The “Mox,” as Rue and Bane now called her, had her hair pulled back in a pony tail and was wearing an old, tight blue pull-over, scraggly jeans and appropriately roughed-up sneakers. Her left hand was covered with an experienced leather baseball glove, her left held the ball; the expression on her face was serious – put on for affect, but anyway… — She meant business, and Rue and Bane could tell, as they slightly crouched down, own gloves tight on their hands, ready for the first throw.
They stood about 100 feet apart from each other and about the same from the Mox. (She didn’t want to overdue it; after all, neither boy had much of any experience playing any sport. Moxie started them on baseball last Saturday about like Joy had introduced them to the fine art of tossing the football.) “O.k. Are you ready?” Moxie asked, now with just a slight frown. Both boys nodded yes, although they didn’t know who she was going to throw to first, and they were nervous anyway … but excited, too.
The light was bright from the sun, bathing the park in crystal-like shards from the left-over morning dew. The sky was deep blue with just a few cirrus clouds moving gently, sailing eastward with the prompting of an unobtrusive breeze that made the day perfect for play. Moxie wound up, looked at the two boys dressed in their scragglies, as Effete called them, and pitched clear and straight to Bane. He reached; the ball tipped the end of his glove, and continued on to the ground. “Uh!” the boy grunted.
“Hey! Good try, Bane!” Joy shouted out from the sidelines where she was seated on the ground with Effete.
“Yeah, stinker; you almost had it!” Mox added with a smile. “Remember what I said Saturday. Don’t give up on dropped balls; you drop ‘em before you learn to catch ‘em, o.k.?”
“O.k.” Bane answered a bit sullenly before throwing the ball back to Moxie. His aim was slightly off, but all in all it was a good throw.
“Great throw-back, Bane,” Moxie encouraged. “You’ve got a good arm.”
More people were beginning to mill around the green lawn, but careful to keep some safe distance from the flying baseball. Joy waved at two or three she vaguely knew with a friendly “hello,” and they replied in like kind. Thankfully, as far as Effete was concerned, she didn’t see anyone she knew.
“I just can’t seem to get my brain around it,” Effete ventured as they watched the boys alternate between catching and missing the baseball. “I know I’m a mess, but after all I’ve heard from you, and that astonishing sermon Rev. Brusque delivered, it absolutely floors me to think of how many people buy into some ‘god’ who is utterly cruel. That’s all they think about him, when you get down to it … what he is, what he does, what he wants, what he commands, and all of that garbage.”
“And you know what?” Effete sighed. “I’m still struggling, deeply, with all of this. I mean, it feels like for all of my adult life, God has been nothing more than so many hammer blows from heaven.” Effete rather surprised herself again in being so open and honest, but as always she felt perfectly comfortable with Joy.
“Great catch, Rue,” Joy shouted out. “That’s three in a row! Keep it up; you, too, Bane! That arm of yours may turn you into an awesome pitcher!” Both boys looked over briefly and smiled, then turned their attention back to the Mox, who really didn’t like being distracted by her Shepherdess right now; love her as much as she did! Moxie had the kids in a groove now and thought her pastor just needed to focus on Effete and pastor rather than pester. Joy kind of got the drift with Moxie’s hand-on-hip and dead-level stare. “O.k. O.k. No more interruptions from me, coach!”
“Of course you’re still struggling, and you will be for quite some time; that’s to be expected coming out of an ominous, abusive, psychologically and spiritually twisted prison in which you’ve lived for years upon years.” Joy looked over at Effete, finally taking her attention off the game she so desperately wanted to play, too. “You know, though, there is a ‘god’ that fits that bill perfectly; most of the people you’re talking about just don’t know they’ve been hoodwinked by that nefarious deity. And you know what else? He (or she) crops up and lives in every clime and culture of this world, albeit by many different names and images.”
