THE DENT THAT PAID THE RENT

Perhaps it is because I’m getting old, and the closest I get to adventure is paying my taxes, or having some body-part such as a tooth or kidney removed, that I have developed a strange longing for the trouble I used to get into as a young man. Back then, (especially just after various women had the good sense to not marry me), I had no reason to settle down, and was able to take despair (and freedom from responsibility) and use it to become a sort of desparado.

Because I liked to write, I was a sort of prissy desparado, as desparadoes go, but there can be no denying I lived life on the edge, and occasionally fell off.  I was very downwardly mobile, and not the sort of person many would think was a “good prospect”, and one thing I learned was how badly one can want love. I was too proud too beg, and therefore seldom saw the human charity of spare change clinking into my cap, and instead expected nothing but shunning from my fellow man. To win a smile from someone made my day. But, even when I didn’t deserve a smile, and none were forthcoming from my fellow man, I had a sense God was with me.

Not that I didn’t grumble, but if you read the poetry (psalms) of King David you see he too grumbled a fair amount. I believe such grumbling counts as prayer, and also believe such prayer is answered. True, when you are in a run of bad luck, cruising for a bruising in a way where you deserve your bruises, you don’t catch many breaks. If you sow thistles you will reap a crop of thorns, and therefore your life may not look like an answered prayer. But when you are actually in those shoes the smallest thing can be a blessing, like a warm beam of sunshine finding its way through storm clouds to your shoulders.

That is what I want to capture, if I write about my days as a drifter. But I recognize a danger, as I go through my notes and play with rough drafts. The danger is I may create a “pity-party”, or a smudge of resentment, or even glorify something I should be a little embarrassed about. I want to avoid all that, and instead to show that there was truly glory in the hardship, but it sure wasn’t me. It was a sense that even when life is at its loneliest, you do not walk alone.

Jesus actually stated he did not come for people who had their act together. He came for the people down on their luck, and perhaps that is why the people down on their luck seem to meet Him more than millionaires.  (Also perhaps that is why some millionaires become so decadent, so they too can fall into the gutter and discover the kindness of God.)

Not that I’m in any hurry to get back to the gutter. What I desire is the sense of glory that strangely goes along with having nothing, perhaps because one inadvertently and unintentionally is renouncing the world,  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Last summer I wearied of a church that seemed dulled by complacency. That church seemed a place where no one had any problems, (or pretended that.) Outside its doors there was a serious drug problem, but people didn’t really want “that sort” coming in the doors. Church was a hide-out, a safe sanctuary where people escaped such problems. So I headed out the doors, more interested in places where people had problems, and were facing the issues of “detox” and “rehab” (two words that were not in the English dictionary not all that long ago.)

People who go through “detox” and “rehab” face something called “recidivism”, which in the old days we called “backsliding” or “falling off the wagon.”   In fact some addicts and drunkards use shelters and halfway houses as a way to get back in shape, to regain their health so they can go on another bender. This is very discouraging to those who want to help people escape addiction and become “useful members of society.” However it was noticed that the recidivism rate was much lower at halfway houses that employed God. This is discouraging to atheists. In fact I recently heard a person joke, “The only people who are Christians are perverts, addicts, and Republicans.”  God may have gotten a chuckle out of that, but cynicism doesn’t seem to stop Him.

In any case, I far prefer going to a church full of street people,  who are going through hard times and are down on their luck. They may not wear Sunday suits, nor look like people whose prayers are answered, but they know what I was talking about when I wrote, “the smallest thing can be a blessing, like a warm beam of sunshine finding its way through storm clouds to your shoulders.” Their faces light up, as they talk of mercies from lives few envy.

You hear unexpected bits of wisdom, as you listen. For example, In my life I’ve met people who prayed for something, drummed their fingers impatiently, and then, when the prayer was not answered, stated it was irrefutable proof God does not exist. So I expect such a response from people. Yet I recently heard a person explain the phenomenon roughly like this, “It had been a long, long time since I talked to God. He really liked it when I came back, but He knew, if He answered my prayer, I’d forget all about Him in a big hurry, all over again.  So He kept me talking.”

Another recovering addict told a tale that made me chuckle. He had been working very hard to arise from the ashes and get his life back on track, but his financial situation was in complete ruins, and various bill-collectors were in no mood to be merciful. He (with his wife’s support), had done all the right things, taking more than one embarrassing, menial job and going to the bill-collectors and attempting to arrange payment plans to get back on track, but, even working two jobs, the pay wasn’t enough. Therefore he pushed himself further, and attempted to get a good job despite his criminal record, honestly explaining his situation and offering to take drug tests. He deemed it an example of God’s mercy shining through a human being when he actually landed a good job, for twice as much pay as he had ever earned before, but the job would not start for two weeks and then he’d have to go two weeks before he got his first check. That was too long for his landlord to wait. Although the recovering addict and his wife had paid the current rent he still owed back rent from months before, and had only managed to make a few ten and twenty dollar payments on that back rent, and still owed $1,200.00. The landlord had been patient for months, and served an eviction notice: “Pay up in ten days or move out.”

This dropped the recovering addict to his knees, but as he was praying he heard a crash outside. The old man next door had backed into his wife’s car,  and she had no insurance, nor the money to fix it. The former addict fought off the temptation to use the misfortune as an excuse to get high, and bent the fender back out enough for his wife to use the car. Then he went to work at his two menial jobs, wondering where his wife and he were going to move, as he awaited the start of his better job.

After hanging on in this agonized manner for the ten allotted days his landlord had given him to come up with the rent, the old man next door came up and handed him a check for $1,200. The neighbor did have insurance, and that was how much the insurance company had paid to repair the dent. But the man’s wife said, “The car drives just fine. Let’s use the money to pay the rent.”

And that is the tale of the dent that paid the rent.  It shows the mysterious ways in which God may answer prayers better than any sermon.

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CHRISTIANITY FRICASSEE (Comments on California Wildfires)

California Wildfire The Latest

The fires in California are to be expected, just as the fires in parts of Australia are to be expected. Forest fires are part of each respective ecology. Trees in both places evolved to resist and in some cases take advantage of fires, and in both places the indigenous people conducted “controlled burns” to attempt to keep the naturally-occurring forest fires smaller and less terrifying than they might otherwise be. Conservationists, (as opposed to environmentalists), tend to agree with the idea of controlled burns, and of clearing brush and trees away from houses. These are sensible steps that can be taken, if people insist upon living in outrageously beautiful but dangerous landscapes.

