Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Remarks on a hymn and a church

Today's chapel on campus served as a dedication service for our new hymnals.  Amidst the many new hymns being explored from the new book were a few words on singing in the church and the role of music in Christian life and such.  The meager remarks below were my contribution.  In this case they were in reference to one specific hymn new to the Presbyterian book, and how it reminds me of the role one of my past churches played in my life even as I didn't completely realize at the time.  So, a little appreciation for "Old First."

"Look Who Gathers at Christ's Table," which we will sing at communion, was commissioned by First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee, Florida, in honor of the 15th anniversary of the pastor, Rev. Brant Copeland (a Union alum).  The image of people from all across the faith -- saints and sinners, all together around the table of the Lord -- was one often stressed in his preaching and observance of communion.  The church commissioned the text from renowned hymnodist Thomas Troeger, and the church's organist and choirmaster Michael Corzine composed the tune.

My wife and I came to First Presbyterian after a couple of years in Tallahassee at the invitation of one of my professors (well before the commissioning of this hymn).  Even so, that sense of welcome and hospitality was one of the first things that became clear about the church.  We were attracted by its music, of course, but knitted into the community by its unflagging hospitality and outreach that came not out of a program, but out of the congregation's innate sense of mission and of its place in Tallahassee and in God's greater church.

For me, this was an incredible and well-timed turnaround.  Many of you know I'm not a cradle Presbyterian, and some know I've been to seminary before.  That was not a particularly welcoming experience.  PC(USA), you may not realize, is not the only denomination to have trouble holding it together.  That previous denomination's battles did not end in a split, but a purge, which came to the seminary just as I was settling in.  After three years mostly filled with recrimination, dishonesty, anger, and violent rhetoric in the name of doctrinal and scriptural purity, it would have been easy to walk away from not only any sense of call, but from any sense of "church" at all, and I came a lot closer than even my wife realizes.  The welcome and care of that church in Tallahassee played a huge role in that not happening, and this hymn will always be a beloved and valued reminder of that.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Joy in the moment: The Right Way To Play The Game is usually wrong about this

Note to the baseball-phobic: this post is mostly about baseball, though there might be conclusions drawn from it that are not baseball-specific.  Proceed with caution.

One of the sideshows that have played out over the course of this baseball season and, with some amplification, the postseason as well is the purported over-celebration of some players, or the curmudgeonly prudishness of others, depending on your point of view.

During the playoffs so far, the exuberance faction has mostly been represented by the Los Angeles Dodgers, with particular offense being committed by Yasiel Puig, an emigre Cuban outfielder and recipient of a large contract, who is prone to celebration upon hitting home runs, or thinking he has hit home runs.  At least once his celebratory bat flip ended up preceding not a homer, but a double or triple.

Puig is guilty of some mental lapses in his game and mistakes that have a direct effect on the course of play.  Possessed of a strong throwing arm, Puig sometimes lets his arm strength fool him into making crazed overthrows.  He also makes ludicrous attempts at spectacular catches only to have the ball bounce by him, sometimes with no more than a loping jog of pursuit after.  These obviously give the opposing team extra hits and bases and opportunities for runs, which isn't good.  These hurt the Dodgers, and the Dodgers need to get that kind of mental error fixed.

I'm just not quite certain what (aside from being wrong about having hit a home run) is such a horrible offense in a bat flip, short of one that hits another player.  For one thing it isn't always done even in celebration.  Tampa Bay Rays rookie Wil Myers got into trouble earlier in the season for bat flips that were no more than awkward attempts to get rid of the bat and start running to first at the same time.  The charge is that Puig is intentionally flipping the bat to "show up" the opposition, whatever that means.

Another incident in the series between the Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals involved some supposed shenanigans on the part of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, normally one of the more stoic players in the game.  When one of the Cardinals accused Gonzalez of "Mickey Mouse" antics, Gonzalez responded in the next game by, after scoring a run, putting his hands to his head in mouse-ears shape.  The Cardinals, the latest self-appointed Keepers Of The Unwritten Rules, presumably found this an offense as well.