Effete shifted into a more comfortable position on the ground. “Yeah, I can probably guess who you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, sure, but obviously that’s not the God of Christ, the God of the Christian faith,” Joy continued. “He’s not the Jesus who was ‘sent to heal the contrite of heart,’ as the traditional Roman Catholic mass commonly begins. He’s not the One who ‘came to call sinners;’ not the One ‘seated at the right hand of God.’ In fact, there’s an old prayer from the Book of Common Prayer that we use at St. Gianna that expresses quite nicely the God we believe in and worship. It’s a prayer of general thanksgiving. You may remember from your childhood, in fact.”
“In part it reads, ‘We bless you (God) for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and the hope of glory.’ That is the God I have come to know; the God I believe in and love and trust.”
“Yeah, it seems like I do remember that prayer,” Effete responded thoughtfully. “But is that biblical, I mean the part about the redemption of the whole world by our Lord Jesus Christ?”
Joy laughed lightheartedly. “Well, it does depend on precisely how you look at it, I suppose. Theologians have spent lifetimes answering that one, but at least holy Scripture tells us that ‘Jesus was God’s way of dealing with our faults, failings and shortcomings, and not only ours but those of the whole world…’ So, in fact, ‘God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start…’”
“And why? Just because ‘this is how much God loved the world: God gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be ruined; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.’ You see, ‘God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.’”
“And this makes perfect sense,” Joy continued, “because ‘God is love,’ and so of course, ‘God did not invent death, and when living creatures die, it gives him no pleasure. He created everything so that it might continue to exist, and everything he created is wholesome and good…’ not poisonous. More than this, Effete, ‘God created humanity for incorruption,’ that is, to be imperishable, ‘making humanity in the image (and likeness) of his own eternal nature.’”
“This is the heart and soul of the Christian faith, and any other so-called gospel that leads away from this core truth tends eventually to lead to the other ‘god,’ the god of darkness, hopelessness, and death; the god of the Pharisees and the legalistic fundamentalists, like Fen Sloughheart.” Joy paused for a moment and sighed. “Yes, of course, I struggle with my own doubts and questions, but then I seem to hear Jesus say, ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. And I came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly.’” And Joy certainly thought she needed the easy yoke and lighter burden right now … then she looked back at Effete.
“Hey, ole-timers, ya wanna have some fun?” Moxie voice shattered the solemn moment. I mean … if you need help getting up, I’ll come over,” she cackled.
“Who are you calling old … you brat?” Joy laughed as she popped up to her feet like she was ready for the Olympics, and then offered Effete a hand.
“Yeah, you know if you live long enough even you, the great Mox, will be where we are, too!” Effete added with a smile and chuckle.
“If I live long, long, long, long enough … yes.” Moxie laughed again as she trotted to her bag sitting on one of the nearby benches. “Just happened to come prepared in case the geriatrics wanted to toss a few,” she added, pulling out two more baseball gloves.
“Well, Mox, this geriatric’s about to plow you into the ground!” Joy swaggered forward ever so cockily. “Call it a lesson in the virtue of humility; it’ll do you a lifetime of good, my dear.” Joy beamed just at the privilege of finally being able to play… She really felt kind of like a school kid waiting to be called on for her turn, which was a little embarrassing. Not embarrassing enough to keep her from grabbing the glove and running off to her chosen position on the green, though. Effete did the same and seemed to like the prospect of fun in the sun, too. Rue and Bane, now properly dirty, were just laughing at the thought, thoroughly enjoying themselves to the hilt.
As was her nature, Joy reviewed the week just ending while she ate her last bites of Crêpe Suzette, finely prepared by Effete. She’d never thought of having an exquisite French desert for breakfast, but the tasty treat along with sliced bananas and tangerines, with milk and a small glass of orange juice completed the perfect morning feast so far as Joy was concerned. Not to mention that Effete ascended in her already high estimation of the woman. She was a veritable chef dessus l’excellence! Rue and Bane were already finished and getting ready for the day.
