Thursday, February 1, 2018

EXCERPT: The Depths of Evil

The following is an excerpt from my novel THE DEPTHS OF EVIL, published by Double Dragon.


“That’s odd,” Douglas said.

They had walked silently through the small town, looking at dusty, run-down cars, abundant
weeds, rickety porches, old, faded curtains hanging from rods on dark, dusty windows beyond which they could see nothing. They had gone into the gas station, looked around, had found nothing of interest.

Now they were searching the old general store, full of dry goods in old, crumbling boxes and rusting tins and cans. There were old coins and a few bills in the till – quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies, most from the 1940s, 1950,1951.

“What’s odd?” Sheila asked.

“The cars,” Douglas said.

The cars they had seen were few and far between. They were old, with sleek lines, outsized
panels, running boards, massive fenders. Definitely old school. All sat on flattened tires, had broken windows, had been claimed by the jungle, as it were – weeds grew in them, out of them, around them. It had been fifty years, after all.

“What’s odd about the cars?” Sheila asked, exasperation evident in her voice. Douglas was in one of his thoughtful moods when he mumbled most of his words and did not seem to be aware of the presence of others.

He looked up sharply, roused by her tone.

“Some of them didn’t seem that old,” he said flatly.

John joined them, looked at Douglas expectantly.

“I didn’t want to frighten you,” Douglas said quietly. “But unless I’m very much mistaken,
there’s a Toyota Prius sitting out there, not more than five years old. I used to drive one, when the hybrid thing was all the rage. I’m quite certain there were no Toyotas on the roads fifty years ago, at least not in this part of the world.”

They considered this in silence.

John frowned as the implications sank in.

The dust in the place was oppressive, the air close and hot, all but suffocating. Sheila brushed away strands of orange hair from her forehead. “So what does that mean?” she asked at last, as if her mind was not willing to figure it out.

“It means other people came here, not so long ago ...” Douglas said carefully.

“And never left,” John finished. “Question is: Why?”

“Well,” Douglas said in a quiet voice, “I’ve been thinking it over. Maybe they thought this place was a free place to live or something. Or maybe the county dumps wrecked cars here to dispose of them. Who knows? There could be all sorts of explanations. But that isn’t what bothers me.”

Damn, but he was indirect.

“What bothers you?” John asked impatiently.

“Well, the cars ... they’re in good shape, really. Windows are broken, tires are flat – but nothing else. No structural damage, least none that I can see. They’re not wrecked cars, is what I’m saying. They’re not up on blocks, like they’re broken down or something. They look like they were ... just ... abandoned. Like this town was. Just left to sit there and rot. Why would you leave behind a perfectly good car?”

There was a long silence.

John looked out the general store window, saw a car half overgrown with weeds and clinging
vines. It seemed menacing, somehow, that car – just sitting there. Full of secrets. What would they discover if they opened the door, looked through the glove compartment, under the seats? The inside of such a car would be the perfect place for a writhing nest of snakes, like rattlers. Why would you walk away from a car like that in the first place? Why not use it to drive away, drive to safety? Why leave it behind, abandon it to the elements?

The land here is evil.

“There’s got to be a rational explanation,” Sheila insisted. “And we simply haven’t found out
what it is yet. Right?”

They agreed with her – reluctantly.

John glanced around, betraying his anxiety. The stillness, the quiet – it was unnerving. It was as though they had dropped off the map completely. It was a silence that one felt deep in one’s bones, a silence that screamed to be heard. There should have been the normal background chatter, normal background noises – the chirping of birds, the roar of a semi, the squeal of a motorbike, even just the distant rumbling of a tractor. There should have been the sounds of wood creaking, of trees moving, of fish jumping and splashing in the lake. The sounds of life. Yet there was nothing. Only the sound of their breathing, the sound of their shoes against the gravel and grass underfoot, the sound of the fabric of their shirts and pants as they moved.

You could go mad, John thought, in such silence. With nothing more than this silence. It would break you, eventually. It would crush you.

Overhead the buzzards continued to circle their eventual prey, whatever unfortunate animal that might be. John watched them. Did he hear their distant cries carried on the wind, or did he only imagine them?

In horror movies, he thought, there was always a moment when things start to go wrong – the center does not hold and things fall apart. Was this that moment? Should they pack up and leave, like sensible people would?

“Let’s take the canoe and go out on the lake,” Sheila suggested brightly. Bringing the canoe had been her idea. They were going to need shots of the famous Edward’s Lake – both the town and the body of water – after all.

“Maybe I can get some good shots from out there,” she said, nodding her head in the direction of the dark waters.

“Yeah,” Douglas said. Then said no more.

John stared at the dark waters, gripped by uneasiness. The lake seemed dangerous, somehow. There were so many sheltered coves and inlets, so many weeping willows perched on its overgrown shores. Anything could be in that lake, he thought.