The Cardinals seemed to pick up that role from the Atlanta Braves, who inserted themselves into more than one incident during the season over the presumed Right Way To Play The Game.  Any kind of display after a home run seemed to bring out their particular ire, even though the Braves themselves fielded at least two of the biggest home-run preeners around.  The Braves only lasted one round in the playoffs, presumably not long enough to get hugely offended at the Dodgers' offenses.

I find this disturbing, mostly because one of my favorite parts of this season involved an unlikely starting pitcher for one of the worst teams in the league.  Jose Fernandez, age twenty at the start of the season with no experience above Class A baseball, ended up in the Miami Marlins' rotation to start the season due to injuries to other starters and (possibly) to an incompetent owner looking to curry favor with betrayed fans howling over the selloff of most of the team's actual major-league players during the previous season and offseason.  Fernandez had not only talent but also a compelling story; a Cuban defector, one who came across as a teenager in 2008 (on a third attempt, having spent time in prison after the failure of the first two) in an attempt that involved having to dive into the waters to save his drowning mother's life.

In one of those freakish scenarios that happen just often enough to tease sports fans into insanity, Fernandez not only succeeded, but thrived, wildly beyond anyone's expectations.  He represented the team in the All-Star Game and ended up being named National League Rookie of the Year by one organization.  He came close to a no-hitter in one start.  He racked up tremendous strikeout totals for a rookie, and crazy good stats for a pitcher of any experience level.

And the best part was, to me, that he enjoyed doing it.

He was happy when he won.  He was happy when his team won (which was seldom).  He was particularly happy when he got a base hit (for some reason pitchers get extremely giddy about hitting, considering they're usually so poor at it).  And he got really happy when he hit a home run in a September game against the aforementioned Atlanta Braves, this season's principal Defenders Of The Right Way To Play The Game.

Fernandez, after hitting the ball, apparently took too long to start running.  This was apparently the judgment of Braves catcher Brian McCann, self-appointed Chief Enforcer Of Baseball Decorum.   Keep in mind this is a twenty-year-old rookie pitcher.  If you are tempted to chastise him with the expression "act like you've been there before," you are ignoring the fact that Fernandez most likely hadn't been there before.  Furthermore, apparently the Braves had no problem with their own catcher/outfielder, Evan Gattis, preening like Madonna in her prime (if Madonna looked like a lumberjack) after hitting a homer earlier in the game.  (According to later accounts, Fernandez actually said "wow" as Gattis's homer left the park.  And maybe some other stuff too.)  OK for me but not for thee, Braves?  To hell with the Unwritten Rules Of Baseball, you just violated all the rules of The Right Way To Play The Game Of Life, and your early playoff exit was richly deserved for that alone.

The Cardinals, at least, have kept their prudery limited to postgame comments to the sports media, even more craven than D.C. media in their mindless pursuit of talking points and clickbait.  They got to the World Series, where they get to play the Boston Red Sox, whose idea of lightheartedness is apparently to disguise themselves as Confederate Civil War generals.  Unless you're a big fan of big ugly beards, it's going to be a rather characterless Series, unless one of the Cardinals attempts to forcibly shave Dustin Pedroia or Mike Napoli mid-game.

Why must games be such joyless affairs?  Even before the emerging science on head trauma put me off football for good, the hyper-militarized regimentation mixed with real showing-up and taunting that characterizes most football games was already starting to put me off my feed.  Does baseball have to be so rigid as well?  The game needs a lot more Jose Fernandezes and a lot fewer Brian McCanns in my not-all-that-humble opinion.  The kid pitcher is embarrassing you?  Shut up and get a hit.  If you can't do that, act like a damn grownup, not a spoiled rotten child.

