March 30, 2011

Matthew 5:17 and Its Historical Importance (Part 3)

If you've followed my blog for some time, then you've seen this graphic before, so I'll ask you to excuse the repetition, but it's probably the most important notion I've posted.  In a nutshell, what it says is this: The intent of Matthew 5:17 was not to affirm the Mosaic Law, since Christ countermands it in several telling passages that follow the verse.  I also believe it's clear from the discourse, that although He doesn't destroy the Ten Commandments, Christ does render them obsolete. 

In addition, by comparing His gospel to the requirements of Leviticus, Jesus actually implies three laws: One that conforms to the Mosaic Law, one that conforms to the gospel and another that conforms to neither standard.  This is how they shake out.  (Please read them in the context of what Matthew chapter five says). 

As I've said before, to assume that the Ten Commandments are all we are required to observe misses the point of what Christ tried to say.  As CS Lewis says in, The Problem of Pain:
To disobey your proper law (i.e., the law God makes for a being such as you) means to find yourself obeying one of God’s lower laws: e.g. if, when walking on slippery pavement, you neglect the law of Prudence, you suddenly find yourself obeying the law of gravitation.
The implication is crucial, but I've never heard it noted. During our times of honest introspection, it’s not enough to ask: Am I obedient? Human beings have no choice but to be obedient. The more useful question is: To what am I being obedient, a lower or higher law?  In my next posting I'll try to show how our Christian fundamentalist culture has primarily ignored the higher law. 

March 28, 2011

Matthew 5:17 and Its Historical Importance (Part 2)

Regardless of the correct interpretation of Matthew 5:17, it’s clear that those who believed that Christ affirmed the Mosaic Law won out in the test of wills that occurred during the early history of the church.  Why do I say that?  Consider the evidence today:
·    A great number of people with political influence seek to bring a Levitical order to our system of justice.  This is despite what Christ says about the gospel’s requirement that exceeds “an eye for an eye.”  
·    Religious people fight to defy the Constitution’s separation of church and state to post the Ten Commandments on court houses and other government offices, but don’t seem to have the same level of interest in Christ’s two great laws.
·    Christian fundamentalists have begun to use the term “Judeo-Christian Ethic” to describe their faith and in doing so, lump the Mosaic Law and Christ’s gospel into a composite far more Judeo (613 specific laws) than Christian (two general rules of thumb).

That brings us back to the question: What did Christ mean when He said He’d come to fulfill the Mosaic Law (the law and the prophets)?  For the answer it’s helpful to refer to the original Greek text of Matthew, from which the term pleroo was translated into the word fulfil in 5:17 of the King James Bible.  Pleroo is unfortunately a word that has a range of meanings that differ in subtle ways and must be interpreted in context.  Its primary definition, which is given by widely accepted source material such as Strong’s Concordance, is to fill to the top, or to cram down, or to make complete.

How Christ fills or completes the Mosaic Law is an important consideration.  Let me summarize what I understand about the nuances of the word pleroo.  If I have a bottle that’s nearly full of water, which I then fill to the rim by holding it beneath a flowing tap, I’ve pleroo-ed the bottle.  Notice that while I’ve filled it, I’ve also rendered the bottle useless as an object that can store more water.  And this is an important sense that the word conveys.  In fact, one alternative interpretation of pleroo is to render obsolete. 

In other words, the appropriate view of Matthew 5:17 is to say Christ didn’t come to destroy Leviticus, but He nevertheless rendered it obsolete.  Just like we can still use typewriters in a world full of computers, we can continue to obey the Law of Moses if we choose, but Christ wishes us to achieve a higher standard that Leviticus does not and cannot contain.  Said another way, Christ asks us to graduate from the requirements of the Mosaic Law to something far grander.  In this way, the idea of graduation is consistent with Strong’s notion of completion.

What is the difference between Christ’s gospel and the Old Testament?  That will be the subject of my next posting.