I do not mean to be divisive, by separating conservationists from environmentalists. But I do think there is a difference between sensible reactions and emotional reactions. While it may be true that the original white settlers in California had no idea of the fiery ecology they were moving into, they did eventually learn, often the hard way, (and seldom by listening to the indigenous people). People’s learned responses are either pragmatic and practical, or else are yet another mistake, which will yet again have to be learned-from the hard way.

What I call “environmentalists” differ from conservationists by being far too quick to leap to a conclusion, and far too eager to put a single issue ahead of all others, and all too likely to have priorities all out of whack. Perhaps everyone is in some ways an environmentalist when young, and becomes a conservationist as they get older. “Once burnt, twice shy”.

To me California seems to be retarded in its development of the more level-headed conservationist thinking. My views are perhaps tainted, for, despite beautiful landscapes and people, the nineteen months I spent there were among the most miserable of my life. I always felt like a square peg in a round hole, but will not recuse myself from discussion, because observations have value even when they are negative.

The people I met largely lacked roots, for a number of reasons. What heritage California had (or was developing) was washed away by constant floods of newcomers. When I lived there in the early 1980’s it was rare to meet anyone over thirty who was born there. Few seemed to come there to “settle” as much as they came to “get rich quick”, like the original ’49ers seeking gold in the hills.   Many who fled there seemed to desire to avoid responsibility more than to embrace it. All Californians seemed to be runaways, (at which point I took a hard look in the mirror and wondered how much I was projecting).

Much of California’s immature thinking seemed to crystallize into the influence of Hollywood. I did not approve, especially as I was still in my late twenties and thought I was still a Democrat, and Hollywood had just given me a Republican president.

It is likely a fine example of how confused and disjointed my thinking was at that time that I initially distrusted liberal Hollywood because of a conservative. But the simple fact of the matter is I found myself distrusting most TV and most movies (and all commercials) because they all seemed dishonest. They were sly rather than straightforward, appealing to emotion rather than common sense, rabble-rousing rather than speaking to the higher instincts. Worst was the fact many people would be frank about their tactics, using words like “subliminal” with an amazing (to me) unawareness that they were confessing to owning the ethics of a snake-oil salesman. They felt they had the power to manipulated money from the wallets of others into their own greedy paws, and could “control the masses.”

Some seemingly felt they had historical proof audiences could be emotionally influenced to an irrational degree. For example, in a 1934 movie Clark Gable removed his shirt to reveal he wore no undershirt, and it was said undershirt sales then crashed nation-wide. In actual fact, however, men nation-wide may have stopped wearing undershirts because the mid-1930’s had blazing hot summers, and also the Great Depression economy was so bad men cut back on buying all but the most necessary items of clothing. Perhaps Clark Gable reflected the common man, rather than vice versa. But people in Hollywood prefer to believe they lead and others follow.

For another example, some say the movie “Bambi” turned Americans against hunting deer. In actual fact,  hundreds of thousands of farms were foreclosed-upon in the Great Depression, and millions left rural landscapes where they could hunt deer. Even if they did not move to a factory in a city, and were perhaps of the 250,000 refugees who became agricultural workers in the California countryside, their new boss was about as likely to approve of an “Okie” walking about his farm with a rifle as he would later be to see a “Wetback” with a rifle. Therefore perhaps “Bambi” is given more power than a cartoon deserves, and Walt Disney perhaps should not be seen as a founding father of the modern vegan movement. And perhaps people in Hollywood are a bit presumptive, and think they have more power and influence than they actually have. Perhaps some of them are actually more like followers of fads, than the fad’s creators. Rather than seekers of a Truth that causes emotional youths to becoming mature elders, perhaps stars and starlets are merely seekers of popularity, and are themselves somewhat juvenile.

Socialists have a great belief in the power of propaganda, even to the point of trusting in it more than they trust in the Truth. Their favorite motto, “The ends justify the means”, allows one to lie, if it is for a good cause. Of course, the “good cause” for a snake-oil salesman is his own income, at your expense. Another way to say “the ends justify the means”  is to state “My good intentions justify my unethical behavior”, but life tends to teach us otherwise.

The saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is roughly a thousand years old, and Virgil’s “The path to hell is easy” dates from the time of Christ. But even if you don’t hear these old truths, life will teach you the same thing. If you tell a lie, and another gets burned, you are going to face an angry person.

As an environmentalist your intentions may have been good, when you forbid controlled burns and allowed the deadwood to build on the forest floor to levels that never occur in nature, and your intentions may have been good when you forbid cutting the brush back from houses. But you will have to face an angry home-owner when your good intentions result in their home looking like this:

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At this point you are going to be in the position of scrambling for excuses. After all, you obviously had the power, for otherwise you could not have kept them from clearing the deadwood or cutting back the underbrush. As you have the power, you collect the taxes, and this likely involved reassuring blandishments such as, “Your taxes will fund the best fire fighters in the nation. You can buy this property with no worry.” Now you face a problem. How are you going to talk yourself out of this one? I have an idea! You can propose raising taxes even higher to fund better firefighters! The only problem is that this particular taxpayer will be paying no more taxes. I have another idea! You could learn from your mistake! But no, no, no! That would involve admitting a mistake, and the last Californian politician to do that was Ronald Reagan, when he confessed he once was a Democrat. Now it seems confessing-a-mistake is deemed a fate worse than death. Instead politicians scramble to dream up increasingly ludicrous excuses.

Perhaps it is for this reason that California’s governor recently made absurd statements about the current fires, stating the the cause was not deadwood, underbrush close to houses, and the fact it is natural for California’s forests to burn,  but rather the cause was weather being the hottest since the dawn of civilization. How foolish he looks. All it takes is a quick check of records to show it was hotter just a three years ago.  The old man must be getting feeble to come up with such a lame excuse. It’s in some ways sad; he was so much better at telling lies when younger. But they say, “there is no fool like an old fool”, and there is a tragedy worth weeping over when we witness a man living his entire life and never gaining wisdom.

Every cloud has its silver lining, and the upside to the poor governor’s sadly troubled mind is that his  emotional hyperbole clearly demonstrates what I see as the difference between environmentalism and conservationism. It is the difference between emotion and common sense.

