Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Ripple Effect

It's the 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!

and his book:

Zondervan (October 1, 2008)


Paul McCusker is the author of The Mill House, Epiphany, The Faded Flower and several Adventures in Odyssey programs. Winner of the Peabody Award for his radio drama on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for Focus on the Family, he lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and two children.

Product Details

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714362
ISBN-13: 978-0310714361


“I’m running away,” Elizabeth announced defiantly. She chomped a french fry in half.

Jeff looked up at her. He’d been absentmindedly swirling his straw in his malted milkshake while she complained about her parents, which she had been doing for the past half hour. “You’re what?”

“You weren’t listening, were you?”

“I was too.”

“Then what did I say?” Elizabeth tucked a loose strand of her long brown hair behind her ear so it wouldn’t fall into the puddle of ketchup next to her fries.

“You were complaining about how your mom and dad drive you crazy because your dad embarrassed you last night while you and Melissa Morgan were doing your history homework. And your dad lectured you for twenty minutes about . . . about . . .” He was stumped.

“Chris-tian symbolism in the King Arthur legends,” Elizabeth said.

“Yeah, except that you and Melissa were supposed to be studying the . . . um — ”

“French Revolution.”

“Right, and Melissa finally made up an excuse to go home, and you were embarrassed and mad at your dad — ”

“As usual,” she said and savaged another french fry.

Jeff gave a sigh of relief. Elizabeth’s pop quizzes were a lot tougher than anything they gave him at school. But it was hard for him to listen when she griped about her parents. Not having any parents of his own, Jeff didn’t connect when Elizabeth went on and on about hers.

“Then what did I say?” she asked.

He was mid-suck on his straw and nearly blew the contents back into the glass. “Huh?”

“What did I say after that?”

“You said . . . uh . . .” He coughed, then glanced around the Fawlt Line Diner, hoping for inspiration or a way to change the subject. His eye was dazzled by the endless chrome, beveled mirrors, worn red upholstery, and checkered floor tiles. And it boasted Alice Dempsey, the world’s oldest living waitress, dressed in her paper cap and red-striped uniform with white apron.

She had seen Jeff look up and now hustled over to their booth. She arrived smelling like burnt hamburgers and chewed her gum loudly. “You kids want anything else?”

Rescued, Jeff thought. “No, thank you,” he said.

She cracked an internal bubble on her gum and dropped the check on the edge of the table. “See you tomorrow,” Alice said.

“No, you won’t,” Elizabeth said under her breath. “I won’t be here.”

As she walked off, Alice shot a curious look back at Elizabeth. She was old, but she wasn’t deaf.

“Take it easy,” Jeff said to Elizabeth.

“I’m going to run away,” she said, heavy rebuke in her tone. “If you’d been listening — ”

“Aw, c’mon, Bits — ” Jeff began. He’d called her “Bits” for as long as either of them could remember, all the way back to first grade. “It’s not that bad.”

“You try living with my mom and dad, and tell me it’s not that bad.”

“I know your folks,” Jeff said. “They’re a little quirky, that’s all.”

“Quirky! They’re just plain weird. They’re clueless about life in the real world. Did you know that my dad went to church last Sunday with his shirt on inside out?”

“It happens.”

“And wearing his bedroom slippers?”

Jeff smiled. Yeah, that’s Alan Forde, all right, he thought.

“Don’t you dare smile,” Elizabeth threatened, pointing a french fry at him. “It’s not funny. His slippers are grass stained. Do you know why?”

“Because he does his gardening in his bedroom slippers.”

Elizabeth threw up her hands. “That’s right! He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care how he looks, what -people think of him, or anything! And my mom doesn’t even have the decency to be embarrassed for him. She thinks he’s adorable! They’re weird.”

“They’re just . . . themselves. They’re — ”

Elizabeth threw herself against the back of the red vinyl bench and groaned. “You don’t understand.”

“Sure I do!” Jeff said. “Your parents are no worse than Malcolm.” Malcolm Dubbs was Jeff’s father’s cousin, on the English side of the family, and had been Jeff’s guardian since his parents had died five years ago in a plane crash. As the last adult of the Dubbs family line, he came from England to take over the family fortune and estate. “He’s quirky.”

“But that’s different. Malcolm is nice and sensitive and has that wonderful English accent,” Elizabeth said, nearly swooning. Jeff’s cousin was a heartthrob among some of the girls.

“Don’t get yourself all worked up,” Jeff said.

“My parents just go on and on about things I don’t care about,” she continued. “And if I hear the life-can’t-be-taken-too-seriously-because-it’s-just-a-small-part-of-a-bigger-picture lecture one more time, I’ll go out of my mind.”

Again Jeff restrained his smile. He knew that lecture well. Except his cousin Malcolm summarized the same idea in the phrase “the eternal perspective.” All it meant was that there was a lot more to life than what we can see or experience with our senses. This world is a temporary stop on a journey to a truer, more real reality, he’d say — an eternal reality. “Look, your parents see things differently from most -people. That’s all,” Jeff said, determined not to turn this gripe session into an Olympic event.

“They’re from another planet,” Elizabeth said. “Sometimes I think this whole town is. Haven’t you figured it out yet?”

“I like Fawlt Line,” Jeff said softly, afraid Elizabeth’s complaints might offend some of the other regulars at the diner.

“Everybody’s so . . . so oblivious! Nobody even seems to notice how strange this place is.”

Jeff shrugged. “It’s just a town, Bits. Every town has its quirks.”

“Is that your word of the day?” Elizabeth snapped. “These aren’t just quirks, Jeffrey.”

Jeff rolled his eyes. When she resorted to calling him Jeffrey, there was no reasoning with her. He rubbed the side of his face and absentmindedly pushed his fingers through his wavy black hair.

“What about Helen?” Elizabeth challenged him.

“Which Helen? You mean the volunteer at the information booth in the mall? That Helen?”

“I mean Helen the volunteer at the information booth in the mall who thinks she’s psychic. That’s who I mean.” Elizabeth leaned over the Formica tabletop. Jeff moved her plate of fries and ketchup to one side. “She won’t let you speak until she guesses what you’re going to ask. And she’s never right!”

Jeff shrugged.

“Our only life insurance agent has been dead for six years.”

“Yeah, but — ”

“And there’s Walter Keenan. He’s a professional proofreader for park bench ads! He wanders around, making -people move out of the way so he can do his job.” Her voice was a shrill whisper.

“Ben Hearn only pays him to do that because he feels sorry for him. You know old Walter hasn’t been the same since that shaving accident.”

“But I heard he just got a job doing the same thing at a tattoo parlor!”

“I’m sure tattooists want to make sure their spelling is correct.”

Elizabeth groaned and shook her head. “It’s like Mayberry trapped in the Twilight Zone. I thought you’d understand. I thought you knew how nuts this town is.” Elizabeth locked her gaze onto Jeff’s.

He gazed back at her and, suddenly, the image of her large brown eyes, the faint freckles on her upturned nose, her full lips, made him want to kiss her. He wasn’t sure why — they’d been friends for so long that she’d probably laugh at him if he ever actually did it — but the urge was still there.

“It’s not such a bad place,” he managed to say.

“I’ve had enough of this town,” she said. “Of my parents. Of all the weirdness. I’m fifteen years old and I wanna be a normal kid with normal problems. Are you coming with me or not?”

Jeff cocked an eyebrow. “To where?”

“To wherever I run away to,” she replied. “I’m serious about this, Jeff. I’m getting all my money together and going somewhere normal. We can take your Volkswagen and — ”

“Listen, Bits,” Jeff interrupted, “I know how you feel. But we can’t just run away. Where would we go? What would we do?”

“And who are you all of a sudden: Mr. Responsibility? You never know where you’re going or what you’re doing. You’re our very own Huck Finn.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Not according to Mr. Vidler.”

“Mr. Vidler said that?” Jeff asked defensively, wondering why their English teacher would be talking about him to Elizabeth.

“He says it’s because you don’t have parents, and Malcolm doesn’t care what you do.”

Jeff grunted. He didn’t like the idea of Mr. Vidler discussing him like that. And Malcolm certainly cared a great deal about what he did.

Elizabeth continued. “So why should you care where we go or what we do? Let’s just get out of here.”

“But, Bits, it’s stupid and — ”

“No! I’m not listening to you,” Elizabeth shouted and hit the tabletop with the palms of her hands. Silence washed over the diner like a wave as everyone turned to look.

“Keep it down, will you?” Jeff whispered fiercely.

“Either you go with me, or stay here and rot in this town. It’s up to you.”

Jeff looked away. It was unusual for them to argue. And when they did, it was usually Jeff who gave in. Like now. “I don’t know,” he said quietly.

Elizabeth also softened her tone. “If you’re going, then meet me at the Old Saw Mill by the edge of the river tonight at ten.” She paused, then added, “I’m going whether you come with me or not.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

One Perfect Day

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

One Perfect Day

FaithWords (October 22, 2008)


Lauraine Snelling is the award-winning author of more than sixty books, with sales of over 2 million copies. She also writes for a wide range of magazines, and helps others reach their writing dreams by teaching at writer’s conferences across the country. Lauraine and her husband, Wayne, have two grown sons, and live in the Tehachapi Mountains with a cockatiel named Bidley, and a watchdog Basset named Chewy.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (October 22, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446582107
ISBN-13: 978-0446582100



Gordon, where are you?