Life itself is far too often a joyless affair.  The trudge from day to day, most days ending with more weariness than sense of accomplishment.  The increasing sense for so many that there really is no hope for things to get better.  The paranoid hoarding of profit and treasure.  The inability to savor any achievement, because one can't stop pressing on towards the next.  The wearying mantra that "too much is never enough."  The craven envy driving people to strive after The Latest, The Newest, The Hippest, The Coolest, The Hottest.  The Way To Play The Game.  And just when the clouds seem to lift a little, the next bit of bad news, unidentified stuff on a CT scan or the downsizing at work or the whispered degrading gossip at school or online, the brutality, the hatred, the jealousy, the anger, the fear.

And yet for entertainment, for diversion from that grinding existence, we so often turn to stuff that is if anything even more relentlessly grim.  I have to admit I don't get the appeal of these oh-so-popular shows in the ilk of Breaking Bad or such.  Life is hard enough.  Why in the world would I make my down time even harder?

Where is the joy in life?

Not merely happiness, though that's good itself.  Where are we allowed to be joyful?

The church?

Sadly, that merits a "ha!"  Too often, too many times, it is overrun with Brian McCanns, jawing at the Jose Fernandezes for Stepping Out Of Line, for Excessive Celebrating, for Inappropriate Display Of Joy (or Inappropriate Display Of Sadness), for innumerable violations of The Unwritten Rules Of Religion.  The joy that comes not in some mere display of extroversion, but in the awestruck silence, the lone trickling tear even, simply doesn't fit into Proper Church Decorum, so it has to be chastised.  The sorrow that hangs like an anchor on the heart, dragging the soul into the cold murky depths, is Not Proper Church Behavior, and must be rebuked, or at best ignored.  We Have Our Rules And They Must Be Followed.

Before I go any more into Hunter S. Thompson mode, a stanza of "Blest Be the Tie":

We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear,
And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.

If you are in a place where you can find that, cling to it.

If you are in a place where you can "share our mutual joys" or let loose with a great resounding belly laugh with each other just because that moment that just happened could not be received in any other way, count yourself fortunate.  Those moments don't happen often enough to waste on somebody else's idea of The Right Way To Play The Game.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The whipsaw

Sunday was good.

Charles Stanford is one of those composers you miss if you're the snobbish type who only indulges in The Great Composers.  He wrote some absolutely gorgeous symphonies and orchestral works (a symphony and a handful of rhapsodies bearing the "Irish" nickname are personal favorites), and some of his church music is just mind-altering, or perhaps soul-altering.  We sang one of those Sunday morning, and it went reasonably well for the church choir with which I am singing right now.  That was good.  The niggling internal difficulties weren't apparent until Sunday evening and didn't seem a big deal.  The guest cat, one which (we believe) lives at a house across the street and up a little, did show up a good bit Sunday.  She's a tiny thing, at least compared to our two monsters.  She'll eat whatever she's given, but by Sunday it was becoming apparent that she was at least as much wanting attention as food.

Monday was pretty decent too.

Classes actually went pretty well.  For once I actually felt somewhat prepared for the first class, and not as if I were dog-paddling furiously merely to avoid drowning.  In the second our first test of the term was returned and I actually did better than expected -- all my questionable answers, or those that seemed questionable at the time, I had in fact gotten correct.  Class itself went fine as well, and the guest cat didn't seem quite so desperate, though in truth I wasn't home so much to see.

Tuesday was a bit rough.