This also irks me, for the governor is giving emotion a bad name. As an artist I am big on emotion, whereas the “common sense” of a miserly banker repels me. This suggests a further distinction must be made, a difference between matter and spirit. One must differentiate between emotion all about materialism, and emotion about higher things that sacrifice materialism. In other words, we are not talking about a difference between heart and head, but rather of a proper balance between the two. A heart is no good if it’s greedy, and a head is no good if its irrational. The “common sense” I’m talking about recognizes this distinction.

It is a distinction accentuated  in a time of crisis. When wildfires burn out of control some ordinary individuals are heroic, and some not so heroic.

The fire fighters are forced by the urgency of the situation to fly hot-dogging dives unbelievably close to trees, and to use fire retardants which might be less than advantageous to the endangered woolly tufted caterpillar.

Carr fire continues to rage
Because of the refusal to have controlled burns, and the outlawing of cutting brush back where it would be wise, these fires have huge amounts of fuel to burn and can leap right over the barrier created by roads. Therefore fire fighters start fires by the sides of roads, and allow these backfires to burn slowly upwind to the major fires,  so the major fire has no fuel to jump the road with, but the firefighters must work hard to keep their backfires under control and keep them from jumping the road.
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And as all these heroic efforts are occurring, there are, of course, some who behave less heroicly
APTOPIX California Wildfires
It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but, as a man attempting to follow the Christ, I find that some of the best examples of less-than-heroic behavior involve snide comments made by people who, at least in some cases, profess to be Christians, about other Christians facing the fire. As this behavior is difficult to describe, allow me to give you a snippet of the chatter on “Twitter”, as the city of Redding was threatened by raging fires and a particular church called “The Bethel Church” was also threatened:

I’ve seen a number of Reformed folks on Twitter rejoicing over the fire going on in Redding Ca. claiming it as a judgement of God over Bethel church while simultaneously mocking them. If that’s Christianity, count me out. Thankfully it’s not.

  1. So, does anyone else find it interesting that Bethel Redding hasn’t been able to stop this Carr fire that is burning out of control in their city? Maybe one of their Holy Spirit fire tunnels got out of control?

  2. Bethel church is literally asking their brainwashed worldwide followers to give money to them for their relief in the fire ???? Like what has bethel done in the last week to aid its citizens? Not open their massive cult doors that’s for sure

  3. My alma mater has opened its doors as an evacuation center for the Carr fire in Redding, but Bethel Church directly across the street hasn’t. I just have to wonder why.

  4. …38 years. As long as the Bethel cult members don’t repent and allow Jenn and her supporters to continue cursing and committing sexual perversion, they will add fuel to the fire and kill more than 2 people.

  5. It’s awful about the Carr Fire, for the people, their homes, lives, &animals. I mourn the lost firefighters. But, Bethel Redding Church is a horrific affront to a holy God &especially to His spirit. I hope no injuries,but I do hope the fire causes a dispersal of all its adherents

  6. PLEASE PRAY: Fires are burning near Redding, CA. Many of our Bethel friends have had to evacuate & more are now preparing to leave their homes. PRAY for winds to change, for RAIN, for fires to be contained & extinguished, and for God’s protection over the area & firefighters.

    Yikes.

    For what it’s worth, I did my best to do a bit of fact-checking on the Bethel Church, and apparently they did offer to open their doors to the refugees from the fire, but “authorities” (I gather the Red Cross) felt the offer could be dangerous. Their sanctuary had a single entrance and single exit, and was surrounded by brush, and the fire was drawing close. Rather than a refuge, the place might turn into a big crematory. Therefore the church switched its efforts to other ways of helping their stricken community.

    To me not-opening-the-church’s-doors seems a sane and pragmatic response, by people dealing with a somewhat insane reality. Most of us cannot imagine having such a fire raging on the borders of our community, burning up homes at the edge of town. Therefore it seems, at the very least, unhelpful, to criticize the Bethel church for closing its doors to people in need.

    (By the way, the disapproval towards this particular church seems to be because some feel its members have a faith in Jesus which is too “radical”.)

    Earlier I stated that what separates a conservationist from an environmentalist is that the latter are “far too quick to leap to a conclusion, and far too eager to put a single issue ahead of all others, and all too likely to have priorities all out of whack”. Are we not seeing the same thing in a different form, when Christians add the flames of criticism to the flames from wildfires fellow Christians already face? How is this helpful? (Especially when no fact-checking is involved, and what is involved is largely gut-level dislike.)

    Criticism is only truly helpful if it has Love and Truth at its core. A heart does no good when it’s hateful. Therefore, before I criticize California any further, I think I might be wise to go take a hard look in my own mirror.

PENTECOST

“When are you going to learn to keep your big mouth shut?” growled old Beef Wafflegreen, elder of the Premmiproppa Good News Church, to his equally-old fellow-elder Dusty Snodgrass. They were walking down a sunny, springtime, country road with expressions fit for February.

Dusty replied, “The Bible says we are to lovingly correct.”

“Even when it makes the new preacher look like a pedophile?”

“I never said he was a pedophile. I only said little Pumpkin was uncomfortable.”

Beef shook his head. “I always said you had the brains of a turnip.”

“Oh? Well, you’ve got the heart.”

“Best part of a turnip”, countered Beef, before continuing, “And anyway, what do you expect? Preachers are suppose to ask girls to Sunday school. Who wants that job? And who wants to be asked? Heck if I ever wanted to go to Sunday school. Of course it’s awkward. It’s bound to be.”

“You were a boy”, replied Dusty. “You’d rather be fishing. It’s different with girls.” He waved an arm while walking, becoming expansive. “Think back to a school dance when we were punks. The boys were on one side of a gym. Most would rather be fishing. The girls were on the other side of the gym. Most would rather be dancing. They were miserable because none of the boys had the guts to ask. But I said “most“. There were also a few girls who felt like the boys. They would rather be fishing. And those ones don’t want to be asked. The preacher’s suppose to know the difference.”

“Eh? What the fudge are you going on about?” exploded Beef.

Dusty adopted a slightly condescending air. “They problem with you, Beef, is that you don’t understand women.”

“Likely so. You can go all girly better than me, ‘cause you have seven daughters. But get on with it. What are you driving at? Are you saying little Pumpkin is one of those girls who don’t want to be asked?”