March 27, 2011

Matthew 5:17 and Its Historical Importance (Part 1)

I’m going to take my time with this posting—maybe offer it in several installments.  What I hope to show is that due to historical developments shaped by socio-political forces, the prevailing view of Christ’s gospel was corrupted and rendered inconsistent with His teachings.  I’ll attempt to do so by summarizing worldviews that were prevalent up until a time shortly after the First Council of Nicaea was convened in 325.  Furthermore, I’ll focus on a specific verse of scripture that, at one time, was a kind of ground zero with respect to a religious tumult that was a precursor to the Inquisition.  As a result of that religious upheaval, people were killed, properties were confiscated and a flourishing religious tradition was labeled heretical. 

That scripture, Matthew 5:17, is part of an introduction to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, the most salient description of the gospel found anywhere.  Despite its importance, however, few mainstream Christians ever consider its meaning.  The King James account of the verse reads:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

The first part of the scripture isn’t subject to debate.  The message is clear: Christ didn’t come to destroy the Mosaic Law (which on this and multiple other occasions He refers to as, “the law and the prophets”).  What’s less clear, however, is the meaning of the word fulfil (sic) that closes out His declaration. 

In the earliest history of the church (which I again define as the period leading up to and shortly after the First Council of Nicaea) the meaning of the scripture was reduced to two possible interpretations, neither of which captures the varied nuances of the word.  I’ll embellish on this point later, but it’s important to note that the reason the debate focused on only two alternative interpretations is because there were two opposing Christian groups that each required acceptance of a specific reading of the scripture to insure their survival.  

The two interpretations of the scripture were:
1.   Jesus didn’t come to destroy the Mosaic Law, but to affirm it.
2.   Jesus didn’t come to destroy the Mosaic Law, but to abrogate it.  

Both interpretations are problematic.  While the notion that Christ affirms the Mosaic Law appears consistent with His assertion that He didn’t come to destroy it, the view conflicts with the central idea behind five telling passages that come later in the chapter.  (For a treatment of this, see one of my earlier blogs at  However, to say Christ abrogated the Mosaic Law begs the question: How does one abrogate a law without destroying an essential part of it?  To assume the second interpretation is correct is to believe that Christ was open to semantic nit-picking, which is counter to everything we hold dear about His gospel.  Therefore, the only conclusion a reasonable person might conclude is that neither explanation is correct.  This begs the question: Why did the early historical debate reduce to an argument between two highly improbable interpretations?

To answer that question, it’s important to note that there was once a number of flourishing religious traditions that today we refer to as Gnostic Christianity.  The Gnostics, contrary to common belief, didn’t belong to a single monolithic faith with a singular worldview.  In fact, it has often been said there were as many Gnostic factions as there were Gnostics.  The reason for this can be explained by the term gnosis, the Greek root word from which the people derived their label.  To the Greeks, there are two types of knowledge.  The first, logos, is knowledge gained through learning—life experience and study.  Its alternative, gnosis, is very different.  A receiver of gnosis—aside from having an open mind receptive to it—doesn’t obtain its variety of knowledge through personal effort.  Rather, gnosis is acquired through sudden and dramatic flashes of what might be called inspiration.  Therefore, the common thread among Gnostic belief was the idea that people could come to an understanding of the mind of God through communion leading to personal revelation.  The end result of this belief was that the Gnostics began to personalize the gospel in a way that resulted in the development of a wide range of traditions.

To those who supported a more orthodox view of Christianity, which included the need for a single faith and an indisputable doctrine, the proliferation of new factions was disconcerting.  While searching for a way to restrict the number of divergent worldviews, the followers who sought orthodoxy quickly realized two things:
1.   Christ’s gospel—aside from His directive to love God and our neighbors—was only suggestive of appropriate behavior and tradition.
2.   Leviticus, on the other hand, with its 613 specific and separate laws, was a highly prescriptive summary of what one could argue was correct doctrine.

As one might suspect, an emphasis on conformity to the Mosaic Law became a key aspect of Christian orthodoxy’s war on Gnosticism.  The followers of the orthodox view supported the idea that Christ affirmed the tenants of the Old Testament and wished His followers to abide by them.  Notice that this had as much to do with political control as it did with the true meaning of Christ’s gospel.  Gnostics, on the other hand, rebelled against the stricture of the Mosaic Law, because it limited their ability to abide by revealed interpretations of Christ’s word. 