Certainly the last seven days (or more) had been the most hectic, stressful, heartbreaking, hopeful and productive in her life … and Effete’s, too. They retained the services of Justin Case, one of the best attorneys in Splinterbit, who immediately filed a restraining order and requested temporary orders, including primarily child custody, pending the divorce. Case also promised to have the actual dissolution of marriage papers filed by the end of the week. Thankfully, as well, his retainer was quite reasonable. Thank you, again, Lord!
The meeting with Dr. Pert Kibitz couldn’t have been better. Effete immediately felt comfortable with Joy’s warm and affable ole school chum. And just as Joy promised, the time spent was really not an “official” counseling session, just an introduction and acquaintance time during which, somewhat to Joy’s surprise, there was actually a good deal of laughter and no tears. Joy knew Effete was holding back somewhat, but her laughter was really genuine. Thank you again and again, gracious God! Effete wanted to go ahead and jump in with both feet as soon as possible, so Pert kindly worked her in for a one-hour on Thursday (striking out her lunch break.)
“You full, or shall I fill your plate again, mademoiselle?” Effete asked in a lightheartedly, affected tone of voice. Actually, she sounded quite French, Joy thought, and how appropriate with the French cuisine! Joy smiled, even more amazed at Effete or, really, the authentic Effete beginning to surface more and more right before her eyes. Thank you again and again and again, God! Bless this dear woman… Oh God! I love her!
“Plus ou pas,” Effete asked with a broad smile. Now Joy was really taken back.
“You cook and speak French?”
Effete chuckled. “Only a wee-little, Reverend,” she replied with a wink.
Well, this was undoubtedly starting out a better day than Wednesday, when the Splinterbit Chronicle called wanting an interview with both Joy and Effete. It didn’t come as a complete shock, since Sage Mentor had kindly warned them the media might very well be poking around for a story. After all, both Fen Sloughheart and Joy Brighterday were well-known figures in the community, and Effete being taking from her home by ambulance to the hospital, and then from the hospital to the residence of Joy Brighterday, whom practically everyone knew the Rev. Sloughheart detested, was quite a journalistic “big fish” for the town … if the right reporter could hook and reel it in.
“Oh, no thank you,” Joy said, stifling another of many yawns that morning. “But it was all excellent, Effete. You absolutely amaze me … more and more each day. Merci beaucoup, and I’ll get the dishes, of course!”
“Hey, fair enough! I’ll go check on my little monsters to finish getting them ready,” Effete said as she wiped her hands with a dish towel, “which shouldn’t be too hard since they’re seeing their new hero, the super-amazing Moxie, today.” She laughed quietly and winked before heading down the hallway.
Really, now that Joy thought about it, the fact that they hadn’t been contacted sooner rather surprised her. Of course, the paper ran what Joy called a “skim milk” article the morning after Effete landed in the hospital, but it consisted of the bare-bones police report and a couple of quotes from neighbors, along with basic information about the Reverend Fen Sloughheart that readers likely already knew. The follow-up came when Effete was released from the hospital with, thankfully, no photos or detailed information about her stay (which was legally confidential anyway.) The paper again managed to get some quotes – two from neighbors and two from members of Ebenezer Church.
Ah, but Wednesday morning rolled around and the Chronicle called. It was 7:30 a.m. and Joy was somewhat prepared. Effete would not be speaking with anyone in the media for the time being, but she did have a statement to release via the pastor of St. Gianna Church, Joy Brighterday herself. Actually, it was Joy’s statement; Effete just gladly accepted it with a “thank you” for protecting her from the media … or trying to, anyway.
“Effete Sloughheart is recovering well, thanks to the excellent care she received at our superb hospital, and her two children are also doing well. For the time being they are not living at their residence and, yes, a restraining order has been issued on the Rev. Fen Sloughheart. Also, her attorney, Justin Case, has in fact requested temporary orders, but Effete would rather not say anymore about this at this time. She would like to thank the police who responded to the incident, as well as the hospital staff who treated her so professionally and caringly. Any further questions about this event should be directed to her attorney.”
