Mink Money

Parakeets in the Choir

Chapter Three
Mink Money

Minnie adjusted her pink peacock hat looking discreetly into the small pocket sized mirror held at waist level beneath the pew tops. She had arrived early padding quietly to her MInk1prominent place on the front right of the sanctuary. With social seniority over the other minks, she was always seated first. Her husband, Chauncey, usually came along later preferring to chatter with the boys at the side door until he heard the first hymn.

Minnie was a no-nonsense mink with little patience for irregularities. She expected her pew to be vacant and cleaned and for the service to start on time. She demanded a noon departure. Her prayer requests were always read first from the pulpit. When she stood for a hymn, everyone else stood. When she spoke, which wasn’t often, everyone listened.

Minnie liked jewelry. She wore a thick set of iridescent pearls, hand-harvested in the Persian Gulf, about her flaccid neck. Blending smartly with the white speckles on her dark brown fur, the nacreous pearls added a particular distinction to her demeanor. She was often seen touching the pearls during the service as if they were prayer beads, which they were not.

She had a black onyx ring on her left paw which she had picked up while visiting relatives down in the Gulf of Mexico on a worldwide romp several years back. She also had several gold bracelets. She enjoyed competing with the golden candlesticks that bedecked the altar in front of the church.

Minnie always asked her husband during the offertory for the checkbook. She spoke just loud enough for others to hear. “Chauncey, darling, the checkbook please,” she would say.

“Oh. Right, Sweetie. Here it is,” replied Chauncey always quick to oblige his wife.

“How much should I write it for Chauncey, dearest?” she would ask. “Is a thousand enough?”

Chauncey, who neither made the money nor had permission to spend it, usually just nodded politely. “That’s fine, Sweets,” he would say.

Then Minnie would scrawl out the zeroes with large sweeping strokes and hold the plate a few seconds while she placed her check on top of the other small bills. A flutter of impressed sighs would rise from the ranks about her, and the plate would pass on to the single mothers and blue-collar fathers sitting further back.

Minnie didn’t like surprises, which made the service last week all the more memorable. Just as the first hymn was beginning, a group of visiting Bolivian chinchillas hopped up the center aisle of the sanctuary looking a bit lost. Neither comprehending the rules of prestige nor having an understanding of a church pecking order, they excused themselves politely and stepped right past Minnie and sat down in her pew.

The choral director nearly swallowed her tongue. The congregation gasped in between the second and third verses of “Rescue the Perishing.”

These chinchillas were from one of the poorer barrios of a Bolivian ghetto. Their mottled gray fur was streaked with dirt and full of field burrs. Their large ears sagged. They looked tired. They had a slight riverbank odor.Mink2

Minnie squirmed the entire service long. She squeezed toward the center aisle side of the pew and never once greeted the visitors. When church ended, she went immediately to Mr. Barret, a long railed weasel who had been the head usher at the church longer than the polar ice cap had been frozen over.

“Mr. Barret? What is the meaning of this, this outrage?” snorted Minnie, pearls flipping and jiggling on her taut neck.

“What’s that, Minnie?” asked Mr. Barret feigning ignorance. “Something bothering you?”

“You know what’s bothering me, Mr. Barret. How could you let those cheap chinchillas get down as far as my row? Why didn’t you put them in the back with the rodents? Such a breach of protocol is very grave, Mr. Barret. Very grave.” Minnie wasn’t smiling at all.

Mr. Barret fought back his nervous giggle that weasels have. “I don’t know how they slipped by me, Minnie. I will certainly do better next time.”

Minnie was not impressed. “I hope so,” snapped Minnie her tail whipping about with a fury.

The chinchillas never came back.

The offering was down a thousand dollars the following week.Mink3

“Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5)).

 

 

 

 

Bottom Feeders

Parakeets in the Choir

Chapter Two
Bottom Feeders

Cornell, a Mississippi channel catfish with extra thick barbels and a perpetual scowl, swaggered down the church aisle to his customary pew. He sat in the middle section to the right, the preacher’s left, just in front of the Alabama mud hens who loved to cluck and gossip about trivialities.

Cornell was often seen swiveling about in his seat to hear the latest news. The talk today was about Mrs. Jessep’s daughter, Silvia, who was running with a hulky fellow who had chains dangling from his belt and silver earrings in his lobes. Silvia, the deacon’s daughter and a vivacious feline with silver tipped paws, was a bit rebellious.

Cornell gobbled up the news, his back fin wriggling with nefarious delight. He knew better. He had heard several informative sermons on the illicit dangers of perpetual bottom feeding, but none of it stuck. Gossip, innuendo, rumors, and whisperings, which resided in the muck of the social graces, had a grip on his senses. He either couldn’t or wouldn’t forswear these vices.

Bottom1Many times Reverend Smathers, the preacher, would look right at Cornell during the sermon, pointing a stiff and censorial wing in his general direction saying, ” . . . and furthermore, it’s just plain wrong. Anybody who loves to muzzle up to the muck in the river bottom, if you know what I mean, is a pretty sorry church person, I’ll say that. Whoooee, yes sir, I’ll say that right here in front of God Himself.”