In the end the followers of orthodoxy—who were far better organized than their factionalized opponents—won.  The Gnostics were labeled as heretics.  Many were imprisoned or killed, and their various traditions were eliminated.  Except for some highly charged accusations found in the writings of orthodox writers (such as Irenaeus, who lived in the 2nd century) Gnostic doctrines were lost until the Nag Hamadi library was discovered in the Egyptian desert in 1945. 

If, therefore, the idea that we’re to follow the Mosaic Law is based upon political spin from a control-seeking orthodoxy, what is the true meaning of Christ’s assertion that He came to fulfill the law and prophets?  That will be the subject of my next posting.

March 23, 2011

Investments in Our Country's Resources

I used to run structured products for an investment bank and at the end of every year it was my responsibility to hold bonus conversations with my people. The traders would invariably come to the meetings armed with details of the money they'd earned and make arguments that sounded something like this: "I made $X for the firm, so I should get nearly $X for my bonus. That's only fair." My reply would be: "You made $X for the firm only because the firm gave you the infrastructure, the training and the deal flow to accomplish it. If you'd been working alone, you wouldn't have made anything close to that amount. For that reason, you have to return to the firm enough to ensure that it can continue to provide you the economic opportunities that will allow you to make a good living."

Can't we say the same about taxes? If Bill Gates had been born in Somalia, do you think he'd be a billionaire today? Of course not. He was lucky to be born in a country that had the infrastructure, training opportunities, capital and deal flow to allow him to make billions of dollars in personal wealth. Gates, for one, believes he's under-taxed and he has a good point. We all owe something to our country to ensure that it continues to be a place where our children will have the same, or better, infrastructure, educational system and economic opportunities to live peaceably and productively. Billionaires don't make billions on their own. They create their wealth, because of a remarkable system based upon pooled resources and the cooperation of its citizens. 

In many ways, we as a country are neglecting the resources that elevated this country to its preeminent position in the world today.  In particular, the cuts in education spending seem to me to be shortsighted at best.  From a purely economic standpoint, it isn't justifiable.  For example, do we understand the cost of a poor education?  McKinsey recently studied the issue and determined that the cost of the educational divide between blacks and whites alone amounted to nearly half a trillion dollars a year.  But let's put faces to the  problem and ask ourselves what the costs of a bad education are in terms of more people incarcerated, more unwanted pregnancies, more welfare and healthcare spending, not to mention lost economic production.

For economic reasons alone, I cannot understand the Tea Party's support of budget cuts that weaken our country's infrastructure.  It's bad for our future.  Instead, why can't we reduce our military budget that drains resources from the private sector and encourages us to do boneheaded things like invade Iraq?  But more than this, what's happening to funding for our children is unconscionable and should be contrary to a truly Christian agenda.

After all, Jesus said, "Let the children come unto me."

March 22, 2011

Wealth Concentration in America

A recent Mother Jones article and research performed by Forbes and others points to a disturbing fact about wealth distribution in America. 

Michael Moore, whose contribution to the issue was substantiated by, claims that the top 400 wealthiest Americans have more combined wealth than the bottom half of all Americans (about 155 million people).  I've been aware of the information for some time and it's actually something that worries me a lot, especially because it will have impact on my children. As someone who once ran a hedge fund and probably could be a billionaire today except that I couldn't look at myself in a mirror anymore, I do not believe the disparity between the rich and poor in this country to be sustainable. The idea that a rising tide floats all boats is unadulterated BS, but that's only a small part of what I find disconcerting. The fact is no society has ever survived the kind of income disparity that exists in this country. Violent revolution is invariably the end result.

Looking at this issue through the lens of what recently happened in Wisconsin is also startling.  While a governor there did much in his power to dismantle average Americans from exercising their abilities to bargain collectively, it was demonstrated that an extraordinarily wealthy family who had contributed to the governor's campaign (the Koch family) had unusual access to the policymaker. 

