Proper Fellowship

How is proper fellowship found in the body of Christ? We come together as men and women of the faith, in person and afar, with words of affirmation and songs of praise, in common appearance and motion with the tides of the Spirit. And yet, much as white plaster can conceal the rot just behind it, signs and appearances are insufficient in obtaining certainty of the steading of every man and woman with respect to the other in the Church. While I admit readily it is beyond the finite knowledge of man to know another’s heart fully, and thus all may be well while a Christian is needlessly doubtful of the sincerity of his brother’s intentions, it would be equally foolish to remain in the bliss of ignorance while the Church is wracked with fraying bonds and a quenched Spirit. It is to this ignorance that I speak today.

What creates a community? This is a simple question with a ready answer: that which brings people together. Community is a collection of persons bound together in common purpose. It is often begun and lead by a smaller group within the community, such as a pastor or a coach or a director. Communion is neither good nor bad; it is the natural state of man to congregate with others, and when he has the choice, to congregate with those of like mind. By this rule, a dappled sea of school colors can often be seen to shift before a football stadium in the Autumn, its wearers shouting the songs of their Alma Mater as they ready themselves to cheer on their team. Likewise, the eternal company of fellow musicians find kindred bonds over shared experiences of countless performances in a hundred lilting halls. It is unnatural for man to isolate himself from community, and when this is his choice, he suffers the aimlessness and despair that are its bedfellows.

The opposite of community is division: the separation of a common people, dictated by a source which impels them to the separation. The source might be as simple as disagreement on which days to hold holy, or which food to be considered sacred, which, if it split the body of Christ, its proponents ought to be ashamed. For, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). “Dissensions and factions” are considered anathema in the letters to the early church, contrary to the “[life] by the Spirit,” and are rather evidence of the “sinful nature” (Gal. 5:16,19-21). It is at best misleading to say there can be divisions which are good – not between carnality and righteousness, which is holiness – for the act of exclusion that is the work of human pride is itself the evidence of sin at work in me. And this is not to say that a body of righteous believers who appear “divisive” in the times in which they live are in fact divisive, only that they live in the unity of the Spirit; no, it is the world which has brought the division, an act whose source again is pride, and thus is an act of the sinful nature.

This is the definition of community, delineated from its opposite. What, then, makes a Christian community? Or, what creates a community of fellow believers? The first and most obvious candidate is location. That the body of Christ meets in one shared location means that the possibility for community exists, since we may actively seek out relationships with others. If there was no location for meeting, then we would not know who shares this faith with us, and we could not have community. But a shared location is not unique to the church, for many communities exist which are not Christian and yet meet in the same place, such as in concert halls and political rallies. And other locations exist where many come and yet there is no fellowship at all. I myself do not expect to begin a bible study when I enter a restaurant.

St. Peter’s Basilica

The destination at the end of this road, if followed to its conclusion, is the magnification of the meeting house of God instead of God Himself. For even as Solomon built the temple paneled with fine cedar, “carved with gourds and open flowers,” and the inner sanctuary overlaid with pure gold, and many more carvings of gold and olive wood and pine, the condition upon which God would live with the people of Israel was not the finery of the temple, but to “follow [His] decrees, carry out [His] regulations and keep all [His] commandments” (1 Kings 6). Yet this fact was blatantly ignored by 120 years of papal authority in the 15th century. And if their worship of the cathedral of Man over God Himself were not enough, they funded this meeting place of God’s people with the tithe of their guilt – indulgences – as if salvation could be purchased by the work of one’s own hand! But St. Peter’s Basilica has already been built, long before like as me were born to criticize it, and even with such reservations I recognize its glory. No, not the glory of the men who built and adorned it, but the God who gave them such authority, and who brought its elements into existence, and made us capable of recognizing beauty when they are arranged in certain forms.

Louie Giglio with Vince Vitale and Ravi Zacharias

The next candidate is oft represented by a single man in the congregation: the pastor. His duties are to the spiritual needs of the flock given him by God and the institutional Church more broadly, separated as it is across space and time. Is not this man capable of bringing us together under the banner of Christ? If this be the thought of the man whom God has chosen to lead the church, led him be warned of the great danger by which pride works the downfall of the sons of God. No clearer is this lesson taught than in the days of the great King David, a man after God’s own heart, who slept with the wife of Uriah and killed her husband to conceal the fact (2 Sam. 11-12). And this lesson is taught again and anew, year by year, as godly men forget the power of sin at work within, fail to grow in fellowship with their brothers in the faith, and leave a holy legacy on earth tarnished by moral failings. Such was the sadness of news recently brought us, that a man who spoke the truth in love so consistently could fall so greatly from the path of Life. But God knew Ravi’s heart, and so only He can preside over him as the perfect Judge.

The last candidate, and the loudest, is music. Surely music can bind us together? Who today has not been washed with the worship of the modern age? How many inspired lyricists have pricked our hearts with words that melted our hardened exteriors and reduced us to tears, or played chords so beautiful we collapsed in silent praise to the One who alone can receive it? It can be a wonderful thing, to live in the twenty-first century. How, then, can a ministry so divine not be the anchor of our community? But may I remind you, brothers and sisters, that Hillsong may have brought as many to tears as Demi Lovato. And certainly there are as many fans of the latter that would swear as deep a bond of kinship with fellow fans as do those of the former.

Portland Rioters burning the American Flag

This is perhaps a contentious issue in the church today, and so is quietly mentioned and quickly forgotten, but doubtless too many Christians come together with the expectation that music alone will summon up the feeling of community which has long since been lost to them. Indeed, to rely on music alone for any deep relational or theological revelation is almost certainly to quench the Spirit. And to trust the fellowship of believers to those graced with the musical gift is as grievous an error as the previous, except it is rare to find a musician who can also defend the historicity of the resurrection, and emotion is often a more dangerous currency of investment. A community built solely on the chords of feeling with certainly come to a swift end, if it doesn’t first annihilate its surrounding social structure in the process. No more clearly have we learned this lesson than by the legions of rioters plaguing the streets of this America and bent on its destruction.

Marty Sampson, Hillsong Worship Leader

How easy to allow the heart to soar to great heights when fog-machines surround us with a façade of the spirit, and rays of light shoot up from a stage as though we were in the presence of the cherubim, and the subtle effects of deep fade and reverb are added to the vocalist as his voice rebounds in heavenly verse throughout the sanctuary! Do I believe it is good for the vocalist to sing well? Yes! Glory to God. Do I believe it is good for the sound technician to know how to set a mix, and connect speakers for the voice of another to be heard? Yes! Glory to God. And much more can be said on this subject. But do I believe it is good for the musician to draw the gaze of the Body of Christ from her Bridegroom – Christ Himself – to the passing glory of man? No! The consequences of forgetting to “Turn your eyes upon Jesus” are too grim to contemplate, yet contemplate them we must, or Sunday by Sunday we will yield to man a little more attention as we think he deserves it, and to Jesus a little less, until one day we awake to the realization that we are genuinely losing our faith, and it doesn’t bother us in the slightest. This is the road to Hell, a trail of crumbs that satisfy our momentary cravings of spirituality, or loneliness, or guilt, leading into the waiting arms of Death itself.