Betsy, a middle-aged yellow Lab, looked up as if she had heard Nora speaking. The two — owner and pet — had been best friends for so long that the twins frequently teased their mother about mental telepathy — with a dog. Betsy thumped her tail and gazed up from her self- assigned spot at Nora’s feet.

Leaving the bay- window seat, where she’d been staring out at the moon lighting fire to the frost-encrusted winter lawn, which sloped down to the lakeshore, Nora crossed the kitchen to set the teakettle to boiling. Tea always helped in times of distress. She brought out the rose-sprinkled china teapot and filled it with hot water. Tonight was not a mug night but a “stoke up the reserves” night. If there had been snow on the ground, this was the kind of night, with the moon so bright every blade of grass glinted, when she would have hit the ski trails. An hour of cross-country skiing and she’d have been relaxed enough to fall asleep whether Gordon called or not. So, instead, she drank tea. As if copious cups would make her sleep deeply rather than toss and turn. Perhaps she would work on the business plan if she got enough caffeine into her system.

Betsy’s ears perked up and she went and stood in front of the door to the garage.

Nora’s heart leaped. Gordon must be home after all. But why hadn’t he called to say he was at the airport? His business trip to Stuttgart, Germany, had already been prolonged and here they were trying to get ready — with just four days until Christmas. The last one for which she could guarantee the twins would still be home. Her last chance for perfection. When he’d told her a week ago he had to fl y to Stuttgart again, the word “again” had echoed in her head. Betsy’s tail increased the wag speed and she backed up as the door opened.

“Mom, I’m home.” Charlie, the older twin by two minutes, and named after his father, Charles Gordon Peterson, came through the door in his usual rush. “Oh, there you are.” Grinning up at his mother, he paused to pet the waiting dog. “Good girl, Bets, did you take good care of Mom?” Betsy wagged her tail and caught the tip of his nose with her black- spotted tongue. “Smells good in here.” He glanced around the kitchen, zeroing in on the plate of powdered-sugar–dusted brownies. “Heard from Dad?”

“No.” Nora cupped her elbows with her hands and leaned against the counter. At five-seven, she found that the raised counter fit right into the small of her back. When they’d built the house, she and Gordon had chosen cabinets two inches higher than normal, since they were both tall. Made for easier work surfaces. “Go ahead, quit drooling and eat. There’s a plate in the fridge for you to pop in the microwave.” “Where’s Christi?” Charlie asked around a mouthful of walnut- laced brownie.

“Upstairs. I think she’s finishing a Christmas present.”

“Are we going to decorate the tree tonight?”

“We were waiting on you.” And your father, but somehow he always manages to not be here at tree- decorating time.
While Gordon was not a “bah, humbug” kind of guy, his idea of a perfect Christmas was skiing in Colorado. They’d done his last year, with his promise to help make hers perfect this year. Right. Big help from across the Atlantic. While Nora knew he’d not deliberately chosen to be gone this week before Christmas, it still rankled, irritating under her skin like a fine cactus spine, hard to see and harder to dig out. Charlie retrieved his plate from the fridge and slid it into the microwave, all the while filling his mother in on the antics of the children standing in line to visit Santa. Charlie excelled as one of Santa’s elves, a big elf at six feet, with dark curly hair and hazel eyes, which sparkled with delight. Charlie loved little kids; so when this perfect job came up, he took it and entertained them all in his green- and- red elf suit. He could turn the saddest tears into laughter. Santa told him not to grow up, he’d need elves forever.

“One little girl had the bluest round eyes you ever saw.” Charlie took his warmed plate out and pulled a stool up to the counter so he could eat. “She had this one great big tear trickling down her cheek, but I hid behind my hands” — he demonstrated peekaboo with his fingers — “and she sniffed, ducked into Santa, caught herself and peeked back at me. When he did his ‘ho ho ho,’ she looked up at him with the cutest grin.” He deepened his voice. “ ‘And what do you want for Christmas, little girl?’ ” Charlie shifted into shy little girl: “ ‘ I — I want a kitty. My mommy’s kitty died and she needs a new one.’ ” He paused. “ ‘And make sure it has a good motor. My mommy likes to hold one that purrs.’ ” Charlie came back to himself. “Can you believe that, Mom? That’s all she wanted. She reached up and kissed his cheek, slid off his lap and waved good- bye.” “What a little sweetheart.”

“I checked with Annie, who was taking the pictures, and got their address. You think we could find a kitten that has a good motor at the Humane Society?”

“Ask Christi, she’d know.” Christi volunteered one afternoon a week at the Riverbend Humane Society and would bring home every condemned animal if they let her. She’d fostered more dogs and cats in the last year than most people did in a lifetime. She’d found homes for them too, except for Bushy, an older white fluffy cat, with one black ear and one black paw. His green eyes captivated her, or at least that was the excuse for his taking up permanent residence. “I will. Be nice if there was a half- grown one with a loud motor.”

“Loud motor for what?” Christi, Bushy draped across her arm, wandered into the kitchen, a smear of Sap Green oil paint on her right cheek, matching the blob on the back of her right forefinger. Tall at five-nine, with an oval face and haunting grayish blue eyes, she looked every bit the traditional blond Norwegian. As much as Charlie entertained the world, she observed and translated what she saw onto canvases that burst with color and yet drew the eye into the shadows, where peace and serenity lurked. Christi would rather paint than eat or even breathe at times.

“A little girl asked Santa for a kitty for her mother” — he shifted into mimic — “ ‘ ’Cause Mommy’s kitty died and she is sad.’ ” “That’s all she wanted?”

“Gee, that’s what I thought too.” Nora motioned toward the teapot and Christi nodded. While her mother poured the tea, Christi absently rubbed the paint spot on her cheek. “There are three cats for adoption right now. I like the gold one, she loves to be held. The other two would rather roughhouse.”

“You think it would still be there until after school?” “I’ll call Shawna and tell her to hold it for you. Are you sure you want to do this? What happens if she doesn’t really want it?”

“Can anyone turn down one of Santa’s elves?”

“You’d go in costume?”

“Why not?”

“I could paint you a card.”

“Would you?”

“Sure, have one started. All I need to do is change the color of the cat. Luckily, I made it white, like Bushy here.” She rubbed her cheek on the cat’s fluffy head. “How long until we decorate the tree?”

“Give me five minutes.”

“Okay, you two start on the lights and I’ll finish the card. You want me to sign it for you?” Christi had taken classes in calligraphy and had taught her mother how to sign all the Christmas cards in perfect script.

“You know, you’re all right for a girl.” Charlie bounded up the stairs to his room, where all his herpetological friends lived. Arnold, a three- foot rosy boa that should have been named Houdini, was his favorite.

Nora handed Christi her mug of tea. “Take a brownie with you.”

“Thanks, Mom. You heard from Dad yet?”

“No.” Nora knew her answer was a bit clipped. “Something must be wrong.” Christi’s eyes darkened in concern. “Did you call him?”

“I tried, cell went right to voice mail.”

“So, he was on it?”

“Or he let the battery run out.” As efficient as Gordon was, you’d think he could remember to plug his phone into the charger. The two women of the family shared an eye rolling.

“He’ll call.”

“Unless he’s broken down someplace.”

“You always tell me not to worry.”

“Well, advising and doing are two different things.” Nora set her cup and saucer in the dishwasher. “Want to help me unroll the lights?”

“I was going up to finish that card.”

Nora checked her watch. “Ten minutes?” “Done.” Christi scooped Bushy up off the counter, where he’d flopped, and headed up the stairs, not leaping like her brother, but lithe and regal, the residuals of her years of ballet and modern dance.

Nora and Betsy headed for the living room, but when the phone rang, she did an about- face and a near dive for the wall phone in the desk alcove. “Hello.”

“Nora, I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner.”

“There, you did it again.” She tried to sound harsh, but relief turned her to quivering Jell- O.


“Apologize. Now I can’t be mad at you.” His chuckle reminded her of how much she missed him when he was gone.

“Where are you?”

“Still in Stuttgart. Art and I got to talking and I didn’t realize the time passing. I had to get some sleep.” “You’re up awfully early.”

“I know. Trying to finish up. Is the tree up yet?”

“What, are you trying to outwait me?” “What ever gave you that idea?” He coughed to clear his throat.

“You okay?”

“Just a tickle. Look, I should be on my way home this afternoon. I’ve got to wrap this thing up, but I told them the deadline is noon and I’m heading for the airport at three, come he- heaven or high water.”

“Well, don’t worry about the tree.” She slipped into suffering servant to make him laugh again. “The kids and I’ll get that done tonight.” It worked. His chuckle always made her smile back, even when he couldn’t see her. “They have school tomorrow, right?”

“Right. Last day, so there’ll be parties. I have goodie trays all ready to take.”

“You made Julekaka for the teachers again?” Nora chuckled. “Gotta keep my place as favorite mother of high- school students.”

“Is that Dad?” Charlie called from the stairs. “Tell him to hurry home. I have to . . .” The rest of his words were lost in his rush.

“Charlie says to hurry home.”

“I heard him. Give them both hugs from me.” “Do you need a ride from the airport?” She glanced at the clock. Nine p.m. here meant four a.m. in Germany. Good thing Gordon was a morning person.

“No, I’ll take a cab. I love you.”