And who is supporting this socio-political construct in which the poor get poorer and the rich get richer?  It's conservatives, who derive much of their sustaining influence from fundamental Christian Tea Party loyalists.  They do this by demanding reductions in taxes without corresponding reductions in military spending.  I find this another example of how Christian Fundamentalism completely misses the mark of what Jesus had intended for His followers.  Subsequent to Christ's crucifixion, many of the early members of His church lived communally with their wealth held in common.  They were the few who wouldn't abadon cities when plagues struck.  They took in abandoned children and shared what they had with the indigent.  This was common practice, based upon Christ's earthly directives to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, until a kind of power-hungry orthodoxy took over and redefined the gospel. 

I'm sure Jesus would be ashamed if He saw what is being advocated in His name today. 

March 21, 2011

A Couple of Poems

Here are a couple of poems I recently wrote that depict what I believe to be completely justifiable ways to relate to whatever we call God.  Acknowledging that faith is not a perfect knowledge and admitting that we are riddled with doubt is a good first step.  Rejecting the view that God is jealous and vengeful is a good second.  To do so would help render us more honest and forgiving.

Only Human

By my electric
Involuntary word,
Unseen legions rally
To battle the clandestine intruders
And renegade factions
That would destroy this vessel.

Making possible a storybook universe,
Embedded in dreams
And impenetrable longing,
Peopled by the captured and constructed,
Who cry for attention,
Then whisper in equal measure:
Truth and lies.

They have sentience
And also free will,
Capable of posing
That most disconcerting of questions:
Why should you be any different?
Maybe God, too, is an impulse
In the synapse of a greater consciousness.

Brushing Up to Godliness

I commanded, “No,”
But still he leaped,
Then whirled in midair,
Blinded and sneezing,
Frothing from the mouth.

The skunk wandered off,
Just another day
For a being possessed with power
Worthy of a comic book character.

It was a bad morning to be without a leash.
Hand to collar,
We staggered to the nearest pond,
Barely able to breathe,
Rubbing the stink and the sting
From our tear-filled eyes.

Oh, I dunked him—
Be assured that I dunked him good—
Muttering all along,
“You damn dog.”

On the way home—
He in back,
Muzzle on paws,
Sad eyes only now opening
To the possibility of new
And disquieting hazards—
I lowered the window
And laughed into the passing breeze.

So what if the Jeep will never be the same?
Will I condemn the penitent
For his most endearing
Instincts and preoccupations:
Childlike enthusiasm
And boundless curiosity?

Perfection is unwarranted.
Give me quirkiness instead,
And other sweet foibles,
In all their glorious variety.
If so blessed,
Laughter will accompany me
Everywhere I go.

March 20, 2011

Why Lyra (my granddaughter) is the Star I Orbit

  1. She does something new every day
  2. Her favorite word is her own invention (A-dee-a!) which can mean anything from "Look over there," to "Hey, that was cool"
  3. Beatles songs make her dance and sing
  4. She drops food on the floor and laughs as the dogs scramble to eat it
  5. She knows all the gestures to patty cake
  6. She thinks "This little piggy" is hilarious
  7. She climbs onto the dogs when they're napping and gives them hugs
  8. She loves blackberries straight off the cane
  9. Sleep is the only thing that can slow her down
  10. When I sing the final line to the lullably, "You're the best little one, ever could be," she joins along, singing, "Beeeeeee" in something resembling harmony

Northern Hunk

I wrote this story a while back when thinking of how some people claim to be looking for love when they're really seeking something else entirely.  I hope you enjoy it. 
The folks at Northern Hunk magazine sent Benny Tookalook to Chicago for five days and nights. They checked him into a Motel 6—classy, he thought, for its miniature bottle of shampoo and its toilet sanitized for his protection. Every minute of his stay was scheduled, and since it was his second trip to the Midwest, Benny played the part of a seasoned hand. He was spontaneous during the modeling sessions, relaxed as the TV talk shows were taped.

And why not? The camera loved his wavy shoulder-length hair, his olive skin, and dark feral eyes. Producers for the Talk with Tina Show suggested he emerge on stage with his felt shirt unbuttoned and the waistband on his boxers showing. When he did so, women in the audience greeted him with whistles and catcalls.

“Do you get this response everywhere?”

Tina Carmichael had asked the question while the applause sign flashed: Ooh…Let’s give him a hand…Ah. She stood among the audience—leggy and beak nosed, dressed in a pink miniskirt. If not for the microphone in her hand, she might have passed for a flamingo.

