23 December 2015

This Is Christmas

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him. Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and His mother knew not of it. . .And it came to pass, that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. . .

TRY to picture the scene. . .two thousand years ago, at the temple. . .all the great intellectuals gathered. . . the most respected scholars of the day. . .the thinkers who regulated the routines of life. . .they were probably arguing important issues such as the washing of pots, etc. . .and then:

In walks the One by whom all things were made. . .in walks the Source of Life. . .in walks the Light of the World. . .in the form of a twelve-year-old boy from the backwoods of Nazareth.

Imagine the Savior standing politely at the edge of the group, listening to the geniuses squabbling. . .feigning interest in their vain babbling, He asks a question. . .the great teachers debate, but cannot answer. . .Jesus provides the solution. . .the masters of Israel are a little taken aback, but also amused. They begin to question the young Galilean, thinking to put the lad in His place. . .but with each answer they receive, the amusement fades, until, astonished, the doctors have but one last question for the boy:

Who are you?

He would not tell them He was the Messiah. It would be another twenty years before even a few could accept that. He would tell them He was Jesus of Nazareth. That He lived with Mary and Joseph, the carpenter. He would not say He was Joseph’s son. Even there at the temple at age 12, He claimed God as His father. When Joseph and Mary found Him teaching there, they told Him they had been searching for Him for three days. He calmly replied:

Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?

I wonder how much of His Father’s business He told these scholars? What astonishing words did He give them? The secrets and mysteries of creation? The better way, a preview of the Sermon on the Mount? What did God incarnate reveal that day?

It has been lost. . .

THINK about that. . .

The sayings of the Lord Jesus Christ, lost.

The wisdom of the Eternal Logos, lost.

Infinitely more precious than gold—but lost.

We know to what lengths man will go to protect his gold. Fortresses are built to guard it. The words Jesus gave His hearers that day astonished them. . .but they could not keep them. They were lost. Think about that. . .

Almost everything Jesus gives to men, they lose. . .

What happened to those doctors, who sat astonished before the Lord?

How long did Christ’s words remain with them? An hour? A day? A week? A month?

Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Did Jesus’ words, of a value beyond what we can measure, produce any change in the lives of the hearers? Or a day, a week, a month later, were they back squabbling about the washing of pots?

Did they forget the encounter?

Was it, for them, as if it had never happened?

[Is it, for us, as if Christ’s atoning death and resurrection had never happened?]

This is the history of God’s interaction with mankind. From Eve to the Ark, from Babel to Sodom, the *sacrifice* of Isaac on a mountain in Moriah to Moses and the burning bush at Horeb, the Exodus through the Wilderness and on to the Promised Land—none of it made any lasting impression.

Let us borrow Rousseau:

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. . .

God has supernaturally acted in His creation countless times, but for the creature, the encounters with the Creator remain ephemeral. As awesome as they have been, the effects nonetheless have a strangely short duration. Peter, rather bluntly, put it this way:

The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. . .

Man cannot stay clean. . .

We may also wonder:

Were any of the learned men still at the temple twenty years later, when Christ returned?

If so, did any of them know this prophet from Galilee who was causing such a stir preaching the Kingdom of God, healing the sick, raising the dead, was the very boy who had astonished them two decades prior?

It does not seem unreasonable to assume at least a few who had witnessed the twelve-year-old Jesus teaching at the temple had survived for twenty years, and thus also witnessed the Passion Week.

If not in an official capacity in Jerusalem, were not some of them there for the Feast, anyway?

Did any of them lay down palm branches and cry Hosanna in the highest when Christ entered the city?

Did any of them, one week later, cry Crucify Him!

The boy who astonished them twenty years prior. . .did they also see Him hanging on the cross?

Twenty years after marveling at His words, did they then insult Him as He was nailed and dying on a tree?

Twenty years after asking in astonishment who are you? did they then taunt Him with the following challenge?

If thou be the son of God, come down from the cross, and then we will believe.

Did any of those who heard Christ say it is finished realize this man was the boy they had heard twenty years prior? What would they have made of that?

Even if none of those from that earlier time were there, some who had lain palm branches before Him at the Triumphal Entry must have turned on Him a mere week later:

And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto Him whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify Him.

So whether it takes an hour, a day, a week or twenty years—the end result will be the same: man loses sight of God. Man cannot comprehend God. Man cannot apprehend Christ.

Look at Jesus’ supposed cousin, John the Baptist, of whom Christ said:

Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater. . .