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…”

-C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

This is not to downplay the importance of praising our God! We ought to praise God constantly, “in songs and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19), for our God by very definition of His nature deserves glory. For this reason I affirm my belief that we ought to give our all in praising him. But it is this definition that reveals to us the error of our ways, if we substitute the “glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man” (Rom. 1:23), whether it is the image of a soaring cathedral, or an eloquent speaker, or an angelic muse.

The result of our swim in these difficult waters is the discovery that Christian community cannot ultimately be bound together by these earthly gifts. Such things, glorious as they are, were made by man, and are therefore not the source of his ultimate purpose. Where, then can Christian community be found? If not in location, or in a pastor, or in music, what hope do we have left? But thanks be to God, for there is one place, and one place alone, in which all three of these elements of the community converge, and yet which is not itself any of these elements. Where can all true followers of Christ be found? At the foot of the Cross. Who would lead us, and where might a disciple hear His words? Christ at Calvary. What song can be sung by all in solidarity of faith? The music of the good confession, by which all hear our faith, and God is glorified.

The Cross is the ultimate expression of the Christian community. As it is one place, it is the location at which all true followers of Jesus will discover one another. If we go to the Cross and do not meet who we expect to meet – and by this token, communion with that brother is lost – do not be worried! This simply means that he has not yet decided to come simply before the Cross of Christ. Though the heart may ache, these things must be if God is to remove “what can be shaken… so that the unshakeable may remain” (Heb. 12:27); that is, the true Church refined by the fires of tribulation.

The Cross is the ultimate example for the Christian disciple. His death – and subsequently His resurrection – was both his word of salvation preached, and his example demonstrated, so that anyone who would follow him must do the same. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'” (Matt. 16:24). We are not disciples of a mortal man, but of the Incarnate Word made flesh (John 1:14); not of a speaker of great renown, but of “one from whom men hide their faces” (Isa. 53:3); not of a learned man or a teacher of the law with a train of accolades, but One who accused such men of being “hypocrites” and “white-washed tombs” (Matt. 23:27). Who better to lead this fellowship of “sheep gone astray” (Isa. 53:6) than the very Anointed One who died for them? Who better to bind together the disciples than the One whose words brought them together in the first place? Jesus Christ lived in the world, and yet was without sin; therefore, he can never disappoint the trusting heart. We cannot say the same of any man.

Finally, the Cross is the ultimate reminder of our present salvation and future destination. In the first place, it reminds us of the sacrifice already made. In the second, of the fact that it is empty. And in being empty, it reminds us that He did not remain dead, but rose again. But how can it be empty, and still remain standing? Surely it would have been torn down long ago? By the Romans, yes, for they were a thorough empire. And yet it stands in history and in the minds of His followers. Why? Because He is not yet done with His work on earth, and until That Day, we who come to the foot of the Cross will learn to pick it up and follow Him. But herein lies the great cost of our day! For who would walk through the crowd of mockers to kneel before the Lord, naked and pierced at a public crossroads? How many of us would deny Him before being put through public humiliation, and that far less than even His own? Or who would risk the political consequences of revealing loyalty to Jesus by walking before the Roman Empire and declaring not Caesar, but Jesus, as Lord? This is the present cost of the good confession: alienation from our fellow man. And while alienation is often the consequence of holding to the creed of the Apostles – which again is no division at all, but holiness – we must hold to it unswervingly, because it is by a common creed that the bonds of brotherhood are sealed. To walk among others as strangers seems to us the greatest misery, but without this great risk we cannot hope to discover true Christian community.

Have and Not Have

I will tell you a story. A man named Mal worked in his field, and his crops were few and poor, and he spent his time shouting at the sky for lack of rain. A man named Owhn across the path of Mal also worked his field, and his crops were many and strong, yet he had the same rain as Mal. Then Mal went to Ohwn and said, “give me some of your crops, that I may not go hungry.” And Ohwn said, “Why should I give you my crops? You have worked the same amount of land as I, and had the same rain. Should you not also have the same crops?” And Mal replied, “I have understood the ways of Nature, and know that She is unequal in her share of rain. Thus she sends more to you, and less to me, and our crops are unequal.” But Owhn said, “We are so close, so how can this be? Are clouds so small or selective that brothers on the same path will diverge so greatly in their outcome?” And Mal said, “And yet even so our yield is not equal. Therefore give me some of your crops that we may be the same.” But Owhn was defensive, and would not give his crops, so Mal said, “Why would you deny your brother his share of what Nature has kept from him? Would not our outcomes be the same, were it not for the injustice wrought by Nature and her devices? Will you continue that injustice by retaining what is rightfully mine?” But Owhn would not yield, for he was not convinced that there was injustice in Nature, which does not distinguish between persons, but merely is. And so in the night, Mal came and burned Owhn’s grain stores, and when Owhn saw the flames he ran out, shouting, “Mal, Mal, why have you done this thing? Am I not a brother to you, that you would destroy what I have rightfully reaped?” And Mal said, “Because you have, and I do not have, I have burned it to the ground, that we may be equal.”

Affirmation of Truth

S: Bounded set theologians believe that there are people who will be saved, and people who won’t, and they categorize people in terms of this “truth” that they define in order to tell the good people from the bad people. Centered set theologians believe that it is more of a three-dimensional sphere in which all people are being drawn towards the center; namely, Jesus Christ.

Usylvus: But there is a distinction between what is true, and what is not, correct?

S: Yes, but that is between what has personally been revealed to me and the One who revealed it. It’s not my job to judge the fruits of someone else’s belief.

Usylvus: But this still presumes there is truth.

S: The truth I know is what I believe based on my circumstances, my past, my environment, and so forth. My truth is not the same as your truth.

Usylvus: But that would imply that all truth is subjective.

S: All truth is subjective.

Usylvus: Is that true?

S: What you just did was paint me into a corner, and then demand I respond to your question on your own terms.

Usylvus: But that response only evades the question. Is it true that all truth is subjective or not?

S: Everyone filters the world through their particular lens. The idea that “truth exists” is based on your Western Judeo-Christian background, and most of the rest of the world does not see things in that light. Many Eastern philosophies, for example, are exercises in holding one belief in one hand and a completely contradictory view in the other, and deciding never to resolve the paradox. It’s only the inability of the Western mind to hold paradoxes in tension, and their subsequent desire – which stems from a Fundamentalist worldview – that all things be made known, that makes them decide one view is “right” and another is “wrong.” But you cannot have faith without first having doubt, just as you can’t truly know what light is without first being in the dark.

Usylvus: So if a Fundamentalist were to say, “objective truth exists,” would that make their statement wrong?

S: No, but you’re missing the point that your truth is coming from a filtered reality.

Usylvus: I agree we see the world through a filtered reality. That is why we have to be vigilant in determining what is true as opposed to merely what we’ve come to accept as truth.

S: I say there’s no difference.

Usylvus: Again I must ask: Is that true? Isn’t that statement itself an absolute? And if it isn’t, then it’s false, or else everything is reduced to absurdity. Can I look at my face in the mirror and say, “I exist”? No, absurdity! Can I say child rape is wrong? No, absurdity! Is two plus two equal to four? No, absurdity!