Preacher Smathers was a serious heavy-lidded white-faced owl who didn’t take well to insubordination, snoring in church or bottom feeding. He didn’t mind preaching about it either.

The mud hens usually took it pretty hard. Parishioners nearby could hear them clucking softly during these sermonic tirades. But Cornell paid little attention to this. He just scribbled on the bulletins, drawing stick figures of cats on fence railings and dogs howling against large moons. Once the service ended, he was quick to swivel around and continue any conversation interrupted by the call to worship.

I can’t recall exactly when the change in Cornell started. I think though it happened the day his sister, Malinda, a slender catfish with white lips and alluring eyes got pregnant. This event, of course, caused great consternation in Cornell’s family.

The tides rose and fell around Malinda. She was the star of the household, and her parents had high hopes for their talented daughter swimming the full length of the Mississippi and earning an athletic scholarship to college. The local media had already interviewed her twice. She had even appeared once on the six o’clock news.

Then came the unexpected pregnancy. (Malinda wasn’t married). Now her future was suddenly in question, and her story appeared in several catfish tabloids. It was starting to get nasty.

Cornell heard the mud hens whispering about her in church one Sunday morning. He had just slipped into his pew and there it was. He didn’t turn around, but he could make out the coded language.

” . . . and she heard it from Jake who swore on his mother’s picture that it was true,” said one hen covering her mouth with a wing.

“You can’t believe Jake,” said another hen. “He’ll say anything to get attention.”

“No. This time, he wasn’t joking. He saw Malinda picking out maternity clothes at Jibes Pet Store downtown.”

“Really?” said three hens together bending in toward one another in a mud hen half circle.

“Yep. I swear it.”

Cornell couldn’t stand it. He was getting mad. His back fin stood straight up trembling and fluttering with agitation. He turned around and told them all just before “Holy, Holy, Holy” was set to begin, that they shouldn’t talk about other people like tBottom2hat. “That’s wrong, you know. People have feelings. And besides, this is a place of worship, not idle talk.” His whiskers pointed like tiny daggers at the hens who pulled back with fright pressing into the back of the pews.

Cornel sat rigidly through the entire sermon, his lips shut tight. He scowled so hard he could barely unlock his jaw after the last prayer and the people rose to leave. I’m not sure what Cornell was thinking during that sermon but this one thing I know: Cornell never gossiped again. In fact, he has since become a model catfish serving on the deacon board and helping out in the seven-year-old classes during Sunday school.

And by the way, his sister, Malinda, had her baby and still swam the river. She will be attending, on full scholarship, Catfish State in the fall.

Bottom3 

“For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances” (2 Cor. 12:20).

Dr. Nicholas Trusaint

 

 

Triumphal Entry

Meditations from the Classics

Lucretius
De Rerum Natura: 2  (Written 50 B.C.)
(Nature of Things: Book Two)

Do you hear the drums and the clash of cymbals?  It’s getting closer.  What is it?  Oh, yes, there it is.  It’s the procession for Mother Earth, (Cybele) the goddess of the ancient world as she enters another town surrounded in a glorious frenzy by her followers.  It’s like a triumphal entry.

A thunder of drums attends her, tight-stretched and pounded by palms, and a clash of hollow cymbals; hoarse-throated horns bray their deep warning, and the pierced flute thrills every heart with Phrygian strains.  Weapons are carried before her, symbolic of rabid frenzy, to chasten the thankless and profane hearts of the rabble with dread of her divinity.  So, when first she is escorted into some great city and mutely enriches mortals with wordless benediction, they strew her path all along the route with a lavish largesse of copper and silver and shadow the Mother and her retinue with a  snow of roses (Lucretius, De Rerum Natura: 2).

 

Cybele

Earth: triumph of Cybele, sitting between Bacchus and Ceres in a chariot drawn by two lions and surrounded by satyrs, putti and women carrying baskets of fruits and flowers (1721 etching–British Museum).

Quite a show, isn’t it?
But wait.  Another parade is approaching.  Who is it?  A great crowd is gathering.  The sounds of Hosanna echo up and down the country road.  It is Jesus, the creator of Earth.  See how humbly He comes?  Riding a donkey!  There are no weapons before Him to frighten the masses into submission.  He is not some stiff and frozen statue nailed to a mobile platform.  He is alive.  He beckons the people to come to Him.

And most of the multitude spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them on the road.  And the multitudes  going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!’
(Matthew 21:8-9).

Two spectacular triumphal entries:

The first was led by Cybele whose wooden face and painted smile betrayed her wooden heart.  The second was led by Jesus who blessed the masses and healed the lame and gave His life a ransom for many.

Go ahead.  Gather your things and join the throngs.  But choose carefully which triumphal procession you will join.

David R. Denny  Ph.D.

Image from the British Museum
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=310997001&objectId=1439381&partId=1

 

The Boat

Meditations from the Classics

Catullus
Carmina  (Poem 4)
The Boat

Catullus.Boat

The Phaselus or boat described by Catullus.

Once there was a boat, said Catullus.