Even John, who had himself baptized the Son of God, and who had seen the Holy Spirit descend upon Him like a dove, could not grasp the Savior:

Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto Him, Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?

Art Thou He that should come? John saw the Holy Spirit like a dove descend upon Christ. John bore witness Jesus was the Son of God. And yet there he is, not long after, wondering art Thou He that should come?


Art Thou He that should come? Two thousand years later, does anybody even bother with such a question? What is left of Christ’s ministry? Just the shell. . .the brand name. . .a franchise. He is a religious Colonel Sanders or a religious Wendy. . .the Eternal Logos now just a logo to plaster above the entrance to the thousands and thousands of McChurches. . .

The masses queue up for their drive-thru communion. . .a bit of cracker and a thimble-full of grape juice. It’s over in seconds. A damnable fraud. . .

This do in remembrance of Me. . .

People waiting in line, bored, checking their watches, they grab a bit of cracker and a swallow of juice, eyes wandering over the crowd—anybody in a short skirt?

And when the hour was come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. And He said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is My body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of Me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you.

It means nothing. It lost its meaning ages ago. Go into a McChurch and see the zombies at communion. . .look at the bored faces and the dry eyes. . .the ritual cannot reach their dead souls.

This do in remembrance of Me. . .

No. He is forgotten. The real Lord Jesus Christ is forgotten. . .lost.

Look around, for the sake of Christ, look around. . .every way of man is anti-Christ.

Surely John the Baptist was the first Christian—surely he was the first goer down the path so many Christians walk. He had a miraculous encounter with Christ and proclaimed the Savior. . .and then. . .he doubted.

He wasn’t sure, anymore, of what he had seen and heard. Perhaps just like those who had seen and heard the twelve-year-old Jesus. Just like the Israelites who had the cloud by day and the fire by night, and yet continually doubted.

For John the Baptist, events must not have proceeded as he imagined they would. Yes, after the baptism, he told his disciples:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

But he could not imagine how greatly he must decrease! Perhaps he could not imagine having no place in the world?

And He said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.

That is the problem, right there. Christ’s way is not the way of the world. Christ entered this world from another realm. Christ could dazzle with philosophy and miracles, but the world could never really digest His message.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

That message has no hearers in this world. The meek are held in contempt, while the aggressively greedy inherit the world.

We encounter Christ, and marvel. . .but we cannot put on His mind. . .for we are of the world—it is as simple as that.

John the Baptist, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater, must have imagined for himself some role in preparing Christ’s Kingdom. . .at the very least, to be a disciple. . .

But to find himself languishing in Herod’s prison? The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord? To go from that to being totally removed from the world scene, locked away, waiting for a sinner’s executioner?

So the Baptizer of Christ doubted. . .he had to have doubted because of his place in the world.

I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.

Jesus could amaze the world. . .He would have celebrity. . . Hosanna in the highest they would cry. . .but when His ways were found incompatible with the ways of the world, all but a few left Him.

Today we have the franchise. . .the world has gone on its way for two thousand years, allowing the franchise to strain out the gnats because it swallows the world.

Christ was in the world, and yet the world remains untouched by His presence.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!

All the gifts Christ gave. . .man let them slip through his fingers. . .he cannot accept Christ because of Christ’s other-worldliness.

And what about Christmas?  When the Western world's retailers try to remind us there was a Christ?

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

This is the season wherein we rejoice! The Savior is born. . .

And two thousand years later the world is a tangle of disease and cruelty.

Where in the world is joy?

In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The darkness has not lifted. . .

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Peace. . .good will toward men.

Look around. . .no, you cannot see for the darkness. . .feel around. . .feel around in the darkness of the world. Peace? Good will toward men?

Peace?  No.  War.

Good will?  No.  Fear and hatred of the other.

The Lord Jesus Christ came. He delivered His message. He took away the sins of the world. He did His Father’s will and sacrificed Himself on the cross. It is finished, He said.

Why then are we still here in this stinking garbage dump two thousand years later?

Why is God’s interaction always lost? Why cannot men hold onto what their Creator has provided?

He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.

The world does not know Jesus Christ. He came and went, and the world has continued in darkness. The darkness comprehended it not.

And I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb. . .

Not even a whisper of it is heard in the darkness of our world. . .

Another Christmas. . .the fetishistic and brawling shopping, the dionysian office parties. . .idiots drunk. . .gluttons lapping up sugary goodies, fattening their holiday waistlines. . .the noise, the tinsel, the noise, the 50% off sales that stink of a depression, the noise, the dysfunctional family gatherings around the altar of disappointing presents, the noise, the fake sentiment, the noise, the discount religion, the NOISE. Christ pushed off into the corner, playing third or fourth fiddle to Santa Claus, reindeer and elves.