S: It’s common for people from your position to jump automatically to the extremes in every question, such as “Is rape wrong?” or “Is murder wrong?”

Usylvus: That’s often because these questions are rarely answered.

S: What about God, then, the great moral Lawgiver? Didn’t He command the Jews to murder the Canaanites? Wasn’t that wrong? But then isn’t he breaking his own law?

Usylvus: But that would imply it’s wrong to break your own law. Why not believe it’s morally good to make a law for everyone else and then not follow it yourself?

S: I’m not saying it’s good or bad, I’m just saying you can’t know.

Usylvus: But that’s precisely the point. If you can’t know, you have established an absolute – namely, that you can’t know – which refutes your own argument. The reason for the extreme examples is to demonstrate that there are in fact some things in this world which are objectively true. Evading them does not answer them. If we can agree, for example, that two and two make four, then it follows there is at least one objective truth in the world. And if one, then maybe more. Thus, it may be objectively wrong to break your own law, and thus a perfectly good (or, at least the Christian) God cannot exist. Or, there may be other pieces of that story that mean His existence is not actually refuted. In any case, if two and two do not make four, but five, then you do not accept that (1) truth exists and (2) it can be attained. In affirming truth’s subjectivity, you have agreed to the absurdity of all things, and therefore we can no longer even have an argument, for an argument presumes there is something being spoken about. But clearly that cannot be true, or even false.

Usylvus: The real trouble lies in your inner agreement to hold up two mutually exclusive views, and never question if perhaps one hand refutes the other. This is contradiction, and one cannot be speaking the truth in doing so. But, nevertheless, it is done, and even has a name: “doublethink.”

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself – that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed.”

-Orwell, 1984

Usylvus: To ascribe to this viewpoint, finally, means the end of civilization. To believe that moral truth is “decided upon” by a society or group of people who live together is to give up the whole game, for in this case the loudest, the most popular, the “intellectuals,” the cultural betters and moral superiors to whom the vast majority of this society’s populace will naturally look, will be the deciders of what is right and wrong; what is truth. And if man’s heart is so desperately wicked, as history has shown it to be; if his nature is barbarity, as Thucydides recognized; and if truth lies ultimately in their hands, then does the French Revolution murder the innocent; then do the Maoists purge Red Jiang; then do the Aryans confessors of the German church turn the truth of Christ into a lie.

These, then, are the steps of the argument:

  1. Truth is subjective.
  2. If truth is subjective, then truth is determined by the individual.
  3. But the individual cannot be divorced from the society in which he lives. Therefore, his truth will be affected by the collective society.
  4. Furthermore, individuals are more likely to agree to what is popular, and less likely to agree to what is unpopular, especially if truth is relative.
  5. Since what is popular is often determined by the leaders (cultural, political, moral, spiritual), the leaders in that society will have the most influence on what is and is not true.
  6. If the leaders of that society have sufficient influence, the truth they decide will be the truth generally accepted by that society.
  7. Man’s heart naturally tends toward abuse of his neighbor, especially for his own gain.
  8. Thus, the leaders of such a society will naturally tend toward evil, and the society as a whole will tend toward totalitarianism.

Corollary: In order to maintain the possibility of a society not marked by evil and injustice, (1) the objectivity of truth must be affirmed, and (2) sufficient influence (absolute power, control of the flow of information, etc.) must be restricted from being attained by any one discernible source, where a discernible source is any individual or group which can influence others by means up to and including coercion.

In order to accomplish Corollary (2), such methods are employed in economies and governments which assume the inherent selfishness of man from Argument (7) such as free-market economies (which decentralize means of production and incentivize creativity) and separation of powers and elections (which increase the probability that no one Party holds all political power), respectively.

In order to accomplish Corollary (1), one must simply affirm it. In the old language, this is referred to as “the leap of faith.” And besides, whether one chooses to affirm or deny it, or forget the question altogether and run to the arms of a hedonistic oblivion, one cannot escape Truth. As certainly as two and two make four, Truth must exist, in some way, in some degree. If it does not, then the words in this discussion are meaningless. Everything is absurdity. If the Party controls the Truth, then does it any longer exist? That is the great struggle. Who knows which side shall prevail while time yet constrains us.

But I choose to have faith that Truth exists.

“You would not make the act of submission which is the price of sanity. You preferred to be a lunatic, a minority of one. Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.

-Orwell, 1984

The Fundamental Commonality, Part II

The first part of this discussion clarified what is the most fundamental attribute of all mankind, which binds us irrevocably together: our inability to live up to the Image that we perceive. In this there is no division, but unity in our irredeemable state, if unity there is within our natural proclivities toward division.

The second consideration following the first part is in fact not a unity intrinsic to mankind, but an elected unity. As certainly as we find ourselves helpless to meet standards set either from without or within, it is definite that this second bond is not one basic to our being, but contingent upon our will. The decision of humility before the Cross is neither a natural position of the human frame, nor a pledge idly taken. Yet the human person craves fellowship within the bonds of a common creed as surely as death is preferable to loneliness. Thus, as water flows away from the higher ground to water the lowlands, so men will follow the natural paths away from the hill at Calvary to those communities more appealing to their inflated sensibilities. It is for this reason that we encounter factions, groups of shared identity, opposing communities, and lines of division too numerous to comprehend. Man will wander the restless paths of Cain across the face of the Earth (Gen. 4:14) and walk in desert wildernesses for forty years (Numbers 32:13) before coming simply to the foot of the Cross. He will build his cities, form his troops, proclaim his oaths before witnesses, and wage wars to build mighty kingdoms marked by boundary stones in his own image before ever proclaim as Peter did, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). Thus was Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, made low in the time of Daniel:

As the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals… Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men.”

-Daniel 4:28-32

If we desire a unity not merely of nature, but of purpose, in which not division but communion is the daily practice, then we must become One in Christ.

How, then, are they characterized who are One in Christ? Is there an outward sign, like the mark of Cain, that all who strike him dead should be avenged (Gen. 4:15)? Is it by a constructed “holy atmosphere” through music and high words by which members feel or feign religiosity? Can we deduce it by the number of races represented in the institutional church? To contend that Christ’s Body can be detected by outward appearance in the third part, or projection of emotion in the second part, or rejection of structural forms of obedience in the first, is to display the same weakness as Samuel before the sons of Jesse. No, it is not by these means that the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) is made and maintained. Even the strongest contender in post-modern ideology – race – has little hope of binding together a mosaic of peoples from every “tongue and tribe and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). For even as they are being gathered in one place, they are fragmenting in accordance with the blood of those with whom they share.