And that was that, although the Splinterbit Chronicle got wind of the fact that Effete and her two boys were actually residing with the Rev. Joy Brighterday, and did not hesitate to mention the fact in what was finally their “big catch.” Naturally, they also tried contacting Fen Sloughheart, and naturally he was “unavailable for comment.” However, he had his own statement to release, compliments of the Ebenezer Church’s Board of Deacons:
“First, the Reverend Fen Sloughheart would like the public and, in particular, members of his church to know that he loves and cares for his wife and two children very deeply. He is very thankful that his wife received such excellent treatment by qualified, medical professionals at the hospital. They have his deep and genuine gratitude. Second, the Reverend Sloughheart would like the public and, in particular, members of his church to know what is now rather obvious, and that is that he and his wife have been having troubling issues in their marriage for quite some time – issues that he desires and fully intends to address in an affectionate, understanding, biblical manner. To this end, he asks for the prayers of all believers and, again, particularly members of his church. Third, and finally, the Reverend Sloughheart would very much like to address the particulars of this most unfortunate and distressing incident. However, he has been advised not to do so at this time, except to state again unequivocally his love and genuine concern for his wife and two children, adding in his own words, ‘This horrible episode in our lives will pass, by the grace of God, and we will have a stronger and healthier marriage and family in the end because that is what the Lord intends.’”
Well, Joy thought as she got up to start cleaning the dishes, he must have an inside track on what the Lord intends, because so far as I’m concerned the bastard deserves to be publicly caned … and never allowed behind another pulpit again … or anywhere near a woman again … or children!
“Hey! When are we leaving to go pick up Moxie?” the cheerful voice of Rue rang out.
“Well, let’s take a look at this whole ‘inspiration’ idea then,” Joy said, as she took another sip from her second cup of hot tea. Effete was positioned on the other side of an old, cozy couch facing Joy catty-corner with her own steaming cup. It was early morning, and the boys were still in bed, but why not let them sleep in on what would hopefully be an uneventful Saturday anyway? Besides, Effete needed some “Joy time” all for herself.
“The one scripture verse you just quoted is the penultimate favorite among legalistic fundamentalists, like your husband,” Joy continued boldly. “The problem is – and this is true in many areas – they miss the point, misfire, and misapply. In this case, they focus on one word, insert a period where there is none, and virtually leave the rest hanging … except maybe for the ‘reproof’ and ‘correction’ part, and that they love!”
Both women laughed, Effete nodding her head. “Oh God, how I know!” She took another sip of tea, set her cup down on the side table, and looked serious again. “But I’m having some real difficulties here, especially now that it seems like everybody knows I’ve left Fen. I feel like I’ve been branded an evil wife, or ‘loose woman,’ rebellious, reprobate … you name it, but whatever it is, it seems to come straight from the inspired, infallible Word of God.”
“Well, first of all,” Joy responded as she set her cup down, too, “everybody may know, but not everybody is condemning you; not by a long shot! In fact, even though I haven’t conducted a scientific survey,” she smiled, “most people who know anything at all about Fen Sloughheart just automatically sympathize with you, even if they don’t know any of the particular reasons why you left… But, you know, word does have a way of getting around. In that case, I know most people will, or already do, sympathize with you … greatly!”
“God, I hope you’re right,” Effete responded and instinctively moved closer to Joy. “I’ve tried till I can’t try anymore, and if the Bible condemns me, then the Bible condemns me. What else can I say?”
Joy put one hand on Effete’s knee and wrapped the other around her right hand. “This book of books we call ‘the Bible’ does not condemn you, my love. In fact, it has no power whatsoever to condemn or justify; that falls within the province of our loving, nurturing God. Scripture, as valuable and holy as it may be, does not sit on the throne of the Almighty.”
“Besides, like I said, they focus on one word in one verse – and that verse really refers to what we call the Old Testament anyway, because the New Testament hadn’t even been completed – and they put the rest down on a lower shelf, so to speak.” Joy was gearing up now, doing what she loved to do in offering passionately, positive instruction; she was virtually made for it … and counseling, too.