Most of the day was spent at the Virginia General Assembly, where the organization for which I am working for my non-parish internship was coordinating speakers at a public hearing.  First of all, about two and a half hours standing in line; signing in my appointed speaker; then keeping a place in the hearing room for another two hours.  Up to that time, the groups working on opposite sides of the issue (distinguishable by different-colored t-shirts) in question largely kept to themselves.  Once in the meeting room, however, the containment began to break down, and a few exchanges turned ugly.  I had one man lie directly to my face (he gave off a classic tell, one any poker player would recognize), and overheard another exchange in which one (white) man called a (black) woman with whom he disagreed an absolutely awful word (no, not the "n" word) as the capper of an incredibly vulgar and virulently hateful rant.  The testimony itself was a little less awful, if only because nobody called anybody by such a word.  Still, to hear canards that were debunked at least three years ago repeated as gospel truth (by that I mean repeated by a preacher) and to have a doctor say something that was so easily debunked by my own experience with the health care system of the USA for the past year gave me a twitch.  After being free to go, a nine-block walk through Richmond, while actually pleasant at the time, agitated some muscles that only today are starting to calm down.  I did have a good lunch at a place in Shockoe Bottom I'd never known before, and a good potluck dinner on campus that night helped somewhat, and I got off a blog post that took my mind off the crud of the day and helped lift my mood a bit.

Wednesday was amazing and horrible.

This blog, your humble Notes on a Fool's Errand, got linked Wednesday!  Twice!  Tuesday (I think) I had gotten a message from a blogger with whom some of you may be familiar, one with much credibility and popularity as a young voice in the world of mainline/emergent/something or other Christianity, following up on messages we'd exchanged a previous week, indicating he planned to blog on the subject at hand and seeking permission to identify and link to me, which I was happy to give.  (I am not identifying him because I've not decided how much of his hipster cred would be damaged if I pointed out that I used to be his handbell choir director.)  I've said from the beginning I don't write this blog in expectation of heavy traffic, but on the other hand I'm not opposed to it.  Then Wednesday morning another figure of significance, whom I had referenced in the Tuesday night post and tweeted apologies for the tongue-in-cheek treatment of the subject, tweeted back that she planned to link that post in her next blog entry (via The Christian Century, no less!!!).  And she did!!  And not to rip it apart!  To quote from it, with my name on it!!!  This will be the only time my name will ever get into The Christian Century in any form, I can assure you of that!  I don't want to be a prideful person, but up to that point Wednesday was a happy morning.
Then I went for my medical appointment.
I believe I've mentioned in past entries some things that, post-surgery and post-chemo, don't quite look right.  A slightly puffed-up kidney, a ureter that looks partly obstructed by...what?  scar tissue?, a few odd pockets of air where they shouldn't be.  Well, attempts to go at the unexplained via antibiotics changed nothing, according to a CT scan of two weeks ago.  That means the only way to get at what that thing is, is by opening me up again, to see if it's scar tissue, or possibly a tumor.
To hear that last word was the breaking point of my week.
I was in fact given an option; to have exploratory surgery now (or as soon as it could be set up) or to wait three months, get scanned again, and proceed from there.
To avoid stress, which is a known killer in several parts of the galaxy, I'm opting for the latter.  Despite the presence of the unknown...thing, there is nothing else in any of my blood readings or any other tests that points to the presence of any kind of cancer at the moment.  The oncologist doesn't seem to think it's cancer.  Even the surgeon doesn't really seem to think it's a tumor, but doctors aren't cut out for not knowing.
I cannot cope with being cut open again.  Not now.  I have too many things to do, things that matter intensely to me, between now and the end of January.  In February you can cut me open.  In February you can cut me up and stuff me and mount me on your wall if it's that important to you but NOT NOW. My body is not ready just ten months after the fact.  Or my mind isn't ready.  Either way, it counts.
Whether now or later, surgery this year threatens my ability to graduate in May.  It's already shot down any chance I had of going to the Middle East (Turkey, Israel, Palestine) in May with Union's travel seminar.  I wanted to see all those New Testament sites, and I also wanted to see Gallipoli.  Wanted it so badly.  So much for that.
Anyway, back to Wednesday: I tried to go on to campus for chapel after the surgeon dropped that on me.  Mistake.  I was not at all ready to talk about it, but I couldn't really think about anything else.  Should have just gone home, but I wasn't even ready to face my wife.
Oh, and that intestinal distress from Sunday night?  At its peak by now.  And the guest cat was apparently hanging around our house most all day.  About the only positive thing I could do that afternoon was be a safe space for a stray cat.  I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to be healthy enough to be anything else.  I got through choir rehearsal that night, mostly because it was fairly sparsely attended and nobody really questioned me about much of anything.