No, there is a stronger bond than blood, and that is creed. Those who are one in Christ hold this as true above all else, spoken by the early apostles and repeated by those who regard Christ, and not his own efforts, as final:

I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

-The Apostle’s Creed

This, then, is the mark of those who are one in Christ: those who hold fast to this confession, unwavering and in conviction of spirit and word and work, until the end. The unity here spoken is again one of decision, made by the individual, but it is not merely a “voluntary act of uniting by the members of Christ’s body” (Oden, Classic Christianity, p. 720), for that would be to reduce it again to the lowly state of human community. Rather, it is one which, after affirming this creed in all her members, is set apart by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of service to God. Indeed, the unity of the church itself serves a powerful purpose in our world of factions and division:

By her unity the church gives expression in time to the oneness of Christ’s body so as to unite in hope all humanity to God’s reconciling activity.

-Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity, p. 720

If we hold to this shared belief, are we unified? If we are not unified, then what divides us? By what means might we divine the barriers separating brethren one from another, and so unify once more under the banner of Christ, as the church ought, spread out in time and space in the armor of God, wielding faith in one hand and the Word in the other? If we are one in Christ, and we are also divided, then we are not one in Christ. We would do well to ask ourselves – and not our brethren, who in our weakness we are apt to condemn – how often do we affirm the common creed? How often do we dwell on the words, “I believe in God”? “In Jesus Christ… our Lord”? “…in the Holy Spirit”?

The Apostle’s Creed contains the most primal elements of the Body of Christ. They must be examined anew every morning; they must be shouted from mountaintops; they must go down into the “inner parts” of a man; they must be the last word at night. If these truths are known but not held daily, they will fade into a worldly dimness. And in fading, a hundred contradictory worldviews and exploded systems of thought clutter the believer’s mind, and the ancient false choice is quietly proposed by the Enemy of our souls: By whose wisdom shall you live? Your own, or God’s? It was by this lie that Eve took and ate of the apple, as time and again we choose our own paths instead of God’s. But this is to evade the thrust of that first commandment, for to live as one we must live, not by rules, but by relationship. The false choice is to encourage the believer to forget that he is to choose, not between our wisdom and God’s, but between our wisdom and God’s love.

Were it not for the love demonstrated by Christ on the Cross, there would be no possibility of election into this communion. But because Christ did come to earth, and in coming die, and in dying rise, He gave us this hope for “peace on earth,” that one day every “tongue and tribe and people and nation” will proclaim as one that Jesus is Lord.

The Fundamental Commonality, Part I

It has been a common practice of the present day to speak of our brothers and sisters by terms consistent with what separates them from ourselves, though this is by no means a novel revelation. For, in the days of Saul, king over Israel, the Lord knew Saul had “rejected the word of the Lord” (Samuel 15:26) and because of this sent Samuel to look among the ruddy sons of Jesse’s house for a new king. And when Samuel beheld them, he thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:6), as men are apt to do in the presence of natural strength.

But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

-1 Samuel 16:8

And so it is with us. To appraise a man’s worth for his appearance is like to consider a beaker of liquid good for drinking if it be clear; not only is this the folly of apathy, and a scornful rejection of healthy scientific inquiry, but if it is consumed with the same irreverence it has the potential to kill. Thus the settlers of Jamestown met their fate, and so also the student of chemistry if he is not sufficiently cautious.

So what are the things of the heart which God sees, and we are to see if we are to look beyond mere appearance? If we ask God in humility, He will be sure to show us. In an instant, the sheet is pulled back, and we reel in horror and shame. The effect of this revelation and swift demolition of our pride is what the Puritans called the “gift of tears,” or in the current vernacular, repentance. For what we are first shown is not some noble hero, stark against a world swirling with uncertainty, authentic, progressive, wielding a voice of truth against a nameless power, but a blackened tumor pulsating and growing with the passage of time. Here is the first shared bond between all of humanity:

We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God…’

-Romans 3:9-11

To a sensitive conscience two-thousand years displaced from these thundering words of condemnation against humanity, indignance might be the first order of business. Who is this Paul to condemn myself, a perfectly decent fellow, whom he has never known, and would never harm a soul? Am I a racist, like some, or a bigot, like others? And anyways, how does a collection of outworn documents apply to the human condition today?

But these objections are easily met. If we recall the First Affirmation:

that values exist, in whatever form; that they are fixed and unchanging with respect to human argument; and that they appear to impress themselves upon humanity from without,

then we readily see the fallacy concealed in these objections. For Paul was a human being, as we ourselves are, and he spoke according to that ideal or standard which transcends Nature and therefore does not change with argumentation or passage of time. Therefore, in making this pronouncement against the baser nature of humanity, he affirms a truth that is undeniable to any student of history and itself has not changed since it was first penned: that we do not measure up to this standard.

At this point, it is necessary to augment the First Affirmation with the following: that the intrinsic moral worth of human beings is both equal among all beings, and fixed with respect to time. Thus, human beings are not malleable in the sense of their moral worth being modified, or else due to the irregular distribution of influences throughout the earth – whether cultural, geographical, academic, or otherwise – some would progress differently or more rapidly than others, and their intrinsic worth would change with respect to those with whom they still share the same biological species. In doing so, those “more equal” than others would help the less equal along by virtue of their societal duty to mankind. This is the primary fallacy behind Oceana’s “Ministry of Love,” in which one man more equal than another – O’Brien – raises the lower – Winston – to the same state of righteous exaltation as he, by medieval arts of torture:

We control life, Winston, at all its levels. You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable.

-O’Brien to Winston, 1984, p. 269

But if men are malleable, then would it not follow that at the birth of every new babe, the collective gap between our baser nature and the Image we perceive would close? I am assuming that this Image is either rightfully perceived as transcendent, or else designed by the more righteous engineers of society. Would it not be the experience of all men to observe deeper affections and greater comraderie with the other, and to see that civil body of which they are part grow in solidarity and progress toward righteousness and maturity? How greatly is this not the case! How greatly do our passions war against us daily, and how feeble are the admonitions of treating others with public kindness. Even by the image made by the art of man, we discern the gap between the ideal and reality. Man cannot even achieve his low expectations.

This is the response to the objection, that since men do not change, then the words of Paul apply not only to the Romans, but to the Americans, and to the Chinese, and to the British, and to the Portuguese, and so forth. Surely Thucydides pronounced rightly that civilization was a “thin veneer” over barbarism. And with every turn of the electrical knob, O’Brien proved that Paul’s proclamation stands: “There is no one righteous, not even one.”

So this is the first bond between one man with another, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). And if we together are one race of sinners, then we all share yet one more mark of commonality, if indeed we yearn for salvation from this body of death: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). Those who fall short “are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24), and if we all have fallen short, then we all have access to this justification by grace through faith. This justification is not apportioned to an elite few; those peoples or races or intellects or artisans or musicians whom God has picked above all others from the faceless masses of humanity, as the Gnostics once argued. It comes “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

By saying, “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” Paul clarifies what every adopted son and daughter already knows, what is the yearning of every sick soul desperate for peace from the tense divisions of the identitarian idealogues, and that which this latter hateful crew fully despise: that there is no division at the foot of the Cross. Christ does not justify according to race, but according to faith. Thus, we are all fundamentally bound together by our faith in Christ, and ultimately by our adoption as sons and daughters into the kingdom of God.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

-Galatians 3:28

Affirmation of Values

There exists among the shared experience of those civil, rational, and nobly inclined persons of the earth a comprehension of values without which the happy haze of a good life would not daily exist, and if denied by all its members the civilization within which they reside would utterly fail. While the values may subtly change in degree or description from person to person, and to a greater extent from culture to culture, what is not often denied is that these values change in kind from one to the next, and never that they do not exist at all.