He thought of other lakes, of Michigan winters, of childhood, skating on cool, smooth ice with his brothers and sisters. He thought of the possibility that Joey had drowned in the river, his body washed downstream, never to be found. That it might still be lying somewhere. Bloated. Chewed by fishes, crabs. Dragged off into the woods by a bear. Now nothing but bones and a skull.

He had a thing about lakes. About water. Watery depths. Darkness. Things down there in the darkness. Clinging things. Things that bite, rip, tear.

“Sure,” he said, screwing up his courage. “Douglas and I can get it down from the SUV.”

Sheila followed as they walked back to the church and around to the side where the SUV was
parked. Tied across the top was a canoe that belonged to Douglas. Douglas had a thing about water, too: he loved it. They undid the ropes, got the canoe down – it was surprisingly light.
“Not really built for three, but she’ll manage, as long as Sheila doesn’t bring too much
equipment,” Douglas said with a smile.

John and Douglas carried the canoe on their heads down to the waterfront, less than a hundred yards from the village. An old, rotted dock stood there, many of the boards missing. It marched away into the dark water, ending abruptly in a collapse of boards and wooden pilings. The water was clear but murky. Lily pads clustered around the shore, spreading out into the lake, making it impossible to see how deep the water was.

“Canoes tip over rather easily,” Douglas said into the stillness. “John, you ever been on one?”

John had not.

“Sheila and I go out all the time, so why don’t you just sit in the middle and sit still? Don’t be
shifting your weight around or you’ll spill us.”

They put the canoe in the water. Sheila jumped in, cameras around her neck, walking on sure feet. She took up position in the very front.

“Now you,” Douglas said to John, pointing at the canoe.

Trying hard not to betray his misgivings, John got in the canoe, was immediately horrified at how easily it swayed this way and that. He sat in the middle, in the very center, and sat very still, gripping the sides with trembling hands.

Douglas got in gracefully. He paddled first on one side, then on the other, taking them straight out into the middle of the lake.

“Nothing to worry about, just keep your butt still,” Douglas said to John from behind, as if reading his mind. “And for God’s sake, don’t stand up – if anything will tip a canoe, that’s it.”
No need to worry about that, John thought. Don’t puke, would be more to the point. He stared at the sullen waters passing by on either side, wondered how deep the lake was and what was down there – then desperately tried to push such thoughts away.

They were so close to it, he thought – so close to the water. He could reach out and touch it, if he wanted to. What he couldn’t do was see down into its dark, watery depths.

The lake was not very big, the waters placid: Ten minutes of rowing would take them to the other side. It was clear of lily pads and the green slime of algae in the middle, but along its edges, it was positively choked as the lily pads and algae competed for space.

Douglas took them to the right, following the outgrowth of lily pads and the green of the algae blooms. Cattails stood out among the lily pads. The banks of the lake were tangled with undergrowth, weeping willows and old tree roots.

It was, John thought, not a very pretty lake. And there was no sign of life. No frogs calling,
jumping from one lily pad to the next. No fish. No minnows. No water spiders. No mosquitoes. No cranes standing near the shore, searching for prey. It was a dead lake. Like everything else in Edward’s Lake, there was not a sign of life to be seen. A lake like this should be full of life. There should be birds on the shore. Frogs on the lily pads. Fish and minnows. Hunters and the hunted. Predators and prey.

Nature, red in tooth and claw.

The land here is evil.

Why had Joey said that? What did it mean? The land here was the same as any other land. Right? There was nothing inherently evil about land. Yet something must have driven off all the animals, the way a jungle goes suddenly silent when a lion appears. But what could possibly drive off all the animals, right down to the mosquitoes and spiders and worms?
Nothing natural could account for that.

Nothing natural.

“Guys,” Sheila said, putting down her camera for a moment. “Did you ever wonder why most
words that begin with ‘sl’ are negative words – like slut, slush, slam, sludge, slit, slave, slate, slay, slouch, slime ... didn’t you ever wonder?”

John and Douglas had to admit that they had not.

“What about slim?” Douglas asked. “Slender?”

“Not all words are bad,” Sheila admitted. “But most of them. Like sleaze, sleuth.”

“Sleuth is not a negative word,” Douglas protested.

“Tracking down a killer? That’s not negative? Or slippery. Or a slight. Slick. Slow. Slither.
Slitty-eyed. Slum. Slump. It’s like all those words are descended from some original word that was negative. Know what I mean?”

“Sleep,” Douglas said. “That’s not negative.

Sheila rolled her eyes. “You’re really sluggish sometimes, Douglas, I must say. Sluggish. Not to mention a bit of an intellectual slouch.”

