do righteousness,

for soon my salvation will come,

and my righteousness be revealed.

Blessed is the man who does this,

and the son of man who holds it fast,

who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,

and keeps his hand from doing any evil.

-Isaiah 56:1-2

Ah, you will say.  This is Old Testament.  This is an Old Covenant command.  But if you look more closely at the chapter, you will find this to be a New Covenant command.  In this chapter, the eunuch who keeps the Sabbath is promised a memorial name in the house of the Lord, but the Old Covenant forbids eunuchs from entering the house of the Lord (Deut 23:1, also see Joseph A. Pipa, The Lord’s Day).

While the exploration of these things can and do take up books, this introduction will suffice for our purposes.  The conclusion we must draw from Scripture is that the Lord’s Day should be celebrated with corporate worship, and we should attend unless somehow prohibited.

***

But then let us speak of Christmas a while. And I would not have you think I am against the holiday here. I have defended Christmas as a worthwhile celebration before, and I would do it again. For many years I dedicated the Winter edition of Primum Mobile Magazine to focus the on Christmas, and I wrote the bulk of that material personally.  The original version of this very essay was one of those works. Christmastime is my favorite season of the year and a wonderful opportunity to honor God in so many ways.

But Christmas is not commanded by God’s Word. You do no sin if you fail to celebrate Christmas. It is within the realm of Christian freedom. Corporate worship, on the other hand, is commanded, and it is a sin to fail to attend without cause.

We must see that a freedom should and must yield to a command. While Christmas may be part of your Lord’s Day worship, it must not in any sense trump it, lest we fall into sin.

***

This is exactly why it is so terribly sad to see churches remaining closed on Lord’s Day simply because the date is December 25. It is so sad to see pews empty on Super Bowl Sunday. It is so sad to see the worship of our Lord altered to include any other worthy cause, such as veterans or mothers or anything of the sort, even though these be worthy groups to celebrate. Our holidays are fun and enjoyable, but they are not as Sundays are, for on Sunday we have a command from God to gather together to sing to him, to read the Scriptures, to partake of the sacraments, to pray, and to hear the proclamation of the Word.

That includes Christmas Day when it falls on Sunday.

Please enjoy the day. If you can, spend time with family. In God Rest Ye Merry, Douglas Wilson advocates Sunday to be a weekly gathering of family and friends to dinner, and Sunday, December 25 should not be an exception there.  Make merry, feast and give thanks.  But far more importantly, go worship your King. If your church decides to shut down that day, find a good Bible-believing church nearby where the Elders understand their Lord’s Day duties to lead the congregation in worship.

And ask your own Elders about it, because there truly is something that should be concerning to us when the decision is made to not worship our Lord on the day he prescribed us to worship him.  I for one think it is, besides a sinful decision that requires repentant, a symptom of deeper troubles that need to be examined.

But thankfully, our God is a forgiving God.  He has forgiven the countless times I have not worshipped properly on the Lord’s Day.  Do not presume his grace, but also remember that it is there when we have erred.

 

Recommended reading:

Joseph A. Pipa Jr.’s book The Lord’s Day is exceptionally good in drawing out the Christian doctrine of the Lord’s day and what God intends for us on that day each week.  I definitely recommend it as further study on this topic.  There has been much written on what Christians should do with Christmas in general, but I believe the foundation to moving forward on the topic is the very topic of what a holy day is and what it is not, which is what Dr. Pipa is exploring.

Notes:

*The move of the Christian Sabbath to Sunday is one that I had to gloss over briefly, and I did not that simply because the intended audience of this essay is not likely one who believes the Sabbath should be on Saturday.  Dr. Pipa’s book The Lord’s Day tackles this topic in more depth.

Kain: Upon His Return to Baron Castle

Note:  I based this on the events from Final Fantasy IV, which for years intrigued me by by its plots and characters.  However, many years after I wrote this, a sequel to this game was released.  While I haven’t played it yet, I do understand that the events that I depict in this poem contradict the ones in the game.

The dawn, in sudden burst of red, as though
The thin layer of clouds, now bleeding o’er
The morning, swallows up the single moon.
The sun, in his great brightness does expel
The Queen of Night, and she, without dispute,
Is gone.  The morning dance is at its end;
The lonely moon makes way for day.
’Twas once a time, a time that I recall,
When Queen did have a King to stand
Beside her in the night.  They watched, a pair
Of eyes, but one has now been pluckèd out.

’Twas thirty years now passed, yet every night
I look upon our single moon, remember
Better that, those days long passed, than what
Occurred just yesterday.  Oh, will I not
Now shake this ghost and shed it off my skin?
But no, I’ll not forget the saddened eyes
Of Cecil when I turned my spear at him,
My greatest friend.  And better still the look
He gave while setting my rebellion down.