That these values are shared is implicit in the set of persons who partake in a civilized society; that is, they are its builders and defenders at best, and are neutral with respect to its flourishing at worst. Such persons recognize the intrinsic value of truth, being able to deter the stirrings of emotion for the benefit of their own powers of reason, and are thus inclined to consider a wealth of perspectives and evidences different from those they themselves hold. From such an explication, we may divine a deeper maxim from this set of persons: theirs is an aspiration to an image of civic nobility. This maxim does not require that those who hold to it are themselves the perfect bearers of such an image, but rather in striving toward it the ideal of civilization is obtained: not perfection, but progress toward perfection. This is the essential message of the apostle Paul to the Philippians when he wrote:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 3:12-14

In this way, the argument for striving toward the noblest ideal of mankind is made, and the daily struggle of civilization toward the image which its individuals bear is described in the broadest of strokes. But often now, as in times past, the good intentions of broad political philosophy for the purpose of individual study and meditation have been corrupted precisely in the exploitations of those ambiguities in which the “better angels of our nature” once played their mystic chords (Lincoln, 1st Inaugural Address, Mar. 4, 1861). This is the danger of modernity: where once there might have been consensus on the definitions of common English words as “perfection” or “civic nobility”, we must now dissect with excruciating precision those terms, or else at the end of the pilgrimage of perfection face the guillotine for the betterment of society, and while the blade shrieks on its rails to sunder another wrecker of society, quail under the massive cry for “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!”

Before defining the image impressed upon all men, and for which all who desire the better civilization over its present form strive, let us consider an example of how the ambiguity inherent in simple terms can be corrupted to a state far from the original intent of its author. The impressionist Claude Monet, a man who interpreted the world through the strokes of a brush, painted a woman holding a parasol. The woman wears a white dress and stands in a field, her scarf like the colored grasses around her fluttering in the breeze, a red flower or clasp pinned near her waist, her hair a combination of blues and greens reflecting the subtle shades of the parasol; a moment caught forever on canvas. Much might be said of the painting, as in through swirls of color the sense of Nature in movement is evoked, but in moving it remains fastened to a deeper stillness around which all points revolve, and which itself does not move – T.S. Eliot’s “still point of the turning world” (Eliot, 1st of Four Quartets) – or the fashion in which the woman is in some way like the clouds in the background, or the grasses in the foreground, or further how the absence of definition in the face renders her identity intractable, and yet acquires the identity of all who behold her, as they become the woman in that moment in the field.

Woman with a Parasol, Monet, 1886

That the painting is of a woman with a parasol, may be in question, though the title of the painting ought to put it beyond doubt. That deeper themes cry out from their simpler forms, requires a trained eye. But that the painting is beautiful, should be evident to the apprehension of all who can still perceive the beautiful things of this world. This was almost certainly the original intent of the artist; to make something that is beautiful, and can be appreciated as such in its own right. Yet beauty is a simple concept, and yielding as the petals of a lily under a brute’s finger.

Extending this example, we consider next such a brutish pressure. Among the academic circles of today exist many collections of persons whose ultimate objective, cloaked though it might be behind such virtuous words as “progress”, “equality”, or “social justice”, is the disintegration of such values as should be plainly affirmed by all mankind. From this perspective, one might imagine the painting to be, not of a woman, but of an ideological construct, presented as simplistic and unidentifiable, yet rife with elemental discord. The painting in fact revolves around the unnatural color of her hair, a symbol of social rebellion in which the binary nature of sexuality is discarded, or the redness of the clasp, evoking implicit bias against the character of the woman, much as Hawthorne’s scarlet letter had done, and in so doing reveals the social oppression of womanhood within the beholder.

This is not to say that any of the preceding points are necessarily true or false, but rather that such a discussion misses the point entirely. Monet’s ultimate purpose was to create something beautiful, not fashion a weapon. But by exploiting the vagueness of the art form, proponents of certain ideologies well-versed in rhetorical fencing have lured the blank and naïve woman out of the picture, painted upon her an image after their own likeness, and skewered her through the heart.

Here, then, is the first inkling of transcendent values placed within man, and here too the hope for their shared affirmation. For even as closed academic circles sound the death knell of beauty by supplanting it with revolutionary ideology, yet the woman remains beautiful for a future and distant generation unfamiliar with the sophistry of her critics. Beauty remains above and apart from all persons, and does not change with argument, however well reasoned, just as a tree would not cease to be a tree even if Socrates himself asserted otherwise.

The preceding deliberation reveals the first affirmation: that values exist, in whatever form; that they are fixed and unchanging with respect to human argument; and that they appear to impress themselves upon humanity from without.

The second affirmation follows from the first: that there is an ideal, or image, to which all humanity attempts to conform.

The truth of this second affirmation should be plain to all who have followed the reasoning thus far. Though the curve and form of that image may yet be in question, yet it cannot be denied that there exists this ideal. For just as the woman who applies cosmetics does so to conform to that society’s definition of feminine beauty, and even as this yields a delineation between values of culture and values universally acknowledged, it is the latter that is not disproved by the desire that all women be called beautiful. Similarly, rarely will an employer be confounded by a prospect interviewed with the phrase “I abhor hard work!”, for such would almost certainly deny the interviewee the opportunity for gainful employment at that place of business. That is, there is an image of the ideal employee impressed upon the mind of the interviewer, formed through experiences both successful and adverse, to which the man or woman before him is compared. And this does not begin the procession of representatives from which this second affirmation is divined, for what corporate executive would deny competence in his own field of business? Or what coach would disavow the primacy of victory and his success at producing a team capable of achieving it? Or what few politicians would recuse themselves from office over questions of integrity? – though this last example may border on an exception, however great their protestations.

From these points, we peek through the keyhole and attempt a narrow view of the Glorious Hall beyond. But how can we begin to perceive the Image impressed upon us? What process, or what frame of mind, marks the first step upon the pilgrimage of discerning those values which transcend what can be seen or felt or touched? That their effects are evident in nature is beyond question, and more so in their absence, as a poor navigator of the oceans will quickly find his vessel lost or broken upon the rocks, and everything of value lost, up to and including his life. Thus Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.”

We may begin the path by setting our whole selves apart from influences that may corrupt our thinking, that these values which are self-evident may allow their way with us. This is the ancient practice of holiness, one much lauded in the Judeo-Christian tradition and often forgotten in modern times. And it is by this act or practice that one may see the Image within which all values find their source, just as the old saying affirms: “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Practically defined, it means to leave behind the things of man: his cities, his works, and his many words, and seek asylum in the quiet places of the world, without and within, that this Image may make itself known to us. And this is not a single journey or final discovery, for to treat it as such merely reveals the immaturity present within each who first tread these ways, and once upon returning declare “Enlightenment!” and proceed to write books about it and spread their newfound holiness like a stillborn child from hand to hand through the arms of modern television. And thus shall be the fate of all who regard the first fragile steps as itself the achievement, and not the echoes of a new and better direction.