How could Christ dwell on this earth for thirty-three years, and this be the result? Over and over He astonished those who came into contact with Him. But in the end, He was run out of town and hung on a tree. . .

Christ told the history of God’s supernatural interaction with man in this parable:

There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.

All that God has given the world has been lost.

Go ahead, try to find Eden. Try to find the Ark of the Covenant.

Our Lord said:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Let me tell you something, my friend, Jesus knew what He was talking about, here. He gave everything, including His blood. . .and it has all been trampled, trampled.

What the Hell kind of Christmas message is this?

We have to have ears to hear. . .

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Jesus left the Throne of God. . .Jesus left the Majesty of Heaven. . .and He came down to this wasteland. He preached the gospel to the poor. THINK about that. Nobody has a chance in this world. In the end, all are beaten down to the grave. The rich have their illusions. The poor have nothing. Jesus gave the poor the gospel. . .the hope for glory. . .but the glory will not be had in this world. The gospel is victory over the world.

Jesus left the Purity of the Highest. . .He came down and cleansed lepers and cast out disease. . .He raised the dead. He left the Splendor of Perfection and came down to the world of corruption. . .He who was spotless was mocked, slandered, spat on, beaten and bloodied, then nailed to the cross by gross humanity.  He did not resist, nor utter an angry word. Look at us, and the insane tantrums we throw over the slightest insult.

What are we to celebrate on Christmas? Simply that Christ would so humble Himself by entering our world.

And what is the greatest gift our Lord gave us? What did He bring into this world? What did He have to personally hand deliver to our world?

Faith.

The faith of Christ.

Let that sink in.

The faith of Christ.

Not our faith. Let us not embarrass ourselves in front of the Savior Christmas morning as we tell Him we place our faith in Him, stupid grins on our faces as we wait for Him to give us slaps on the back.

He doesn’t want our faith. Our faith lasts about as long as the flavor in a piece of penny bubblegum. . .

Those doctors had a little faith in the twelve-year-old boy who astonished them. . .how long did that faith last? Was it there twenty years later when Christ hung on the cross? John the Baptist had faith in Christ when He saw the Spirit like a dove descend upon Him—where was that faith when the Baptizer asked art Thou He that should come, or do we seek another? The Jesus Christ fanboys had faith when they greeted His entry into Jerusalem singing Hosanna in the highest—where was that faith a week later? Crucify Him!

No, God doesn’t want our faith. Like a cheap whore sells her goods, we sell our faith to anyone or anything that provides a few tokens of comfort in this world.

The Lord Jesus Christ brought His faith into this hopeless world, and that is the great gift we celebrate at Christmas:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. . .

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law. . .

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. . .

Let us not nitpick, asking for some blueprint showing every atom of the transfer of faith, and how it maps throughout the world, hitting some and missing others. If we need that to have faith, then the faith of Christ remains yet beyond us.

Jesus starts in us faith in Him, and finishes in us faith in Him.

Our joy in Christmas is the picture of Christ humbling Himself, being obedient to the Father’s will, condescending to take upon Himself human flesh. . .

Our Savior did indeed come into the darkness of the world, to bring His faith into the world to light our way home to the Father. . .

The world has lost everything Christ brought into it, let Him put saving faith in us, and then let Him sustain it in us until the end. . .

He places His faith in our corrupt vessels. . .our corruption can poison us with faithlessness.

Christ’s people have a hard time holding onto the gift He gave. . .but He will maintain His people through their journey in the wilderness of darkness and doubt.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. . .

The darkness may cause His people to lose sight of Him, but He always sees us. . .

That star only the Magi saw two thousand years ago, it still shines, somewhere, out in the black sky. The Jesus star still shines upon those Christ calls His people. . .

Forget the dull sentiment printed on the Christmas cards. . .Christmas Day is for the soul that despairs. . .Christmas has been turned into the most worldly of holidays, eat, drink and be merry. . .the holiday has been co-opted by those who are at home in the world.

But for those who are truly world-weary, it is the day to refresh the hope, the day to celebrate when He stepped out of Glory into our dark world, to give His faith to us, to finish our redemption, to finish rescuing our souls out of the world. . .

Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

The world could for brief periods be dazzled by Jesus. . .but in the end, the world wants no part of Him. . .