Benny only shrugged and lowered his gaze. He knew it was best not to speak too much. His reserve would be judged as boyish modesty, a trait that drove women crazy—at least that’s what Roscoe, his best friend and employer often told him. Besides, what could he say? Back home in Flat Busted, Alaska, no one paid him a second look, but he didn’t want the whole world to know that.

“Now, Benny,” Tina said. “You’re Northern Hunk magazine’s Hunk of the Year for the second time in a row. When will you give up your title?”

Benny knew the answer to that question. Roscoe had supplied him with a list of likely queries and the answers hot babes would love to hear. “I’ll hang it up once I find the girl of my dreams.”

More catcalls and whistles followed, and Benny thought: Damn, that Roscoe never fails me.

“Sounds like a few ladies in the audience would apply for the job. Have you met anyone nice in Chicago?”

“I haven’t left Illinois, yet.”

An uneasy silence filled the studio until Tina replied gently, “Chicago is in Illinois,” which led to an equally nervous twitter.

Benny looked down at the floor again, then he raised his face and grinned. It was a response he’d practiced over the years, one that suggested he’d only been joking. “Just pulling your chain, Tina.”

Another round of cheers and applause erupted and Benny chuckled in a way that belied the thought roaming about in his head: Do I look like a damn roadmap, Lady?


That evening a radio interview didn’t pan out and Benny received some well-earned time off. Eager to sample Chicago’s fine cuisine and entertainment, he bought a hotdog from a street vendor—swallowed it in five easy bites—and waved down a passing cab.

“Take me to the nearest strip joint,” he said.

Within minutes Benny was standing in a promising sprawl of neon signs and ramshackle buildings, a place where he could compare g-strings and pole dances until the cows came home, but he didn’t have that kind of time. He spun on his heels with eyes covered and a finger pointed straight ahead, letting chance select his destination. His eyes opened to a turn-of-the-century theater that was lit up like a Christmas tree, the letters N-U-D-E doing the can-can across its marquee. Tasteful, Benny thought, as he entered through its double doors.

A young woman in a halter top and hotpants met him just inside and before he could say, “Wet my whistle,” she was leading him to a table up front and taking his drink order.

“Say,” she said. “Didn’t I see you on TV?”

“Maybe,” Benny replied. “I am a celebrity.”

The girl’s name, he learned, was Sally. She had puppy dog brown eyes and a boundless curiosity. Each trip to his table, she quizzed him without pause: What’s Tina Carmichael like? Have you ever met Tom Cruise? If the camera really adds ten pounds, how do you keep from getting fat? Before the evening was over she was asking for his autograph.

“Sure,” Benny said, “if you drive me home when your shift is over.”

From then the night lost its focus, like a drive through dense fog. Benny got the gist of direction, but lost track of all but the biggest bumps and turns. In short the girl accompanied him to his room, where they engaged in a combination medical exam and game of Twister. Then morning came and Benny woke. He called out to Sally, but she was gone. The only reminder of their time together was the double twist in his sheets.

Damn, Benny thought, she forgot my autograph.


A day after Benny’s return home, he and Roscoe began to prioritize the letters and e-mails already pouring in. Ladies from all over the country seemed hell-bent to offer themselves as playthings and brides. The correspondence included photos: a pictorial smorgasbord of blondes, brunettes, and redheads (not to mention augmented breasts, thongs, and come-on leers).

“Holy Smoke,” Roscoe said, as he studied a particularly explicit Polaroid from one angle, then another. “I knew there was a reason I kept you employed.”

Roscoe was a giant of a man with a laugh like a bullhorn and a single black eyebrow that stretched across his forehead like a caterpillar. He owned the hardware store where Northern Hunk’s two-time Hunk of the Year kept the bins filled with fuses, couplers, and ten-penny nails. They sat in Benny’s kitchen, at a fold-up card table that was covered with dirty plates and empty beer cans.

“Thanks for your help,” Benny said. “But why are you so interested, anyway?”

“Are you kidding? I’m a married man. I got kids.”

Benny sought a connection between his question and his friend’s answer. “And you want the same for me? Marriage and kids?”

“Hell no. You don’t need that.”