Douglas merely grinned, dipping the paddle into one side, then the other, propelling them forward through the turgid waters. They left a slowly-twirling trail through the green algae.
“Can we go back now?” John asked. He was feeling decidedly faint and unwell. Perhaps it was the sun overhead, which was bright, hot, unpleasant. Or perhaps he’d had just about as much water as he could take for one day. He wanted to be back on the shore and the sooner the better.

“It’s lovely,” Douglas said dreamily. “I should have brought my paints.”

“It is lovely,” Sheila agreed. “So tranquil, so peaceful. The water is so calm. And these lily pads are simply gorgeous. They’ll make a lovely illustration to your story, Johnnie. I still have a lot of pictures to take.”

They approached a rocky outcropping on the far side of the lake.

“Do you smell it?” Sheila asked, turning to look at them.

John did. It was the smell of death. Of a dead animal.

“Let’s see what it is,” Sheila suggested.

John bit his lip and held his tongue. Let’s get the frickin' hell out of here, is what he wanted to say, but didn’t.

He was suddenly unnerved.

I’m in the state of sanctifying grace, he thought, rather frantically. I just went to confession. Not a sin on my soul. If anything happens ... That was childhood talking. Whenever you did something wrong, you ran to the priest and he forgave you and you were “clean” again. Otherwise, you were in the state of sin, and if you died in the state of sin, you would go straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Even though he knew that – knew it was just childhood talking – he felt a superstitious sense of relief. At least if something bad
happened ... 

The smell of death became heavier, undeniable. They drifted into an alcove, of sorts, formed by dark rock walls. The water continued straight into the rocks and there was an opening just high enough for them to pass under.

“Shall we go inside?” Sheila asked, turning to look at them.

John said nothing.

“Why not?” Douglas said. “Could be caves in there. You know how much I love caves.”

“John?” Sheila prompted, wanting his approval.

“Sure,” he said. He tried to smile.

Douglas steered their small craft toward the opening. They ducked down and disappeared underneath the rocky outcropping. Inside they found a large cave. The smell of death was all but sickening here, and they quickly discovered the reason why: a pile a carcasses lay on the rock floor at the water’s edge. Deer, mostly, John thought, judging by all the antlers. But bear, too, and other animals no longer recognizable. The animals themselves had not been eaten, as such. They had been bitten all over their bodies. But dragged in here and bitten by what?

“Oh shit,” Sheila said. She fiddled with her camera, began snapping away. The flash of her
camera lit up the scene in ghostly bursts.

“Guys, I don’t think we’re alone,” Douglas said very quietly. Too quietly. John glanced over his shoulder at the tall, gangly man, who lifted his eyes very slowly toward the ceiling.

John looked up – and froze. In the darkness, he could see eyes glinting, staring down. They
looked like the eyes of children. When Sheila’s flash went off, he saw that they were indeed children, perhaps a dozen of them, perched on the rocks above.

Douglas backed the canoe away very slowly.

“I’m not finished!” Sheila exclaimed angrily, turning to glare at them. What she saw on their
faces brought her up short. She looked at John. John looked up, almost imperceptibly, towards the children. She caught his meaning, raised her eyes casually. Quick as a flash, she brought her camera forward and started taking pictures.

There was angry hissing above.

“Don’t!” John exclaimed.

Sheila pressed the shutter again and again, ignoring him.

There was a weird screeching noise, the rustling of bare feet against rock.

The children vanished.


Click here to order your copy of THE DEPTHS OF EVIL, available in both paperback and ebook formats.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

So this is all about me. Yet I suspect it might also be about you.

By the way, how are you? Fine, did you say?

That's right. You're fine. So am I. If you're reading this, you speak English and have access to the Internet. Which also means you probably have access to electricity. Those factors alone put you ahead of billions of others on this planet. You're ahead of the game. You're doing well. Relax. You're fine.

But back to me.

I've spent a lot of my years not being fine. The very excellent Dionne Warwick explained it this way:

A fool will lose tomorrow reaching back for yesterday

(If you need a boost, watch the video. We'll be referring back to Miss Warwick, but there will not be a quiz.)

Anyone who has been abused as a child will understand. You spend a lot of time looking back, trying to figure out what happened, who was to blame, what is to be done about it. You grieve over the things that were taken from you. You spend an unholy amount of time wondering what life would have been like had such things not happened. You see all your friends pulling out way ahead of you - because they're fine. But you're not. And you don't really know why. And you don't really know what to do about it. And you get counseling and you talk and talk and wonder if you've ever going to be fine, if all the bad guys are going to just go away and let you live your life in peace. You feel cheap because you were treated cheaply. You feel broken because you were, in fact, broken.  They broke your body, your spirit, your heart, your courage, your belief that the world was a good place.

Those who grew up rough know what I'm talking about.