Do we feel nothing in this world? There is nothing. . .until He appears to us. . .and then our soul feels its worth. . .

This is Christmas. . .

17 December 2015

The Girl In The Library

She was in the Graphic Novels section.  An artist, she was.  So.  She could draw anything.  Really.  Anyway, I asked her to meet me in the library.  I told her I wouldn't be able to speak to her.  She knew the reason, of course.  I told her: but I have to be able to at least lay eyes on you.  Yes, I used that rather antiquated expression. 

And there she was.  I scribbled a pornographic note on the back of a receipt.  I walked over to her.  She didn't look at me.  Her head down.  I gave her the note.  Our fingers brushed.  I walked away.  I stared at her from the Children's section.  

What it is, is this: she was not offended by me.  Greater love hath no woman than this: she does not ask me to hide or apologize for myself.  I can live true.  

Jesus says that in Hell the condemned will weep and gnash their teeth.  I suppose many assume it is physical torment which produces the weeping and gnashing.  I've never doubted the reality of the Savior, nevertheless, being unfit to judge myself, I must contemplate the possibility of damnation.  I would therefore project my own damned tears and teeth grinding to a bittersweet knowledge Christ's judgment is true.  Eternity bitter at the endless contemplation of all those moments I deceived myself.  Eternity sweet at the endless contemplation of Jesus showing the better way. 

What will this moment in the library turn out to be?  It will be the same as all the other moments in life.  I am either saved or damned, thus all my actions are the acts of either a saved man or a damned man.  I can make neither heads nor tails of my life story, because I am not the author. . .  

I could be completely wrong about all of this. . . 

Of one thing, as I stand gazing at the girl in the library, I am certain: I did not choose this life. . .

She is walking past me, now.  I see the body in motion. My reaction is not at all unnatural, for man is part animal, part Seventh Heaven.

What will come of this?

Life lived on a Golden Avenue?

Or weeping in Endless Torment?

25 November 2015

A Thursday, Some Years Ago

Standing at the bus stop this morning, 6:40 am, waiting for the #5, just like I always do.  It’s still dark out. I’m caught off guard by the weather. . .it’s colder than I thought it would be.  A lot colder.  I just have a little sweatshirt jacket.  This sucks.  Why am I standing out here, freezing, just to go to some shitty job?  A line from a movie runs through my head:

My life? There's nothing to it. It's the story of a sorry chump. The story of a man like so many others, as common as can be.

Sorry chump. . .like so many others.  Amen.

I ruminate over this, as I slowly freeze.  I see little pictures from my life. There’s Kirsten, unfolding a shirt I’d just folded, and then re-folding it, her way.  A lesser man, that is, a lesser sorry chump, might have given her a beating. . .or worse.  Me?  To this day, I still fold the laundry her way.

The story of a sorry chump. . .I was ruminating over this when a shitty-looking little car pulls over right next to me at the bus stop.  I’ve been riding buses longer than most of the losers on this shitty planet have been alive, and this has never happened to me before.  I can hear some shitty music coming from inside the shitty-looking car.  The passenger window goes down.  The shitty music assaults my ears.

“YOU WANT A RIDE?” the driver shouts.

It sounds like a girl.  Or a woman.  Whatever you want to call them.  I look in.  Too dark.  Can’t tell if it’s ugly or what.  But, Hell, what kind of chick would pull a stupid stunt like this?  Gotta be nuts or trying to pull some scam.

“No, thanks,” I say.

The nut or the scammer drives off, the shitty music trailing in the wind.

I see little pictures from my life: There’s Jerry, my moron boss.  “Can you start using those little ‘Sign Here’ stickers on your paperwork?  I don’t have time to search through these documents looking for the signature line.  I just want to be able to go right to the line and be done with it.”  There’s me, walking over to Sandra’s cube, Sandra, Jerry’s admin.  “You got any of those ‘Sign Here’ stickers?”  There’s me, the sorry chump, sticking the stickers on the fucking paperwork.  The story of a sorry chump.

The shitty-looking little car pulls up again.  Down goes the passenger window.  I hear that same shitty music again. . .it sounds like something Lynyrd Skynyrd might have done, after they had drank a gallon or two of human blood.

“YOU LOOK COLD.  GET IN.”

Where’s that bus, anyway?  It should have been here by now.  I’m a sorry chump, I think.  What have I got to lose?  I open the door.  The dome light shines.  Sometimes you’re the windshield. . .most times you’re the bug.  She’s ugly.  I look down the street.  Still no bus.  It’s cold.  I get in.  No reason not to.