“Exactly. Maybe you aren’t quite so dumb as you look.”

Beef furrowed his brow. “But how the heck’s the preacher to know? It’s not like girls have labels affixed to them.”

“Sheesh Beef. You’ve got to play it by ear. Most girls glow like a sunrise when asked. But Pumpkin got all squirmy, and blushed like it hurt.”

Beef sighed. “I suppose you’re right. But the preacher’s madder than a wet hen. He says you’ve started the whole town talking, and his reputation is ruined. You know how those whack-job Flatlanders, who have moved in, are. They think all churches should be outlawed, and all preachers are creeps.”

“Well, that’s their problem”, countered Dusty. “They’re afraid to talk about anything, ‘cause it might not be acceptable. You can’t even talk about the weather any more, without them shrieking and fainting.”

“Right: That Global Warming malarkey.”

“Yup. They’re always shrieking and fainting about stuff. And they call us prudes.”

“Yup. ‘Political correctness,’ they call it. A pile of manure if I ever saw it, but they are big on it. And the preacher’s afraid he’s dead meat, if-’n’-when he don’t kowtow to that nonsense.”

Dusty winced. “A preacher’s s’pose to know better than that. Christians are s’pose to face lions. He’s suppose to set the example. We’re suppose to be able to talk about what makes some girls comfortable and some girls uncomfortable without dreading that some Gestapo will come in and arrest us.”

“I see what you’re saying,” agreed Beef, but he was still shaking his head. “Yet I still wish you had kept your big mouth shut. The preacher’s a fit to be tied, I tell you.”

The two men were approaching a quaint, old church. It had seen better days, and the paint was peeling badly. As they neared a choir ceased singing, and a slightly prissy, sing-song female voice began speaking.

“Widow Hicks doin’ the Children’s Sermon,” grunted Dusty.

“Aye-yup”, agreed Beef. “And you’ve got to credit Pastor Clinkerfuss. We went three years without a kid in our church. Nice to have some kids in the church again. That’s why you should shut your mouth. Clinkerfuss does good.”

“Taint Christian to be silent,” was all Dusty would reply, as the men entered.

The sanctuary of the Premmiproppa Good News Church would be in the National Historic Register, of anyone knew it existed. The pews were beautifully carved long ago by men who loved wood, and the stain-glass windows each told an individual story, with each elaborate. Generations had carefully cleaned and dusted the room, and despite its age it did not smell musty. It held a mood, an atmosphere, all its own.

There was room in the pews for roughly two hundred people, if the people were crowded in (and if there was no such thing as fire codes), but only forty-five sat in the church on this particular Sunday morning. Thirty were ancient people, and some had sat in the same pews for half a century. But fifteen were from three young families, and the old-timers were smiling in happy disbelief as Widow Hicks finished her children’s sermon, and nine children skipped and pranced back down the aisle to their parents. Then Pastor Clinkerfuss arose and wearily walked to the pulpit to give his sermon.

Pastor Clinkerfuss looked the way an innocent man looks, when he has been accused of being a pedophile. He was gaunt, with dark circles under his eyes, and his hands were shaking slightly. His face was an ashen gray, but when his eyes arose and he spotted Dusty Snodgrass at the back of the sanctuary he abruptly flushed bright pink. He fought himself, quivering, and then his better judgment lost.

He spoke with scathing sarcasm, “Well, well, well. Will you look who has condescended to come wandering in. If it isn’t Brother Snodgrass, the oh-so-wise elder of this church. The man who thinks he is so smart that, though he has never been to divinity school, he can correct me. The man overseeing a church sinking into obscurity, who has utterly derailed my efforts to revive it. I must defer to his great and hoary wisdom, which has landed us in utter and complete embarrassment. Brother Snodgrass, seeing as you are so ancient and so wise, will you please give the message?”

With that Pastor Clinkerfuss stalked to the front pew and sat down, looking at his toes and folding his arms.

Beef Wafflegreen hastened away to the side, and Dusty, with his eyes very round, took a deep breath. Then, in a surprisingly relaxed way, he wandered down to the front of the church and mounted to the pulpit. He tapped the outdated microphone, cleared his throat, and then began,

“Well, this is danged awkward.”

There was a ripple of laughter among the old-timers of the church. This was the most fun they’d had in years.

Dusty looked thoughtfully to the side, and then raised is palms and prayed, “Lord, you say that when we land ourselves in this sort of trouble, you will supply us with the words to say. I pray you give me the words.”

There was then a long pause, and then Dusty chuckled, “I’m still waiting!”

Another wave of laughter rippled across the pews, but it abruptly ceased when Dusty exclaimed, “Oh wow!” The silence grew as he reiterated, “Oh wow, wow, wow! Oh wow!” Then he hitched up his belt.

“I think the message is this:” he then began, with his voice full of excitement. “Truth is bound to get you in trouble. No one wants to hear it. It reminds me of a funny poem:

Give them sugar. Give them spice.
Cook them brownies that taste nice
But never, never give advice.

Yes, you laugh at that, until you think about Jesus. He gave good advice, didn’t He? But did anyone want to hear it? No. Instead they killed Him, or thought they killed Him, and why? For telling the Truth.

Back then they got to see you can’t kill Truth, ‘cause they got to see Him walking around after he was dead, but that happened a long, long time ago, and also Jesus said he’d be back again any day, and that kept folk excited. But folk now have been waiting for His second coming two thousand years, and it hasn’t happened. So maybe some are starting to think God forgot, and maybe Truth now can be killed. It sure seems that way, when our preacher lands in such a pack of trouble for trying to be kind, but instead making Pumpkin squirm and blush. Maybe being kind can even be outlawed, ‘cause it isn’t up to the standards of Flatlanders.”

Dusty rubbed under his lower lip thoughtfully a moment, before continuing, “What the Flatlanders want is no grief. I don’t blame them, but then I think about what grief has brought me. What has it brought me?”

A strange look of elation filled the old man’s face. “You know something? All the crap I take for telling the Truth is worth it, ’cause the grief makes me wiser. They say ‘You cannot sing the blues until you pay the dues,’ but it is even better than that.”

Dusty laughed a mad laugh, and continued “One funny thing about Jesus is that he said we have to lift up and carry our cross long before he actually carried his own cross. First He talked the talk, and then He walked the walk. But still the Flatlanders wonder, ‘Is it really worth it?’ Is the grief you get for Truth really worth it?”