“You better.” She hung up on both their chuckles. How come just hearing his voice upped the wattage on the lights? And after twenty- two years of marriage. As people so often told them, they were indeed the lucky ones. “Please, Lord, take good care of him,” she whispered as she blew him a silent kiss. She joined Charlie in the living room, where a blue spruce graced the bay window overlooking the front yard, where she and Gordon had festooned tiny white lights on the naked branches of the maple, which burst into fiery color in the fall, and the privet hedge, which bordered the drive. Lights in icicle mode graced the front eaves, while two tall white candles guarded the front steps. She’d filled pots with holly up the flagstone stairs and hung a swag of pine boughs, red balls and a huge gold mesh bow on the door. “Here.” Charlie handed her the reel of tiny white lights and pulled on the end to plug it in.

“I already checked them all this afternoon. Just start at the top of the tree.”

They had a third of the lights on the eight- foot tree when Christi joined them, setting the finished card on the mantel to dry.

“I didn’t put it in the envelope yet, so don’t forget this in the morning, or are you coming home before going over there? Shawna said she’ll put your name on the golden cat. She’s already been fixed, so she is ready for her new home.” Christi picked up another reel of light strings. “You need to put them closer together.”

“Yeah, right, Miss Queen Bee has spoken,” Charlie mumbled from behind the tree.

“You don’t have to get huffy.”

“You don’t have to be bossy.”

“All right, let’s just get the lights on.” All they had to do was get through this drudgery part and then all would be well. Gordon always tried to skimp on the lights too. Like father, like son. Silence reigned as they wound the lights around the tree branches, punctuated only by a “hand me another reel, please” and “ouch” when a spruce needle dug into the tender spot under the nail. Nora sucked on her finger for a moment to ease the stinging. Inhaling the intoxicating spruce scent brought back memories of the last years and made her grateful again for all the joys they’d had. One more thing to miss tonight, the rehash she and Gordon always did post–tree trimming, when the children had gone to bed, like Monday morning quarterbacking, only with more smiles and laughter. Much of the laughter came because of Charlie’s clowning around.

“What if she doesn’t like the cat?” Charlie asked.

“Then we’ll take it back,” Christi said matter-of-factly.

“By ‘back,’ I’m sure you mean to the Humane Society. Bushy would not like another cat around here.” Nora’s hands stilled. This she needed to clarify.

“Of course, Mom.”

Nora looked up in time to catch a head shake from her daughter and one of the “I’m trying to be patient” looks Christi was so good at. Why was it so quiet? “Oh, I forgot to put the music on. Messiah all right?”

When both twins shrugged, she knew they’d rather have something else, but were giving her the choice. She crossed to the sound system, hit the number three button and waited a moment for Mariah Carey’s voice to flow out. She’d play the Messiah after they went to bed. They’d all attended the “ Sing-Along Messiah” concert the second weekend in December.

At least Gordon had been home for that tradition. A bit later they all three stepped back with matching sighs. “All right, throw the switch.” She looked at Charlie, who had taken over that job years earlier. This certainly was a night for memories.

When the tree sprang to life, they swapped grins and nods. The ornaments were the easy part. By unspoken agreement, they decided to hang the ornaments, which they’d bought one per year on their annual family shopping trip and dinner- out tradition, higher in the tree to keep away from batting cat’s paws and a dog’s wagging tail. While the twins snorted at her sentimentality, she hung the ornaments they’d made through the years, some like the Santa face with a cotton ball beard, beginning to look more than a bit scruffy, but dear nevertheless. The ornaments that their Tante Karen had given them through the years on their Christmas presents brought up memories and set the two to recalling each year and what their interest had been then. Nora knew that her sister watched both the twins and the shops carefully through the year to find just the perfect ornament. When the twins had trees of their own, they would already have seventeen ornaments each to take with them. The thought made Nora pause. The home tree would look mighty bare. She hung the crocheted and stiffened snowflakes she had made one year and had given for gifts. Then three little folded- paper- and- waxed stars she’d made in Girl Scouts took their own places.

When they’d hung the final ornament, they stared at the box with the glorious angel that always smiled benignly from the top of the tree.

“Let’s leave that for Dad.” Christi turned toward her mother. “I agree.” Setting the angel just right with a light inside her to make her shimmer was always Gordon’s job — for years because he was the only one tall enough and now because they wanted him to have a part, no matter how many miles separated them.

Charlie shrugged. “I am tall enough, you know.” “I know.” Nora gathered her two chicks to her sides and they admired the tree together. “Thank you. I know it is late, with school tomorrow, but I really appreciate your helping the tradition continue.” She tried not to sniff, but her body went on automatic pilot.

Charlie’s arm around her back squeezed and Christi leaned her head against her mother’s. Together they turned and surveyed all the decorations; the mantel was the only thing that Nora changed year after year, and all was done but hanging the Christmas stockings. The hooks waited. Charlie picked up the fl at box that held the cross- stitched or quilted stockings and they each hung up their own. Nora hung hers and Gordon’s, while the kids hung the ones for Bushy and Betsy. “Now Santa can come.” Christi smoothed the satin surfaces of her crazy- quilt stocking, with every satin or velvet piece decorated with intricate embroidery stitches, cross- stitch, daisy chain and feather. “When I get married, will you make my husband a sock to match?”

“I will.” Just please don’t be in too big a hurry. Not that Christi was dating anyone. She often said she left all the flirting up to her brother, since all the girls were after him all the time. But Nora often wondered if Christi was a bit jealous, not that she would ask. Her daughter talked more with her father than she did with her mother. Unless, of course, it was a real female thing.

“Anyone for cocoa? The real kind? I can make it while you get ready for bed. I’ll bring the tray up.” “And brownies?” Charlie asked.

“Fattigman?” Christi loved the traditional Norwegian goodies Nora made only at Christmastime. “Of course, and since you’ll be getting home early tomorrow, you can help me with the sandbakles.” Charlie groaned. Pressing the buttery dough into the small fluted tins was not his idea of fun.

“ ‘He who eats must press.’ ” Christi sang out the line her mother had often repeated since the time they were little. Nora watched her two swap shoulder punches as they climbed the stairs. No matter how much they teased each other or argued, the bond between them ran deeper than most siblings. Gordon called it spooky; she figured it was a gift from God.
Time to make cocoa, as her family had called it. In her mind, hot chocolate came in a packet or tin. Good thing she’d picked up the miniature marshmallows. Betsy padding beside her, she returned to the kitchen to fix the tray. If only Gordon were here. Carrying the tray up the stairs was his job.

Copyright 2008 Lauraine Snelling

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Once An Arafat Man

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card authors are:


and the book:

Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of How a PLO Sniper Found a New Life

Tyndale House Publishers (September 17, 2008)


Tass Saada is a former Muslim and a co-founder of Hope for Ishmael. Hope for Ishmael is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reconcile Arabs and Jews to God and each other through the gospel of Christ. Saada was born in 1951 in the Gaza strip, and grew up in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He was a PLO sniper and militant fighter. He worked directly for Arafat. In America, he converted to Christianity.

Visit the author's website.

Dean Merrill is the author or coauthor of more than 30 books, including the award-winning, best-selling trilogy with Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire and its sequels, Fresh Faith and Fresh Power. He also collaborated with missionary survivor Gracia Burnham on the best seller In the Presence of My Enemies. A graduate of Christian Life College and Syracuse University, Dean is a former president of the Evangelical Press Association and is currently a board member of Global Publishers Alliance. Proud parents of three and grandparents of six, Dean and his wife live in Colorado.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 19.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (September 17, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414323611
ISBN-13: 978-1414323619


The Second Battle of Jericho

The morning sun felt warm on my back as I crouched behind a large pile of shrubbery I had scraped together, overlooking the Jordan River valley. Jericho, perhaps the world’s oldest city, lay across the river in the distance. Here on the east side, my comrades and I had spent the night in a chilly cave along this range of hills. Now we were up early and excited about the surprise we would deliver to the advancing IDF (Israel Defense Forces) troops. My sleek, high-powered Simonov rifle with its telescopic sight lay beside me on the ground as I gazed down upon the quiet village of al-Karameh.

The dirt roads that meandered among the humble, mud-brick homes with flat roofs were empty on this morning of March 21, 1968. Most of the roughly fourteen thousand residents had left—not because of the warning pamphlets the Israeli planes had dropped the day before, but because we had told them what we planned to do. Now the village was eerily silent. No donkeys brayed in their pens; not an infant whimpered for its mother. Nobody could see our seven thousand or so Fatah fighters hidden behind stone walls or under tarpaulins, amid date trees and olive groves—a reception committee waiting to roll out a blood red carpet for the invaders.

A trained sniper at seventeen years old, I stood ready to do my job, waiting up on the hill for the opportune moment. I would pick off any IDF machine gunner who dared to stick his head up out of a tank or jeep. A soft breeze moved through the grass. I stared intently at the Allenby Bridge in the distance, the main crossing from the Israeli-controlled West Bank to the Jordanian territory where we sat.

Sure enough, the first vehicles in the convoy now came into view, their camouflage colors making them difficult to detect. This was the same IDF that had so humiliated the Arab armies nine months before in the infamous Six-Day War. We Palestinians had been peppering them ever since with hit-and-run attacks—a grenade here, a three-minute skirmish there. Now they had decided to storm our training camp at al-Karameh in force. They wanted to take out our operation wholesale, and maybe even get our heroic leader “Abu Ammar”—Yasser Arafat—in the process.