With the knowledge in hand that it is not by fanciful speeches or thundering pronouncements, but a daily following of this Path, that we may know what is the Source of these values, the affirmations which follow are almost certainly beyond doubt for any who honestly seek after truth, and cannot be denied without contradiction by their opposition:

Affirmation Three: that Truth exists, and that it can be objectively known.

Affirmation Four: that Reason is an intrinsic property of humanity above all other known species, and can be used to apprehend truth.

Affirmation Five: that the attitude of one’s life is primarily dictated by influences early in that life, and that there are institutions which positively or negatively affect it.

Affirmation Six: that perseverance, sacrifice, discipline, and individual application to a worthwhile goal will yield success of intrinsic value.

Affirmation Seven: that inherent to the previous six affirmations, those who uphold these truths must of necessity be among those of the living, that they have the liberty to daily walk this path, and that they may possess what they of right earn through efforts of mind and hand.

Island Among Elsewhere


The world was dark when I awoke. I felt a stab of pain in my left hand; it was red and blistering around a faint white pustule. Some little fiend had bitten me while I slept, and now I could scarce close my fingers without a pulsating agony. Nightly sounds surrounded me; almost familiar, though not quite, but little could I tell the different after nearly seven years on a Corporate Administrative Dreadnought. Beyond the rustling of foliage in the ocean breeze, I heard a gentle bddrrt, bddrrt, bddrrt of something between a cricket and cicada with a lower underlying frequency than either. I stood up and stretched, careful not to extend my left hand more than was necessary. There was no moon, a fact I had forgotten and suddenly found disquieting. This would make my nocturnal navigation far less profitable, moreso as I had no means of making fire for a torch. I thought if I set off in one direction, I would eventually reach the shoreline, and then be able to follow it in the dimness of the stars to some other part of the island.

After what seemed like several hours of walking, I came to realize how easily darkness and forest can confuse even the most accomplished navigators. I must have been turned around at least seven times, and by then had no indication of which direction the shore lay. Long having overcome the almost hungover state after eating so many of the unnamed fruit, my awareness began once more to press on me the seriousness of my position. I had no food once more, no access to fresh water, I was lost on an alien planet without direction or even hope for rescue. I pondered these thoughts over and over as I pushed through branches and vines, becoming more and more fearful as I did, moving faster now, from walking to jogging to running, thorns swiping at my sides and face and hair, looking into a dark and moonless sky, panting and gasping for air in the humid climate. When I had climaxed in a flurry of human terror, arms reached out from below and grabbed onto my ankles. I shrieked a wild cry that excited several birds nearby and collapsed. Clawing at my ankles, I discovered the arms were merely vines that had become tangled up in my legs. As I removed them, I laughed at myself half-heartedly and ran a hand through my hair, my left hand, which squeezed with pain at the touch. My running had increased the blood flow to the spot, and now – though it was hard to tell in the dark – it seemed to be twice the size it was.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a tiny flicker of light. My eyes trained on the spot. It was like a star had fallen and twinkled in the distance, only with the orangish glow of a fading light, and once in a while was obscured by some dark cloud. I got up and made my way to it.

I misjudged the distance to the light, as well as its altitude. Back into the forest of island trees I went, skirting around them and once more almost losing all sense of direction. But now and again I would spot it, the light growing larger, peeking out from beyond the immediate obstacles in my path, and I would joyfully push on with renewed strength. Certainly the light of day would come soon? Or perhaps the nights were far longer on this planet than I was used to? Whatever the case, I had an Objective now. The ground harder to travel, and I had the distinct impression of traveling uphill. My legs wearied, though my determination did not falter from the Objective.

Suddenly, I stumbled upon a line of broken trees. Off to the right, the tops of several palms were snapped like a child’s playfully clipping the heads of flowers, and closer before me they were absolutely ravaged, shattered to the base by a mightier force. The ground was riven into grooves, and following these grooves to the end I saw the source of the flickering light. It was fire from a burning wreck, undoubtedly the Expeditionary-039! I ran to it with glee, approaching the blaze like a wild man, jumping and shouting with joy, laughing manically and tearing at my ragged and bloody clothes as though my salvation were near. It troubles me later to write of this, for now I know I was no closer to quitting the island than before, and in fact this discovery would lead to much greater anguish and true horrors unlike any I had hereunto felt, impossible though that seemed at the time. But I would not be reasoned with then, and I plunged into the flame looking for… what? I knew not. Food? Water? Companionship? I entered through a broken portal, wrenching the door off its frame and pushing around it to walk down the short hall. It led to the cockpit, where before me the windows were smashed and the nose irreparably compacted into the ground. On the pilot’s chair was a mass of blood, but no Samuel. I thought it was possible he was thrown outside the ship, so I searched the immediate area for a flashlight. Finding nothing, I went back down the hall and turned into storage cabin.

I felt along the inside wall, and on a bracket discovered the familiar heft of the object of my search. Lifting it from its metal bracket, I turned the flashlight on and swept it around the room. There was Johnson. The broken remains of his body were stretched out on the floor, a look of permanent fear stretching out his face in rigor mortis, and the lower half of his body fused to the deck in what must have been the hellish oven of a sudden suborbital descent. He was clinging to the only wetsuit in the cabin, one arm wildly tucked inside, as if he expected to be able to swim away from the Thing which brought had them down.

Even the insinuation of that Thing, and the memory connected to it, made me drop on all fours and begin to babble. My head shook uncontrollably as words poured out over Johnson’s deathmask. I felt my soul tearing away from my brain, unable to take the strain of continuing in the presence of my own memory. Only the callousness of an indifferent universe saved me then. Fire obeys the laws set unto it in a way the mind of man will not, and as such had been creeping steadily through the portal and igniting the flammables which before were withheld from its gluttony by the door which I had so thoughtlessly wrenched aside. Now it licked my heal, and I jumped in surprise. If I didn’t move quickly, the fire would make escape impossible. I cast around the room one more time, finding several things which I considered would be necessary in the coming days: a tank of oxygen, a mask, the wetsuit, which I carefully removed from the deathgrip of poor Johnson, several coils of rope, and a gallon jug full of distilled water. Then I rushed through the flames, which by now had almost reached the cockpit, and threw myself threw the jagged teeth of broken glass.

The ship behind me burned with an increasing glow, and I ran, trying to get some distance between myself and the inevitable explosion. Looking behind me through the trees, I stopped for a moment to remember my companions, thinking of them as their pyre went up into the atmosphere. Then the flames reached the fuel tanks, and Expeditionary-039 bellowed in several roiling explosions. The sound reverberated against the side of the mountain and echoed over the island. Black smoke crowded the site, the surrounding trees catching fire as sparks were caught in the breeze. Then I left the ship and trudged down the other side of the mountain into the night.