“I don’t?” Suddenly Benny was confused. Hadn’t he told Tina Carmichael—motivated, in part, by Roscoe’s advice—that he wanted a true love, a partnership to last until the end of time?

“Variety’s the spice of life," Roscoe said, "and the truth is: I wouldn’t mind planting a camera in your bedroom. If it’s okay with you, of course.”


Benny nixed his friend’s camera idea and resolved to check the light fixture above his bed from time to time. Then to insure Roscoe’s continued support, he promised to kiss and tell—to hold nothing back about his love life. It was a wonder to him how a respected man with a pretty wife and tons of life experience could gain so much pleasure in tales of seduction. Yet in exchange for full disclosure, his boss agreed to edit the correspondence they would send to women who showed special promise.

“Now look here,” Roscoe said, waving a sheet of paper. “You can’t just jump in and ask: ‘Do you want to do the fandango?’ That isn’t good form—especially when you put it in the first sentence.” He was reading the original draft of a letter Benny had written to a college gymnast named Danielle. She’d sent a picture of herself taken during a balance beam performance. Both Benny and Roscoe agreed she looked plenty limber.

“Then what should I say?” Benny asked.

“You got to be sly and sneak up on her. You got to work up to questions like that.”

In the end they put their heads together and wrote what seemed to them a true masterpiece. It read:

Dear Danielle,
I like your picture. You sure are flexible. How did you ever learn to bend over like that? It would hurt my nut sack to even try.

Speaking of nut sacks, do you like to fandango? I do. Let me know.

Benny Tookalook


Danielle never wrote again, but Marla, a motorcycle cop from Las Vegas did—a couple of times. She offered to bring her collection of handcuffs and leather undergarments. The notion made Benny dizzy with desire and put a dream in his head of being strip-searched by a sandy-blond Amazon. A week later, while he and his boss were watching from inside Flat Busted’s air terminal, Marla stepped out of his dreams and onto the tarmac.

“Holy sweet knockers,” Roscoe said.

Benny was already smitten by the long legs and lanky torso waltzing across the pavement to the terminal. He liked what was riding in her sweater, too, but he didn’t need his friend’s admiration focused in the same direction. “Don’t be ignorant,” he said. “I just might marry the girl.”

Roscoe turned to him and rolled his eyes. “I got things to do,” he said and added before leaving, “You owe me stories. Don’t be early for work tomorrow.”

Marla entered the waiting area with a look that suggested she was smitten, too, a sentiment she affirmed by raising her top in greeting. Benny—as well as two bearded oil workers, a lady at the car rental counter, and three huskies in their travel crates—were granted a view to a smiley face drawn on each breast. During the ride home Marla babbled at the speed of light. The mountains reminded her of lovers holding hands. The trees looked like lovers kissing. The ocean was a restless bed of lovers. She saw the world in ways that were unique and unsettling to Benny. Damn, he thought, this here is a sophisticated woman.

Only fifteen minutes through the door of his fifth-wheel trailer, the level of sophistication reached new heights. Marla flashed her patrol badge and read Benny his rights, giving him a wedgie to emphasize each point.

“You have the right to play doctor,” she said, while putting another twist in his shorts.

“Ooowee,” Benny replied and he assumed the position with legs spread wide and palms against the wall.

True to her word Marla broke out her collection of handcuffs, yet nothing was as stimulating as the billy club she brandished like a foil. The seduction progressed and gained urgency, but Benny had become too aroused to progress very far.

“I’m sorry,” he said, after a moment of awkward silence.

“Don’t be. It was the best twelve seconds of my life.”


The next morning Benny arrived five minutes early for work and waited at the front counter. A half-hour later Roscoe strolled in and stopped at the cash register, frowning. “Didn’t I tell you to sleep in?” he said.

Benny didn’t know how to break the news. His friend had invested time and emotional support to the task of finding a love match and Roscoe wouldn’t take kindly to the prior evening’s events. In the end, Benny came clean in the same way he might rip off a bandage—quick, so as not to prolong the agony. “I broke it off. It wasn’t going to work between Marla and me.”

Roscoe shook his head sadly. “What happened? Wouldn’t she put out?”

“No problem there. It's something she said--the worst possible thing.”