They figured most of us guerrilla fighters would have pulled back and away from the showdown, like so many times before. They had no idea that the wily Arafat had switched strategies this time, saying to us, “We will make a stand in this place. We will fight with honor. The whole of the Arab people are watching us. We will crush the myth that the IDF is invincible!”

And they certainly did not expect the newest tactic we would use today for the very first time: suicide bombers. We had gotten volunteers who were willing to make this their final battle for Palestinian justice. They now waited on rooftops in their bulky vests loaded with explosives until the moment came to jump into the streets below.

Deadly Surprise
The growling of the IDF engines grew louder. My heart began to pound. I positioned myself for steady action as I peered through my scope. The enemy convoy reached the edge of the village. I picked out my closest target, trained the weapon on his head, and ever so carefully squeezed the Simonov’s trigger.

At nearly the same moment, my comrades in the village began firing from their hiding places. The firefight exploded all at once. The noise was deafening. At that time, the Israeli infantry had no flak jackets, so we were able to wound or kill them right away. All hell broke loose that morning in al-Karameh.

Of course, we began taking our own casualties, too. Every Fatah fighter knew that would happen. None of us counted on surviving the day. We were fully prepared to die. We might never see the moon again, but we would regain our honor. That was, in fact, the meaning of this village’s name, Karameh. It was the Arabic word for “honor” or “dignity.”

The street battle raged on at full force while I kept picking off targets from the hillside. Minutes passed, perhaps even a full hour. There was no subtlety to our approach; we were going with every thrust we had to inflict mortal damage on the Jews. Then a massive bomb blast shook the entire valley. Our troops had blown up the Allenby Bridge, cutting off the escape route if the IDF tried to pull back. The Israelis were now trapped on our side of the Jordan—the east side—and would have to fight to the death. Only a miracle of Joshua-at-Jericho–sized proportions would save them now.

A few minutes later, my commander shouted at me with alarm in his voice: “Do you hear that? Helicopter gunships are coming!” I had been too focused on my targets to notice. “Get off this hill!” he ordered. “If you stay here, they’ll blow you to bits from the air! Get down into the village with everybody else!”

I scrambled down the hill to join my comrades in the fight. There the conflict grew increasingly close range. There was hardly room to use a weapon. It became a hand-to-hand brawl with fists, knives, and even rocks. We put our karate and judo training to use immediately. The two sides were so intermingled that their helicopter gunners couldn’t sort us out. At that point, I was fighting on sheer instinct. There was no time to think or strategize. I simply kept bashing the nearest IDF soldier before he could bash me.

I could tell the enemy was bewildered by our bravery. They had expected us to act more like classic guerrilla fighters, feinting and withdrawing. Instead, here we were in a no-holds-barred fracas. Guys were screaming, blood was splashing, the wounded were moaning, and all of us were jumping over an increasing number of dead bodies to keep up the attack. I glanced down at several cuts on my arm but paid little attention. The kick of adrenaline was too strong for me to worry about injuries.

We Fatah fighters were in fact more agile than the IDF since we carried less gear than they did and could therefore run faster. We also had our bayonets already fixed on our weapons and ready to use while the Israelis were still fumbling to get theirs off their belts and attached. At times they literally ran into our knives.

Whenever they tried to regroup behind one of their tanks, a suicide bomber would leap down from a rooftop with a thunderous explosion of nails and other metal bits. Blood spattered, and body parts flew through the air.

Occasionally throughout the afternoon, there would be a short lull in the fighting while the Israelis barricaded themselves inside a house. We would then quickly set up in the house across the street, from which we would open fire again. We stormed building after building.

Bragging Rights
Somehow, after seven hours of gruesome combat, a ceasefire was called. I still do not know who arranged that or how it was done. The IDF withdrew and headed downriver to find another bridge they could use for returning to the West Bank. The smoke over al-Karameh began to clear. “We won! We won!” we shouted, slapping each other on the back. “We stood up to the Jews and beat them!” We danced around the four IDF tanks we had destroyed, along with three half-tracks, two armored jeeps, and even one airplane.

The symbolism for us was huge. We had done what the regular Arab armies had failed to do three times: in 1948, 1956, and the previous year. We would be featured the next day in the world’s headlines. We had shown that we Palestinians were no longer just a pitiful clump of refugees. We were a proud and courageous people who had been robbed of our homeland and were on the march to take it back.

I was especially thrilled to commandeer a Willys Jeep that the Israelis had left behind. A vehicle of my own! I invited some of my comrades to jump in for a quick drive through the town.

As evening approached, we turned our attention to counting our losses. My unit of eight now numbered only three. Across the village, we went about the somber task of gathering and burying the dead. We mourned the fact that these friends were gone forever. It hurt deep within our souls, and we swore we would avenge them.

The longer we worked, the more we realized we had paid a high price on that day. We eventually tallied 128 dead, several dozen wounded, and 150 missing. These numbers, we had to admit, were probably greater than the losses suffered by the IDF.

But it was all worth it, we told ourselves. The Israelis had come from Jericho, looking for a fight, and we had given them far more than they ever expected. Our cause was now catapulted to a whole new level.

More than anything, we could hold our heads high in the presence of the man in a checkered headdress who had watched the entire battle from a hilltop not far from where I had begun the day. He had seen our bravery, our determination, our sacrifice. The Israelis had wanted desperately to find him that day and kill him, but they had failed. His leadership stood intact. Yasser Arafat was alive and well, and we revered him more than ever.

Copyright © 2008 by Tass Saada. All rights reserved

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Rook

WARNING: Don't read this book when you have something to do...you will never be able to put it down!


Special Agent Patrick Bowers is about to uncover the military's darkest secret . . . and his own dark past.

While investigating a series of baffling fires in San Diego, Special Agent Patrick Bowers is drawn into a deadly web of intrigue where nothing is as it appears to be. With a killer on the loose and one of the world's most deadly devices missing, Bowers is caught in a race against time to stop a criminal mastermind's trap before it closes around the people he loves.

Full of fast-paced action and mind-bending plot twists, The Rook is an adrenaline-laced page-turner that will hold you captive until the very end.

Critically acclaimed author Steven James has written more than twenty books, including the bestselling thriller series The Bowers Files. One of the nation’s most innovative storytellers, Steven developed his skill as a performer at East Tennessee State University (MA in storytelling). He lives in Tennessee with his wife and three daughters.

A Purple State of Mind

It's the 15th, time for the Non~FIRST blog tour!(Non~FIRST will be merging with FIRST Wild Card Tours on January 1, 2009...if interested in joining, click HERE!)

The feature author is:

and his/her book:

Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2008)


Craig Detweiler (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is codirector of the Reel Spirituality Institute and associate professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has written scripts for numerous Hollywood films, and his comedic documentary, Purple State of Mind (www.purplestateofmind.com), debuted in 2008. He has been featured in the New York Times, on CNN, and on NPR and is the coauthor of A Matrix of Meanings. Barry Taylor (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary), adjunct professor of popular culture and theology at Fuller, is a professional musician, painter, and the leader of New Ground, an alternative worship gathering in Los Angeles.

Product Details

List Price: 13.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736924604
ISBN-13: 978-0736924603





How did the culture war begin? Was there a clear winner? Or did it devolve into a long, costly stalemate? What can we learn from the battle? Perhaps we are not as polarized as we presume. Political parties and pundits strive to distinguish themselves from the competition in the starkest possible terms. We use rhetoric to rail against one another while our core positions may involve only a slight divergence. We may be hardly separated rather than deeply divided. Can we move from an adolescent mind-set, shouting across the religious and political divide, into something more thoughtful, productive, and mature?

As a witness to the sixties and seventies, I’ve seen how destructive we can be—even toward ourselves. I’ve also lived through the comparative comfort of the Reagan era in the eighties. He turned back the clock to a prosperous vision of America before the social upheavals of the sixties. Can we uphold the vigorous freedom of the sixties alongside the rigorous responsibility of the fifties?

A purple state of mind pushes past the either/or squabbles of an earlier era. It adopts a both/and approach to following God and interacting with the world. It builds bridges rather than burning them. It seeks common ground rather than points of division. A purple state of mind attains maturity by knowing when and where to apply biblical truths to our blind spots.

John: I think this should be a candid discussion.

Craig: I want it to be first and foremost an honest conversation. Straightforward. Tell the truth. Nothing held back.

Were you alive when President John F. Kennedy was shot? While the world wailed, I was warm in my mother’s womb. She was in the doctor’s office, awaiting a checkup on my status. I was born two months after Kennedy was assassinated. I arrived after the initial shockwave, the outpouring of grief, and the confusion as to why such tragedy happens. But we all continue to wrestle with the conflicts that erupted in the wake of Kennedy’s death.

I entered a world on fire. Throughout my childhood, there were riots in the streets, protests on campuses, scenes from Vietnam in the news. My parents attempted to shield me from much of the conflict, turning me on to Mr. Rogers rather than Walter Cronkite. Yet the palpable conflicts over civil rights, free speech, and the war draft spilled into newspapers, televisions, and casual conversations. The struggle for civil rights was more than a century in the making. Leaders like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were as patient as possible, given their long walk to freedom. Yet the positive steps created by the Civil Rights Act still moved too slowly for those trapped in the inner city. Riots in Watts and Detroit set cities ablaze. The mistakes of the Vietnam War constitute their own painful book. As images of the war filtered into our living rooms, resentment toward our leaders grew. Chaos reigned among protestors inside and outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

I knew my dad hated the protestors, but I didn’t know why. Something about their appearance bugged him. It may have been their long hair, their scanty clothes, and their flagrant disregard of authority. The hippies seemed equally frustrated by people like my father. They were complaining about the man, the system, anyone over 30. Why were the protestors so angry? What was all the shouting about? A generation gap emerged over the war in Vietnam. The students were ostensibly resisting the draft. They did not want to serve in an endless, misguided war in Southeast Asia.