“I’M RITA!” she shouts.

Rita.  A dumb name.

“RITA, WHY DON’T YOU TURN THAT MUSIC OFF, SO WE DON’T HAVE TO SHOUT?”

I watch her reach over and hit a button on the dashboard.  Hmmn.  There’s something wrong with this picture, but I just can’t quite figure out what.  But at least it’s quiet, now.

“What was that terrible music?” I ask.

“Terrible?  I’ve never heard Black Label Society called ‘terrible’ before.”

I don’t say anything.  I enjoy the long quiet awkward pause.

She finally thinks of something to say.

“What music do you like? Maybe I have it."

What a joke.  I don’t like music, but I’m not about to get into that with Rita.

“I like opera.  You got any?”

“Opera?  Are you a professor or something?”

“Yeah.  Something. By the way, you can just drop me off at the corner of Ellsworth and Varsity.  Thanks.”

“There’s a Denny’s a little ways up.  You want to buy me breakfast?”

I laugh to myself.  Denny’s.

“I really don’t have time.  I have to be at work by 7:30.”

“You have to work on Thanksgiving?  That’s too bad.”

Thanksgiving?  Ah, shit.  I was waiting for a bus that would never arrive.  My God, it is Thanksgiving.  People must have been talking about Thanksgiving at work yesterday, Hell, all week, and it just never registered.  Man, I am too withdrawn from my surroundings.  I’m a little unnerved by my degree of disconnection.

I sit there in that shitty little car for a few seconds, totally without thought, brain-dead, nothing to process to bring me back to the here-and-now. . .a Thanksgiving Day vegetable.

Finally that line from the movie creeps back into my head.

My life? There's nothing to it. It's the story of a sorry chump.

In the movie, this guy, this fifty year old guy, just pounds on a pregnant middle-aged woman, really hammers her belly with some vicious right hands. . .and he says something like, *now your baby is hamburger meat.  He’s lucky he’ll never have to see your ugly face.*  At the end of the movie, the guy fucks his autistic daughter.  Yet he can say about himself: “The story of a man like so many others, as common—”

“Hello.  HELLO!”

It’s what’s-her-name. . .Rita. . .she must have been talking to me all this time.

“Sorry,” I say, “I nodded off for a second.  What were you saying?”

“I said it’s your last chance to buy me breakfast.  There’s Denny’s.”

We’re at a red light.  Denny’s is right past the intersection. The only reason to deny her a breakfast feast at Denny’s would be my own arrogance, which seems absurd at this point.  A sardonic chuckle passes through my brain, as I observe my Thanksgiving fate. . .Thanksgiving, the day meant to share warmth and love with family and friends, and to offer thanks to the *Higher Power*. . .Thanksgiving, the day I eat at Denny’s with an ugly stranger.

*****

Look at this menu.  How can these concoctions be digested?  You could shit and out would come the remains of your *Moons Over My Hammy* breakfast sandwich, and it would look just the same as the menu picture.  It makes me slightly nauseous to look at these grotesque creations.  This *Fabulous French Toast Platter* is an insult to the great nation of France.  But I dare not take my eyes off the menu, lest I gaze upon Rita. . .for she is an even less appetizing dish.  She looks like one of those haggard 10 centimes whores that used to pose for Van Gogh.  

Here comes the waitress.  Rita orders something called a *Denver Scramble.*  What an insult to the great Neal Cassady.

The waitress looks at me. It's my turn.  

“Just give me a bagel and a glass of water.”

The waitress reaches for my menu.  I hold on tight.

“I can take that for you, sir,” she says

“I’d like to keep it, if you don’t mind.”

She looks at me like I’m weird, then walks away.

I stare down at the menu.  Every now and then I hear Rita cough.  I see little pictures from my life.  There’s Amy S****, in her coffin.  17 years old.  Not a tear shed for her by anybody.  Her friends just standing around, looking stupid.  Her divorced parents looking aggravated.  I see myself observing the scene there, in the funeral chapel.  All those of no value, alive, going through the motions in front of the dead treasure.  Eighteen years ago.  What a long, long eighteen years.

I look up from the menu.  There’s Rita.  Shop-worn.  Beat-up.  Eroded by life.  

“Let me ask you something,” I say.

She looks happy that I am going to talk to her.  “What?”

“What were you doing out driving around at a quarter to seven on Thanksgiving morning?”

“Nothing, really.”