Island Among Elsewhere


I awoke in the late noon to a bitter taste in my mouth. The tide was rising, and I was half submerged in its ascent. The salt of the tides had entered my mouth and nose as it did so, and I snorted them out as I quickly stood and stumbled up the sand. Behind me, the raft was trembling uncertainly; then it yielded to the comforting roll of the surf and fell back into the sea, an artificial island swirling about on hidden currents. I watched my sole means of conveyance heave left, tilt right, and roll with the waves for what seemed like an age, unsure if I should rescue it from the ocean’s hand or let the ship burn at the hand of the universe. Then it was swept deeper out into sea and was lost forever.

Soon after, I was quickly reminded of how terribly thirsty I was. I knew from a simple knowledge of biology and several dull novels I had once read that a human being could survive for more than a month without food, but only 3 days without water, though there was no method of comparison between the passing of days on Earth and this new planet. Perhaps there was some standard of time I might have kept, say, via a watch upon my wrist, and then compared it to the dawn and dusk of the alien world. But I had no such preparations in mind when I set out on this, a mundane task. I laughed silently, heartlessly, at my observation. I had no options left but to hope to whatever god or chance had created this world that there might be some source of fresh water deeper inland.

I struck out in a northerly direction – if such a direction existed on that planet, though I decided if I kept the rising suns on my right I might make for myself a non-arbitrary means of navigation. Close to the shore was a line of trees, and I had to cut through several hundred feet of foliage and brush before I felt that inner sense of distance feed my intuition that I was indeed making headway into the unknown. I was grateful for the trees. Looking down at my skin, it was burned and peeling where the radiation of twin suns had stared down upon me. I was not a creature made for this planet.

I heard a noise a few yards in front of me. Whatever made it, it was loud, but I couldn’t see it for the large fronds and thick trunks of trees spreading before me. There again, a raucous squawking, like a crow with many throats, or a lark with guttural aspirations. I crept slowly around bush and tree, hoping to see or even catch such a creature and make a meal of it. A third time it cried out, and then I saw it. It had four wings, each shaped like an elongated V, and a beak much longer and thicker than any terrestrial fowl. Its eyes gleamed a dangerous green, and then it saw me. It stared for a moment as I stared back. Then, in an inexplicable and frantic motion I grabbed a stone beneath me and heaved it weakly at the inquisitive alien bird, which fluttered gracefully from its perch and settled just a few branches higher up. I shouted at the bird, but it did not move. I took a small pebble, thinking myself some great David – though of less noble instinct – and tossed it into the air. The bird merely sidestepped and cocked its frill of headfeathers in a mocking gesture. I screamed in exasperation and lunged at the tree. Then I noticed the weakness of my grip, the flabbiness of my limbs, how ill-prepared I was even to live, much less to catch a meal. Nevertheless, I was angry, and with that strength I lamely pulled myself up the rough undulating bark of the tree to the first branch, and rested there panting. The bird looked down. I clasped the sides of the tree again, expecting another rush of adrenaline to bring me to the throat of my would-be prey, but instead I found myself sliding down the tree. I clawed and groped and shouted and fought, but I could not slow the descent dictated purely by the weakness of my body. The four-winged bird tilted its head at me, squawked a final cry of insult, and then fluttered beyond the trees and into the free air.

The dryness was now almost unbearable. Where was water? There must be some on the island. I could not live without water. Here was a rock, but it had no water. There, a pile of mud. No, it was the dung of some large animal. I had a vague sense of uneasiness looking at the size of it, but it was soon forgotten amidst the growing desperation for moisture. I don’t know how long I spent shambling through the beautiful, shaded greenery of the unknown world. I had survived the crash, hadn’t I? I had seen Death and yet lived on. I of all people deserved to live. I would live! I, the product of centuries of man’s greatest achievements, would not be so easily destroyed by the laughable dangers of nature.

There! A fruit of some kind. Surely it would satisfy the dryness, without the infernal salinity of the mocking oceanic body which surrounded this bulwark of sand. They hung, hundreds of them, in something like a natural grove, and the first I plucked from the branches was large with a translucent green skin, revealing just within a pulpy blue interior. I bit into it, squelching into sweet flesh, watery fruit gushing out of my mouth and down my lips. I ate another. And another. A fourth, a fifth. I had to be satisfied. I would not be thirsty, or hungry, and here were a hundred or more fruit hanging for me alone to eat and to enjoy. I belched loudly with contentment, drying husks of the unnamed fruit about me as I settled into a cushion of brush and loam, my eyes heavy and slowly closing.

Island Among Elsewhere


My soul buzzed in numbness for lack of being. I was swirling about a great concave depression. The world I inhabited circled around a singular point in the infinite distance, where flew the birds of the air and other beasts in distant stars. The images coalesced, spun more slowly, then stopped entirely. Suddenly, I was irrefragably reminded of an inner motion connected to anchors which were lodged in immovable crevices in nature; I began dry-heaving, and thus was forced to turn from staring into the night-black sky to retching air onto the floor of the raft upon which I found myself.

Several minutes passed in this state of intermediate misery. Eventually it subsided, and in the darkness I tried to determine form from formlessness to make sense of the boundaries of my new world. There seemed to be four of them, two opposite sides sloping up to a wall on one side, and down to a wall on the other. Their edges might have been smooth or jagged; of this or their specific material properties it was impossible to tell in the night. I presumed these boundaries had some close relation to the shifting floor I was laid upon, assumptions I formed based on their closeness to myself and each other, and the rigidity with which they moved in the undertow of the waves. Yes, I was floating in the ocean. The waters and not the fleeting air were now the foundation supporting my existence, though through which I might fall just as easily should fatigue overtake me. And in darkness, faster predators than weakness might drag me still deeper into the depths.

For perhaps several hours I laid awake in the raft, listening with rapidly beating heart at the slight disturbances in the uniform chuckling of the waves against the sides. I waited for It to come back to finish Its meal. But it did not return, at least not in my waking hours or frantic vigils. I was left alone in the ocean.

At length, the darkness began to slowly break, and I beheld a halo of blood on the horizon. The halo imperceptibly grew to a waterfall of molten gold, and then spread the color of wine-dark roses to touch the underbellies of vast and scattered clouds, as though signalling the arrival of a great king coming down from his distant throne. Then the first disc, blazing with gold approaching white fire, breached the surface of the water and climbed into the sky. When it floated unaided in the sky, the golden fire underwent another change. The blue sun was rising, and as it did the ocean was excited with spasms of color at each wave-crest that gave it the scintillating effect of a vast field of diamonds. These crests reflected the golden-whiteness of the higher sun such that the underbelly of every cloud was alight with unsearchable light and hidden color, and the sight was unlike any that might be brought justice in the medium of the written word. It were as though the king, heralded by the first sun, had now come fully, and the way was paved for him to walk in this feeble world, and the atmosphere made alight with the glory of his halls. I had no choice but to look away, for the brightness was blinding.

Eventually, the glory faded, and I beheld the day as any other. I was indeed on a raft of scrapmetal. It was a square section of coated aluminum from the interior of Expeditionary-039. I guessed it was from the area nearest the buoy deployment, since that was the place I had lost consciousness before discovering myself in the ocean, and the surface of the aluminum seemed to angle to an implied point at one end, though the point was itself lost in the sea. And I felt a similar way about my own predicament, but dark humor would not suffice for my survival. I got up and looked far into the horizon above each of the jagged edges on each side of the raft, hoping almost to despair of seeing the Heath-Adams Atoll. I did not know how close Expeditionary-039 had traveled to the island before attempting an orbital insertion, nor how far I had drifted from it in my moment of unconsciousness.