Running this race you call life, you're limping along, way behind. Your friends are too busy trying to win the race they don't notice how far behind you are. You meet on the street, they ask you how you are, you say -- you're fine. But you're not. And you wonder if there will ever come a time when you are, in fact, fine. When you're fine and know you're fine and not just pretending.

A fool will lose tomorrow reaching back for yesterday

You ever waste some of your years this way? Yeah, I thought so.

And then, because that bit of self-torture just isn't enough, you waste more years worrying about the future. Are you going to "make it"? Are you going to be fine? Are you going to survive? Are you going to get better? Are you going to live a normal life? Will there be enough money to pay the bills? Are you going to get fired? Are you going to keep it together long enough to limp your way to some sort of retirement that doesn't involve living under a bridge or visiting a soup kitchen?

Are you going to be fine?

I don't know who said it, but sometimes we truly are our own worst enemy.

So, anyway, one day, after almost fifty years of "reaching back for yesterday" and looking to the future with a small pain in my gut, I woke up and thought -- I'm fine. I'm still here. I'm still not dead. I survived. And the past is so far behind it doesn't seem to matter much anymore. And the future ... well, the future is going to be whatever it's going to be. I got through the past; I can handle whatever else might be coming down the pipeline.

I realized, with a sudden, surprising clarity, that I'm fine. I really am fine.

I spent a lot of time being upset about the past; that time would have been better spent finding constructive ways to deal with the past. I spent a lot of time paralyzed by thoughts of what the future might hold; I would have been better off tending to my day to day business to make sure the future would be okay.

But, at the end of the day, I realized: I'm fine. It's okay now.

This dynamic gets explained in a variety of ways. If you were a Zen Buddhist, you might talk about the power of now. Of being here, in the now moment. Right here. Not in the past. Not in the future, uselessly fretting and worrying. But right here. Right now. In this moment. Because everything in this moment is fine.

If you were a Christian, you might cite Jesus:
"Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?  And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:  yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" (Matt. 6:27).

In other words, Don't Worry, Be Happy

(If you need another boost, here's the video.)

We could go a little bit further: There really is NOTHING but right now. The past is gone. That ship has sailed. The future isn't here and never will be. There is only RIGHT NOW. That is all we get. Right now. Right here. This moment.

If this current moment isn't fine, we have the power to do something about it. We can make decisions. We can make choices. We can shape our reality.

Are there people in your life giving you stress and heartache? Get rid of them. Get off the crazy train. Don't like your job? Take the plunge, take the risk, get a new one. Don't like what the future holds? Start changing it. Go back to school. Quit smoking. Go to the gym. Make changes. Shake things up. Try something new.

It's all in your hands.

That's another thing I realized. It's all in MY hands. No one else's. Not the bad guys. Not life. Not "circumstances." Not which side of the tracks I was born in. It's all in my own hands. My future depends on what I do right now.

Simple stuff, but like a lot of things in life, it takes a while to realize it. To really grasp it. To comprehend it. To internalize it, use it, lean on it, make it work.

But back to Dionne Warwick.

A fool will lose tomorrow reaching back for yesterday
I won't turn my head in sorrow if you should go away
I'll stand here and remember just how good it's been
And I know I'll never love this way again

And back to electricity:

I've got electricity. Do you know how many people can't say that? If you have electricity, you're doing awesome. If you have food on the table, you're doing more than awesome. If you speak English, you're part of the global elite. If you have access to health care, kudos. Got retirement funds? Good on ya. In good health, everything at work hunky dory? Hey, wow, aren't you lucky? Compared to literally billions of people, you're doing well. You're fine.

And so am I.

Count your blessings.

Maybe the past wasn't so great. Maybe the future looks a little worrisome. But right now, everything is fine. Right now the good far outweighs the bad.

Don't waste your tomorrows looking back at yesterday.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Are you a spiritual baby? For heaven's sake, grow up

Children go through stages of development - and so do religious/spiritual folks. And there's nothing quite so tedious as a spiritual baby pontificating to the masses on how things ought to be when all you want to do is yank the pacifier out of his mouth and tell him to sit in the corner and take a time out for showing his spiritual ass.

You know what I'm talking about. When an otherwise intelligent person starts spouting nonsense about how the latest hurricane is God's punishment for accepting homosexuality, you know you've run smack dab into a temper-tantrum throwing child with immature notions about how the world works, and what God does and does not do.

At each stage in a child's life, they are in the midst of learning something and trying to accomplish something. A toddler going through the "terrible twos" is trying to figure out that he or she is not actually the same person as his or her mother. He is trying to differentiate himself. He is learning to be an autonomous human being with his own wants and needs. Children in elementary school are faced with the task of finding out whether they can get things done - or not. It's all about industry and a sense of accomplishment, a feeling that yes, I can do things, I can be successful, I can put together a science fair project, I can read a book. Puberty comes along and suddenly they are aware of sex and sexuality and questions about who they are and who they want to be and what their place in the world is. They get rebellious because they are trying to separate themselves from their parents and learn how to stand on their own two feet. Their peers become more important than their parents because, to be successful as adults, they will need to work together with their peers.