The old man again chuckled, and then said, “They’ll never know, unless they try it. I can say it is uplifting all I want, but why should they believe me?”

There was a gasp from the congregation, and Widow Hicks fainted. Dusty Snodgrass was slowly rising into the air. He laughed in delight, “Well, this is danged awkward.”

The pity is that the congregation was so astounded that not a single person took a picture with their cell phone, which is why the miracle never appeared on Facebook.

THE GODLESS CHURCH

Godless 1280px-The_Hanging_by_Jacques_Callot

God withdrew sweet Love, and I saw how cheap
And mean-minded our church then became.
Godless, our minds swiftly became as deep
As the River Platte. Just wicks without flame,
All grabs and all wants, without any shame,
We had no sweet Love for any but ourselves
And all we had to give brothers was blame.
Deeper truths became musty books left on shelves
And the small truth we saw was selected
To accent our side of our crafty greed
And was tirelessly honed, perfected,
As if vanity was a cute pet to feed.
Unless God returns, then the egos we trust
Will make church a garden of growing disgust.

Christianity is full of errors to repent for. A group of evangelists set up a clever booth at a local fair with a large sign reading “confessional” over its door. When curious people entered, perhaps expecting to find a priest who might hear them confess about how they over-did their drinking the night before, they instead heard Christians confess about 2000 years of blunders. It was behavior in sharp contrast to the holier-than-thou behavior many expect from Christians.

It is due to these failures that Christianity is constantly attempting reforms, as churches attempt to “revive” the Spirit seen in the early church. This often creates trouble between the orthodox and those who desire reform. In Europe awful battles have occurred between Protestants and Catholics. The gruesome picture that heads this post dates from the Thirty Years War, (1618-1648), when 8 million people died in Central Europe (during a time when populations were far lower.)

In some ways I think it is out of disgust over the failure of Christians to obey Christ that some turn away from Christianity altogether, and attempt to define goodness in some New Age manner. In many ways such “goodness” is a copy of what Jesus taught, and is a plagiarism of scripture, leaving out any inconvenient mentions of the Author.

This creates a big problem, because the Creator makes it clear in scripture we are lost without Him. Our egos are a problem, and in some ways are the  problem, yet there is no way we can handle forces outside of our limited selves without an ego. The ego is like a boat we are using to cross a raging river, but as long as we are in the boat we can’t step ashore onto a Promised Land. We are all in the same boat(s), and all share the same plight, and (according to scripture) all our our best efforts to become free of our predicament are doomed to failure, for we are so attached to our boats we can only row in circles. Only the Master can walk on water and lead us to shore.

In New England the little towns were initially set up by people seeking to flee the holocaust of the Thirty Years War in the early 1600’s. The church was a central point in town. However, in the four hundred years since, the church has fallen out of favor, and many see it as backwards and oppressive, and prefer a secular idea of “goodness.” This secular idea of goodness contains some attempts at “fairness” that are as difficult to realize as any commandments in the Bible. (For example, the idea that all deserve a trophy for “participating”, and that it is somehow evil to reward success because it makes those who fail feel like failures, even though they are failures.)

Now we are witnessing secular idealism fall flat on its face, in some ways even more spectacularly than Christianity fell flat on its face. Some people want to return to the church, but they seem to prefer the so-called “mega-church” to the small-town “community church”.  In New England only some 2% attend a “local” church.

The local church has a bad reputation of holding snobs. It matters little if it is Conservative or Liberal, you are unwelcome if you don’t kowtow to some concept of “correctness”.

One then has to think hard  about what differentiates a church from a country club. After all, many of the same concepts apply. A country club needs to recruit a certain number of “paying members”, and the people attending have to agree to be nice to each other. Why should a country club have to pay taxes, where a church gets a write-off?

The difference should be that a church holds God. But this leads to the next question.

Does it really?

This must be answered on an individual basis, and at times can be difficult due to the modern concept that seeks immediate gratification, and seems to assume the only sign of God’s presence is a pack of people as blissed-out as people at country club sipping champagne.

In actual fact there is no participation trophy for church. When you bungle and fail, you may be brought to your senses by a look of disapproval from on High. Some of the greatest revivals began with a rebuke.

 

 

 

A BITTER SUNDAY

This sonnet will seem cryptic, at first.

“All those who surrender will be spared”
Spoke Jeremiah to his stiff-necked people,
Advocating something Churchill never dared,
For God does not always stay in the steeple
And knows different folks need different strokes,
Some times a caress, and some times a lash.

Now I look across my nation’s bad jokes
Called “wisdom”, see people who are by cash
Besotted, and wonder if it’s wise to quit,
Or to “Never Surrender!” It depends
On what you surrender to. I lack wit
And cannot see through your fog to the ends
Your justified means lead lemmings to,
But you who judge God will see God judges you.

I have always loved tales where the good guys triumph over the bad guys, despite insurmountable odds. Good tends to be an underdog, in the eyes of the politically crafty, but there are plenty of examples of underdogs triumphing, when you look for them.

I’m not merely talking about sporting events, such as the amateur American hockey team beating the professional Russian team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. I’m talking about the history of world politics, the really “big leagues”, where the fate of entire nations and civilizations are at stake.

For example, the underdogs in 1450 would have been three little nations far out on the western edge of Europe, when the world powers were Venice and the Ottoman Empire. Who would have dreamed that fifty years later the Pope would basically divide the planet into two parts, controlled by what had been Portugal, and  Aragon and Castile ( which became Spain.)

Yet even as Portugal and Spain became a world power a new underdog existed to the north, called Britain.

Yet even as Britain became a world power a new underdog existed across the Atlantic, called “The Thirteen Colonies.”

Those attracted to power are always flocking to the side of those about to lose to the underdog. Think hard about this, before you embrace that which is “politically correct”.  The very people you sneer at for being “incorrect” likely will rise, and prove to be “correct” as you prove to be “mistaken”.

What is the mistake? The mistake is to put politics and power and money and acclaim and satiated-desire ahead of Truth, (also known as God.) It is a mistake because Truth does not need to lift a finger to be true, while crafty, political deck-stacking and agenda-pushing requires ceaseless effort, and still remains at least partially false.  In the end Truth, although seemingly naive compared to craftiness, wins out, because it exists without effort, whereas falsehood collapses under the draining effort required to make “what isn’t” be “what is”.