Thursday was somewhat better, but still...

Having spent about half my internship hours for the week Tuesday, and knowing I'll spend about that many Saturday, I only went for a meeting over coffee with the organization's program director, a mentoring meeting.  As my direct supervisor was out of town, she was the only one to whom I could break my health news for now.  Otherwise the talk was something of a debrief from Tuesday's event and an overview of some of the things for the big event for the area presbytery at the General Assembly in January, my main internship responsibility (and one of the reasons I'm inclined to put off surgery).  It was actually a good and interesting discussion that helped me understand the work I'm in so much better, and the particular kind of endurance it takes to do it.  I think I even managed not to sound like a total idiot.  Still, I think it's fair to say that the previous day's news was hanging over me throughout the day.  I was distracted enough that I got lost trying to get out of Shockoe Bottom, ending up across the river in a place I didn't know and only getting my bearings when I stumbled onto I-95, which isn't particularly close to where I live but does give me a way to get there.  Attempts to study or prepare for a presentation in class this week were as pointless as bailing buckets on the Titanic.  Again, about the only other constructive thing that happened Thursday was more time with the guest cat.

Today was...meh.

Physical therapy this morning (oh, did I mention I'm also being treated for carpal-tunnel syndrome right now?  And me typing this oversized entry with my braces nowhere in sight.  Idiot), then lunch with my wife as a chance to talk things through a little more.  I think she understands, a little, why I'm still inclined to postpone surgery.  I don't expect her to understand fully.  There's still some hope, with a stent inserted (every male reading this should take a moment now to uncross your legs and recover from your wincing), the kidney issue may relieve itself and perhaps allow for some non-surgical options to be explored.  I am playing that low-percentage chance, against the risk that if it's a tumor it decides to spread widely between now and then (also a low-percentage chance; the highest percentage chance is...nothing changes and I get cut open in February).  Then class this afternoon, the in-class component to the internship, where I displayed the snarky, cynical side I usually try not to unleash around campus. On the other hand, a nice dinner out (thanks for the gift cards, in-laws) did help break the funk, if only a little.  And now, this blog entry.

So, there is my week.  Judge it as you wish.  Tomorrow is a busy day, representing my internship organization at the local presbytery meeting.  Church Sunday morning, another good anthem, though not quite as good as the Stanford.  Unless something changes my mind, I call the surgeon Monday morning and report that I'm choosing the wait-three-months option.  Classes on Monday, including the presentation I still need to get together.  Internship on Tuesday.  What should be an interesting chapel on Wednesday, and then finally get on a plane Wednesday night for a much-needed fall break vacation at my wife's favorite place in the world.  She will be happy and that will make me happy, at least for a few days.

Then back to it.  Whether I'll ever graduate from here.  Whether I'll ever be healthy enough to graduate, or to be called to a church or any other kind of vocation for which I might have been preparing here, or whether I'll ever be able to do any damn thing besides add to that Death Star of medical debt that is already beyond what I'll ever be able to pay off even if everything breaks right (and yes, this is after insurance, such as it is).  Whether, in other words, this fool's errand was in the end even more foolish and pointless than I could have ever imagined.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The "not quite dead" church, or new names for "mainline"

Thanks to my Twitter feed today I got directed to a conversation on the subject of the "mainline" church, or more precisely what to call said informal branch of American Protestantism.  The discussion was touched off by a blog post by Carol Howard Merritt, on the outdatedness of the term (apparently derived from a railroad line in Philadelphia backintheday) and its general inaccuracy at describing those denominations and their influences historically and currently.  The tweet that lured me into the subject was an article on Religion News Service by Cathy Lynn Grossman, taking up the question of renaming, if such a thing was even possible, and offering up suggested names from others (some serious, some humorous, some hostile).