My first watch was unsuccessful, as was my second. The day was growing brighter, and hotter, and the clouds became much dispersed so that I was exposed to a parched and mocking sky. I was becoming thirsty, and my vision gradually blurred from staring for long hours. I would have lost hope, had not a low hump in the distance made my heart leap. I stared at the hump, thinking perhaps that I was deceived either by lack of water or by some slow leviathan tasting the air again before lazily submerging into the waters. But I was not deceived; it was land. Land!

I decided to cast about for something approximating an oar. There was a small pile of debris on the floor of my makeshift vessel, and beneath a larger pile I found a long, floppy strip of metal. I then got to the side of the raft and dug the metal into the waters. Undetectably at first, but more and more as the vessel picked up speed, I made my way toward the flat stretch of land. It was miserable work, sweating underneath twin suns where my skin burnt twice as fast as under my terrestrial Earth, and using the atrophied muscles along my back whose need had long been replaced by technological “progress.” To exacerbate my misery, the metal sheet was much less rigid than an oar had a right to be, and so was affected interminably by the oceanic undertow. This caused the metal to cut my palms where I was awkwardly holding it. And the waters also had no desire to aid me in my noble quest of survival, but would sometimes hopefully throw me forward one moment, only to retract it the next, or sometimes swirl my craft left or right or turn it altogether, and I would have to reposition myself with respect to the direction of the island. But by degrees and by unceasing desperation, I willed the craft forward.

I was utterly exhausted when the suns had completed their trek across the sky, and I had completed my trek across the ocean and had beached the raft upon the sands of the Heath-Adams Atoll. I stumbled out of my conveyance onto the sand and fell instantly into a dreamless sleep.

Island Among Elsewhere


I entered the door leading to the cockpit. Johnson was there, eyes wide and frightened, and when he saw the poor state of my mental constitution written in dark shadows across my face, his fear grew to terror.

“Where are they?” He asked. But I had grown tired and despised human company. There was not a soul on this ship who could – indeed, would even try! – to understand what lurked in unseen waters beneath the incomprehensibly vast deliberations of a world consumed by ocean. It was all I could do to repeat the first answer I gasped to Victor before pushing past him and heading to my seat in the cabin.

Gone?! What do you mean? Explain yourself, Gelios. Gelios!”

But I was beyond hearing. I collapsed into my seat and pressed my palms into my eyes as if to wipe away memories wrought by those unremitting nerves. If I hadn’t been so appalled at the thought of indescribable agony, I might have gouged them out then and there to rid myself of their possibility of ever seeing what was now indelibly marked upon my mind. As it was, my sudden retreat from the visible world was a laughable attempt at escape, as the moment I closed my eyes It returned. The awful form, the vague displacement of water about the open abyss, horror in the eyes of my late compatriots, and the glowing spot, which might even have been an eye, stared back at me. But then the image froze, and that glowing eye took stock of me, acknowledging my existence alongside its in the order of universal matters. I went rigid. It was a memory, reprimanded the logical mind, a thorough reproduction of a past and unrepeatable event, without either contemporaneous relation or agency. But I was not so sure. A memory rarely exerts effort to know the rememberer.

Gelios. The word rolled about in my head, whispered quietly. What did the word mean? I no longer knew.

Gelios. There again, a vaguely dissimilar repetition of the same sequence of vowels and consonants. Surely it meant something. But I was made dumb by this Beast which was drawing the soul from the mind of the being whose name was Gelios. It was not in my faintest wish to escape the waters. I wanted to go back. To fall. I craved annihilation.

Gelios! The eye was fading. No! Come back again and speak, bring me to nothingness!

“Gelios!” Johnson was violently shaking me. I looked up. My name was Gelios. And Johnson was concerned for me.

“Gelios, we’ve almost reached the Heath-Adams Atoll. Samuel’s been calling, he needs you to prepare the surveillance buoys. How are you feeling? We need to finish the mission, but if you’re not well enough to do the job…”

“I’m fine, Johnson,” I snapped hoarsely. I shoved up out of my chair and headed towards the stern. Down the hall. Through the launch bays once more, as quickly as I could manage. Into the tail of the vessel, where were stored a dozen small geostationary sensor buoys each no larger than a can of paint. Antennae extruded through the thick, waterproof carapace on the top and bottom like some omnidirectional insect with useless feelers. Several diodes blinked an easily accessible status report on the operational stability of the micro-circuitry of their interiors: blue and green signified that every one was ready to drop. I tapped into the com.

“Buoys ready to launch.” I said into my wrist. The response crackled through from the other side.

“Launch on my signal,” said Samuel from the pilot seat. I put my finger on the control panel in the wall, where protruded a large button with a single word engraved into it: “launch.”

“I’ll be watching this time, my dear Gelios.” Said a voice from behind me. I spun around: Victor had been hiding between the launch silos of the buoys. His smile was more of contempt than amiability. “A steady hand, a competent mind, and a loyalty to the Corporation is all one needs to succeed.” I had heard this phrase before: it was the favored slogan among Corporate propagandists and stooges alike. “We shall see in which of these you lack. So carry on, Gelios. But I’ll be watching.”

Moments later, I heard Samuel again. “Launch buoys on my mark.” I waited. He counted down from ten. Then, “three… two… one… Mark!” I pressed the button hard, eager to dispel any chance of misfire with enthusiasm. The faces of the silos slammed shut, and two by two from the front to the back they hissed the telling release of their charge.

Right as the final two buoys released to drop into the ocean, three things happened. First, Expeditionary-039 tilted violently to one side. Second, Samuel screamed like a maddened animal through the wrist communicator. I shall never banish the sound of his demented babbling from my mind! Third, I heard the sucking again. This was the most horrible of all. I knew it’s Source, it’s monstrous Source, that Thing! I collapsed to the floor, my heartbeat exploding within my chest, and my vision blurring as I was throwing into a rant of inexplicable purpose, perhaps spilling the final remnants of sanity through guttural expletives and chanting the Name of the Beast in worshipful adulation, though my soul knew not the Name, and I was divorced from all agency with my mortal frame. Victor was nowhere to be seen.

What our altitude was will be forever a mystery, as will the power of the Thing to climb and tear at a metal bird so far beyond its domain. Perhaps it was a experiment in Nature’s pride, callous and indifferent as it is; or maybe humanity has yet to plumb the deepest terrors this side of the opaque barrier of death. Whatever the truth may have been, if ever we dared look it in the eye, Expeditionary-039 dropped from the sky. And as through a keyhole out of my broken mind, I preserved one final memory from the seen of destruction as we careened out of control. It was Johnson frantically signaling for Victor to activate the auxiliary thrusters. So there was an engine down, and with it an entire wing. But Victor, as I have already said, was nowhere to be found. Johnson’s voice was lost in the screeching – of metal, or Monster, I knew not what – and I blacked out.