In the Bible one sees that the Hebrews tended to see themselves as the “good guys”, and had some marvelous examples of themselves being the underdogs, yet defeating seemingly insurmountable odds. Jehoshaphat sent his puny forces out with musicians ahead of the armed men, and the three huge armies they faced began bickering among themselves, and then fought each other, rather than Jehoshaphat’s forces, and in the end all Jehoshaphat’s men had to do was gather up the plunder from three self-destroyed armies. In like manner, when Sennacherib confronted Jerusalem with 185,000 troops, some sort of plague broke out and slaughtered them. The Hebrews triumphed against impossible odds.

The “Churchill”, as the Hebrews faced Sennacherib, was the prophet Isaiah. As the Hebrew king quailed in the face of a contemptuous army of 185,000 Assyrians, Isaiah spoke the “never surrender” of his time. And, (though of course the Assyrian version of history is different), most ancient histories, (even while calling Judea a “vassal”), show Judea as a lone area, an island of independence that never submitted to the World Power called “Assyria”.

Only a couple generations later the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah had less heroic advice for the people of Judea. Rather than “Never Surrender”, it was, in various forms, “Surrender.”

This apparently was because the rot had set in. Rather than a people who were an example of Truth the Hebrews had become corrupt, and were examples of a sort of slander. Therefore Jeremiah was the bearer of bad news, and in the unenviable position of walking up to rich and powerful people and saying, “Tsk tsk! Y’know, what goes ’round comes around, and you’re ’bout to reap what you have sowed, and it ain’t pretty”.

In modern terms, Jeremiah was like a divinity student walking into a Madison Avenue advertising agency and saying, “You fellows are not telling the Truth.” He got laughed right out of the room.

Actually, on one occasion, after telling the Truth at the Hebrew temple, the head priest (Pashhur) promptly had Jeremiah beaten and put in stocks for a day. Among other things, this resulted in “Jeremiah’s Complaint”.

Because Jeremiah was all about telling the truth, and because telling the truth got him treated like a turd, he had to be truthful to God and complain about what honesty had earned him. Though the blues he sung are 2600 years old, “Jeremiah’s complaint” is a remarkable bit of blurted honesty, and expresses exasperation towards the Almighty (like a flea yelling at an Elephant.)

I won’t belabor you with the whole complaint. (It can be found in Chapter 20 of the book of Jeremiah, verses 7-18, if you are interested.) What is interesting to me is that Jeremiah seemingly decided the smart thing to do would be to shut the f— up, to avoid the pain, but when he tried to be silent the pain was like a fire in his heart and bones, and he simply had to open his mouth and blurt out the honesty that would once again land him in trouble.

For me the hardest thing to take is Jeremiah’s advise to surrender. I far prefer Churchill’s cry to “never surrender”. But perhaps it all boils down to whether you are surrendering to an evil falsehood, or surrendering to the Truth.

As a boy I recall being struck by a political cartoon from 1944, when Germany was facing defeat. In the cartoon Hitler was attempting to rally the German people. But hidden behind the front of his podium was a folder, labeled “Churchill’s 1940 Speeches”. This impressed me, as a boy, with the idea the “bad guy” could say the exact same things as the “good guy”.

In the time of Jeremiah the Hebrew leaders were saying “Never Surrender” as the Babylonians advanced upon Jerusalem, hoping the Hebrews would again be saved by a miracle, and to them Jeremiah would obviously appear to be coward and a traitor for stating, “Surrender”. However was he? Or was he like a man in Germany in 1944, when surrender would have been the wise thing to do? In any case, the cry “Never Surrender” did no good against the Babylonians, and the Hebrews were crushed and led off to captivity.

In modern terms the concept of “Global Warming” is deemed politically correct, but Skeptics are advancing like an invading army. Alarmists bravely cry, “We shall never surrender!” I am like the prophet Jeremiah.

Now read the sonnet again:

“All those who surrender will be spared”
Spoke Jeremiah to his stiff-necked people,
Advocating something Churchill never dared,
For God does not always stay in the steeple
And knows different folks need different strokes,
Some times a caress, and some times a lash.

Now I look across my nation’s bad jokes
Called “wisdom”, see people who are by cash
Besotted, and wonder if it’s wise to quit,
Or to “Never Surrender!” It depends
On what you surrender to. I lack wit
And cannot see through your fog to the ends
Your justified means lead lemmings to,
But you who judge God will see God judges you.

 

 

 

 

 

Local View –Western Zephyrs–

Perhaps it is due to my recent bout with the ‘flu, but my recovery has involved being in touch with a mystical side of myself I’m not certain my Christian brethren would entirely approve of. I am “communing with nature” more, which suggests there is something I am communing with. This sounds dangerously close to worshiping a false god, when God is the only One worthy of worship. Christians are clear about that. However I think many Christians unknowingly worship money and fame, without being aware they are worshiping a false god, whereas “communing with nature” doesn’t necessarily involve worship. You are just having a chat with an invisible entity. Perhaps having a chat with the invisible is dangerous, if you believe the only invisible thing you should be involved with is God.  However fame is invisible, and money is merely paper, unless you value its invisible component. Unless and until a person completely renounces the value of money, they have no business scolding me for valuing the west wind.

I wasn’t even aware I was valuing the west wind until Joe Bastardi, making a trivial aside during one of his podcasts, mentioned there was something special about the west winds that deserved a name. He said the wind wasn’t a true Chinook, but like a colder Chinook. He called it a something-or-another Chinook, (likely he should have called it a “Chinook Modoki,” to be truly meteorological), but I was aware I was instantly dissatisfied. But why?

It deserved better. There is something amazingly kindly about west winds in January, especially after a period of bitter north winds. Even though west winds remain below freezing (this far north), it isn’t a cold that makes you wince and cringe, and life relaxes a bit. This in turn makes me want to sing some version of “Zippity do dah.” The poet in me just wants to praise the west wind. (Not worship the west wind. Just thank it, as one would thank a friend.)

However as soon as you call an inanimate thing such as the west wind a “friend”, you look a bit loopy. So be it. When no one is looking, I’ll smile and wave at a small dust-devil of leaves swirling across the pasture.