What follows is thoroughly tongue in cheek.  After the junk I sat through today, even bailing after an hour, I need some humor even if it is of the self-generated variety.  And yet, there might be grains of truth in the humor, hopefully.  Forthwith, my own jesteresque nominations for new names for the "mainline" church.

*Progressive Church -- Yeah, that's a loaded term, implying that other churches are backward and regressive.  Still, there's something to be said for declaring yourself as forward-looking and not trapped in the past that wasn't nearly as glorious as we sometimes think it was.

*Clerical-Collar Church -- In honor of the tendency of (some, not all) ministers in these denominations to be identifiable by what they're wearing, whether the telltale collar (admittedly, not all do this, or not consistently) or by the vestments of various varieties found in pulpits here and there.  It seems fair: it's a kind of early-warning system for those who otherwise might get ambushed by the cool-kid megachurch types who strut around in jeans and cool t-shirts only to ambush you with God-talk.  You approach the person with the collar, you know what you're getting into.

*Liberated Church -- A spin on one of Merritt's preferences, Liberationist Church, but (to my taste) placing the credit not on the church but on the One who sets us free.  Maybe this isn't so tongue-in-cheek as others unless some hoary old "women's lib" punchlines get dragged out of the attic.

*The Faithful Remnant Church -- While other branches of the faith go off on wild goose chases and popularity-seeking experiments (and while some churches in those denominations can't wait to bail out), The Faithful Remnant remains, well, faithful or something like that.  Own your smallness!

*The "Not Quite Dead" Church -- My personal favorite.  Devotees of Monty Python and the Holy Grail will get the reference possibly.  No, not the "bring out your dead" sequence, but later, when Launcelot believes his trusty squire Concord mortally wounded.  Certainly the mainline denominations have been pronounced mortally wounded a time or two (sometimes with sorrow, sometimes with glee to be honest -- and often by our own as much as those of other persuasions).  Yet, like Eric Idle's character in the first 1:20 or so of this clip, even an arrow smack in the chest/gut doesn't seem to have finished us off just yet.  Hey, miracles do happen, right?  Eventually, Concord's going to have to get up and walk, though.  The "sitting around with an arrow in its chest church" doesn't really work.

*The Refuge Church -- Not very funny, but it is largely what the tradition has been for me.

*The Humbled Church -- Yeah, we had the power and influence, and to a large degree squandered it on Sunday blue laws and tall pointy steeples.  We tiptoed into the civil rights movement, sometimes kicking and screaming, and paid for it to some degree.  Our pride has been taken down more than a peg or two.  Own it.

*The "Friend Zone" Church -- When you've had your flings with the cool kids, the ones with the fancy buildings and snappy dressers and all that, and it has left you high and dry, the one who really cared for you most of all will still be there waiting.  Maybe not all that handsome/beautiful, but we'll be faithful and love you.  (This of course puts a major burden on mainline churches to live up to such a claim, but then we should be doing that anyway, right?)

OK, enough flailing attempts at humor.  I wonder if the discussion is only partly about rebranding, and much more about vision.  What do such churches, in their beat-up and kicked-around state, have to offer?  What is our hope?  These are not bad questions to ask, even if Eric Idle as Concord never becomes the mainline church's role model.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Singing the difficult

A week and a half ago I touched off a bit of a kerfuffle on Facebook.  After one of the hymns in the service that morning, I couldn't help but observe that there was a verse missing.  I'm not going to get into the details as there might be a publication elsewhere on the subject, but the verse missing is going to prove controversial for some and outright unsingable for some.  While there is inevitably a theologial angle with any hymn and its discontents, here the difficulties will potentially be much more straightforward and personal.

