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Friday, March 18, 2005
For the "flash fiction" file: Finbar's Rebirth.
posted by Merle Harton Jr. |
11:55 PM |
On his 50th birthday, shy Finbar was visited by an angel who said that he could go through his life all over again, if he wanted to. He wouldn't be able to remember that he was going through life again, but he would have those occasional déjà vu episodes and probably enough to enable him to make alternative choices. When he reached his 50th birthday once again, the angel would return, he said, and Finbar would get this chance again. Finbar thought this over, prayed about it, and then decided that it was worth a try. So he kissed his childless wife good-bye, threw an enormous bundle of unpaid bills into the trash, slammed the front door of his unkempt, neglected home in rural Louisiana, kicked the bald tires on his fifteen-year-old pickup truck, and told the angel, "Let's do it."
So Finbar went through life again. He emerged from his mother's womb again. He toddled around the same living room as before. He went to the same elementary school as he had the first time through. When he got to junior high, though, he had one of those déjà vu episodes, as the angel said he would. He was on his way to the lunchroom when that strange feeling of familiarity came over him and it delayed him enough so that he entered the lunchroom 12 seconds later than he had the first time in his life. That was enough of a delay to keep him from bumping into Scott DeMario, thus making it unnecessary for Scott to punch Finbar in the nose, which would mark Scott as a hard case and lead to eventual criminal behavior and later a long prison term, and which so humiliated Finbar that he lost all confidence in himself and ended up as a button salesman with a childless wife, many unpaid bills, an unkempt, neglected home in rural Louisiana, and a fifteen-year-old pickup truck with bald tires. That 12-second delay meant that Scott would actually grow up to be a well-appreciated state senator. It also meant that Finbar would make it through junior high school without losing confidence in himself, thereby enabling him, at the age of 19, to write a first novel (about angels, of all things) which crawled its way to the top tier of the New York Times bestseller list. This opened up opportunities for more celebrated novels, some well-received fiction collections, a Pulitzer Prize, and a happy marriage to a former Miss Florida, who bore him 6 children. He was living happily in his 8-bedroom home on the southern coast of Maine. His bills were all paid, and he got around in any of four late-model imported automobiles. Life is good, he said as he reached his 50th birthday, the very same day confident Finbar was visited by the angel who said that he could go through his life all over again, if he wanted to.
The visit by the angel reawakened all of his memories, from the first time through life to the second and all of the choices he made, or didn't make, as the case may be. As before, said the angel, he wouldn't be able to remember that he was going through life once again, but he would have more of those occasional déjà vu episodes and probably enough to enable him to make alternative choices. Also, as before, when he reached his 50th birthday once again, the angel would return, he said, and Finbar would have this chance again. Finbar thought this over, prayed about it, and then decided that it was worth a try. So he kissed his beautiful wife good-bye, hugged each of his six children, took one last look at his checking account and investments, fondled his four late-model cars one final time, and told the angel, "Let's do it."
So Finbar again went through the same life. He emerged a third time from his mother's womb again, and toddled around the same living room as before. He went to the same elementary school as he had both the first and second times through. When he got to junior high, though, he had another one of those déjà vu episodes, as the angel said he might. This time he was on his way to the library when that strange feeling of familiarity came over him and it delayed him enough so that he entered the school library 12 seconds later than he had the first time in his life. This brief delay was enough to keep him from reading L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz, which would have inspired him toward the literary career that had given him such fame and fortune in his second try at life. At least he was not punched in the nose by Scott DeMario again. Instead, it would be six years before he would happen to read Bertrand Russell's collection of essays on Logic and Knowledge, which inspired Finbar to study mathematical logic and which would lead him to philosophy, empiricism, logical positivism, atheism, and then a simple form of humanism. Since being smart and good does not at all guarantee a successful life, let alone a happy one, this time Finbar reached his 50th birthday as a 9th-grade math teacher in the local public school; he had a plain wife, three children and a pit bull terrier, some unpaid bills, a small wood-frame home in rural Mississippi, and a 10-year-old pickup truck with a cracked windshield and noisy water pump.
On his 50th birthday, then, Finbar was visited by the angel who said that he could go through his life all over again, if he wanted to. Before the angel could utter another word, Finbar boldly announced that he did not believe in angelshe believed only in what could be verified through empiricism aided by mathematical logic. "Life is what it is," he said. He thanked the angel for the visit and then left him, like a Watchtower witness, on the front porch. The angel left, taking with him the reawakening of Finbar's memories, from the first time through life to the second and third, and all of the choices he made, or didn't make, as the case may be.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
In Matthew 18:15-17, in this prelude to his parable of the unmerciful servant, about the limits of forgiveness, Jesus puts us on track for what we are supposed to do when someone sins against us: First show them what happened and why it was wrong; if that doesn't work, enlist the aid of two or three other brothers or sisters. If that isn't successful, then church discipline is appropriate. If that also turns out to be unsuccessful, Jesus says, we are supposed to treat them "as you would a pagan or a tax collector." What's outstanding here is that we are thus supposed to treat the man or woman as we would any other unsaved personnot with contempt, not without forgiveness, but with the Gospel. With Christ, things keep starting fresh.
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1. Admittedly Matthew 18:17 is one of only two places in the Gospels where the word "church" is used and may be foundational for the idea of excommunication. By the same token, it suggests that we ought to pick up and start over with this person.
posted by Merle Harton Jr. |
12:30 PM |
2. Still we shouldn't forget what happens when the Gospel message is resolutely refusedJesus says to "shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them." See also Matt 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5, 10:11; Acts 22:23, 13:51.