Behind the political policies were distinct lifestyle choices. The hippies were celebrating free love, plentiful drugs, and raucous rock music. My father was wondering what happened to hard work, paying taxes, and civic responsibility. Teenagers embraced freedom while adults trumpeted responsibility. These dueling notions of the American identity exploded into a full-blown culture war that has been raging ever since. Reporter Ronald Brownstein calls this second civil war “the great sorting out.”

A purple state of mind appreciates the competing ideals that launched the culture war. It recognizes the patriotism that resides behind both visions. It remembers how much capital was created by responsible citizenship in the fifties. It also celebrates the ingenuity unleashed in the freedom-loving sixties. We learned valuable lessons from both eras. A purple state of mind borrows from both, combining freedom and responsibility.

The Fifties Versus the Sixties

I have lived my entire life in the shadow of the 1960s. I’ve heard the stirring speeches of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I’ve mourned the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in Dion’s song, “Abraham, Martin, and John.” I’ve been taken to the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now. How many television specials have I seen that retrace the upheavals of 1968? Rolling Stone magazine commemorates Woodstock or the Summer of Love every single year! Was it the best of times or the worst of times? Forty years on, we’re still locked in an adolescent debate. We see it in the childish name-calling of Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter on the right or MoveOn.org and Daily Kos on the left.

Every American presidential election since the sixties has essentially been a referendum on that painful era. There were no clear winners in Vietnam. Like Rambo, we’re still fighting. It is a dark era in American history most of us would rather not review (even though we must learn those lessons so we stop repeating them). The fissure generated in Vietnam lies behind our conflicted feelings over the war in Iraq. We can’t talk rationally as a nation about important issues because of deep-seated, unresolved family dynamics. If you prefer the comparative calm of the fifties, then you know how to vote. If you uphold the progressive hopes of the sixties, then it is clear which candidate represents you. The only problem with this pattern is that many of us missed the fifties and the sixties. We’re ready to move on, to live in this moment, to meet today’s challenges rather than to relive yesterday’s news.

Living with this conflict is comparable to listening to our parents argue. We’ve heard all the lines, all the rhetoric, and all the old grudges. We can recite them from memory, and we’ve been exhausted by the gridlock. We haven’t bothered to speak up because we know our parents were too busy arguing to listen. The shouting match showed no signs of abating, so we let the circus pass us by. Instead of joining the conversation, we elected to start our own companies, clubs, and churches. The creative brain drain from civic activities has been well documented. Those who were turned off by the partisan rancor eventually turned off the pundits on TV. We are on the Internet instead, arguing about the minutia that remains distinctly ours—music, movies, television, shopping. We don’t want to be superficial. But with no creative political options, we opt out. If we hope to engage the next generation in public life, then this culture war, rooted in bitter recriminations, must stop. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we must call a cease-fire.

Those of us who’ve inherited this war have seen enough casualties. John Marks and I were born at the end of the baby boom and the beginning of Generation X. We understand the majority position and empathize with the minorities who’ve been sidelined by the sheer size of the opposition. Consider this book an effort to bridge the generation gap. I’m here to help those over fifty understand what is coming. I stand between the baby boomers and their children, brokering a truce. As a professor, I’ve invested heavily in Generation Y, hoping that they will enact enough changes to make room for my children—Generation Z!

Seeking Wisdom

Seek wisdom, not knowledge.

Knowledge is of the past; wisdom is of the future.

Native American PROVERB

I recount our recent history in an effort to fill in gaps in our understanding. We must comprehend where we’ve been if we hope to figure out where we’re going. I’ve seen the abuses of power represented by Watergate. The special prosecutor’s hearings interrupted hours of my favorite TV cartoons. (Did you realize that Hillary Clinton was part of the legal team investigating Nixon’s White House? Republicans have struggled with her for a looooong time!) I watched Nixon’s sad wave goodbye on the White House lawn. I also understand the faith embodied by the first “born again” president, Jimmy Carter. His Southern Baptist beliefs led him to broker peace in the Middle East. Yet I also endured the 444 days of the Iranian hostage crisis that accompanied his peaceful negotiations. After such international embarrassment, Americans desperately wanted to return to the fifties era of strength and power. Ronald Reagan played the part of forceful leader resisting the Soviet Union. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism was a victory for freedom around the world.

Unresolved tensions about Vietnam, drugs, and the sixties fueled the vitriol hurled at the Clintons and the Bushes. Bill Clinton strapped on the mantle of President Kennedy, declaring himself “A Man from Hope.” His appearance playing saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show sent a clear signal that he embraced civil rights. As “entertainer in chief,” Clinton demonstrated a mastery of the electronic medium. His obfuscations about inhaling marijuana and dalliances with White House intern Monica Lewinsky also sparked latent fears of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. (Did you realize that Monica’s famous blue dress was found in her mother’s apartment—in the Watergate complex?) To his detractors, Clinton represented too much freedom and not enough presidential responsibility. The impeachment proceedings against him were a recapitulation and payback for the embarrassment borne by the Nixon administration.

George W. Bush represented a return to the fifties. He may have engaged in alcohol abuse or cocaine use, but Bush confessed his sins and seemed genuinely contrite. He experienced the dangers of too much personal freedom and welcomed the responsibility he found in his newfound faith. While Clinton parsed verbs, Bush offered plain-spoken surety. He distanced himself from his patrician upbringing, adopting a Texas rancher lifestyle as a populist alternative. To those tired of Clinton’s libertinism and excess, Bush offered a down-home throwback: cowboy boots and pickup trucks.

Yet all the tough talk in the world seemed insufficient in dealing with a nearly unseen enemy. How could a band of terrorists bring down the World Trade Center? They used our strengths against us, hijacking our own planes. They crashed into our most impressive symbols of financial prowess and military might. September 11, 2001, humbled and angered us. We marched into the Middle East with unprecedented firepower. Afghanistan fell almost without resistance. We submitted Iraq to “shock and awe.” Unfortunately, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda proved they could not only run but also hide. We attacked nations, but our enemies were individuals. American technology ended up undermined by insurgents with homemade bombs. We terrorized others with torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. We operated like a powerful empire but proved incapable of ferreting out an ideology. We desperately need leaders who can protect freedoms while serving as responsible world citizens. Such nuance has been lost in our prolonged and pointless culture war.

The next generation admires the civic responsibility of the fifties and the progressive art and music of the sixties. They have embraced a both/and view but have been alienated by either/or debates. A purple state of mind embraces freedom and responsibility. It takes the best of history but leaves the worst excesses (on both sides) behind. It blows away the purple haze hanging over our past. This chapter highlights key moments that got us into this mess. It will offer tangible proposals for moving on with maturity.

Nixon Versus Kennedy

For almost 50 years, we have been sorting out the choices represented by the first televised presidential debate, Republican Richard M. Nixon versus Democrat John F. Kennedy. On September 26, 1960, Vice President Nixon and Senator Kennedy squared off under the moderation of ABC’s Howard K. Smith. Over 80 million viewers tuned into the debate, which pitted Nixon’s experience (eight years as Eisenhower’s vice-president) against Kennedy’s comparative youth (one term as a U.S. senator). Both candidates offered hawkish opposition to the Communist threat represented by the Soviet Union. They debated issues of national debt, farm subsidies, welfare, and health care that continue to be unresolved. They drew distinctions about the role of government to stimulate economic growth. But Nixon and Kennedy diverged most significantly in style rather than substance.

Kennedy arrived at the debates looking tan, rested, and energetic. Nixon looked haggard, having recently fought off the flu. He refused to don makeup, figuring his forceful words would rule the day. Those who listened to the debate on the radio found Nixon the victor. Yet those watching the debate on tiny black-and-white televisions saw something else. They saw Nixon sweat while Kennedy smiled. Although Nixon was only five years older than Kennedy, his demeanor seemed comparatively ancient in outlook and energy. Nixon’s noticeable five-o’clock shadow didn’t help either.

Nixon learned the connections between style and substance too late in the campaign. Makeup covered his beard in three subsequent television debates. But Kennedy gained just enough confidence and votes to capture the closest general election of the twentieth century. Just one-tenth of 1 percent of votes separated Kennedy from Nixon. Americans have remained almost equally divided ever since.

The legacy of John F. Kennedy remains remarkably hopeful and progressive. Consider the optimism behind his war on poverty. Having watched the Russians beat Americans into orbit, Kennedy redefined the terms of the space race. How much chutzpah did it take to engage in a race to the moon? His version of American government looks almost absurdly hopeful in hindsight.

When Richard Nixon campaigned for president in 1968 (and for reelection in 1972), he promised an alternative to the vexing Vietnam War. Nixon expanded the Cold War efforts to include Cambodia and Laos. He presented a stronger America that refused to be intimidated. At the same time, Nixon engaged in a remarkable array of diplomatic missions to China and the Soviet Union. He met his adversaries face-to-face, winning surprising concessions and forging unexpected alliances.