If you know what stage of development a child is in, you can better help that child in his development.

The same is true in the religious/spiritual life. There are distinct stages that are plain as day to those who have gone through them and know what they're about.

Children go through stages of moral development, which have similar parallels with religious development. Younger children refrain from doing things because they don't want to get caught. It's not about right and wrong, sin or virtue, good or bad. It's about not getting caught and nothing more. If they can get away with something, they will happily do it and lie about it afterward and never have a single pang of guilt.  

But at some point a more mature understanding of behavior comes along, and children begin to understand the difference between right and wrong.

Older children often look to their peers for approval. They refrain from doings things which their peers consider "uncool." They follow their peers like sheep hoping to get their approval. Their sense of right and wrong depends heavily on what their peers think.

Younger children view their parents are god-like figures whose word is not to be questioned. Older children begin to ask questions - sometimes very uncomfortable questions. They have the uncanny ability to see how their parents don't always live up to their stated values. And they no longer view their parents as the final word on important matters. They began branching out to other forms of authority and insight.

As children grow up and move on to college and adult life, they stop worrying so much about what their parents think, or what their peers think. They began the process of figuring out who they really are, what they really believe, and what their values really are, as opposed to what they have been told their values should be.

All of this is Child Development 101 stuff and it is mirrored in the lives of religious/spiritual people. There is the believer who is caught up in authority and takes the pastor's or priest's word as gospel truth. There is the believer who begins to question, who begins to sense that the pastor's or priest's stated values aren't necessarily reflected in his or her life. There are believers who do whatever they want, but are careful to make sure fellow churchgoers don't find out - they're not concerned about the moral value of their actions, only that they don't get caught.

Thing is, as soon as a believer opens his mouth and starts talking, you can pretty much tell where he is on the moral development stage. Is he is his terrible twos and saying "no" all the time? Is he an elementary child who is trying to get away with things and worried about getting caught? Is he a brimstone kind of guy fixated on punishment and retribution and bowing down to authority? Is he one of those troublesome folks asking too many questions? Is he overly worried about how is viewed by the folks sitting next to him in the pews? Is he convinced he knows it all and has nothing to learn from his elders?

There was a time in my spiritual development when it was all about authority. The authority of the pope. The authority of the Catholic Church. The authority of the bishops and the priests.

There was a time when I was motivated simply by the fear of going to hell.

There was a time when I wanted to be like everyone else in the pews, when their good opinion and approval meant more than anything else.

There was a time when I began to see that what was preached from the pulpit was not necessarily what was lived in the pews.

There was a time when I did things merely to get a reward, when I thought of God as an ATM machine, when I thought I could manipulate him (or her) with prayers and rituals and pleadings.

There was a time when I was a self-satisfied, smug know it all who thought he had nothing to learn from others.

There was a time when I wanted God to prove his love for me. And then there was a time when I realized he had been doing that every day of my life.

There was a time when I was not satisfied with the answers that had been handed to me by authority.

There was a time when I rejected authority and went my own way.

There was a time when I was arrogant enough to believe that God loved me and a time when I was ever more arrogant and believed he couldn't.

And, eventually, there came a time when I realized that those who knew the most were not necessarily the ones who were the most talkative. They're not on the television screens trying to make a name for themselves. They're not trying to get you to buy their latest book. They're not on public speaking tours or holding forth in mega-churches.

I discovered the most authentic spiritual people are so busy doing their spiritual life -- living their values and beliefs -- that they have little time for talking about it.

Where are we on the spiritual development scale? Is our religion or spirituality based on fear? Or love? Do we do things in hope of a reward? Or because it's the right thing to do? Do we explain to God how things ought and need to be, or do we accept things as they are?

Are you a spiritual baby? If you are, then for heaven's sake, grow up.

  • Nick Wilgus is an award-winning author based in Tupelo, Mississippi. Check out his latest novel from Dreamspinner Press, RAISE IT UP, available in paperback and ebook formats.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

I don't believe in hell and neither should you

I'll just say it out loud: I don't believe in hell. I don't care what the Bible may or may not say on the matter. I don't care what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches. The concept of hell is monstrously absurd -- and no sane person should believe it.

I don't need to argue my point of view by citing this or that scripture, or some or other famed theologian. I arrived at my conclusion that way most sane people do: By the use of reason and a dash of common sense.