I suppose I have always secretly agreed with the ancient Greeks, who stated that these whirls are actually lesser angels, called “zephyrs”. The whirls have a mind of their own, and can be mischievous. I saw this first when only aged fifteen.

I was just finishing up a leaf-raking job for a rich man with a palatial house that had two wings extending to the northeast and northwest. His lawn stepped down through a series of terraces to a road, and across the road was a pasture, and at the far side of the pasture I saw a dust-devil of leaves start whirling. I immediately muttered, “Don’t you dare”, but the whirl of leaves came steadily across the pasture, growing larger and larger and containing more and more leaves. It crossed the road and came up between the two wings of the house, and then proceeded to promptly die, dumping a rain of around three inches of leaves over the area I had just finished raking. It looked worse than before I had begun. And wouldn’t you know it? My wealthy employer chose just then to come out to see how I was getting along with the job. He shot me the funniest expression.

These zephyrs are not always unhelpful. Fifty years later, just last week, I was struggling to get a twilight campfire going out in a pasture at my Childcare, but freezing rain had coated all my wood with ice and the fire was barely smoldering. I was huffing and puffing, being a human bellows in an attempt to get the fire hot enough to dry the wood in the deepening dusk. Just then a most inconsequential-seeming whirl of leaves came across the pasture. Perhaps because of the fire’s slight updraft, it swerved to the fire and just stopped there for around 45 seconds. It seemed to get bigger due to the fire’s heat, and all the coals glowed cherry red as it whirled its wind around the fire. By the time it moved off the fire was blazing. I tipped my hat and thanked that particular zephyr, as it wandered away into the darkening woods.

There. I have done it: Confessed I am a mad poet. But don’t worry. I keep it to myself, and know how to behave in public.

Nor do I pray to the west wind. I seriously believe there is only One God worthy of worship. However He does employ a lot of angels, which, although in some respects mere robotic automatons of God’s Will, are enchanting because God’s Will is enchanting, loving because God’s Will is loving, and are humorous and mischievous because such joy is not outside of God’s nature. Just because a poet is in some respects a friend of angels doesn’t mean he worships them.  Give me a break, you fellow Christians, who I have noticed praying to a few outside of the One God, (such as the Virgin Mary, and Saint Cuthbert).  Cannot I just rhapsodize a bit, without being accused of some foul heresy?

Anyway, in the end of all ends all the glory rolls back to the Creator. When I adore my wife I am not worshiping a false god, for I recognize Who made her. In like manner one can be in the world, but not of the world. Money is not evil, when used correctly, but love of money is.  When one has the joy of a good friend one should recognize a good friend is a manifestation of God’s glory.

This heavenly mood I’m in seems a typical response I go through, after feeling like hell with the ‘flu. However even when in such moods one should be in the heavens without being of the heavens, because even that enchantment is not the end of ends God has in store for us.

But I wrote this sonnet after standing in the west wind, in a Zippity-do-dah mood.

Wearing feathers plucked from a flaring sunset
God’s angels of the west wind balm the pines,
And though I don’t hope for spring, I have met
Lost memories in this cold’s kinder designs.

What is that music just beyond hearing?
What’s that scent mixed with the sweet balsam fir’s?
Who am I looking for, without fearing,
Who I haven’t yet met? The cruel winter’s
Bitterness knows a pause, and all awaits
Something announced by the golden kindness
Of the west wind. The harsh face of Fate’s
Softened by surprise. A world gone mindless
Is reminded. I see every man stunned
By the swinging doors of banks left abandoned.

In conclusion I should add that being in a heavenly mood does not mean I am allowed to neglect worldly details, and one detail of our long winters is that long thaws in January, with lovely west winds, are often followed by a ferocious February. Therefore my poetic streak has a pragmatic side. The next sonnet will likely involve woodpiles.

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LOCAL VIEW –Annual Frozen Pipes Post–

Even boxers get to sit down between rounds, and enjoy some rest, and also Sunday is the Day of Rest, and therefore my wife and I decided that after church we’d go out and have someone else cook, and have someone else serve, and have someone else do the dishes. We figured we deserved it, after coming through the grueling blizzard we’ve just been through. Monday might be just around the corner, but we’d pamper ourselves on Sunday afternoon.

Not that problems don’t intrude even on our Sundays. The latest attempt to repair our washing machine didn’t work, and we had a huge pile of laundry to do at a Laundromat before we went out to eat. However the machines did big loads in only 22 minutes, and, (because my wife decided we might as well wash all sorts of stuff I didn’t think needed washing, while we were at it,) we walked in with 12 loads, used four huge washers, inserted 76 quarters, soap, and then walked out to sit in the car for 22 minutes. The sun was settling down on a winter horizon and we had stuff to talk about. 22 minutes later we hustled hampers of wet laundry back to the car (because our drier still works at home, and our cellar can use the heat,) and headed off to the restaurant. The sunset was a beautiful gold, and I couldn’t help but notice that it was later; before Christmas it was dark at 4:30 but now it is golden and pink.

Among the many things we talked about in our usual, efficient, and scatter-brained way was this Sunday’s sermon at church, which was about “The Rapture”. Although the word “rapture” is not used in the Bible, there are numerous, somewhat-upsetting references to a time that could happen any day, when believers would be swept up to heaven and non-believers left behind to endure seven highly unattractive years on earth.  (This concept inspired the movie, “Left Behind”.)

Back when Jesus’s disciples were still alive the idea Jesus could return “any day” kept people on their toes, but after 2000 years people are perhaps jaded. If you tell them the Rapture might occur in five minutes, people tend to roll their eyes and say, “Right. I’ve heard that one before.” People are not as impressed by the prophesy as they once were. Today’s sermon simply asked, “But what if it happened? Where would you be? Swept up, or left behind?”

Even though I am a “believer”, and have faith in things people say I’m nuts to have faith in, I confess I’m often far from perfect. I do have a temper. I usually apologize afterwards, but not everyone forgives me. And this got me to thinking about the timing of the Rapture.

If the Rapture occurred when I was repenting, and apologetic, and asking for forgiveness, and accepting the abuse of those who are in no mood to forgive me, then I might pass for saintly, and be swept up. But what if the Rapture occurred right when I was at my worst? What if it occurred at the moment I was pounding my fist on a table and telling someone to stuff an unmentionable thing up an unmentionable orifice?  It seems highly unlikely such a person (me) would be permitted to be swept up, and far more likely that person (me) would be left behind.