Behind their policies, presidents Kennedy and Nixon represented divergent attitudes toward profound social change within America. The Kennedy years brought glamour to the White House. Entertainers like Marilyn Monroe sang sultry birthday greetings to President Kennedy. An air of celebration could also be read as a reign of permissiveness. A Democratic administration presided over the explosion of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Progressive politics coincided with experimentation and unrest. The Nixon presidency offered a return to law and order. Freedom took a backseat to responsibility. In 1971, President Nixon identified drug abuse as public enemy number one in the United States. He created the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (it became the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973). We’ve been fighting America’s longest war, the war on drugs, ever since.

Purple Haze

Jimi Hendrix’ song “Purple Haze” epitomizes the fuzzy grasp of reality that accompanied drug experimentation in the sixties. The title allegedly arose from a powerful batch of LSD served to Hendrix by Owsley Stanley. Some have also attributed it to a strain of purple marijuana. Hendrix said the inspiration arrived in a dream. Whatever the derivation, “Purple Haze” is rooted in altered states of consciousness. Released in 1967, “Purple Haze” served as the psychedelic anthem for San Francisco’s summer of love. The key to the song’s eerie sound is harmonic dissonance. Jimi’s guitar is tuned in B-flat, while Noel Redding’s bass plays E octaves. Such discordant sounds matched the era perfectly. A clash of cultures resulted in something jarring and new. Jimi didn’t just play rock music, he offered the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Consider the transcendent promises contained in his phrase, “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky.” Some heard it as a sexual provocation, a pledge to kiss a guy. But the sound made it clear that his sights were set in the great beyond. At his seminal appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, Jimi transported the crowd to a higher state of consciousness. He demonstrated the otherworldly power of raw feedback, playing his guitar behind, above, and beyond himself. Hendrix stepped into the role of sexual shaman, licking, caressing, and stroking guttural sounds from his Stratocaster. In setting his guitar on fire during “Wild Thing,” Hendrix offered his gifts to the rock gods. It is an incantation, sacrificing his most precious possessions to the altar of altered states.

Unfortunately, Jimi’s life ended up in a similar state of self-immolation, falling to pieces just as suddenly and tragically. The Experience Music Project in Seattle serves as a permanent archive for all things Hendrix. EMP founder Paul Allen spent part of his Microsoft millions acquiring Hendrix memorabilia, bringing it back to Jimi’s hometown of Seattle. It is a memorial to a musical messiah. The hall dedicated to Jimi is fittingly called “Sky Church.”

To others, “Purple Haze” demonstrated a world utterly adrift. The idyllic visions of Woodstock were undercut by the horrific murder at Altamont. With Hell’s Angels serving as security, 1969’s other free concert (at Altamont Speedway in Northern California) ended in death rather than musical bliss. Every time Rolling Stone magazine presents another rosy retrospective of the sixties, I wonder why it refuses to acknowledge the dark side of psychedelia. How can it hold up Hendrix, Joplin, and Jim Morrison as departed saints, when they are also exhibits A, B, and C in the perils of drug abuse? They were amazing and stupid at the same time. Great talents squandered by excess. So when parents who lived through the worst of the sixties attempt to spare their children the same amount of destructive experimentation, I applaud. “Just say no” arose from painful, lived experience. It may have been simplistic, but it was preferable to self-destruction.

Recent films like Drugstore Cowboy, Trainspotting, and Requiem for a Dream capture both the allure and the demolition of drugs. They provide an audio-visual approximation of a drug trip. Their images are intoxicating and attractive—the ultimate music videos. Yet their message is clear: Despite the attraction, do not be deceived—drugs will kill you. They serve as cautionary tales for a stylish era. Today’s students have largely learned from the painful past. Rates of teenage pregnancies, drug use, and violence have hit 40-year lows. The parents from a turbulent era raised remarkably respectful, well-behaved kids. Demographers Neil Howe and William Strauss noted the surprising generational shift:

Boomers started out as the objects of loosening child standards in an era of conformist adults. Millennials are starting out as the objects of tightening child standards in an era of non-conformists adults. By the time the last Millennials come of age, they could become…the cleanest-cut young adults in living memory.

To a large degree, Generation Y has embraced the family values of the 1950s. But its rebellion remains wrapped in the profane packages of the 1960s.

Consider the violent, R-rated film Fight Club (1999). It is a scathing critique of consumer culture and middle-class values. We follow Jack, the bored protagonist, on a brutal slide into an underworld of macho self-abuse. Jack longs for genuine feeling, even if he must shed blood to achieve it. So while Jack may be a mild-mannered bureaucrat by day, he rallies his friends for bare-knuckled bar fights at night. Fight Club unleashes the fragile postmodern male id with frightening results. What begins as an invigorating alternative devolves into Project Mayhem, a prescient precursor to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Schizophrenia leads to destructive nihilism.

This is contrasted by the diagnosis offered by the toughest puncher in the club, Tyler Durden. He summarizes the isolation of a generation raised in affluence rather than upheaval:

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s— we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war…our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very p— off.

When I showed Fight Club to a class of undergraduate students, they nodded in recognition. They connected with Tyler’s frustration. During a class discussion afterward, a student announced, “We’re rebels.” When I asked what they were rebelling against, he said, “Our parents.” is all sounded more than vaguely familiar, so I pushed further. “What does that look like?” The students answered, “We don’t want to be like our parents. Drinking. Doing drugs. Getting lots of divorces…we’re rebels!” e most rebellious behavior imaginable? Abstinence!

While baby boomers harrumph about presidential candidates’ ancient drug use, their children are begging for them to grow up. Parents complain to MTV about Britney Spears’ kiss with Madonna. Switchboards light up from viewers shocked by Janet Jackson’s nipple slip during the Super Bowl halftime show. Yet the next generation lets out a collective yawn. They’ve already seen it, done it, or dismissed it. They identify with the band Weezer, which recorded a song titled “Tired of Sex.” They are ready to move on, past the provocation to more substantive issues. Rivers Cuomo of Weezer asks, “Oh, why can’t I be making love come true?”

A New Conversation

Craig: My introduction to what it meant to follow Jesus was to be a laughingstock. It meant bad hair, bad makeup, and bad TV. Is this what I signed up for? This whole tension of red state and blue state, this is the tension that I live with—how do I own my own people who so make me cringe on a regular basis? This nomenclature of left and right, red and blue is not helpful right now.

John: It’s not meant to be helpful. It’s meant to do exactly what it does. I’m not happy with what people on the traditional left, or Democrats, say is their worldview. I honestly don’t know if they have one. I’m as weary as anybody in this country of the politically correct dialogue, which basically says, “I’m a victim and you’re not. No, I’m a victim and you’re not.” It’s useless. It’s done. It’s dead. Postmodernism is dead. All those answers on the secular side are basically dead.

John Marks and I stand between generations. We are old enough to understand the boomers’ intra-generational issues, yet we’re still young enough to identify with the discontent of those who followed. We embarked on a purple state of mind because we’re desperate for a new paradigm, hungering for a different set of talking points. We each risked alienating our constituencies. Coming from evangelical Christianity, I am part of the fifties tribe, which is struggling to protect home and hearth. As a journalist, John Marks identifies with the political left and their tattered ideals. We both find ourselves embarrassed by those we represent. I ask how God’s people could have turned Jesus into a hater. John questions why allegedly free-thinking people are so close-minded when it comes to religion. A purple state of mind tries the patience of both sides. It runs the risk of disloyalty for the sake of a larger goal.

We must put the past behind us. We can no longer afford to be divided over issues of sexuality and drug use when global crises demand our attention. To lead the world, we must get past our adolescent fixation on who did what to whom. The rumor mills that trumped up charges against the Clintons in Whitewater or George W. Bush with evasion of the Vietnam War have done nothing but distract us. How much negative energy has been expended on investigations that went nowhere? We’ve been busy digging up dirt when we should have been building roads and schools. We tore down a government in Iraq rather than solidifying our own ability to lead by example. Shame on us for obsessing over the past instead of investing in the future. No wonder voters in 2008 longed for change.

The Gospel According to Austin Powers

Our desperate need for freedom and responsibility rests in the seemingly contradictory letters of the apostle Paul. He applied his godly advice in a unique way for the audience he was addressing. To Corinthian Christians navigating a libertine culture, he preached caution. Corinth was noted for temples dedicated to Apollo and Aphrodite. Worship at these temples often included sex with temple prostitutes. They were thought to serve as conduits for the divine. An intimate sexual encounter on temple grounds was comparable to an experience with the gods. So imagine how confused early Corinthian Christians may have been about what constituted proper worship of Christ. Their understanding of Christian freedom knew no bounds. Paul urged the Corinthian church to exercise spiritual discipline, to get their house in order. He insisted they “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). To those who claimed, “Everything is permissible,” Paul responded with a chastening, “Everything is not beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

In Corinth, even eating meat could involve idolatrous activity. The local cults of Apollo and Aphrodite controlled so much of the public consciousness and economy that new believers were encouraged to examine the sources of their food supply. Food sacrificed to idols may not be contaminated physically, but Paul challenged the Corinthian to demonstrate sensitivity toward those who may have confused or conflated eating with idolatry. Paul urges the Corinthian believers to take responsibility for their Christian brothers and sisters. To a chaotic church, he preaches order, propriety, and maturity.