The doctrine of hell -- the concept, the idea, the premise -- is that a loving God created a place of eternal torment for people (and angels) who refuse to love Him. To avoid this dreadful fate, evangelical Christians talk about taking Jesus as one's personal savior. Muslims talk about making their submission to Allah. Catholics stress the need to be baptized and die in communion with the Church in order to be saved. The basic idea is the same: Unless you jump through some hoops, you will spend eternity in a "lake of fire."

It's important to understand the idea, to dig deep into it, to genuinely comprehend it.

Firstly, it cannot be stressed enough: Hell is an utterly monstrous idea. It is a shocking creation. It's twisted. It's sick. The psychology beneath it is deeply abnormal.

Eternal punishment is ... eternal. And that's a very long time. No matter how many eons might pass in such a place, it would still be only the beginning. Millions of years could pass ... billions ... trillions ... trillions upon trillions of years ... but still , it would only be the beginning. The torment, the agony, the dreadful pains, would never end. Never. No matter how much time passed, the agony would go on and on for eternity. What could a finite human being do to deserve such an infinite punishment?

If you don't grasp the full horror of it, spend some time with it. Chew on it. Think about it. Dig into it. Immerse yourself fully into the idea of it. The more you think about it, the more you realize what an insane idea it is.  And not insane with a small case i, but INSANE. Sick. Twisted. Preposterous. Literally beyond belief.

But the really insane thing is to attribute the creation of hell to a "loving God." A great many Christians will tell you flat out that if you don't accept Jesus as your personal savior, you will go to hell. And they believe it. And they are genuinely distressed at the idea that you would prefer such a fate when all you have to do to "save yourself" is accept Jesus as your personal savior. They are quick to point out that this isn't their idea, that this is God's plan, that it's all there in the Bible.

As indeed it seems to be.

Here's the rub. A loving God created you, but if you don't love Him back, He will destroy you forever in the lake of fire.

How is this love?

You have to ask yourself. If I stood in front of you with a knife to your throat and insisted that you "love" me, how would you feel? If your safety and well being depended on loving me, would it be love? It's ridiculous, is it not? Yet we are asked to believe this is what God expects of us. This is "God's plan." Unless you agree to "love" this all-powerful entity, you will be utterly destroyed.

This is not love. It's insane to even have to point it out. This is not how love works. This is not how you treat someone you love. This is deeply unhealthy. This is perverted, sick, twisted, abnormal. And to attribute it to God is complete foolishness. It's insulting.

I'm not the first to arrive at this conclusion by any means, but it's always been a well-kept secret.

Something in us wants the idea of hell to be true. Right? We feel that people like Adolf Hitler deserve a place of eternal torment in the afterlife. We feel his crimes deserve it. We want him to be punished. The Jehovah's Witnesses have an interesting solution to this dilemma. They believe that people who have rejected God will simply wink out of existence when they die. God will remember them no more, and they will exist no more. No need for a place of eternal torment. Just a respectful acknowledge of a choice that a person made.

Different demonstrations have different ideas.

Hardliners will tell us that without the threat of the punishment of hell, people will not be good. What I've found is exactly the opposite. When you come to the realization that you are indeed loved by God, you will want to respond to that love, not from a place of fear, but out of a genuine sense of gratitude.

Our psychology does not allow us to love someone we fear. We cannot mix fear and love. It doesn't work that way.  And this attempt to try to force people to either love God or face eternal punishment, has done enormous harm.

Don't take my word for it. Look to your own experience. Can you love someone that you are afraid of? Does it work? Is it healthy? Or don't you get tired of being afraid?

  • Nick Wilgus is an award-winning author based in Tupelo, Mississippi. Check out his latest novel from Dreamspinner Press, RAISE IT UP, available in paperback and ebook formats.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Are You My Dad?

Are you my dad?

Are you the one
who's going to come
and take me home
so I don't have to be alone
so I can wake and always know
I'll never have to go
I'll never have to leave
but always and forever
THIS is where I'll be

Are you my dad?

My bed, my room, my toys
my food, my house
my yard, my life
my ... dad

Are you my dad?

He didn't say these words
his eyes - so full of hurt
said what he couldn't say
instead he looked at the stuffed bear I'd brought
his eyes wide
his fingers trembling
the fur so soft
the glassy eyes that shined
he put it to his face

Did you say thank you?
The social worker said

Thank you ...

Are you ...  ?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

It's NOT the end of the world as we know it

David Bawden

Meet David Bawden. He lives about 20 miles outside of Topeka, Kansas and calls himself Pope Michael I. He was elected to the papacy by a conclave of six people (one of whom was his father) in the early 1990s.

Bawden is a traditional Catholic who believes the Roman Catholic Church strayed into heresy and error during its Vatican II sessions in the 1960s. Because it has "embraced heresy," it is no longer the Catholic Church, or so the traditional Catholic believes.