Frizzy straw-colored hair.  Long chin.  Big nose.  Two day old make-up caked over acne scars.  

“Just driving around, huh?”

“I guess so,” she says.

“You’re an early bird, huh?”

“Not really,” she says.

Gee, what a conversation.  Too beaten-down to say anything of meaning.  If she ever did try to communicate, she’d probably cry. . .35, 40 years of misery come flooding out.  

A couple minutes pass by.  The food comes.

“What’s this?” I ask the waitress, pointing at a little plastic tube of cream cheese on my plate.

“It’s cream cheese,” she says.

“So it is,” I say, “so it is.  But I didn’t order cream cheese.  I ordered a bagel and a glass of water.  That cream cheese better not be on the check.”

“I’ll make sure it’s not, sir,” she says in a patronizing tone.

She fucks up, and I get patronized.  That’s America, for you.  Shoot up a fucking carload of civilians at some check-point in Iraq, and then sniff that they didn’t stop when you waved at them.  It’s the same principle with the cream cheese.

Rita gets down to business with her *Denver Scramble.*  She really can work that fork.  I watch her shovel it in.  There’s something wrong with this picture, but I just can’t quite figure out what.  I’ll say one thing for her: at least she’s not fat.  She’s probably missed a meal or two, in her day.  Gaunt, you would call her.  

“Chow’s pretty good, huh?”

She nods her head while she chews. . .then she just stops, takes a huge swallow, a little sob or a gasp or a burp or something comes up. . .tears well in her eyes. . .her face turns red.  Is she choking?  Or just crying like a fucking baby?

“I have nothing to be thankful for,” she splutters.

Just crying like a baby in her scrambled eggs.  I knew it.  I knew it would come to this.

Man, why couldn’t I remember it was Thanksgiving this morning?  The story of a sorry chump.

“It’s decent of you to come here with me,” she says, trying to regain her composure.  “There’s not much human decency left in the world.”

Human decency.  I want to laugh in the worst way.  But I hold back.  Human and decency go together like oil and water.  Even a sorry chump like me knows that.

“I guess you’ve seen your share of hard times, huh?” I ask.

She nods her head and wipes a napkin across her nose.

There’s no point in asking for the details.  Maybe somebody raped her.  Maybe somebody owes her ten dollars.  A person can only take so much.  Some can take more, some can take less.  Well, I should have been a philosopher.  

“Is there anything to be thankful for?” she asks.

There’s really only maybe two or three things you have to do in this world.  One of them is to tell the Truth.  

“Yeah, there might be something to be thankful for,” I say.

“What?” she asks, wiping her nose again.  

Something just doesn’t look right.  What is it?  I look again.  Son of a bitch, there it is.  She’s missing the little finger on her right hand.  Huh.  Huh huh huh.  What about that?  Maybe a dog bit it off.  Who knows?

I remember when I was in wood shop in high school.  Brent Anderson sawed off the tip of his pinky with a—

“What is it?  What’s there to be thankful for?” she asks.

“Oh, yeah.  Death.  A few will be thankful at death.  They will be with Christ.”

She’s stopped crying now.  Tears have all dried.  No more sad look on her face.  It was a McBreakdown.  It’s the American Way.  She eyes me with suspicion.

“It’s very simple, Rita, very simple.  Jesus said ‘I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.’  That’s all there is.  If you can hear it, you have reason to be thankful.  If you can’t hear it, well, then this is as good as it gets: a free meal with yours truly at Denny’s,” I conclude with a chuckle.

“I wish I could believe that, but. . .”

She’s polite about it.  But, then again, she ought to be. . .it’s a small price to pay for a *Denver Scramble.*

I could tell her it’s not about her ability to *believe* it or not. . . I could say: “lady, this ain’t Ripley’s Museum. . .you either hear it or you don’t.”  But why belabor the point?  As He said: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.”

But whatever drive-thru emotional crisis that led her to seek someone out, someone she could grieve with over a plate of scrambled eggs, well, that has all passed.  She’s *normal,* again.  Ready for another day or two on the Wheel of Life.  She’s back working that fork with her four-fingered hand.  Solomon advised: “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.”  Strong drink, scrambled eggs: same difference.  
“Aren’t you going to eat your bagel?” she asks.

I shake my head.  “You want it?”

“Sure, if you’re not going to eat it.”

“Be my guest.”

Nothing to do now but watch her eat her fill, then pay the check.  

My life? There's nothing to it. It's the story of a sorry chump. The story of a man like so many others, as common as can be.