Yet to the uptight church in Galatia, Paul preaches freedom. The new believers clung too closely to their Jewish roots. Perhaps out of fear of persecution, the local church leaders insisted that new Christians adopt the rigorous (old) rules of Hebraic law. Gentile converts were expected to get circumcised according to Jewish ritual. Paul considers such attempts to bind people to ancient purity laws as a threat to the gospel of grace. He insists, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). He begged the Galatian Christians to loosen up, to relax their standards in the name of Christ.

Was Paul contradicting himself? By no means! In each letter, he concludes with an appeal to love. To the legally minded Galatians, Paul summarizes the law in a single command, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). To the battling Corinthians who confused sex with love, Paul spells out the attitudes and actions that constitute love. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4). He preaches freedom to Galatia and responsibility to Corinth because they each need to apply the message in a unique way.

Unfortunately, we often fail to identify our particular blind spots. Legalistic churches will often reiterate the call to purity given to the Corinthians. Lax churches will return to Paul’s letter to the Galatians to justify more license. Those who need freedom cling to responsibility. Christians who need to learn responsibility insist upon the freedom Paul grants to Galatia. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery urges us toward maturity. In the comedic conclusion, Austin gets the drop on a surprised Dr. Evil. But Evil remains unflappable and punches Austin’s buttons: “We’re not so different, you and I. However, isn’t it ironic that the very things that you stand for—free love, swinging parties—are all now, in the nineties, considered to be evil?” Austin retorts, “No, man, what we swingers were rebelling against is uptight squares like you whose bag was money and world domination. We were innocent, man. If we’d known the consequences of our sexual liberation we would have done things differently, but the spirit would have remained the same. It’s freedom, baby, yeah!” Austin Powers connects wisdom, experience, and the spirit all in one interrelated package. Dr. Evil offers a challenge: “Face it—freedom failed.” With the sounds of the sixties anthem “What the World Needs Now Is Love” playing in the background, Austin concludes, “No man, freedom didn’t fail. Right now we’ve got freedom and responsibility. It’s a very groovy time.” Even sassy movie stars can capture profound truths.

It is not freedom versus responsibility. It is not the law and order of the Republican Party or the liberal policies of the Democratic Party. We need a strong military to defend our freedoms. We need unregulated markets to encourage innovation. We need social agencies to check our greed and support “the least of these.” We must find freedom and responsibility between the parties. We must learn to listen to Paul’s competing calls. Christian maturity incorporates the whole of scripture and applies it to an integrated life. We must be aware of our history. We must recognize how we’ve become so divided. We must grow up as a nation, moving on to freedom and responsibility rather than dragging each other into ancient history. The radical claims of Paul continue to challenge us. Libertines may need to give up some freedoms for the health of others. Conservatives may need to unwind enough for the Spirit to enter in.

Adolescence is an experiment in self-governance. It is about identifying your own strengths and weaknesses, learning to moderate. Sometimes we fall on our faces from too much excess. At other times, we shrink back from opportunities we should have seized. Highly responsible people may sprint to early success and wake up 20 years later, wondering what all the compliance wrought. They will long for freedom. Those raised in a borderless environment will have to find a roadmap that shows where the blind curves and dangerous precipices are located. Maturity arises when those maps have been internalized, when familiarity with biblical wisdom coincides with personal experience. We appreciate the gift of freedom, but we also recognize when enough is enough. Only with our house in order can we begin to focus outwardly. We do not merely play thought police, checking and correcting others. Rather, we take on the deeper challenge of walking beside others, inviting them to join us on the journey. It’s a very groovy time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

So You Don't Want To Go To Church

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card authors are:


and the book:

So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore

Windblown Media (March 1, 2006)


Wayne Jacobsen: age 55, Publisher of Windblown Media. Wayne is also the director of Lifestream Ministries, and he wanders around the planet helping people sort out what Jesus really taught. He is the author of So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Anymore, He Loves Me: Learning to Live in the Father’s Affection, Authentic Relationships: Discovering the Lost Art of One Anothering, In My Father’s Vineyard, Tales of the Vine, and The Naked Church and co-hosts a weekly podcast called The God Journey. For 20 years he was a pastor and also a Contributing Editor to Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal.

Wayne was a collaborator on The Shack. In his spare time, he acts as a mediator of religious conflicts in public education as the President of BRIDGEBUILDERS, and is recognized nationally for his expertise in resolving church and state issues. He lives in Moorpark, California with his wife of thirty-three years and enjoys his children and grandchildren.

Visit the author's website.

Dave Coleman is a retired hospice chaplain who continues to teach and counsel people on how to live closely with Jesus. Dave lives in Visalia, Caifornia.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $11.99
Paperback: 191 pages
Publisher: Windblown Media (March 1, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0964729229
ISBN-13: 978-0964729223


Stranger and Stranger Still

At that moment he was the last person I wanted to see. My day had been bad enough already; now I was certain it was about to get worse. Yet there he was. A moment before he had poked his head into the cafeteria, walked over to the beverage station, and poured himself some fruit juice. I thought about ducking under the table but quickly realized I was too old for that. Maybe he wouldn’t see me back in the corner. I looked down and covered my face with my hands.

Out of the cracks between my fingers, I could see he had turned, leaned back against the counter, and took a drink while surveying the room. Then he squinted toward me as he realized he wasn’t alone and with a surprised look he started toward me. Of all nights, why here? Why now?


It had been our worst day ever in a long and torturous battle. Since three o’clock that afternoon, when the asthma made its first attempt that day to strangle Andrea, our twelve-year-old daughter, we had been on guard for her life. First we rushed her to the hospital watching her struggle for every breath. Then we watched as the doctors and nurses battled with her asthma for the use of her lungs.

I admit I do not deal with this well, although you’d think I would with all the practice I’ve had. My wife and I have watched our daughter suffer all of her life, never certain when a sudden, life-threatening attack would send us scurrying to the hospital.

It makes me so angry to watch her suffer; no matter how much we’ve prayed for her and had others do the same, the asthma continues to get worse.

A couple of hours before, the medication had finally kicked in and she began to breathe more easily. My wife headed home to get some much-needed sleep and relieve her parents, who’d come to be with our other daughter. I stayed the night. Andrea finally fell asleep and I found my way to the cafeteria for something to drink and a quiet place to read. I was too wired to sleep.

Grateful to find the place deserted, I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down in the shadows of a distant corner. I was so angry I couldn’t even think straight. What have I done so wrong that my daughter must suffer like this? Why does God ignore my desperate pleas for her healing? Other parents gripe about playing taxicab for all their children’s activities; I don’t even know if Andrea will survive her next asthma attack, and I worry that the steroids she’s on will stunt her growth.

Somewhere in the middle of a good wallow in my anger, he poked his head into my private sanctuary. Now he was walking over to my table and I honestly thought about punching him in the mouth if he dared to open it. Deep down, though, I knew I wouldn’t. I’m violent only on the inside, not on the outside where anyone else can see it.

I’ve never met anyone more frustrating than John. I was so excited when we first met, and honestly I’ve never met anyone as wise as he. But he’s brought me nothing but grief. Since he’s come into my life, I’ve lost my lifelong dream job, been ostracized from the church I’d helped to start fifteen years before, and even found my marriage in rougher waters than I’d ever known.

To understand just how frustrated I am, you would have to come back with me to the day I first met John. As incredible as the beginning was, it doesn’t compare to all we’ve been through since.

My wife and I celebrated our seventeenth wedding anniversary by taking a three-day trip to Pismo Beach on the central California coast. On our way home on Saturday, we stopped in downtown San Luis Obispo for lunch and shopping. Its revitalized downtown is a major draw for the area and on this sunny April day the streets were jammed.

After lunch we split up since our preferred browsing places are quite different. I went to loiter in the bookstores while she trolled the clothing stores and gift shops. Finishing before our scheduled rendezvous time, I had perched myself against the wall of a store while enjoying a chocolate ice cream cone.

I couldn’t help but notice the heated argument going on a few feet up the street in front of The Gap. Four college-aged students and two middle-aged men were holding bright blue handbills and gesturing wildly. I had seen the handbills earlier, tucked under windshield wipers and lying scattered in the gutter. It was an invitation to a play about the flames of hell that was being produced at a local church.

“Who’d want to go to this second-rate production?”

“I’ll never set foot in a church again!”

“The only thing I learned in church was how to feel guilty!”

“Been there, done that, got the scars, and ain’t going back!”

In the few moments since I had begun eavesdropping, I think every one of them threw in a comment. Another would jump in as if he was going to burst from the pressure if he couldn’t add their own venom. “Where do these arrogant people get off thinking they can judge me?”


“I’d like to know what Jesus would think if he walked into one of these churches today!”

“I don’t think he’d go.”

“And if he did, he’d probably fall asleep.”

Laughter drowned him out.

“Or maybe he’d die laughing.”

“Or crying,” another voice offered, which caused everyone to pause and think a moment.

“Do you think he’d wear a suit?”

“Only to hide the whip he’d sneak in to do a little housecleaning.”

The increasing volume drew the attention of those passing by. Their pace would slow as they were drawn into the commotion. Some drawn by the passion and intrigued by the assault on something as sacred as religion joined in like puppies at the food bowl. Still others hung around on the fringes to listen. Some even asked me what was going on.