You may think all of this is perfectly ridiculous (and it is), but Bawden is not the only "pope in exile" wandering around the planet. There is Pope Linus II in Hertfordshire, England, Pius XIII in Montana (now deceased) (and not to be confused with the new movie starring Jude Law), Pope Krav I in Croatia and Alexander IX in Argentina, among others. This Wikipedia entry is a good place to start your own research.

Since I grew up in the traditional Catholic world, I know about these things.

We believed:
  • That the end was near and we lived in the End Times.
  • That the Roman Catholic Church had been destroyed from the inside out by heresy and error.
  • That the pope, by embracing heresy, was no longer pope. 
  • That the mass, because it had been changed and was now said in the vernacular rather than Latin, was no longer valid.
  • That all Catholics (from the pope and cardinals on down) who were part of the "New Church" with its "bastard rites and bastard sacraments" were in heresy and would therefore go to hell.
  • That we alone - traditional Catholics - were "true Catholics."  
There are many flavors of traditional Catholicism. The brand I followed featured a bishop (Francis Schuckardt) who stockpiled weapons and was extremely anti-Semitic and who had a painting of Adolf Hitler overlooking his bed. We passed around a pamphlet called The Six Million Swindle about how the Holocaust never happened. We attended John Birch Society meetings and waited for society to collapse.

Francis Schuckardt

You can read the official version of Schuckardt's life here, but you might also want to have a look at this article as well as this article.

Glenn Beck
I read an article recently in The Atlantic about Glenn Beck, that perennial purveyor of doom and gloom who found his voice by comparing Obama to Hitler. If you thought Beck would be happy to see Trump become president of the United States, you thought wrong. Beck has now turned his guns on Trump and is convinced, yet again, that the END IS NEAR and that the US Constitution "hangs by a thread" and the Ship of Liberty is about the founder on the rocks and ... you know the drill. Same same but different.

I was reminded that people like Beck - and Pope Michael I and traditional Catholics and all the other doom and gloomers among us - have always been around, and will always be around, and that it's not the issue of the day that concerns them. It's the outrage. The feeling of outrage. The feeling of moral superiority - that they know something the rest of us don't. That they "get it" while the rest of us are clueless.

I could easily populate this post with an endless list of examples of hysteria and fear-mongering going back to Jesus himself, who seemed to believe the end was indeed near.

None of this is new.

It's been more than fifty years since the Second Vatican Council closed in Rome in 1965 and there are still traditional Catholics who are utterly convinced the Roman Catholic Church has been destroyed and is no more, despite the fact that it is still very much alive and actually prospering.

As we head into 2017 and whatever a Trump presidency will bring, there is a sense of doom and gloom among many of my friends, some of whom have been talking in rather apocalyptic language. My message is simple: It's not the end of the world as we know it. There is cause for concern and renewed vigilance, but the world is not about to collapse around us.

I've heard all of this before. In fact, I've heard it over and over and I wasted too many years engaging with the doomsayers, trying to reason with them, trying to comprehend what the fuss was all about. I've come to realize that some people enjoy a sense of impending catastrophe and that if there wasn't something awful on the horizon, they would invent it just so they could have something to rail against.

To each his own.

As for me and my house,  we're going to go about our business and enjoy whatever time we have together in the quiet confidence that this too shall pass and all shall be well.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Trump is an abuser. Believe me ....

This presidential election is disturbing - so disturbing I've actually stopped watching coverage on the television, For a political junkie who has watched coverage of every election going back to Ronald Reagan, that's saying something.

Each prior election, I watched, I enjoyed, I fervently hoped my candidate would win. I cared about the issues, I followed every poll and trend. But this year, not so much.

What's going on?

It's a nasty election, of course, and both candidates are intensely disliked for various reasons. But it's not that. There's something deeper and more personal going on here.

I grew up in an abusive environment. Abuse is like pornography: I know it when I see it. Early on, I noticed that Donald Trump was abusive. I thought it was equally obvious to others, but apparently it's not.

What I realize now, with about forty-five days to go before the election, is that Donald Trump has been yanking on my abuse triggers and I've gotten so increasingly dismayed and upset that I can't even bear to watch.

Here's a list of some of the common traits of abusive people:
  • Humiliates you in front of others.
  • Blames you for his/her violent outbursts.
  • Often blow up in anger at small incidents. He or she is often easily insulted, claiming hurt feelings when he or she is really very angry.
  • Blame others for their own problems.
  • Blame others for their own feelings and are very manipulative. An abusive person will often say "you make me mad", "you’re hurting me by not doing what I ask", or "I can’t help being angry".
  • May be cruel to animals and/or children. 
  • May have a fascination with weapons.
  • May think it is okay to solve conflicts with violence.
  • Often make threats of violence, breaking or striking objects.
  • May hold rigid stereotypical views of the roles of men and women. The abuser may see women as inferior to men, stupid, and unable to be a whole person without a relationship.
  • May say things that are intentionally cruel and hurtful in order to degrade, humiliate, or run down the victim’s accomplishments.
  • Tend to be moody and unpredictable. They may be nice one minute and the next minute explosive. Explosiveness and mood swings are typical of men who beat their partners.
Remind you of anyone?