“She wanted to get hitched?”

“No, not that. She said, ‘You’re really into missionary, aren’t you?’ And that’s when I knew we were over.”

Roscoe scratched his head and winced. “Why, for heck’s sake?”

Benny exhaled in a manner that sounded like a balloon deflating. For all his friend’s smarts, sometimes the man was just plain dense—sometimes he needed things spelled out to him. “Come on Roscoe,” he said. “You know me better than that. I won’t have anything to do with missionaries. Religion and me don’t mix.”


After Roscoe explained the nature of Benny’s error, Mr. Hunk-of-the-Year rushed to the airport and caught Marla before she boarded her plane to Anchorage. He asked the woman to stay—begged her even—but she was inconsolable. “I can’t see loving a can of worms,” she said. “And that’s just about how dumb you are.”

The words stung, but he’d already decided Marla was too cultured and clever for him anyway. How many women, after all, owned a collection of handcuffs, or could see trees as lovers? Putting that episode of his life behind him, Benny looked forward to the rest of summer and hoped for a deeper and truer love connection.

Now, this is what happened: Candice was too skinny, Jennifer too tanned. Heather didn’t like to fish. Beatrice was a teetotaler. Billy Jean had big feet and Nell complained about the length of Alaska’s summer days. One by one each girl who passed through his door turned out to be flawed in some vital way. Benny was bummed, but Roscoe took joy in the variety of new faces.

September came and so did cold weather. Benny drove Rachel, his most recent attempt at love, to the airport and thought of the long nights he would have to endure with no warm body to cuddle beside him. He was home before the six o’clock news and the sky was already black. His trailer was as quiet as a sigh. Suddenly he wished Marla was there to flash her badge and read him his rights, but in the midst of this despair he found hope in an e-mail message from someone new, a woman who appeared to be some kind of foreigner. It read:

Dear Benny:
I from Japanese. You know Japanese? I see you picture Northern Hunk magazine. I like you. Here my picture. I want go Alaska for to see a northern lights. Maybe I see each other.

Kumiko Takei

At first Benny wondered how to reply. He thought of calling Roscoe for help, until a sudden realization struck him broadside: Their joint efforts had earned him little more than an empty bed and a heart full of longing. What might have happened if he’d relied on instinct, rather than the opinion of others? Maybe he’d be with a woman right now, enjoying a romantic evening complete with bowls of popcorn, bottles of brew, and a carefully selected sporting event on television. Besides, Benny thought, he’d learned a thing or two by watching Roscoe edit letter after letter.

After a moment of consideration he wrote:

Dear Kumiko:
I like the northern lights, too. They are bright and colorful. They come out during winter. It is almost winter now. Winter is a good time to stay in bed out of the cold.

Speaking of staying in bed, do you like to fandango? I do. Let me know.

Benny Tookalook

Now that, Benny thought as he clicked the send button, was a masterpiece worthy of true love.

March 12, 2011

I Have a Novel Coming Out

Several months ago I was contacted by someone at a small literary press about the availability of a novel I had written and tried to get published five years back. At first I thought it was a pitch by a vanity press, but it turned out the person had seen my novel while working for another publisher. In short, the book will soon be in print. Here is the cover.

The book is about Alaskan bush pilot, Patch Taggart, who spots a woman stranded on open tundra, but he has no choice except to leave her to face winter's imminent arrival alone. Spring arrives and he returns to the area, only to discover a tent with a body inside it. Tormented by guilt and obsessed by the contents of a journal the woman had kept, Patch resolves to follow her path through the stark Alaskan wilderness in search of something she buried and left behind.

Meanwhile, Athabascan Indian, Jesse Toyonek, is lost in a fog after delivering gillnet to a fisherman. When his skiff washes onto a volcanic island, he comes face-to-face with the mummified remains of an ancient Aleut and believes the event marks a new calling for him. He leaves his village to live the way of his ancestors, but survival without a rifle and boat—products of the modern world he hopes to avoid—is impossible.

Together, Patch and Jesse begin a journey of self-discovery through a place shaped by thunderous herds of caribou and vast salmon runs.

The publication date is just around the corner. I'll give details on where to purchase it.