Then a full-fledged argument developed as some of the newcomers challenged the antichurch cynics. Accusations volleyed quickly in the crowd. Most of them I had heard before: complaints about extravagant facilities, hypocrites, boring sermons, always asking for money, and burnout from too many meetings. Those who sought to defend the church had to admit some of these weaknesses but tried to point out many good things churches have done.

That’s when I noticed him. He could have been anywhere from late thirties to early fifties. It was difficult to tell. He was short, perhaps only five foot four with dark, wavy hair and an unkempt beard. Both were peppered with streaks of gray. Wearing a faded green sweatshirt, jeans, and running shoes, he had a rugged look that made me wonder if he was a holdover from the rebellious sixties—except that he wasn’t shuffling by aimlessly.

In fact, what had caught my eye was the determined purpose of his gait, moving directly toward the growing debate. His face was as intense as a German shepherd when it’s pursuing an unfamiliar sound in the night. He seemed to melt into the crowd and then emerged in the center of it, surveying the more vocal ones. When his eyes turned in my direction, I was captured by their intensity. They were deep—and alive! I was riveted. He seemed to know something no one else did.

By this time the debate had turned hostile. Those who had attacked the church had turned their anger toward Jesus himself, mocking him as an impostor. As intended, that only made the churchgoers in the group more livid. “Wait until you have to look in his face as you sink into hell!” one said. I thought the combatants were going to start swinging at one another when the stranger floated his question into the crowd.

“You really have no idea what Jesus was like, do you?”

The words slipped off the man’s lips as gently as the breeze wafted through the trees overhead. They were in stark contrast to the heated argument that swirled around him. They were so softly spoken that I read them on his lips more than heard them. But their impact was not lost on the crowd. The noisy clamor subsided quickly as tension-filled faces gave way to puzzled expressions. Who said that? was the unspoken question that filled the eyes of their surprised faces as they scanned the others around them.

I chuckled under my breath because no one was looking at the man who had just spoken. For one thing, he was so short that it was easy to pass over him. But, intrigued by his demeanor, I had been watching him and the crowd for the last few moments.

As people were glancing around, he spoke again into the stunned silence. “Do you have any idea what he was like?” This time all eyes turned downward toward the voice and were surprised to see the man who’d spoken.

“What do you know about it, old man?” one of them finally asked, his mockery dripping off each word until the disapproving gaze of the crowd silenced him. He laughed it off and looked away, embarrassed, grateful that their eyes had swung back to the stranger. But the stranger was in no hurry to speak. The resulting silence hung in the air, far beyond the point of awkwardness. A few nervous glances and shrugs shot through the crowd, but no one spoke and no one left. During this time the man scanned the crowd pausing to hold each person’s gaze for a brief second. When he caught my eye, everything inside seemed to melt. I looked away instantly. After a few moments I glanced back, hoping he was no longer looking in my direction.


After what seemed an insufferably long time, he spoke again. His first words were whispered directly to the man who had threatened the others with hell. “You really have no idea what motivates you, do you?” His tone was one of sorrow, and his words sounded like an invitation. There was not a trace of anger in them. Embarrassed, the man threw his hands up and rolled his eyes as if he didn’t understand the question.

The stranger let him twist in the gaze of the crowd briefly, then, looking around the circle, he began to speak again, his words flowing softly. “He was nothing special to look at. He could walk down this street today and not one of you would even notice him. In fact, he had the kind of face you would shy away from, certain he wouldn’t fit in with your crowd. “But he was as gentle a man as one would ever know. He could silence detractors without ever raising his voice. He never bullied, never drew attention to himself, nor did he ever pretend to like what vexed his soul. He was real, to the very core.

“And at the core of that being was love.” The stranger paused and shook his head. “Wow! Did he love!” His eyes looked far past the crowd now, seeming to peer across the depths of time and space. “We didn’t even know what love was, until we saw it in him. It was everyone, too, even those who hated him. He still cared for them, hoping somehow they would find a way out of their self-inflicted souls to recognize who stood among them.

“And with all that love, he was completely honest. Yet even when his actions or words exposed people’s darkest motives, they didn’t feel shamed. They felt safe, really safe with him. His words conveyed not even a hint of judgment, simply an entreaty to come to God. There was no one you would trust more quickly with your deepest secrets. If someone was going to catch you at your worst moment, you’d want it to be him.

“He wasted no time mocking others, nor their religious trappings.” He glanced at those who had just done so. “If he had something to say to them, he’d say it and move on and you would know you’d been loved more than ever before.” Here the man stopped, his eyes closed and mouth clenched as if choking back tears that would melt him in an instant if he gave in to them.

“I’m not talking about mamby-pamby sentimentalism, either. He loved, really loved. It didn’t matter if you were Pharisee or prostitute, disciple or blind beggar, Jew, Samaritan, or Gentile. His love held itself out for any to embrace. Most did, too, when they saw him. Though so few ended up following him, for the few moments his presence passed by them, they tasted a freshness and power they could never deny even years later. Somehow he seemed to know everything about them but loved them deeply all the same.”

He paused and scanned the crowd. In the last couple of moments perhaps as many as thirty more people had stopped to listen, their gaze firmly on the man and their mouths agape in bewilderment. I can record his words here but am bereft of an adequate description of their impact.

No one within earshot could deny their power or their authenticity. They rang from the very depths of his soul. “And when he hung there from that filthy cross”—the man’s eyes looked up into the trees that towered over us—“that love still poured down-—on mocker and disillusioned friend alike.

As he approached the dark chamber of death, wearied of the torture and feeling separated from his Father, he continued to drink from the cup that would finally consume our self-will and shame. There was no finer moment in all of human history. His anguish became the conduit for his life to be shared with us. This was no madman. This was God’s Son, poured out to the last breath, to open full and free access for you to his Father.”

As he spoke further, I was struck by the intimacy of his words. He talked like someone who had been with him. In fact, I remember thinking, This man is exactly how I would picture John the Disciple to be.

No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than he stopped midsentence. Turning to his right, his eyes seemed to seek something in the crowd. Suddenly his eyes locked on mine. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and my body quivered with a wave of chills. He held my gaze for a moment; then a brief but certain smile spread over his lips as he winked and nodded at me.


At least that’s the way I remember it now. I was shocked at the time. Is he acknowledging my thought? That would be silly. Even if he were John, he wouldn’t be a mind reader. What am I thinking? How could he be a two-thousand-year-old disciple?

It’s just not possible.

As he turned away, I glanced behind me to see if anyone else could have been the target of his gaze. It didn’t look that way, and no one around me seemed to take notice of his wink and smile. I was stunned, feeling as if I’d just been hit in the head with an errant football. Electricity raked over my body as questions raced through my mind. I had to find out more about this stranger.

The crowd was swelling in size as more and more people poked their heads in, trying to figure out what was going on. Even the stranger seemed to grow increasingly uncomfortable with the spectacle the scene was quickly becoming.

“If I were you,” he said with a wink and a smile as his eyes swept over those who’d started the discussion, “I would waste far less time ragging on religion and find out just how much Jesus wants to be your friend without any strings attached.

He will care for you and, if given a chance, will become more real to you than your best friend. You will cherish him more than anything else you desire. He will give you a purpose and a fullness of life that will carry you through every stress and pain and will change you from the inside to show you what true freedom and joy really are.”

With that he turned and made his way through the crowd in the opposite direction from where I was standing. No one moved or said anything for a moment, unsure just how to end the confrontation and break up.

I tried to move through the crowd so that I could talk to this man personally. Could he really have been John? If not, who was he? How did he know the things he seemed to speak about so confidently?

It was difficult to navigate through the pack of people and keep my eye on John. I pushed my way through just in time to see him turn down a gap between two buildings. He was headed up Bubble Gum Alley, a forty-yard stretch of brick wall that joined the shopping district with a parking lot behind. It had gotten its name from the thousands of chewed-up wads of gum that had been affixed to the wall during the years. The array of colors made for an impressive if somewhat grotesque sight.

He was only fifteen feet in front of me when he went out of sight. I was relieved to know I’d at least get a chance to talk with him, for no one else had pursued him. I rounded the corner, prepared to call out for him to stop, but instead stopped instantly upon looking down the alley.

It was empty. I turned back to the street confused. Had he really turned in there? I looked both directions up the sidewalk but didn’t see any green sweatshirts like the one he was wearing.

No, he did go in there. I was certain of it. But he could not have covered the forty yards in the three seconds it had taken me to get to the alley.

My heart began to race. Fearful I would miss him. In a panic I finally ran down the alley past the brightly colored wads of gum. There was no doorway or nook where he could have gone. At the end I burst into the parking lot, scanning every direction at once.


A few people were getting out of their cars, but no sign of the stranger.

Confused, I ran back up the alley and into the street, surveying quickly for any green sweatshirts, all the time praying that I could find him again. I looked in nearby store windows and at passing cars, but to no avail. He was gone. I could have kicked myself for not having followed him more closely.

I finally sat down on a bench, a bit disoriented by the whole experience. I massaged my bowed forehead, trying to pull together a cohesive thought. I could hardly finish a sentence in my mind before another thought would intrude. Who was he, and what happened to him? His words had touched the deepest hungers of my heart and the thought of his wink at me still gave me the shivers.

I knew I’d never see him again and wrote off the whole morning as one of those inexplicable events in life that would never make any sense.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.