“So for your entire marriage, and in that church, you’ve heard the same mantra over and over: ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (II Timothy 3.16-17, NKJV) To which you could easily have replied, ‘O.k., then, at least every man should be well equipped.’”
Both women virtually cackled at that, with Effete surprisingly adding, “Well, I know one man who’s not so well equipped!” They doubled over laughing, Joy sporting a look of shock on her face. “Not enough inspiration, maybe?” Effete proffered.
“Oh, no!” Joy answered. “He had plenty of inspiration; don’t ever doubt that, Effete! He just evidently wasn’t up to the ‘good work.’” They doubled over again, both astonished at their risqué repartee. “Oh God! Woman, you’re awesome! And it’s so damn good to see you and hear you like this! Thank you, Lord!”
“So, o.k.” Effete retrieved her calm. “‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ (II Timothy 3.16-17, HSCB) Tell me, my master-teacher, what does this mean? Correct and lead your servant-pupil up and onward to better understanding.”
“Alright,” Joy was still having difficulty catching her breath. “How about we look at that troubling word first. Of course, I’m sure you know it literally means ‘God-breathed.’” Effete nodded in affirmation. “Very important, because the Apostle St. Paul could have said, or written, ‘God spoke it, so-and-so wrote it down.’ Paul did not; instead, he chose the word ‘God-breathed,’ and this makes an indelibly important difference. The Everlasting One breathed.”
“So, how about this paraphrase-type translation that gets to the guts of what the Apostle was telling Timothy? How about, ‘God has breathed life into all Scripture, and it is useful for teaching us what is true. It is useful for correcting our mistakes. It is useful for making our lives whole again. It is useful for training us to do what is right. By using Scripture, the servant of God can be completely prepared to do every good thing.’ (II Timothy 3.16-17, NIRV) Sound different?” Effete nodded again. “Yeah, well it should, but it is not different from what St. Paul was telling St. Timothy.”
“You see, Effete, the most important part of this passage is not the one word ‘inspired,’ although it is important, of course; it’s the second part … the part about how all of these sacred writings can and should be used. And this is good and positive and uplifting; meant to grow and mature us into the women and men God always intended us to be as humans. Scripture was not given to brow-beat and abuse; it was give to build up and adorn. It was given – and is given – to help us bear what we call the ‘fruits of the Spirit.’”
“Ah, that’s not something we really focused on at Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church.” Effete picked her cup back up to finish off the now lukewarm tea.
“No, I don’t expect so, and how tragic,” Joy instinctively reached for cup, too. “But you know them and, more importantly, you grow them – love, patience, tenderness, goodness, faith, hope, modesty, stamina – and you are an exquisitely gorgeous tree.”
Effete leaned over and placed her head in the crook of Joy’s neck, now one of her favorite spots, and simply said, “Thank you.”
“What’s for breakfast,” came the voice of one bleary-eyed Bane from the mouth of the hallway.
“Something inspired,” Joy replied, and both women laughed again.
Love untold, so bold, not cold;
Dream desire of my soul.
Arms strong, I belong, nothing wrong;
Passionately crave the whole.
Eyes aflame, no blame, no shame;
Deep longing of my heart.
Nectars flow, not slow, from below;
To be fully fed, not in part.
Veil opening, divine parting, inviting
Desperate hunger to be filled.
Sweet scent, holy mint, lover’s tent;
My crying spirit would be thrilled.
Would you look for me if I were lost?
Travel the storm-waves, so tempest tossed?
Would you look for me if I wandered away?
Trek through the wasted lands night and day?
Would you leave your home for me to find?
Break into the prison to my tethers unbind?
Would you look in every sewer-swamped ghetto?
Arid fields where no cock crows, God only knows?
Would you look for me if you noticed me gone?
Pack a haversack to search from dawn to dawn?
Would you look for me if I strayed from the fold?
Not the ninety-nine, but the one you long to hold?