The cold remaining moon does watch me as
A cursèd eye to e’er remind me, night
To night, of all I did so long ago –
A summer month a score and half again
In years now passed.  But though the moon won’t
Forgive, perhaps, in Baron, Cecil will.

The cloud upon the cave of mist remains,
And yet the beasts within have long been slain.
’Tis now an active road from Baron, north,
And many men in every hour will come
And travel to or from the town of Mist,
Just past the other mouth.  But none will think
Of what had once resided ’tween these walls,
And none can know, while passing through this mist,
About the man who lives upon their path.
I sometimes watch them, ever out of sight,
And wonder if they’ve heard the tales before,
Of how that path did two men walk, that path
That changed the world in time, and for the good.
And if they have, I wonder still of what
They say of he, the second of the pair,
The hero unheroic, uncontrolled.
But yes, the days have trapped me in the mist,
The cloud has hidden me within its wall
Of white – a cloak that rides upon my skin.
And in that cloak I cower, hiding from
The men who travel through this soggy cave.
The days I sleep within this house and in
The evenings climb atop the mountains, look
Across the open plains to Baron.  Her lights
do shine to even here.  And at that spot
I’ll stand ’til dawn, and then retreat again.
When I was thirty years more young, I thought
That such a life would help me gain control.

No, let me lie no longer to myself:
Not even then did I believe that I
Am here to learn control myself again,
For what had once controlled me now is gone.

I live within this cave to flee from him:
It’s Cecil’s gaze I feat to bear again.
’Twas in this mist my mind was last my own,
And here my soul was last untouched by soot
Of sin against the innocent and good.
For after this was I the vessel in which
Was sent destruction.  With that message brought,
My will was battered, pained by screams of scores
Of people, burnèd by the bomb which I
Had so unknowingly brought.  That one remained –
The green-haired girl with power thrice her size –
The ghost of Justice sent upon its foes.
She called upon her beasts, all magically brought,
To slay the cold assassins.  To have died
At that, for I had so much farther to fall.

The battle ended sooner than begun,
And I was thrown against the rocks and left,
Assumed for dead, perhaps not unwisely.
My body broken, shattered, my armor bent,
My mind was weakened, my spirit low.

So weak – so easily was I controlled.
So easily, in shame do I admit it.
But beaten once in body, I was then
Too quickly overcome in mind as well.
There once again did magic pummel me.
There once again was I proven weak.

My years of training had been long and hard,
And I excelled myself above my peers,
The shining example of what Dragoons should be.
I thought, by skill and strength unmatched, that I
Could not be bested in the field of battle.
How foolish was I proved, for just a word
Of magic turned my thoughts against my friends.
How weak had all my training made me then.
The power of Golbez curdled my spirit sour,
And in so doing tacked these puppet strings
Upon my limbs and made me dance, dance.
When first I fought ’gainst Cecil, there I thought,
It is not I who strives against him now,
But Golbez through me speaks.  But no.  It was
His hand upon my head, but still ’twas I
Who did the evil deed.  I twice betrayed.

’Fore long I shook the spell, and Golbez too
(For in it all, he also had been overcome).
At last I joined with the line, my friends,
To stand beside them, not betray them ’gain.
Yes, I was there, an ally of the light,
Upon the second moon in battle ’gainst
The evil that did dwell beneath the ground.
Good Cecil once forgave me there, but I
Would not accept, and once returned I fled.
I pray his love for me does linger still.

I wandered long, through fields and over seas,
And came upon the place where Cecil shed
His dark shadow and put upon himself
The cloak of Holy Knight, and so the same
I sought unto myself on Mount Ordeals.
Alas! I never even saw the shrine
That stands atop the peak.  Those forces there
Who stand undead, o’erwhelmed me, sent me running.
They rose from out the dirt, the acrid stench
Burning in my nose, the rhythmic clanks
Of rattling bones so fell upon my ears,
And so I quaked.  I fought the creatures off,
But not for long.  They formed in lines, the ghouls
Stood there and zombies there, then all the men
Of bones in front, and all advanced with groans
And screeches torn upon my ears from death.
I wept in fear and pressed no more.  I fled.

I fled, and came again into the mist.
’Twas in this cave I last was proved of worth.
The last of all my life that vict’ry found.
I have become a soldier ’out a land,
And it was here that all my world did fall.

Can I this day reclaim what here was lost?
Perhaps these thirty years be far too long
A time to turn at last upon my path
And know I went too far.  I long returned
To here, the place that last I lived, but here
Is not enough!  And even though I step
Upon the very dirt I carelessly crossed
Three decades back, I do not feel the same.
So thus I walk now back, and thus emerge
In morning from my home, as a ghost appear
From out the mist, but is not crumbled by
The light of sudden dawn, but is welcomed by it.
The sun does fuel my steps, and as I go
I look and almost see my footprints in
The dirt, now agèd counted moons and turned
The other way.  I step against those prints
And onto Baron, rising ’fore the dawn.