It's not just Donald Trump, mind you. Have you seen his army of surrogates out there on the television screens every single day, defending him, participating in his abusive behavior and trying to convince you that everything Trump does is perfectly fine, that if you don't get on the Trump Train, you're a loser?

At the end of the first presidential debate the other night, Trump did something very odd: He told Hillary Clinton that he had planned on bringing up her husband's infidelities and throwing them in her face, but he had decided not to. Then he wanted credit for being a nice guy and not hurting her in this fashion. He said he was doing this out of respect for her daughter Chelsea.

Think about that for a minute ...

Trump and his surrogates routinely lie, but if you call them on the lies, they turn the tables and claim "liberal media bias." In other words, you're the bad person for calling them on their lies.

This is a favorite tactic of abusers. When you call them on their behavior, they turn it around and make you the bad guy. They refuse to take responsibility for what they've done. Instead, they blame others and try to make you feel like you're wrong.

Day after day in this election, Trump and his surrogates are out there using racist, coded language, but again: If you call them on it, you're the bad guy for "playing the race card."

In a way, Trump's entire campaign is like an abusive spouse -- and we're the ones being bruised and battered.

Look at the premise of that campaign: Trump wants to make America great "again." As though we're not great. As though we're all losers because we're not doing things his way. He uses the word "loser" liberally and often. He has accused just about everyone in government of being losers. He says our military is "disgusting." He says our elected officials are "stupid." In his outreach to African Americans, he tells them their communities are crime-ridden hell holes, their schools are terrible, their lives are hell - so "what the hell do they have to lose" by supporting him?

I don't think we've ever had a candidate like this, a man who insults and bullies and denigrates everyone and everything. A man who mocked a reporter with a disability. A man who calls a woman a "fat pig." A man who attacks a Gold Star family. A man who lies so often and with such gusto that the fact checkers simply can't keep up. A man who insults voters by refusing to release his tax returns or be transparent about his own business dealings. An unbelievably arrogant man who stood in front of his national convention and claimed he was the only person who could fix America's problems. A man who told a religious audience he has nothing to ask forgiveness for. A man who refuses to apologize for the horrid things he says.

Jesus said it best: "By their fruits, you shall know them."

What are the "fruits" of Donald Trump? Have you seen what goes on at his rallies? Have you seen the hateful, ugly things his supporters say on social media? Have you seen the number of endorsements he has picked up from groups like the KKK?

It's telling: Not one former (or current) president of the United States has endorsed Donald Trump. Not one plans to vote for him. Not even the former presidents in his own party. If a former president doesn't know what's best for this country, who does? There was also a story recently about how not one of the Fortune 100 CEOs have contributed a dime to Trump's campaign. Again, very telling. If he's such a fantastic business guy, why won't his fellow CEOs get behind him? Or so they know things about him that we don't know?

For more than a year now, the media have been fawning over Donald Trump. They have his surrogates sitting there on the set for each and every discussion, surrogates who have been given endless amounts of time to spin away each and every terrible thing Trump has said and done. We are told this is to ensure fairness and balance, but actually all they've done is serve as enablers for an abusive man.


Let me try to be clear.

I grew up in an abusive environment. I watched my parents scream at each other. I watched physical violence with guns and knives. I watched my mother get battered. I got battered myself. One night it was so bad my older sister carried me and my brother outside, in the middle of winter, and hid in a ditch to make sure our drunken, enraged father didn't kill us.

I know abuse when I see it. I know abusers. I know how they make you feel. They hold the cards, they're in a position of power, and all you can do is cower before them. The police are supposed to be on your side, but often they're not. They don't want to get involved. They're like the media today: They don't want to tell it like it is. They don't want to risk anything on your behalf.

Is Donald Trump as bad as all that? You tell me. Pardon me if I don't want a man like that with his finger on the nuclear trigger.

I realize now that I've had to stop watching election coverage because it reminds me of too many bad things - things I've seen way too much of. This entire election cycle has been massively dysfunctional and unhealthy on so many levels. The phrase "national embarrassment" just doesn't cover it. If we are truly a great country, we deserve so much better.

There's something else I know about abuse: Eventually the truth will reveal itself. People get sick of being gaslighted, abused, made to feel they're stupid losers. People catch on and begin to see the abuser for what he is.

For all of our sakes, let's hope this happens before election day.