Leaving aside the specifics of that hymn, I was provoked to wonder how many hymns, over the course of the genre's history, have had at least as much difficulty about them, that perhaps is now lost on us.  I don't mean difficulties with particular points of theology, as in the kerfuffle over the new Presbyterian hymnal's non-inclusion of a praise song over its theology of the cross.  Nor am I necessarily thinking of things like the rampant blood-and-gore imagery of some hymns around Good Friday or the cross, for example ("There is a fountain filled with blood" could be the genesis of a slasher movie, if it fell into the wrong hands.)  I'm wondering if there are hymns that were just flat-out hard, difficult, perhaps even humanly impossible to sing for more human reasons.

I can think of plenty of hymns that irritate me intellectually.  Any Christmas hymn that goes bleating on about snow on the ground outside the stable, the kind of thing that really is not typical of Bethlehem, tends to make me groan.  It's easy for some to offer up after-the-fact rationalization, which only tends to make my irritation worse.

I've known of hymns having particular imagery that caught people off-guard.  I still remember introducing a choir to "Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore" and folks being caught off-stride by the second verse's reference to the singer's boat having "no money nor weapons."  That, however, turned into a good, thought-provoking teachable moment.

I'm not necessarily referring to the issues of gender language in hymns, which in mainline traditions tend to get fixed anymore.  I'm trying to think of hymns that include or included words or phrases or images that were or are just painful to some people.  Being a white male I'm probably privileged enough not to experience that kind of shock or pain in singing a hymn; offending white males just hasn't been a standard hymnodic practice.

So I guess I'm asking for help.  What are my dimmed eyes failing to see?  What have I, or what has the church generally missed out on or forgotten how painful it was or willfully overlooked?  I can't think it hasn't happened before.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Philemon's Rant

Dammit, Paul, what are you doing to me?

Seriously, what the hell?

Even in prison you manage to be a pain.

How could you write that kind of letter to me, asking me to do something so out of line, so sure to draw  

Do you know what people will think of me if I free this worthless slave?  After what he did?  

And if asking me to do this wasn't enough, you put it in a letter not just to me, but to Apphia and Archippus and to the whole church?  I know you know there are other slaveholders in the church that meets in this house.  Are you trying to turn all of us into outcasts?  And what are those other slaves going to say now that they've heard this letter from you?  How are they going to behave to their masters?

Paul, I am so angry with you I can't see straight.  How could you ask me, in front of a whole houseful of witnesses, to do something like this?  It's arrogant.  It's disruptive.  It's just completely out of order.  If you were here I'd probably try to choke some sense into you.  I am so angry with you because ... because ...

Because you're right.

Yes, I know you're in prison.  I never forget that.  You know that, don't you?  Do you really have that little faith in me?  

And yes, I know I owe you my own life.  I see what you did there, "not mentioning" that.  I remember what I was before.  If only God would let me forget.  

And yes, I can see that Onesimus is different.  That slave chapped me like no slave I've ever had.  If it weren't for what he took when he ran I'd frankly have been relieved to be rid of him.  Now?  Totally different.  Quiet, humble, gracious. And yet incredibly well-spoken on your behalf.  I don't even recognize him.  It's almost as if he has become an evangelist himself.  And yes, I can see that he really wants to go back to you and Timothy and Epaphras and the others.  I remember what it was like to be changed like that.  To know suddenly what it is to live, not just survive or get by.  Or maybe I didn't completely learn that before.

Last night I overheard Archippus speaking to Onesimus.  Trying to be quiet, but Archippus has a voice like a trumpet.  Obviously he was testing Onesimus.  "You know you could be killed, don't you?"  Onesimus's answer sounded so like you: "If I live, it is for the Lord.  If I die, it is for the Lord."  

You know I'm going to send him back.  You did know this, didn't you?  Did you at least have that much faith in me?  I believe he will be carrying some gifts from the congregation as well.  Receive them in good health.

And you had better come back here as soon as you are freed.  Do you know what kind of ruckus is likely to break out around here?  You better get here and help settle things down.  

I can't believe what I'm doing.  I cannot imagine what life is going to be like now.  

You'd better be here to help, Paul.