The TechnoFunkBoy: The Final Fantasy Mixes

The Final Fantasy Mixes: A Tribute to Nobuo Uematsuthetechnofunkboy2

Our tribute to one of our favorite composers of all time: Nobuo Uematsu. We’ve taken 12 of his themes and turned them into 10 dance songs that are sure to get your groove going.  Click the links above to get this album!

  1. The Prelude
  2. Gulugu Volcano (From “Final Fantasy I”)
  3. Fight 2 (From “Final Fantasy IV”)
  4. Theme from Final Fantasy II
  5. Chocobo! Chocobo! (From “Final Fantasy IV”)
  6. Tina (From “Final Fantasy VI”)
  7. The Airship Medley: The Airship (From “Final Fantasy I”) / The Dragon Spreads Its Wings (From “Final Fantasy V”) / The Big Whale (From “Final Fantasy IV”)
  8. Forested Temple (From “Final Fantasy VII”)
  9. Crossing Those Hills / The Melodies of Life (From “Final Fantasy IX”)
  10. Epilogue (From “Final Fantasy IV”)

The TechnoFunkBoy: Driver’s Seat EP

TFB cover

The TechnoFunkBoy

Driver’s Seat

Tracks:

  • Prelude
  • Almighty
  • Cross
  • Valley
  • Robot
  • Postlude

Sort of a hip hop, dance, rock, pop, and old school MIDI game music thingy. It’s an exploration of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty that you can dance to. And it may make you want to play Zelda or Mario Bros. The members of TFB are well-acquainted with game music, seeing as how they were born and raised in various Nintendo games. Advancements in technology have at last allowed them to perform in the real world.

This album is available for free over at Noisetrade.  Enjoy!

YouTube Channel

Just a quick note that I have started a YouTube channel.  I’ll be using it to discuss starting a business, music, writing, or whatever else comes to mind.  I’ll post videos on this site that I feel are related to my writing and music, but most of them will not find their way over here so that we don’t overload the site with unrelated material, but you can subscribe to my channel on YouTube.

Once Upon a Time

Originally published in Primum Mobile, vol 1, issue 1, September 2004.

Once Upon a Time . . .

In Which it is Decided that there is Truth,
and How it Benefits a Man to Seek that Truth

Once upon a time, men believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. They believed that several spheres circled the Earth, each containing a heavenly body, whether it be the Sun, Moon, or planets. Beyond that were the stars, and then there was a tenth circle, called the Primum Mobile, which caused the other nine spheres to spin. And then in some versions, the Primum Mobile itself was moved by its own love of God.

This vision of the universe, called the Ptolemaic System, is radically different from the modern one, and not simply because the Earth is at its center. After all, if we simply switch the positions of the Earth and the Sun, most of the other spheres fall into place quite nicely. The Moon is the first sphere, so we would need to attach that to the earth as we are moving that one out, but the planets are all in the right order (the planets past Saturn were not known then, so they do not even appear on the chart), so very little there needs adjusting. Except for the one detail about the Earth being at the center, the order looks pretty familiar.

So what else differs? Primarily, the Primum Mobile. Continue reading

Strawberries

I never miss her when I hear her name,
or when I see her walking ’round our work,
or when I hear her laugh — ’tis all the same,

I hardly even notice anymore —
I only feel it slightly when she smiles.
The dreams have even stopped, they’ve grown so bored

of her — it really only took a while.
So now have I discovered I am free.
Yes, seeing her no longer is a trial.

But then the scent of strawberries touches me,
as though it rose from off her hair to sip
the air around, and brings the memories

all back. So all security then slips.
It tastes like powdered sugar on my lips.

 

© Copyright 2002 by Paul Lytle. All rights reserved.

From Perfect Worlds

Generally, my poems seem to fit into two categories — long poems, usually dramatic monologues, and sonnets. I usually have a lot to say, and I love the challenge of saying everything in fourteen lines.

Sonnets are best as love poems, and mine are no exception. This particular sonnet style is a newer form that is a combination of terza rima (which Dante used) and the traditional sonnet. It creates a wonderful sound that swirls around itself. This particular one has a sadder ending than most of my sonnets, but it is no less a love sonnet, even if love is unrequited.


 

I waited days to see you sitting there —
The strands of black as fallen lightly o’er
Your cheek, inviting neck (but blocked by hair).

It’s just like dreams I’ve dreamèd just before
The morning light does drag me then away
From perfect worlds I never wish be torn.

Impression seen and play’d in those long days
I spend without a sight of you in view,
And all my thoughts and then my heart betray.

But what to do but sit and stare at you?
For I cannot my hopes and dreams now heed,
But though my heart will push my mind says no —

For as I watch a perfect world repeat,
You watch another man instead of me.

© Copyright 2002 by Paul Lytle. All rights reserved.