And what a boat it was! It knew, even while it stood among its fellow trees on a high mountain summit, long before it was ever cut and shaped into the form of a sleek ocean traveler, that it would be great.

Those ‘summit’ days were dreamy ones for the boat to be. Gazing out over the cliffs to the distant sea, it tasted the salt and felt the breezes sifting through its sails.

Then, as dreams are wont to do, the boat was born. Skilled artisans formed its hull, planted a tall mast on the firm deck, and raised its sails to the heavens.

Once the vessel hit the water

“…it flew upon the sea
and, birdlike, fled more rapidly
than all the rest. Swift ships have failed
to catch it when they raced with oar and sheet.
All met with quick defeat.”

     What a ship! said Catullus. It weathered all the storms with ease. Never beaten or conquered, it sailed with high spirits until, in time, it retired in a peaceful harbor at rest.

“She made her final odyssey
to this calm lake where she will stay
and age in peace and where she may
repose protected from the sea.
Sacred to Castor and his twin, this ship
has made her final trip.”

     In a way, the noble ship symbolizes the active Christian life. You sail through all life’s storms with eyes locked on the prize, depending on God to steer you safely to that place of rest. At times you might be unable to see the shoreline but remember that Jesus slept with repose in a boat on the stormy Galilean Sea, and you too can experience peace as the journey unfolds.

     “There remains, therefore, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.  For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Heb. 4:9-10).

David R. Denny  Ph.D

Photo credit:  https://latunicadeneso.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/la-reconstruccion-del-phaselus-un-barco-de-la-antigua-roma/

Life in the Ghetto

Meditations from the Classics

Life in the Ghetto
Ancient Rome
Juvenal, Roman, AD 55-138
Satires III

subura-rome-illustration

Subura–A neighborhood in first century Rome.

 Juvenal, a first-century Roman poet who relished satire and found delight in mocking the Roman customs, described one of the blue collar neighborhoods just outside of downtown ancient Rome. Called Subura, he lived there for a while and hated it. Julius Caesar had a little house in Subura before becoming famous. Nobody lingered here longer than he had too. But alas many of the working poor had no escape.

Juvenal described it as a busy, crowded, noisy, dirty area brimming with crime, prostitution and endless trades such as shoemakers, iron-mongers, wool merchants, cobblers, etc.

One thing he particularly despised were the wave, of Greek immigrants that flooded this neighborhood seeking a new life.

“What I cannot endure, my countrymen, is Rome turned Greek!”

Juvenal looked down on these aliens. He said they couldn’t be trusted. They would do anything to please their masters in hopes of gaining power and possibly inherited wealth. They’re sneaky, and they like to become all things to all people just to reach their goals, he said.

            “He is anything and everything you please, all in one. Grammar, rhetoric, geometry, painting, or wrestling, prophesying, rope-dancing, medicine, and magic—he is master of them all. Give the word, and your hungry Greekling will climb the clouds.”[1]

As I read these lines over a few times, I thought I could hear a faint Pauline sentiment in the back of my mind. I thought a little more and then I pegged it: Paul said:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more…I have become all things to all men,[2] that I may by all means save some” (1 cor. 9:19, 22).

Say what you will but it sounds like the Greeks of ancient Rome were pretty versatile and ingenious. Paul seems to have done something pretty similar–blending into his surroundings to be more effective as a messenger of the Gospel.

Maybe we should all break out of our limitations and find more common ground with the world about us.

David R. Denny Ph.D.
————————-
[1]http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2007.01.0093%3Abook%3D1%3Apoem%3D3
[2] τοῖς  πᾶσιν  γέγονα  πάντα…

Singing the Blues

Meditations from the Classics

Singing the Blues
Aristophanes, Knights

aristophanes

Aristophanes

(Greek comedy, 424 BC)
Acts 16:22-30

Demos, an elderly Athenian master, enraged by the gossip of a new slave he had recently purchased, turned his wrath on two veteran slaves, Nicias and Demosthenes. He beat them furiously. The new slave in the house, Cleon, had gained favor with the boss and told him a bunch of lies about the old-timers. Listen to them gripe and whine as they run from their most recent beating by the master:

Demosthenes:

“Ouch! How I hurt! …Oh, Lord! Goodness me!
That Cleon our master lately bought…
Confound him anyway, and all his tricks!
For, since the day he got into this house,
There’s been a perfect itch of beatings here…
How do you feel, my boy?”

Nicias:

“No worse than you, I’m sure.”

Demosthenes:

Let’s sing a sob duet to Olympus’s tune.”

 Both:

“Boohoo, boohoo, boohoo.”
(μυμῦ μυμῦ μυμῦ μυμῦ μυμῦ μυμῦ.)
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0033

 Poor fellows. Two Athenian slaves who had it bad. The best they could summon within them was to break down and sob in perfect harmony with their pain. They remind me of two other men, slaves to a higher master as well, who likewise were rudely and improperly beaten. They too sang their pain away. But when Paul and Silas sang, it was a joyful duet about the majesty of God. Listen in—

     “And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. 23And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: 24Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God…”(Acts 16:25).

What’s the name of your tune? “Sobbing the Blues” or “Praising the Lord.”

David R. Denny  Ph.D