I was bringing this up in a humorous way, and perhaps a bit too flippantly, for it stirred up my wife, and she waxed eloquent on how the foibles of those who are believers are different from the foibles of those who don’t believe. Her excellent points are too complicated to repeat at this time. I am just bringing this up because some think that people at laundromats are a bunch of low life retards.  We’re not. We are actually highly intellectual and altruistic thinkers. Perhaps it is those who do laundry at home who are the retards.

But this discussion, about who the retards are, is definitely getting too profound for my humble post. This is often the case when you broach spiritual mysteries. What I meant to say was a more simple thing, namely: I decided that maybe I would try harder than usual to keep my temper in check, just in case the Rapture was imminent.

Actually it was easy to keep my temper in check. Even though it still was very cold, you could feel the mercy of a thaw was in the wings. And even if you were not sensitive to the shift of the wind to the southwest, you could always check your cell phone, and find reasons to rejoice.

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Hallelujah! Cellphones are a wonderful invention. Even if long-term forecasts are a government trick to keep us from despairing during cold winters, it is a trick that works.

This morning it was -13°F (-25°) here, but Wednesday it might be +45°F (+7°C). It will feel like April, after what we’ve undergone. And it does tend to fill me with a benevolence when the outlook is so hopeful. It would be good if the Rapture occurred at such a moment, for I am beaming with generosity.

To further the beaming, I ordered a martini, and sat at the best seat in the restaurant, (because the dinner rush hadn’t started at 4:30), and gazed at the final beams of sunshine slipping from the topmost needles of the white pine across a frozen waterfall.

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There is nothing like looking at hardship through a rear view mirror.  A flat tire isn’t funny when you are jacking the car up in the cold, but when the tire is changed and you are on the road again, you can laugh, and get the joke. And seeing the frozen waterfall was like seeing evidence of the incredible cold we’d been through in the past tense, for the present tense was a warm restaurant, a charming waitress, and a steaming dish of delectable food placed before me. And just then a text came through on my cell phone.

Cell phones are a horrible invention.

To cut the texting short, the situation was this: My pregnant daughter is living briefly above my Childcare as her young husband makes the money for an apartment they have their eyes on in Boston. He’d made a big wad of dough as a Uber driver during blizzard condition in Boston, but only had snatched bits of sleep on a friend’s couch, and now had come home for a hot shower and a sleep in his wife’s arms….but the shower didn’t work. Cross examination discovered the sink and toilets didn’t work, neither upstairs nor downstairs at the the childcare. Pipes had frozen at the source, which was a different building, an old abandoned farm house across the driveway.

Blame the sermon in church, or blame the martini, but I had not the slightest urge to slam the table and rave, “Can’t I even have a single meal in peace?” Or…well…I’ll admit I did say to my wife something along the lines of, “I thought when she married her problems became his, and weren’t mine any more.” But that was more of a quip than a serious statement. There was no way an exhausted young man could figure out the irregularities of a a farm that slowly sprawled over a hundred years, with pipes and wires added in a unplanned manner. I was the only available expert.

I refused to hurry. I could have rushed to the farm in twenty minutes but instead texted, “Be there in an hour.” (Didn’t get a “happy face” reply.)  Then I enjoyed my meal, (though I did talk a little more about peculiar plumbing than I might have). I kept my sense of peace, because the Rapture might happen at any moment, and it it wouldn’t look good if I was cursing and gobbling food and gulping the final third of a martini and putting my jacket on upside down. Instead I was as smooth as silk.

Come to think of it, it was bizarre. I should have lost my temper, but didn’t. We drove home, unloaded laundry, and then I sauntered upstairs to change out of my Sunday outfit into work clothes. I came downstairs, gathered a few tools and some rags, and my wife handed me a big thermos of boiling water. I drove to the farm, located an extension cord and a heater with a blower, talked briefly with my daughter and her husband, and then waded through the drifts to the dark, old farmhouse, and decended into its creepy cellar.

What a switch in scenes! Fifty-five minutes earlier I’d been in the lap of luxury with a lovely wife looking out at a gorgeous view with scrumptious food before me, and now I was in a dingy cave festooned with spiderwebs. You would have thought the martini would have worn off, but, instead of cursing, I laughed. The irony of the scenery-switch would be too absurd for a novel, but life is better than a book.

I couldn’t locate the problem, but kept my good mood, humming hymns like an old man pottering in a sunny garden, as I brushed aside dirty spiderwebs and checked the usual suspects: The fuse box, the pressure tank, the pressure switch, and even a cellar faucet, which gushed water. Where could a pipe freeze? Couldn’t be the main line. I had a heat lamp baking where the pipes went into the field-stone wall to cross over to the childcare. It couldn’t be there. But then I noticed a loop of pipe sidetracking into a water softener system, just outside of the reach of the heat lamp. Could that be it? Probably not. Surely the heat would travel along that short length of pipe. But, just to cover all bases, I wrapped those pipes in rags and poured boiling-hot water from the thermos onto the rags. Then I looked around and began thinking of getting more chords and setting up more heat lamps and heaters, but just then my phone advised me of an incoming text.

Sometimes cellphones are wonderful things. The text was from my daughter, across the yard:

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Best was the simple fact no frozen pipe was broken.

Then I got the pleasure of sauntering over to my daughter and her husband and seeing their great delight over something we take for granted: Running water. And also there was the delight of a young man who has been craving a long, hot, relaxing shower, and now gets to take one.

But what about me? Wasn’t I craving a long, hot, relaxing meal? Why am I always the one being interrupted?

I didn’t actually think that. I just put it down because I thought of it now. At the time I was all smiles, and enjoying being a hero. I also was enjoying the strange sensation of having not lost my temper, even once. Too bad the Rapture didn’t happen while I was being so saintly, although I suppose, with my luck, if it was going to happen at any given time it would have happened just when I ordered the martini.

In any case we survived a cold wave, and the traditional episode of frozen pipes. Next comes the January thaw, for the map shows the arctic got too greedy and has overreached its limits. There is a bit of a front southwest of Jamaica, showing how far south the blast reached. Down there I suppose they may find the cool breeze delightful. What we will find delightful is the western side of the high, bringing north mildness we haven’t seen in weeks.

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